Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bookviews - January 2011

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

For ten weeks in 2010, America and the world watched as BP tried to cap an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico whose rig had suffered an explosion that killed several workers. Loren C. Steffy, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, has written Drowning in Oil ($27.00, McGraw-Hill). It is a gripping account of the efforts to stop the flow of an estimated 200 million gallons of oil. The event focused attention on the modern world’s dependency on oil, not just for transportation and heating, but for use in countless products and their manufacture. It also provided the Obama administration an excuse to close down oil drilling in the Gulf where it has been safely conducted for decades. Steffy performs a useful service by revealing BP’s history of safety failures and its reputation as a major oil company willing to cut corners and ignore rules. That is what lies at the heart of the event; not the oil industry, but one member who, ironically, spent millions prior to the tragedy to convince the public it was environmentally committed to good practices. The aftermath has severely impacted the economy of many Gulf States and left many in the oil industry unemployed for purely political, anti-energy reasons.

The Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. libertarian think tank, publishes some of the best books on the topic of government and the policies that influence its behavior. Libertarians prefer smaller government, less regulation of the marketplace, and less interference with consumer choice. In short, it prefers the liberty the U.S. Constitution was drafted to ensure. It has three books of recent publication that are well worth reading to understand why the nation has suffered a financial crisis. I recommend them all. They are The Struggle to Limit Government by James Samples ($24.95), Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right by David N. Mayer ($21.95) and, coming in February, The False Promise of Green Energy ($24.95) by four contributing authors. It is now obvious to everyone that the federal government has grown too large, expanding powers often not granted by the Constitution. In a period of high unemployment, the only segment of the economy not affected is government. In his book about contract law, the author examines the relationship between economic liberty and personal liberty, the subject of some very controversial Supreme Court rulings. There is much talk about “green energy”, a reference to wind and/or solar power that is supposed to also generate “green jobs.” The reality is that neither is sufficient to meet even the most minimal energy needs of Americans and they exist almost solely due to government subsidies and mandates. Green energy is essentially a myth and this excellent book explains why.

One of the best aspects of books, almost from the time there were books, is their ability to educate people regarding various aspects of their lives. A number of such books can prove useful in the year ahead and, in no particular order, let me present two. My friend Julian Block, one of the nation’s experts on all aspects of taxation, has written Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce ($19.95, Passkey Publications. Elk Grove, CA, softcover). This year in particular, everyone whether single, married, living together, separated or divorced needs to know how to navigate the complex tax system. Using a question and answer format, the book provides easily understood and excellent advice to the many questions people have regarding all aspects of relationships, along with warnings about various situations such as those in which a woman receives gifts from someone courting or just keeping them. In the case of divorce, the book discusses how still-married or ex-spouses can use information on a joint return to track down hidden assets. Recovering overdue alimony payments or child support is also addressed. A former IRS special agent, an attorney, and author of several books, Block’s new book is the place to start for anyone in a relationship who needs to know their way around how taxes will impact it. Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, is one of the nation’s best known physicians for his ten books on aspects of health and now he has written You Can’t Afford to Get Sick ($l6.00, Plume, softcover) that looks at a national health care system in crisis at the same time the national economy is in crisis. For those who want to understand why, Dr. Weil shows exactly how we have become embroiled in this contentious situation. All current polls indicate Americans want Obamacare repealed, but Dr. Weil seeks to provide a solution that will not only make healthcare affordable, but which will put the reader on the path to maximum health. He fears for the failure of the health care system, says that insurance companies have destroyed the opportunity to get good health care and that pharmaceutical companies rule the entire system. I, frankly, cannot judge the merits of his views, but there is little doubt he knows whereof he speaks.

For folks who enjoy getting in the car for a trip, there’s Along Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter ($24.95, Mile Oak Publishing) which is part of a series of traveler’s guides for the open road and among the best being offered. Whether you’re going south from Detroit to Marietta, Georgia, or north, this neat guide has 105 full-color maps, 144 photos, 15 charts and diagrams, all enclosed with spiral binding and laminated folding cover with a reference map of the entire route. Inside every page is filled north or south. To learn more, visit

The next book is not exactly a travel guide. About the only reason I can think of to spend billions to explore the planets in our galaxy is to remind us of the uniqueness of planet Earth. Alone among all the planets circling our sun, Earth sustains life. The contrast is made manifestly clear in Postcards from Mars ($30.00, Plume, softcover) by Jim Bell, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University. The photos, more than 150 full-color-process prints taken by the NASA Mars Exploration Rover missions, reveal an utterly dead planet, a surface so barren that the contrast with the fecundity of Earth makes it serve as a reminder of our planet’s extraordinary environment and ecology.

As a writer, I am probably more aware of all the phrases and idioms that are used by people in verbal and written discourse. As often as not, I have wondered where they come from and now, thanks to Harry Oliver, we have Flying by the Seat of your Pants: Surprising Origins of Everyday Expressions ($13.95, Parigee, softcover). I have enjoyed his previous books, “Bubble Gum and Hula Hoops” and “Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers” for the way they illuminate the world in which we live and his latest book does much the same. Words such as “swashbuckling”, “humbug”, and “tarmac” get the Oliver treatment along with phrases such as “wet one’s whistle” and “for the birds.” It is just great fun to read. For anyone who dreams of becoming a screenwriter, there’s Now Write! Screenwriting ($14.95, Tarcher/Penguin, softcover), subtitled “screenwriting exercises from today’s best writers and teachers.” Edited by Laurie Lamson, it shortcuts a long learning process by teaching how to solve problems like knowing where to start the story, why one should focus on your particular writing style and your personal character when digging out of a plot hole, and methods to stop your internal critic from too much negative thinking. Now go write that film!

Memoirs, Biographies & Autobiographies

It was a New York Times bestseller when first published and Mika Brzesinski’s autobiography, All Things at Once, is now available in softcover ($15.95, Weinstein Books). Mika came to fame as the co-host on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show with Joe Scarborough. Her fans are bound to enjoy this look at the many roles she inhabits daily as a wife, mother, and career woman’s advocate The daughter of a former Secretary of State to Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, she is comfortable around those who are at the center power but she has had to balance a happy marriage with two daughters against her own ambitions over twenty years of ups and downs in the high-profile, high-stress field of television journalism. In the realm of politics, there’s a lightweight memoir by Ron Reagan, My Father at 100, ($25.95, Viking) about our former, much beloved President. He has written a touching portrait man who he did fully come to know and understand as he reached his own maturity. Reagan, who lived a public life, first as a Hollywood actor, then as a spokesman for General Electric, later as the Governor of California, and finally as President, was also a very private man. His son came to admire his unshakeable principles that he sought to instill not only in his children, but in the country he so fiercely loved.

