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Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence, and Authority

John Eldredge. Thomas Nelson, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7180-3751-2

Eldredge (Wild at Heart) dives deep into scripture, pop culture, and his own personal life to appeal for practiced, relentless prayer in order to open up the doors to God's grace. With an emphasis on keeping a patient heart, he instructs readers in prayers he tailors to finding and breaking down barriers that obstruct believers from embracing the mysteries of life. "Effective prayer is often like felling of a great tree," he writes: "it takes repeated blows." The image of Elijah of Tishbite on a mountaintop, praying over and over for rain, serves as Eldredge's starting point. From there he branches out to incorporate lessons garnered from an array of sources, including George MacDonald, Oswald Chambers, and C.S. Lewis. Eldredge spends the most space leading readers through scripture, but he also devotes many pages to writing out lengthy petitions to God, an approach that lends patience and perseverance to his teachings. This step-by-step guide of targeted prayer leads readers onto the path of a quiet but persistent relationship with God. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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How to Be Here

Rob Bell . HarperOne, $25.99 (210p) ISBN 978-0-06-235629-1

In this penetrating book, Bell (Love Wins) explores the importance of focusing on the moment in order to create a fulfilled spiritual life. A 2000 boating accident left Bell with a concussion and memory loss, and during his week of recovery he had an epiphany: the present moment is where the joy and depth of life resides. Creativity, he says, is much more than artistic expression. It gets right at the heart of why people exist: every action taken is a way of "participating in the ongoing creation of the world." Bell urges readers to acknowledge that life is a gift, and that resentments or regrets signal a failure to acknowledge in each moment that they have received such a treasure. In a departure from his other books, this is as much a self-help message as a lesson on spirituality. Bell uses the Japanese concept of ikigai—finding one's reason for being—to describe how being present can lead to meaningful and rewarding work, leisure, and family life. Downplaying fears of failure, Bell tells readers that stumbling toward the ultimate goal of happiness in the present is simply an opportunity to learn . Bell's book generously provides effective, down-to-earth advice about living with awareness and clarity. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder, and the Lure of ISIS

Mark Bourrie. HarperCollins Canada/Patrick Crean Editions, $32.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-44344-701-0

Journalist and historian Bourrie (Kill the Messengers) asks why Canadian citizens and other Westerners have been drawn to join ISIS, examining the history and recruitment strategy of the jihadist terror group. Bourrie's analysis is strongest when he focuses on the organization's indoctrination methods. He describes recruits' "quest for significance" to create what they consider to be the model Islamic state and examines how violence creates "bonds of atrocity," separating recruits (especially those from the West) from their home countries, families, and previous lives. Examples of this indoctrination, such as training children to kill using "blood dolls" and the use of Twitter to document ISIS atrocities, are presented in chilling detail. The book illustrates the challenges around combatting ISIS's appeal in Canada through "deprogramming" efforts. Bourrie presents parallel examples of non-jihadist terrorism and other historical anecdotes of war and glorified nationalism as a way of explaining the attraction of combat and "martyrdom," but at times this information seems digressive. The book succeeds most in telling the stories of jihadist recruits such as John Maguire, who made an ISIS propaganda video, and Michael Zehaf-Bribeau, who attacked the Canadian parliament. Bourrie depicts the tragic costs and wasted lives behind the radicalization of young men eager to embrace ISIS's ideology. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away

Lori Shenher. Greystone (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-77164-093-0

Shenher's account of the investigation into the disappearances of sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside captures the frustration, self-recrimination, anguish, and helplessness she felt as head of Vancouver Police Department's (VPD) Missing Persons Review Team, during the three long years it took to bring Robert Pickton in for questioning in what proved to be one of Canada's most notorious serial murder cases. Despite receiving what appeared to be credible leads from informants implicating Pickton in 1998, Shenher could not convince her colleagues, or local RCMP officers, to act on leads and investigate, though women continued to disappear. Insufficient and uncooperative staff, racism and other prejudice, and a practice of ruling out possibilities before investigating them slowed the team's progress. It took a toll on Shenher. Nightmares, uncontrolled anger, drastic mood swings, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder eventually drove her from the VPD. Moving letters she wrote to the memory of five victims reflect the deep personal regret and remorse she felt at not being able to save these women from their fate. Shenher's highly readable book provides important insights into a horrifying case and the reasons that it remained unsolved for far too long. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century

Daniel Oppenheimer. Simon & Schuster, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4165-8970-9

Exploring why people hold the political convictions that they do, Oppenheimer profiles six of the most famous leftists to ever abandon their politics. Their histories stretch across the 20th century, with each holding a place in his generation's political left before becoming the arch-conservative of the next generation. The reasons for their conversions are as diverse as the men themselves: Whittaker Chambers suffered a spiritual crisis and became a Christian, James Burnham broke rank with the Trotskyites over ideological inconsistencies, Norman Podhoretz became alienated from the New Left after the radicalism of the 1960s and the snubbing of his memoir, David Horowitz was disillusioned by confrontations with the Black Panthers, and Christopher Hitchens joined the neoconservatives in calling for the invasion of Iraq. Ronald Reagan seems to have been a conservative all along, yet too politically naive to realize his true beliefs. Oppenheimer, more interested in reckoning with history than in judging beliefs, writes deeply and sympathetically about these men's crises. But his attempts to form a dialectical history of liberalism from their changes of heart are less convincing. These men were too idiosyncratic to ever truly reflect the larger history of the left, and Oppenheimer's profiles illuminate the men, not the movement. Agent: Melissa Flashman, Trident Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders

Brady Carlson. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-24393-2

Inspired by a lifelong fascination with America's chief executives, Carlson, a reporter and NPR host, adopts a novel perspective on American history by exploring the ways in which past presidents have been remembered and memorialized. Blending political biography and road tours of memorials and monuments across the nation, he digs into the stories beneath each grave and behind every tomb. A lover of details regardless of how grotesque or quirky, Carlson leads a field trip to the resting places of both distinguished and obscure presidents, and gives some interesting death factoids along the way, including that Zachary Taylor's rumored last meal was cherries and buttermilk, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4th 1826, Ulysses S. Grant died of cancer before finishing his memoir, and attending doctors mistakenly killed James Garfield by sticking their fingers in his gunshot wounds. Carlson visits Mt. Rushmore, Grant's Tomb, Arlington National Cemetary, the joke-telling L.B.J. robot at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Tex., and Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY.—the final resting place of Millard Fillmore as well as singer Rick James. Carlson's book entertains and enlightens, and reminds readers that presidents are also human beings. Photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Learn to Crochet, Love to Crochet

Anna Wilkinson. Quadrille (Chronicle, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-84949-753-4

Wilkinson's hip introduction to crochet proves that crocheting is not just a craft of potholders and tea cozies. The wonder of the single stitch with all its rhythm and tactile delicacy is on full display with step-by-step color photos. As Wilkinson explains, the student of crochet can "make any shape you can think of as you are thinking it up." The beauty of it resides in its economy, needing only a crochet hook and yarn, along with the knowledge of a few basic stitches and some digital dexterity. The author concedes that early on there may be some awkwardness adjusting to hand positions and holding the hook, but "with patience, persistence, and practice" the clumsiness vanishes and the learner is well on the way to creating a plethora of warm clothing and accessories. Wilkinson progresses from project to project, starting with basic patterns—such as a clutch bag—and then gradually advancing to the more sophisticated cardigan or granny-square cotton T-shirt. The book is a revelation for any nimble-fingered artisan who desires to take up a craft that is at once intricate, delicate, tactile, and utilitarian. Color photos. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place

Philip Marsden. Univ. of Chicago, $27.50 (352p) ISBN 978-0-226-36609-8

Travel writer Marsden (The Levelling Sea) whose previous works chronicled trips to Russia, Armenia, and Ethiopia, returns home to walk the length of the Cornwall region, a peninsula located in the southwest corner of Great Britain. Marsden employs an array of disciplines and devices to capture both the ruggedness and beauty of the landscape and more challengingly, to successfully convey a sense of the land's ephemeral "spirit," imbued in the moors and hills by its unique geography and history. Walking east to west, metaphorically through time, and concluding at the aptly named Land's End, Marsden explores and offers commentary on the mysterious manmade arrangements of stones dotting the landscape, dating from the Neolithic era; places where Arthurian legends hover over the land; regions where talk of druids still endures; and the environmental degradation left by the industrial extraction of clay from the land. Alongside Marsden's ruminations on landscape, there is a smaller parallel narrative that describes making repairs to his recently purchased ramshackle Cornish home and acts as a subtle addition to the philosophical speculations on the power of place. Marsden is erudite and brings his knowledge of geology, etymology, history, and philosophy, as well as the voices of Cornwall's past and current inhabitants, to his long peregrination. The writing is seamless and occasionally stretches to the elegant. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America

%C3%93scar Mart%C3%ADnez, trans. from the Spanish by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington. Verso (PRH, dist.), $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-78478-168-2

Journalist Martínez (The Beast) tenaciously reports piece by piece on the accretion of gang-related violence besetting El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This book is based on a series of articles he wrote for the website elfaro.net, and each entry details its own escapade." A well-connected mafioso twice escapes the clutches of the state and finally ends up serving time for murder. The bleak story of the paranoid informant's untimely end constitutes its own chapter. Another details how Los Zetas, a Mexican gang, consolidated power in Guatemala, which is crucial background for understanding a police massacre and the subsequent "chess game of criminal politics" analyzed later. Martínez pulls the tarp back from the snake-pit tangle of gang affiliations, offenses, and revenge in overcrowded prisons that lead to periodic massacres. He tells of the perseverance of El Salvador's only forensic investigator in excavating a well, a tale that approaches dark farce. The book enters "strange and impenetrable worlds filled with code words and carnage, in which players function as it were just another day at work." Martínez's reporting reveals shocking failures of the state—particularly of police and courts—but he avoids tidy lessons, preferring to let the intractable issues stand in all their cold brutality. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice

Nikhil Goyal. Doubleday, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54012-4

Goyal, a 20-year-old education reform activist and the 2013 recipient of the Freedom Flame Award, criticizes America's traditional schools, with their heavy focus on grades and standardized testing, and argues in favor of educational apprenticeships, maker schools that emphasize project-based learning, and democratic free schools that reject grades and required classes in favor of "play and self-directed learning." Goyal convinces readers that American students are stressed out, overworked, subjected to extreme standardized testing, and disengaged from learning, but some of his proposed alternatives don't seem tenable. The workshop or maker programs implemented in schools, libraries, and museum across the U.S. seem to be economically and racially diverse, but the high price tag on some of the "free schools," with one charging as much as $18,000 a year for preschool and another more than $25,000 a year for K-12, places them out of reach for many families. Goyal argues that traditional schools increase bullying and depression because students' creativity—and their voices—have been squelched out of the classroom. Depressingly for a book that argues about the need to hear from students, Goyal's work includes few comments from students of color (the students most likely to be victimized by schools' strict disciplinary policies). Ultimately, the book's meticulous research and detailed examination of the history of the American educational system drown out the words of those affected most: the students. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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