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American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

Matthew Avery Sutton. Belknap, $35 (456p) ISBN 978-0-674-04836-2

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Drawing deeply on letters, newspaper articles, and other archival materials, Sutton, a history professor at Washington State University, challenges the now-accepted accounts of Christian fundamentalism that attribute its rise to conflicts with evolution and modernist theories of biblical interpretation. Rather, he argues in this elegant, judicious, and thoughtful new history, apocalypticism—or the belief in an imminent end of the world—shaped the development of fundamentalism and sustained it through generations, from the late nineteenth-century to the present day. Thus, he contends, the anticipated end-of-the-world provided an interpretation of natural disasters, geopolitical changes, and war. "Fundamentalism, therefore, is best defined as radical apocalyptic evangelicalism," Sutton writes. He deftly weaves this idea through political events from the New Deal through the Cold War and into fundamentalist response to 9/11, and he illustrates the singular power of individuals ranging from Charles Fuller and Billy Sunday to Billy Graham and Hal Lindsey to influence fundamentalist Christians to political action. Sutton's engaging book belongs next to classic texts on the subject, among them Ernest Sandeen's The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930, and Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sex After Service: A Guide for Military Service Members, Veterans, and the People Who Love Them

Drew A. Helmer. Rowman and Littlefield, $30 (150p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3056-9

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Helmer, director of the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center, here examines the problems with sexual health often experienced by members and veterans of the armed forces due to residual trauma and injury. As he states in the introduction, the subject merits discussion precisely because it is so "often dismissed as unimportant and stigmatized in mainstream health care settings." Opening with basic introductions to the relevant medical terminology and features of military culture, the book addresses such topics as common adverse effects suffered by service members, which range from chemical exposure to PTSD, and the impact of aging on the sex drive. Helmer also discusses how belonging to the military shapes an individual's sense of self and communication style. At the back, he lists agencies and organizations that can provide further resources, including for homosexual and bisexual people, though transgender-related issues remain a notable omission throughout. Nonetheless, for both couples and caregivers, this book can provide a valuable starting point for long-term sexual health and wellness. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Letter to Jimmy

Alain Mabanckou. Counterpoint/Soft Skull, $15 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59376-601-6

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Originally written on the 20th anniversary of James Baldwin's death in 1987, this book by Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine) addresses Baldwin in the second person. Much of the first half recounts Baldwin's biographic details, illuminating the pre–Civil Rights Movement Harlem in which Baldwin was raised or the sense of artistic and personal liberation he would find in France. Precisely because of the use of the second person, the format of the prose can feel a bit stilted; Mabanckou is ostensibly telling Baldwin about his own life: "During your childhood, you have countless opportunities to witness the extent to which your father distrusts the white man, whoever he may be…." Once the rhythm of the text becomes more established, however, Mabanckou displays more clarity on the cultural and political context that Baldwin both represented and contrasted. Eventually, as Mabanckou explores correlations between Baldwin's ideas and the contemporary world, the book really comes into its own. For instance, Mabanckou questions whether some of the "Rwandan genocide" literature echoes Uncle Tom's Cabin: "If we are not careful, an African author will be able to do nothing but await the next disaster…." One of the most influential and fearless writers of the 20th century, Baldwin deserves this celebration of his life, so that readers may encounter, in a new light, the fortitude of this true revolutionary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress But Surrendered the White House

Thomas F. Schaller. Yale, $32.50 (368p) ISBN 978-0-300-17203-4

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Political scientist and Baltimore Sun columnist Schaller (Whistling Past Dixie) charts the factionalism and internal schisms of the Republican Party in an astute and engaging manner, from the disappearance of moderate and liberals to the rise of a "xenophobic fringe" that consistently wins congressional races but alienates the electorate in presidential contests. While the topic of the modern GOP's rightward drift is nothing new, Schaller's explains the complex political history with plenty of nuance but largely without academic jargon. He persuasively argues that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, architect of the 1994 "Contract With America, had a "more lasting impact on the party than any other Republican, including Ronald Reagan" by making loathing of government a core principle. Schaller also lays out a case that simple majority control of the House of Representatives gives the Republicans enough power to govern, if sometimes only as "the party of no," without being forced to confront shifting national demographics in which a predominantly white male vote is no longer sufficient. Schaller's solution for the party's long-term survival—embracing effective state governors as less extreme candidates—is not novel, but he shows that if it does not happen, the GOP will weaken further still. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Once Upon a Grind

Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-425-27085-1

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There's magic in the Ethiopian coffee beans that Matt Allegro, Clare Cosi's ex-husband, brings to her New York coffeehouse at the start of Coyle's 14th amusing combination of caffeine and chaos (after 2013's Billionaire Blend). The inaugural Storybook Kingdom, a festival in Central Park celebrating fairy tales, draws plenty of participants, many dressed as princesses and knights. When the two children of Clare's boyfriend, Mike Quinn, go missing, Clare joins the search, and winds up finding the body of the Pink Princess, Anya Kravchenko. After Matt, who's costumed as one of the knights, becomes a prime suspect, Clare must again play detective. Disturbing visions from drinking the special coffee help guide her, as does the mysterious necklace charm key worn by Anya and other women that leads to the exclusive Prince Charming Club and its sometimes surprising members. An extensive list of mouth-watering recipes rounds out the volume. Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Iris Fan