The wife of a noted percussionist and virtuoso snare drummer, Harry Brabec, pays him tribute with her memoir and biography, The Drummer Drives! Everyone Else Rides ($14.95, softcover). I have known Barbara Brabec for many years as the author of small business guides, but I was surprised to learn she had married Harry in 1961, in the wake of his dismissal from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1956 by the imperious conductor Fritz Reiner. It destroyed his career as a symphony musician and caused the failure of his first marriage. This highly entertaining memoir tells of his comeback and how he encouraged her entrepreneurial ambitions. “Neither of us ever imagined that I’d someday write a book about my life with him,” says Barbara and we can be very happy that she did. Musicians or those related to one will thoroughly enjoy this book. It can be purchased via and you can learn more by visiting

The Whistleblower by Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn ($25.00, Palgrave/Macmillan) is an extraordinary story about sex trafficking, military contractors, and how one woman, a Nebraska police officers and divorced mother of three answered a recruitment notice for a job with a private military contractor, DynaCorp International, she was hired. The money was good, there was an opportunity to travel and to help Bosnia rebuild where she was to assist a United Nations peacekeeping mission. It was not long after she arrived in Sarajevo that she discovered that some of her colleagues were involved in some very ugly crimes. It didn’t take long for her to be demoted and then fired. The situation was fraught with potential harm and she fled the country, but made sure to bring incriminating documents with her. Not only did she win a lawsuit against DynCorp, but she exposed what they had done. This is a cautionary tale about what really goes on inside UN operations and what can happen with war and its aftermath is subcontracted to private firms who may operate outside the rules of war.

Well known to Los Angelenos, Steve Lopez has written a column for the Los Angeles Times and as the author of “The Soloist” that was later made into a movie. In Dreams & Schemes: My Decade of Fun in the Sun ($17.95, Camino Books, Philadelphia, PA, softcover) provides hours of delightful reading about the city through a collection of his controversial, irreverent, trouble-making, and heart-warming columns. In the tradition of journalism, Lopez has had skirmishes with governors, mayors, moguls, and even raccoons. More than 90 columns written between 2001 and 2010 reveal much about life in LA and about Lopez. A similarly offbeat memoir is Take a Seat: One Man, One Tandem and Twenty Thousand Miles of Possibilities by Dominic Gill ($16.95, FalconGuides, an imprint of Globe Pequot, softcover). It is the story of when he set out from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, by bicycle on June 16, 2006 with the goal of reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America, nearly 20,000 miles away. He intended to invite strangers to join in on the long journey who would not only help peddle part of the way, but become friends in the process. By the time he arrived, 270 people had helped him on his way. Cyclists in particular will enjoy this story while others will find it filled with glimpses of the humanity we all share.

Another journey is told in the biography of Tupaia: Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett ($44.95, Praeger) just out this month. The award-winning author of eighteen books, Druett literally stumbled into the story of a Tupaia, a man who was a gifted linguist, a brilliant orator, and a devious politician who was highly skilled in astronomy, navigation, and meteorology. In particular, he was an expert in the geography of the Pacific and thus invaluable to the English explorer. He was, in addition, a gifted artist whose work records Cook’s journey of exploration. His story, however, went untold because he died of scurvy seven months before the ship returned home. Anyone with an interest in history will want to read this book. The journey that the Lewis and Clark expedition took to map the vast new Louisiana Territory and the far west was followed by one that has been virtually unknown until now. It is the story of Captain John McCallen and historian John C. Jackson tells it in By Honor and Right: How One Man Boldly Defined the Destiny of a Nation ($28.00, Prometheus Books). It was McCallen, an army officer, who followed after Lewis and Clark with the mission of opening up the Santa Fe Trail. Deflected from that goal, he discovered a practicable route across the continent after exploring the Pacific Northwest where, for a brief but crucial moment, he blocked British claims to the Columbia River, south of the 49th parallel. History sometimes turns on such enigmatic figures.

World War Two spawned hundreds of memoirs of those who played a role in it. Whitey: From Farm Kid to Flying Tiger to Attorney by Wayne G. Johnson ($18.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) is a classic American story, one of daring, adventure, hard work, and success. Johnson, known as Whitey, was the 11th of 14 children born to immigrant parents. He grew up on tenant farms in rural Minnesota during the Great Depression. “We were poor but didn’t know it.” He enlisted in the Air Corps the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was trained as a fighter pilot, and sent to China to join the famed Flying Tigers, As one of 16 P-51 Mustang fighters, he participated in the first strike against Japanese airdromes near Shanghai, destroying 97 planes on the ground without any losses. When he returned from war, he became a successful attorney. We need to remember what those times were like and how so many like Whitey returned from them to make a life for themselves. Another aspect of America is told in A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). It should come as no surprise that 9/11 dramatically changed the lives of many Arabs who immigrated or grew up here, often having been victims of discrimination in their home nations. The author presents a series of portraits of those in the Arab-American community, who do not fit the stereotypes they encounter since they are a diverse group including Democrats, Republicans, Christians and Muslims.

Getting Down to Business Books

These are nervous times for many who hold fulltime jobs so maybe an investment in The Employees Rights Handbook by Steven Mitchell Sack ($39.95, Legal Strategies Publicans, Merrick, NY), now revised and enlarged in its third edition will prove a good investment. This is the real deal. Between its covers you will learn how to get property hired, to protect yourself on the job, and how to fight back if you are unfairly and illegally fired. It will likely save the reader a lot of money, aggravation, and expense with its valuable legal strategies, checklists, forms, sample letters and contracts that will strengthen your position if and when you have a job-related legal problem.

The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma ($14.00, Free Press, softcover) is subtitled “A modern fable on real success in business and life.” It is filled with good advice on how stand out as a worker, no matter what your position may be. How to change just “being busy” to achieving real results, and how to build a world-class team, among many other elements of advice that have made Sharma into one of the world’s most highly respected leadership experts who has advised many of the top companies worldwide. This is not some huge tome, but rather an easily read and applicable book. High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout by Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) offers some excellent advice for women who get so obsessed with their work they forget to smell the flowers. If you recognize the signs in yourself or someone else, this book may pull them back from the brink and restore some sanity to their lives.

Measuring America: How Economic Growth Came to Define American Greatness in the Late Twentieth Century by Andrew L. Yarrow ($26.95, University of Massachusetts Press, softcover) is a particularly timely book insofar as the nation is trying to recover from its excesses of borrowing and spending, ever-growing entitlement programs, and a mortgage loan bubble that shook the entire economy at home and around the world. Yarrow examines how American’s values have been shaped by economic statistics and concepts during the last seventy years. These quantitative measures first emerged after World War II. Americans came to expect a booming economy would continue despite the cyclical recessions and down-turns. This is a well-researched and insightful book.

War! War! War!

Compared to the other creatures that share the planet there is none so dangerous as humankind. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History ($28.00, Prometheus Books) by Jack David Eller is a reminder that war in the name of religion has been around a very long time, going back to the earliest pagan beliefs that include human and animal sacrifice, self-mortification, religious persecution, and including ethno-religious conflict, religiously sanctions homicide and abuse, and wars. This is an illuminating, in-depth and very broad-based study that demonstrates the many manifestations of religious violence. The irony, of course, is that the three major monotheistic religions preach love and compassion. In War and Sex: A Brief History of Men’s Urge for Battle John V.H. Dippel ($27.00, Prometheus Books) says that the reason why young men voluntarily go off toe war has long defied understanding. It is so contrary to the innate instinct for self-preservation, but they have throughout all of civilization and Dippel argues that one important, subconscious reason is to enhance their status as marriage partners for the women on the home front. This, says the author, is especially true for men from low socioeconomic backgrounds for whom becoming a soldiers offers a sexual and reproductive edge over their civilian male peers. He explores this against the background of the American Civil War to the Vietnam War and the current clash between the West and Islamic fundamentalism.

The premiere publishing of books about war is Zenith Press. Here are some of its most recent books. War has always been glorified in art and museums are filled with great paintings of battles and heroes. War in Pacific Skies ($27.99, large format, softcover) by Charlie and Ann Cooper, featuring the aviation art of Jack Fellows fuses art and history in accurate detail with many never-before-published photographs, artwork, and personal accounts that bring to life the battles at Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, Guam, Tinian, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and many more. The artwork is simply stunning with full color depictions of the famed Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by many of the top aces, along with the variety of other fighting and bombing aircraft the turned the time of war to victory over the Japanese empire.

World War Two continues to interest the generations since it was fought to stop the totalitarian ideologies of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The German Wars: A Concise History, 1859-1945 by Michael A. Palmer ($29.00, Zenith Press) provides both detail and insight regarding a nation called “the Huns” by those it attacked. Feared for its excellence on the battlefield, the irony is that it lost both wars it initiated in the last century, but its full history is filled with a warning for a new generation that faces off against new potential enemies, not the least of which is Iran these days. Four Stars of Valor by Phil Nordye ($19.99, Zenith Press) recalls the combat history of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II and for anyone who finds this aspect of the epic war, it is a reminder that American warriors were drawn from big cities and small towns who came together after the attack on Pearl Harbor to serve their country and a greater goal to stop Germany. Drawing on interviews and official archives, the author conveys the story of those who were the spearhead of the invasion of Sicily in the first American mass combat jump. They would later join the combat at Normandy.

Modern warfare is both similar to that of the past and different for the remarkable technology involved. Predator: The Remote Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan by Matt J. Martin with Charles W. Sasser ($28.00, Zenith Press) tells how this remotely piloted aircraft has had an impact on the modern battlefield. Superb in its ability to provide reconnaissance and to deliver death to the enemy with Hellfire missiles, these aircraft have a crew that are sometimes a half a world away from the missions they’re flying. Lt. Col. Martin provides a first-person account of the fight against global terrorism. It is filled with exciting stories of chasing and attacking armed insurgents in Baghdad or across the desert countryside. Because of the television cameras, the crews experience warfare more closely than traditional bomber crews.

All wars have left its warrior-survivors with its scars, but there has been increasing interest in what was formerly called battle shock, but is now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). David Philipps, a feature writer for the Colorada Springs Gazette whose articles have appeared in many larger newspapers, has written Lethal Warriors: Uncovering the tragic reality of PTSD ($25.00, Palgrave MacMillan) in which he reveals that a number soldiers who have returned home from the Middle East conflicts, some of whom have murdered in the aftermath of their personal nightmares. Philipps tells of the efforts of General Mark Graham, a former commander at Fort Carson, Colorado, who recognized a growing problem and took steps to deal with it, providing a lifeline to the suffering soldiers.

Kid’s Books

I regret I must start off 2011 with a personal protest of the January 10 American Library Association Youth Media Award called The Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. While the Newbery and Caldecott Medals annually honor excellence in children’s literature, according to the ALA “The demand for quality gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) children’s books continues to grow as the nation becomes more diverse and the ALA will be awarding a young adult book that brings these issues to the forefront.” I would argue that the nation is not becoming “more diverse” when it comes to fundamental moral values. I regard this award as harmful to a society being harangued to accept homosexuality as “normal.”

I long have had a problem with books claiming unscientifically and falsely that the Earth is either experiencing “global warming” or will be. This hoax was discredited in 2009. Like environmentalism, much of whose claims are baseless, homosexuality is being pushed on children as an acceptable, alternative lifestyle. I do not believe most parents want their children to be exposed to such advocacy.

Now let us turn our attention to some worthy books for your kids or teens.

For the very youngest who may need to be read to, there are books to teach them the fundamentals such as The Changing Colors of Amos by John Kinyon and illustrated by Kay Selvig Flanders ($14.95, Cherished Publications LLC, Springdale, AR). A sweet little leprechaun is, surprisingly, not green. In fact, he changes colors every day. Need it be said this book will teach a toddler the names of different colors as well as the day of the week. In a similar fashion Hockey Opposites by Per-Henrik Gurth ($15.95, Kids Can Press) teaches how to determine the size of things, along with such basics as “out” and “in”. It’s all very basic, unless you are a very young child just learning them.

All the rest of these books are from Kids Can Press, a very favorite of mine. A very amusing story is told in Spork by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault ($16,95). It tells the story of “Spork” the child of a Spoon and a Fork who doesn’t fit in with all the other cutlery and is the object of ridicule until one days a big “Messy Thing” arrives and overwhelms the others until Spork comes to the rescue. The lesson for the very young is not to reject those who may be different in some way. Though autumn has passed, Kitten’s Autumn by Eugenie Fernandes ($14.95) teaches the fundamentals about different animals and the noises they make as they dine outdoors.