Laura Joh Rowland. Minotaur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-04706-9

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Rowland's 18th and final mystery set in feudal Japan showcases the series' strengths and weaknesses. In 1709, four years after the events of 2013's The Shogun's Daughter, Sano Ichiro is grappling with the repercussions of yet another reversal of fortunes. Sano's refusal to abandon his pursuit of the truth behind the death of the aging shogun's daughter, Yoshihato, has cost him dearly. In particular, his choice to view Lord Ienobu, the ruler's nephew and heir, as responsible for Yoshihato's death has led to another demotion. Once having held the post of chamberlain, the shogun's first minister, he is reduced to a lowly patrol guard. When an attempt is made on the shogun's life, Sano gets a chance to redeem himself. The prominent place of the supernatural in the plot, more so than in other recent entries, will unsettle fans of traditional detecting. Still, Rowland offers the usual high-stakes suspense, convincing period detail, and nuanced characters you care about. Readers will be sorry to see the last of Sano. Agent: Pam Ahearn, Ahearn Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Third Target

Joel C. Rosenberg. Tyndale, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4143-3627-5

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Known for his globe-spanning thrillers (The Twelfth Imam), many dealing with the interplay between radical Islam and the West, Rosenberg has ripped a page from current headlines with a heart-stopping plot about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also commonly called ISIS). When New York Times reporter J.B. Collins is given unprecedented access to world leaders and terrorists, it puts him in a position to advise even the president of the United States about looming chemical weapons attacks and a "third target" besides Syria and Iraq. The plot is executed with well-paced precision, includes a mysterious Israeli love interest named Yael, and has more than enough to satisfy those who love over the top action, down to the last shocking word of the book. Rosenberg's writing skills are impeccable, yet some Christian readers may wonder whether the grisly violence he depicts and the xenophobia it stokes contradict the Christian gospel messages found in the book. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Saving Grace

Jane Green. St. Martin's, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-04733-5

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Green (Tempting Fate) woos readers with her latest offering, a memorable novel probing the flimsy façade of one woman's seemingly perfect life. Grace and Ted Chapman have an idyllic life: he is a well-known author, and she is his adoring wife. When their assistant, Ellen, leaves her job, Grace is desperate to find someone who can take Ellen's place and can adjust to Ted's ever-changing moods. Grace hires Beth, who proves to be an excellent employee, anticipating Ted's needs and assisting Grace as well. But there are oddities in Beth's behavior that Grace can't explain. And when Grace begins to see a psychiatrist who prescribes a host of potent medications, she hardly recognizes herself anymore, either emotionally or physically. As Grace's life threatens to completely spiral out of control, she must take stock of what is most important to her and discover how to find true happiness. Green has imbued her story with realistic, imperfect characters. The lure of the novel lies in Green's ability to create a consistenly evolving story that entices from the very first page. First printing: 125,000 copies. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher & Company. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War

James Lovegrove. Titan (www.titanbooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-781165-43-0

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Lovegrove's second Holmes pastiche is more traditional than its steampunk predecessor, 2013's The Stuff of Nightmares, and is mostly successful at portraying Holmes and Watson in character. In 1913, the doctor visits his retired friend on the Sussex Downs, where the pair happen upon the corpse of Patrick Mallinson, the victim of a fall from a great height. While the man's father, Craig, a mining magnate, believes that Patrick took his own life, he asks Holmes to determine the truth to avoid damage to his business from rumors that something else had happened. Elizabeth Vandenbergh, Patrick's lover, reveals that he had some Egyptian hieroglyphs tattooed on his body, raising the possibility that his death was the work of a secret and sinister society. The chapter titles sometimes spoil what's to come, and Lovegrove does strike some false notes. For example, Holmes's use of a magnifying lens to look for evidence is cited by Watson as evidence of his declining vision, although Conan Doyle had a much younger Holmes use such an aid in A Study in Scarlet. Still, the mystery and its solution are creative ones. (June)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Whack Job: An Elliott Lisbon Mystery

Kendel Lynn. Henery (www.henerypress.com), $15.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-940976-12-9

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At the start of Agatha-finalist Lynn's sprightly second Elliott Lisbon Mystery (after 2013's Board Stiff), Elli, a PI-in-training who's also the director of the Ballantyne Foundation on South Carolina's Sea Pine Island, witnesses a crime. A man walks into the restaurant where Elli is having lunch and shoots local insurance agent Gilbert Goodsen, an occasional donor to the foundation, then flees. Elli rushes over to the wounded Gilbert, and tries to staunch the blood flowing from his arm. Elli soon gets caught up in an investigation that also involves a swindle and the theft of a Faberge egg. Meanwhile, Elli must oversee the foundation's annual fundraiser, a Wonderland Tea Party, in which she encounters more stumbling blocks than Alice herself as she wandered through Wonderland. The stormy relationship between Gilbert and his wife, who are trying to work out a divorce settlement, complicates the case. Cozy fans will find plenty to like. (May)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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