An older group, ages 7 to 10, will have their horizons expanded with books such as Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm written by Deborah Hodge with some wonderful photos by Brian Harris ($16.95) It takes the reader through the seasons and explains what farmers do, what the plant, what farm animals they keep, harvesting, and all the activities that result in good food for the rest of us to enjoy. Looking Closely in the Rain Forest by Frank Serafini ($16.95) is filled with photos that reveal the many different creatures and flora to be found in that environment. It’s educational, but mostly for the young, early reader, it is a feast for the eye and very memorable as they grow up, mindful of how extraordinary the world is. Some will find Ultimate Trains from the “Machines of the Future” series of particular interest. Written by Peter McMahon and handsomely illustrated by Andy Mora ($l6.95), it explains what we can expect from high speed trains while also teaching about how trains of the past developed from steam power to diesel. Those in the future will use magnet power. The book includes some interesting science projects a young reader can conduct. It is quite fascinating no matter what age one is.

Then, of course, there are books that are just plain fun and exist for no other reason than to entertain. As a former journalist, I enjoyed Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus!  Written by Frank Asch and illustrated by Devin Asch ($16.95) it tells of a day young Haywood joins his father, a journalist who works for a tabloid newspaper, thinking that all the stories are just made up and not real. Some great adventures ensue and Haywood discovers that being a newsman can be a lot of fun as some very fanciful events occur. The illustrations are delightful as the characters in the book tend to look a lot like famous folks including Elvis Presley. Turns out that life at The Daily Comet is a heck of a ride! Two comic-style books, Tower of Treasure by Scott Chandler ($17.95) and Mummy Mayhem by Mary Labatt and Jo Ruiux ($16.95) provide plenty of excitement as their young heroes and heroines have some adventures that will keep a young reader turning the page. A story with more text to read plus some fun artwork is Bogbrush the Barbarian by Howard Whitehouse and illustrated by Bill Slavin ($17.95). It is sheer mayhem, but it is also filled with lots of very real, very useful knowledge as it teaches the meaning of new words, phrases, and other interesting things. To learn more about these and others, visit

There is a big market among young adults for action-filled novels and Jon S. Lewis’s Grey Griffins trilogy has sold more than 500,000 copies. He has begun a new series called Chaos, filled with crackling plot twists, cliffhanger chapter endings, cyber attacks, alien invaders, and an undercurrent of teen romance. The novel is Invasion ($14.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover) and is just out this month. The “enemy” in the novel is a corporation and, to be candid, I wish it was not because such stories breed a distrust of corporations when, in fact, they employ a lot of people, produce a lot of things people want and need, and do a lot of good in many ways. That said, it is a theme that has been around a very long time. As the young hero, Colt McAllister tried to determine the cause of his parent’s death, he and two new friends embark on the adventure that reveals it isn’t just a corporation but a portal to an alien world that is planning to invade Earth.

Novels, Novels, Novels

I think it may be a roll of the dice that turns one novelist into a household name with all the benefits that come with such fame while another novelist, easily as good or better, remains unheralded to the point where a far larger audience misses the opportunity to enjoy his work. I felt that way about Lior Samson’s novel, “The Dome”, last year when I read and reviewed it. This extraordinary author has the ability to anticipate events in ways that enhance his novels and Web Games, his latest, is no exception ($15.26, Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, Rowley, MA, softcover). Last year, a Stuxnet computer virus was introduced into Iran’s nuclear program (Russians? Israelis? The U.S.?) and some counterintelligence insiders estimate it wreaked such havoc that it may have put the program behind by two years based on the damage it did. True to form, Samson is just ahead of the curve with yet another thriller and its theme is cyber-terrorism. So far, the U.S. has been spared a major cyber-attack, but whatever can be turned on, can be turned off. Imagine, then, if the nation’s grid that moves electricity to consumers was the target? Behind the pseudonym of Lior Samson is a university professor whose own background brings to his work a reality that only such technical knowledge could produce. He is aided by others with comparable expertise, but the end result is the story of Destiny Allen, a Web designer for a computer security giant who finds herself in a deadly game that may bring down the electrical energy infrastructure of America. We have seen damage that the WikiLeak revelations have done with the release of classified military and diplomatic communications. Web Games dwarfs that as the main character must enlist her friends to deter a catastrophe. You will not put it down.

As often as not, I hear directly from an author with a novel that is struggling to be noticed amidst the usual avalanche of novels pouring forth in America. One such fellow was Tom Puckett, a California-based stage actor, graduate of UCLA, who has written for both stage and screen, and who researched The Big Blur ($12.99, Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, softcover) by working two summers as a background actor in Hollywood films. It is both hilarious and chilling as it begins with Charlie Thompson, a homeless drifter, waking up in the park to discover a film crew working on a movie about homeless bums like himself! Sneaking onto the set to flinch a free breakfast, he is taken to be just another actor recruited for the film, but he is such a convincing loser he wins a featured role in the film. Far from a rags to riches story, this one involves the mind games a sadistic director will play to get a performance from his players and, on an airport runway, filming the climax of the movie, Charlie’s own criminal past is about to catch up with him. Hollywood is about make-believe, but reality can have a nasty way of intruding.

The Radleys by Matt Haig ($25.00, Free Press) was a big hit in England when it was published in July 2010 as a very eccentric comedy because at 17 Orchard Lane Peter and Helen Radley are losing sleep trying to keep a secret from their teenage children, Rowan and Clara. They are, to their neighbors, the very picture of English respectability and, yes, it’s a bit odd that the children require factor 50 sun block even on the dullest of days, but it takes a shocking act of violence to turn everything in their lives upside down. Rowan and Clara are vampires! Even though they have done everything to turn their backs on this anomaly, they still ache for blood, the substance that makes them feel alive. A family story that is about quite normal folks is Suzanne Corso’s Brooklyn Story ($23.99, Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. This first-time novelist shows lots of promise and based the story on events from her own life, a sweet and engaging story about a woman coming into her own in the summer of 1978 where Samantha Bonti is fifteen years old, the child of a half-Jewish, half Italian, marriage, and living in Bensonhurst with her mother Joan, a woman abandoned and scared in a ruinous marriage. The mother is a major problem, but it is Samantha’s grandmother Ruth who is her greatest source of encouragement. A matrix of ancestors and traditions frames her life. Bensonhurst, then and now, is a tough place in which to grow up and the boy she has fallen in love with, a half-Sicilian, half-Dutch wannabe mobster poses a real threat to her dreams. Told from an adult perspective, its appeal will be to women who will likely identify with it out of their own experience.

There are always plenty of softcover novels to enjoy. “The Nanny Diaries” became a runaway hit in 2002 selling more than two million copies and was brought to the film screen in 2007. Well, the good news is that Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus have authored a sequel and the softcover edition of Nanny Returns ($15.00, Atria) is available. It is almost ten years later for Nan and she is just back from abroad with her husband. Things get very complicated when her troublesome charge, Grayer, now 16 and more messed up than ever, makes a drunken late-night visit to her apartment. For lovers of mysteries, Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano is back in The Track of Sand ($14.00, Penguin Books), the twelfth in her series. It begins when Inspector Salvatore Mantalbano wakes from strange dreams to find a gruesomely bludgeoned horse carcass on the beach in front of his seaside home. When his men go back to investigate, the carcass has disappeared, but before long two other people report missing horses. The hunt for the killer is on! A very different story is told by Nicole Seitz in The Inheritance of Beauty ($14.99, Thomas Nelson) in a nursing home where childhood sweethearts Maggie and George share seventy years of marriage and a dark secret which is awakened when a mysterious new resident moves in. His identity haunts them and seems to be more than a coincidence with an unexplained arrival of a long lost portrait of Maggie just days before his arrival. Turns out their lives intersected in 1929, a year that changed everything for the three of them. It is a very compelling story.

Tyndale House Publishers have prolific authors and this month and next, readers will be treated to several genres. For suspense, there’s Rene Gutteridge’s Possession that takes the reader into the scary world of post traumatic stress disorder as Vance Graegan, a detective is burned out in the wake of investigating the D.C. sniper case. Hoping to save his marriage, he quits the force and moves his wife and son to the other side of the country, but when the movers decide to hold his belongings for ransom, soon recovering them becomes the least of his problems. Coming in February, there’s Henry McLaughlin’s novel Journey to Riverbend in which a preacher, Michael Archer, is determined to carry out a son’s wish to be reconciled with his father, a very unpleasant man. When, however, he is kidnapped, Archer joins the search party. It is an old-fashioned Western filled with danger and romance. Also in February, Nicole Baart has penned Beneath the Night Tree, a conclusion to an earlier novel, “After the Leaves Fall” in which we meet an older and wiser Julia, a single mother to her son and her younger brother, living with her beloved grandmother and hoping to be engaged to the man of her dreams by year’s end. When the father of her son turns up a whole new twist to her otherwise content life occurs. It should be noted that Tyndale novels all have a Christian, spiritual element that address life’s challenges. The softcover novels are all priced at $12.99 and you can learn more at

That’s it for January! A whole new year filled with some wonderful new fiction and non-fiction books. You will find many here in my monthly report. Tell your book-loving friends and family about Bookviews and remember to bookmark it, too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bookviews - December 2010

By Alan Caruba

Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukah!

My Picks of the Month

If I could have just one book in my Christmas stocking it would have to be The Looney Tunes Treasury ($45.00, Running Press), written by Andrew Farago with a foreword by Ruth Clampett, the daughter of Looney Tunes animation director Bob Clampett. My earliest and fondest memories were of Saturday matinees at the Maplewood Theatre, a cavernous place with a huge movie screen. Whatever the main film was one could count on also seeing a Looney Tune cartoon and thus entire generations now in their 70s and 80s can instantly recall the joy and laughter provided by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and the human characters, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, among others. Filled with page after page of concept art, paintings, and memorabilia, the Treasury also has internal packets that yield shooting scripts, a Daffy Duck sticker book, a Tasmanian Devil masks, Pepe Le Pew Valentine’s Day cards, and other delightful items. Page after page is filled with the wonderful characters that sprung from the minds and pens of men like animator Isadore “Friz” Frelong or director Fred “Tex” Avery. Less well known were other members of the team that brought so many memorable characters to life and embedded them in the nation’s cultural history forever. If you loved Looney Tunes, you will love this wonderfully entertaining book about them.

The generation that fought World War II is passing from the scene and their children, your grandparents, are left to recall Christmas 1945: The Story of the Greatest Celebration in American History ($24.95, History Publishing Company). Written by Matthew Litt, it tells of the first Christmas after the end of the conflict. President Truman declared a four day Christmas weekend. Wartime restrictions had been lifted and every mode of travel was jammed with people eager to spend the holiday with family. I am old enough to remember trains filled with young soldiers coming and going from Fort Dix in New Jersey, but I was too young to understand the gravity of the situation in Europe and in the Pacific. This book recaptures the joy of that special Christmas when peace again reigned. In 1945, the only thing Americans knew was that they could begin to live their lives uninterrupted by the war and that was enough. The Christmas lights were lighted again and this book will spark memories and instruct those too young to know what was achieved by the greatest generation.

Christmas is about gifts and memorable dinners, so let’s tip our hat to the Cake Boss ($25.99, Free Press) as told by Buddy Valastro, star of the TLC show and owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, NJ. Buddy tells the story of his family who all work at the bakery. His dad bought the store in 1964 and its fame spread far and wide. There are great recipes and a delightful real life story. For those who will pass on the turkey and any other meat, there’s Fresh and Fast Vegan by Amanda Grant ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) and even I have to admit many of its recipes look delicious. Either one would make a great gift. Meanwhile, I will also be reading How to Lose Weight in the Real World: Why Other Diets Suck and You’re Not Losing Weight by Dr. Jessica DeValentino ($19.95, DeValentino Publishing, softcover). If you have tried dieting without success, the author will tell you why, how to beat temptations, and lots of other good advice.

In August I recommended “Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odyssey” and this month, if you are a dog owner, the book to read is Born to Bark by Stanley Coren, ($24.00, Free Press), subtitled “My adventures with an irrepressible and unforgettable dog.” For anyone who loves does, this is a wonderful Christmas gift. Dr. Coren is a psychologist who has previously authored six books about dog’s behavior, intelligence, and training. It is the story of Flint, a terrier that became his companion after his first marriage ended in divorce and who was a challenge to his second wife who actually gave him Flint prior to their marriage. It is a funny and touching story, and one in which the author learned even more about dogs. For many people, dogs keep them sane and give them a reason to get up every day. Animals replace their human counterparts in radio host and author Paul A. Ibbetson's Oliver the Squirrel ($12.92, available from written in the same spirit as George Orwell's Animal Farm. It has its own unique social, political, and religious message for readers. Surrounded by a colorful cast of animal characters, Oliver experiences a spiritual growth as he becomes privy to the secret plan of the Gray Skunk, the most mesmerizing and dangerous foe the Cove has ever faced. Following heavenly instructions, Oliver is taken on an adventure in both the forest and city to save not only himself, but all that he holds dear. It is a metaphor that demonstrates how one very average squirrel became a servant of God and led a revolution to save the animals of Three Fingers Cove. This book has several twists, including the "special power" of the book's adversary, the Gray Skunk, as well as his ability to control the most dangerous animals of the forest. It is an uplifting story with many readers can identify. Because Oliver is a cute little squirrel and such a likeable character, his feats of courage throughout the story become even more amazing.

Christmas is a traditional period for purchasing gifts and other items. Kathy Spencer, along with Samantha Rose, have penned How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something for Nothing ($14.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). Spencer offers advice gleaned from years of coupon clipping and discount hunting. She lets the reader in on the little-known tricks of the retail world such as how to score prescription drugs for free, find $80 jean for less than the price of a latte, navigate the clearance rack, and get free giveaways from Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn and other popular stores. This book is a treasure of information about store club programs, the ins and outs of eBay, how to avoid consumer scams, and the truths about rebates. This is a shopper’s dream come true.

It takes all types is the common cliché and people whose lives evolve around the use of math are a type unto themselves. That’s why G. Patrick Vennebush has collected Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks ($11.95, Robert D. Reed Publishers, Bandon, OR, softcover) and if you are one or know one, this is a great stocking-stuffer. The author manages online projects for the National Council of Teachers and sports a M.A. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland. Teachers in particular will enjoy and want to use this book of course, but it will provide lots of laughs for anyone else whose work involves working the numbers. It is also proof they can be very funny, too.

Here’s a book you’re not likely to hear about in the mainstream media. It’s Is It Organic? By Mishcha Popoff ($36.97, via and at 599 pages it is literally everything you ever wanted to know about so-called organically grown food crops, plus a history of farming that’s worth the price of the book. You can get a discount off the price when you visit the website. Popoff was an industry insider, an inspector who knows that anything asserting it is organically grown must be tested in the field, not after it has been picked and processed. The organic food empires that exist today generate millions of dollars in sales, but it is all “certified” on the way out the door to the market where people pay a premium cost to purchase it. Written in a lively fashion, filled with facts and the outrage that comes with exposing the true agenda of those who want farming to return to the days of plowing with a horse and never using anything to fertilize a field or rid it of insect pests and weeds that can destroy a crop in a heartbeat. The bottom line is that modern methods of farming have vastly reduced the price of food while at the same time producing an abundance of it. This is the definitive book on modern farming, environmental myths, and obscene profits from the gullible.

Getting Down to Business Books

One of my friends is an internationally known expert on negotiating. Jim Camp has advised clients from Russian bankers to start-up companies and individuals, all of whom need to know how to get an acceptable outcome from the negotiating process. So what is the title of his book? No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home ($24.00, Crown Business). From childhood on we are conditioned to look for compromise and acceptance. Camp, however, points out that a child instinctively knows that “no” is just the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. Throughout the book Camp teaches you how to recognize and control the elements of a negotiation, starting with yourself. Throughout, his book reveals all the secrets of successful negotiation you will ever need. Another advisor to business and other leaders was Napoleon Hill, a lecturer, author, and consultant whose clients included Andrew Carnegie and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of his key principles is to reflect on your goals each and every day. Now there’s a compact guide, Think and Grow Rich Every Day ($14.95, Tarcher Penguin, softcover) and it would make a great gift, especially to someone who will graduate college. A young person on the brink of maturity will benefit greatly. It is full of wise maxims such as the advice to engage in a continuous pursuit of knowledge. This book contains all the elements of leadership and achievement. In that regard, it is useful for anyone of any age.

The Warren Buffetts Next Door by Matthew Schifrin ($29.95, Wiley) is subtitled “The world’s greatest investors you’ve never heard of and what you can learn from them.” This is a particularly timely book given the fact that there are an estimated fifty million online investors today, up from about five million a decade ago. Thus, armed with technology and tools, previously only available to professionals, many such investors are achieving results without professional commissions or fancy degrees from Wharton or Harvard. Schifrin, an editor with Forbes magazine, profiles ten regular people who can pick stocks better than the vast majority of all professional advisors and money managers, people who seek more modest goals as opposed to amassing huge fortunes. These investors out-perform Wall Street and this book describes the techniques they employ. Breakthrough! A 7-Step System for Developing Unexpected and Profitable Ideas by Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance ($22.95, Amacom) examines the way major brands were repositioned for greater profits. Arm & Hammer took baking soda out of the cupboard for baking at one teaspoon at a time and put the whole box in the refrigerator and the kitchen sink drain to freshen them. Frank Perdue turned chicken into a brand name. The authors, both marketing experts, say that the big idea is not a stroke of luck, but results from smart, focused planning. Done right, it’s a bonanza, but they are candid enough to say that is often just a crapshoot. However, a structured approach can greatly improve the odds for success. They take you through the steps and, if you have a product or service that needs to jumpstart its sales, this book will prove very helpful.

We all love a good spy story and, of course, the Central Intelligence Agency remains an object of fascination for deeds about which we can only speculate. Peter Earnest, formerly a CIA senior officer during the height of the Cold War, has teamed with Maryann Karinch, a business writer, to author Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA ($24.95, Amacom). It turns out that espionage requires many of the same skills needed to manage a successful business. The result is that one gains a look at the reasons why many were drawn to the intelligence services, why they stayed there, and the culture of trust needed to function day-to-day. Examples of tradecraft and fieldwork make for interesting reading. It is clear that one can learn from the way the CIA really operates and how it learns from its mistakes. These days Earnest is Executive Director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. His co-author is a veteran business insider, a communications consultant, and author of several books.

War! War! War!

The most dangerous creatures on Earth are human beings and war since time immemorial is proof of that. The number of books for which war is a theme seems to be proliferating these days.

Those who read history know that it is largely about war and conquest. An excellent new book puts that into an economic framework in Conquest, Tribute, and Trade: The Quest for Precious Metals and the Birth of Globalization ($28.00, Prometheus Books). Howard J. Erlichman reminds us that empires were won and lost based on their ability to find, exploit, and control increasingly large volumes of mineral wealth. It is the story of the closely-related states of Portugal, Spain, and later the Dutch Republic that checked the Ottoman Empire’s expansion, supercede the great Italian city-states, and overturn centuries of Muslim commercial domination in Africa and Asia. It was a phenomenal rise to power as they exploited the mineral resources of Central Europe, Africa, the Americas, and even Japan. Out of it came the first multinational corporations and centuries of colonial subjugation that still influence events to this day. You will recognize many of the characters, Columbus, Da Gama, and Megellan, Cortez and Pizarro, but in a new way. All those famous explorers had one thing in mind, wealth.

If you are prepared to plow through a relatively tedious, scholarly text, there’s gold to be mined from Gangs, Pseudo-Militaries, and Other Modern Mercenaries: New Dynamics in Wars by Max G. Manwaring ($45.00, University of Oklahoma Press), an expert on non-state warfare, the kind that has predominated since the end of World War Two with episodes of traditional warfare in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. The U.S. has been struggling to find a new definition of its battlefield enemies since they often are affiliated with jihadist organizations funded by Iran and harbored in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. The author says a new stage of irregular warfare has been developing, gangs. This is seen in the bloodshed generated by the narcotics warlords and is a growing threat just across the U.S. border. Since the end of the Cold War there have been some one hundred insurgencies or irregular wars around the world and gangs have figured predominantly in these conflicts. Until now they have received little attention from scholars or analysts. This book fills that void.

World War Two continues to generate books. Hitler’s Master of the Dark Arts: Himmler Black Knights and the Occult Origins of the SS by Bill Yenne ($30.00, Zenith Press, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group) traces the way the Nazi leadership was fascinated as much by the occult as by its roots in early environmentalism. They embraced a bizarre interpretation of ancient European paganism, blending it with fragments of other traditions from sources as diverse as 10th century Saxon warlords, 19th century spiritualism, and early 20th century fringe archeology. The swastika had its roots in ancient symbolism. The man who guided all this to create and lead the dreaded SS was Heinrich Himmler. He was an odd choice because he had poor eyesight, a slight physical stature, and a weak stomach. The book provides a chilling look at how such paganism manifested itself in the last century.

In the titanic struggle against the Nazis, many elements of the U.S. armed forces participated with great honor and sacrifice. The All Americans in World War II: A Photographic History of the 82nd Airborne Division at War by Phil Nordyke ($22.99, Zenith Press) pays tribute to this legendary fighting force who jumped into history on July 9/10, 1943 when they made their first parachute assault of WWII. Three others would follow at Salerno, Normandy, and Holland. Any serious collector of WWII history will want to add this book to their collection. The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players That Won the War by William B. Hopkins ($22.99, Zenith Press, softcover), who was a participant in that theatre of war. As the years passed Hopkins steeped himself in the histories and memoirs of the Pacific war to produce one of the best books on the subject you will ever read.

Later wars fought by Americans are yielding valuable accounts. Among them is Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story by Patrick K. O’Donnell ($26.00, Da Capo Press) relates the epic stand of the Marines of George Company. It is hard to believe it has been sixty years since that war began in 1950 and it has been, for the most part, a forgotten war. Based on more than a hundred interviews and primary source materials, this book tells the story of mostly teenage boys who found themselves on the front lines of a war that came soon after the end of WWII and ended in an armistice. Technically, South Korea and the U.S. is still at war on that peninsula. In a similar fashion, despite its length, the conflict in Afghanistan has not generated much news coverage. Into the Viper’s Nest: The First Pivotal Battle of the Afghan War by Stephen Gray, a British journalist, tells of a December 7, 2007 battle between the Taliban, entrenched in the southern Afghan city of Musa Qala, and the International Security Assistance Force spearheaded by Task Force 1 Fury: 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 82nd Airborne Division. With a force of about twenty thousand, the Taliban were about to learn what it’s like to take on a modern armed force. It turned out to be the biggest and bloodiest battles of the war.

Books for kids and Younger Readers

Naturally, I think books are great Christmas or Hanukah gifts for children.

For the young readers in elementary school, there is a harvest of wonderful books to put beneath the Christmas tree or Hanukah bush. Karen Duncan and Kate Hannigan Issa, along with illustrator Anthony Alex LeTourneau, offer The Good Fun Book ($15.59, Blue Marlin Publications) with twelve months of parties that celebrate service. The idea is to help young children engage in their communities to do some good. There are all kinds of party ideas that can bring cheer to both those engaged in the projects and those on the receiving end. Ms. Duncan is a former teachers and the wife of the current Secretary of Education and Ms. Issa is a professional writer for children. This is a book with an agenda, but I much prefer books intended to make a kid laugh out loud or gasp with delight.

I favor stories and The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories ($23.99, Barefoot Books) includes a CD with Juliet Stevenson who narrates the stories for kids who cannot yet read or that can be listened to while older ones read along with it. The two authors are Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Helen Cain has beautifully illustrated the book. Drawing on many cultures and nations, the book tells stories whose theme is all about dance. I am sure that youngsters, particularly girls, will find it enchanting. A visit to will provide information on the many other wonderful children’s books from this publishing house. Far-off Mongolia is the setting for one of a series of books from Goosebottom Books, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, one of which stars Sorghaghtani of Mongolia written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Albert Nguyen. Those age 9 to 13 will love this series that has the benefit of introducing young minds to history and places, along with a message of empowerment because the six princesses achieved success in their time, whether they were in Egypt, Caria, Kirman, Castile, or India. Richly illustrated, they are a special treat and I recommend you visit to learn about the entire series.

As you might imagine, as much as I may think that books for children that are “educational” is a fine idea, I personally much prefer silly books that just make me laugh and I suspect most other kids do, too. One recent arrival did both. It is Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Monkey on His Back: A Tale About Telling the Truth written by Howard Binkow and illustratrated by Sue Cornelison ($15.00, Lerner Books). The Wigglebottom series has won awards for the way it conveys its message to kids aged 4 through 8. In this one, Howard, a rabbit, discovers that telling lies, which he knows is wrong, just makes him feel worse and worse each time he does it. They become a monkey on his back. He feels much better when he stops. To learn more, visit

One of my favorite publishers for young readers is Kids Can Press and, for the kid in your life, here’s a selection of funny books he or she will treasure. Have you ever wondered who came up with the expression The Cat’s Pajamas? Well, Wallace Edwards did too ($18.95) and he got to thinking about many other common expressions and result is a book of marvelous, imaginative pictures, a collection of animal portraits illustrating such things as “birds of a feather flock together” and “a frog in his throat.” The pre-and-early reader will especially enjoy this book, but anybody can. Stanley’s Little Sister by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin ($17.95) is the latest in the Stanley series about a big dog and what happens with his people bring home a cat! Try as he may to make friends, the fur is flying, the chase is on, and Stanley gets the blame. This is a wonderful take on sibling rivalries and has a happy ending. Of course! Making the Moose Out of Life by Nicholas Oldland ($16.95) This particular moose was not like any other and not inclined to play with his friends. He tried to figure out why he was missing out on life and, when a sail boat passes by, he climbs in, ends up on an island, has to fend for himself, is befriended by a turtle, and discovers the fun of doing things, all kinds of things. Rescued by a passing cruise ship, he is greeted by the bear and the beaver, and is a totally new moose! For those ages 9 and up, there’s Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adult Tell You by Catherine Rondina and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester ($14.95) filled with all the cautionary advice kids hear regarding matters of health, some of which is silly, but most of which is an effort to avoid encountering a problem. The advice is identified either as true, false or “you decide.” If I was young, I would find it quite interesting. Fact is, even at my age I did!

A story for young adults that draws on history is told by Sharon Dogar in Annexed ($17.00, Houghton Mifflin), one in which the author imagines what it must have been like to be Anne Frank’s young boyfriend, hiding out in the annex of an Amsterdam home, seeking to avoid being swept up by the Gestapo as the world around them collapsed in World War Two and the Holocaust. Written for young adults, it is an excellent way for them to gain an understanding of what it was like for Peter van Pel and his family to cope with the madness of those times.

A publisher that specializes in young adult fiction (14 and up) is WestSide Books, Lodi, New Jersey. Two new novels are Pull by B.A. Binns ($16.95, softcover) and I Am Nuchu by Brenda Stanley ($16.95, softcover). The former is a gritty tale of inner city life. High school senior David Albacore and his younger sister must cope with the murder of their mother by their father and a move to a Chicago school when taken in by their aunt. He must make some difficult decisions and young readers will be eager to read to the end to find out what they are. The latter book is about Cal Burton, a half Ute Indian who has not paid much attention to his native American heritage until his parents divorce and he is taken to live on a Utah reservation where his mother grew up. He is shocked by the blatant racism. A tragedy ensues and this teen must struggle with his identity while caught between two very different worlds.

Ask any young fan of fantasy who Geno Salvatore is and they will tell you they can’t wait for the next in his Dungeons & Dragon Sries. Just out this month is Stone of Tymora: The Sentinels ($17.95, Wizards of the Coast Books for Young Readers). Salvatore has sold millions of copies. This novel is the last of a trilogy by R.A. and Geno Salvatore. There are demons, narrow escapes, and a magical stone, plus swashbuckling swordplay, and plot twists that will keep any lucky teen reading way passed bedtime.

Novels, Novels, Novels

It is rare when a novelist makes his debut with as powerful a novel as Philip Chen’s Falling Star ($15.25, available from, softcover and on Kindle). It begins in 1967 and concludes in the Oval Office in 1993. In between Chen introduces you to an array of characters, all of whom have unique talents, some of whom are U.S. Navy officers, some with the FBI, all devoted to the protection of their nation. They are a handful of people who know about mysterious entities far beneath the surface of the waters surrounding the U.S. Others are members of a rogue KGB unit, moles who lived among us, but whose mission ended when the former Soviet Union collapsed. This novel stands out for the way you are introduced not just to the characters, but the physical reality in which they live, the sights and even the smells. Slowly and then with increasing intensity, the mysteries are unraveled, the enemies identified, as life and death often hangs in the balance. Drawing on his own life as an ocean research engineer, attorney and banker, Chen brings an authenticity to the novel that provides a heart-pounding reality that forces you to ask “What if?” What if Earth was under observation by those from another planet that is circling a dying sun? What if they intended to colonize it? What if the year for this was 2013? If you read just one novel in 2011, make it Falling Star.

Novels quite naturally appeal to many different tastes and preferences. The fascination with horror is one genre and Grim Reaper: End of Days by Steve Alten ($25.95, Variance Publishing) was inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy” providing his glimpse into hell, purgatory, and heaven. The author comes with the credentials of a bestseller novelist and, in particular, one whose books all carry dark themes of horror. This new novel is set in Manhattan and is part of a planned trilogy. It involves a microbiologist, Mary Klipot, who develops a bio-defense weapon called “Scythe”, a modern-day version of the Black Plague which “God” commands her to release in New York. The original Black Plague killed a third of Europe’s population. In a VA hospital, an Iraqi war veteran, Patrick ‘Shep’ Shepherd is recovering from an explosion that took his arm and memories of his estranged wife and daughter whom he has not seen in eleven years. Two floors down Mary Klipot, thoroughly insane, instructs Shep’s physician to find the Scythe antidote. What follows is a harrowing tale. Americans who take their freedoms for granted cannot imagine what it must be like to live in Iran where fanatical ayatollahs and mullahs rule, driven by belief in a mythical Twelve Imam that can only return if the world is plunged into chaos, destruction and death. Nahid Sewell, who was born in Tehren before the Islamic Revolution, has penned a novel, The Ruby Tear Catcher, ($18.95, Summerhill Press) also available on Kindle, that provides a look into that nation through the character of a young woman torn between a culture that still stones women to death for adultery and the education she received because her enlightened father encouraged her. After he fled the country, she is interrogated and tortured by government authorities seeking to find him. The novel is filled with conflict of every kind, the loss of a brother who spoke out against the regime, a loveless, abusive marriage, and the unspeakable cruelty of a totalitarian regime.

Charles D. Blanchard debuts as a novelist with Mourning Doves After the Fire ($29.99/$19.99, Xlibris) telling a story set against the backdrop of 1910 Pennsylvania, filled with love and loss, passion and tragedy, and a triumph of the spirit, as 28-year-old Abby Whitman learns she has cancer. Her physician seeks the aid of a renowned doctor who has developed an experimental treatment. There is a subplot of a friendship when Abby befriends a young girl who shares her interest in music. Reflecting the plight of the human characters is a female mourning dove whose nest is in a nearby oak tree and is a witness to the human story unfolding around her. A woman is at the center of The Last Jewish Virgin by Janice Eidus ($24.95, Red Hen Press, softcover). The heroine is Lilith Zeremba, rebelling against her feminist mother and determined to make her own way in life in the world of fashion, but unexpectedly find herself in a place where mythology and sexuality collide as she is attracted to two very different men. It is an innovative, humorous, and universal tale of longing and redemption. The twist is that it refreshes and reinvents the classic vampire myth for a contemporary world. With a number of novels to her credit, two time winner of the O. Henry Prize, she knows how to create a compelling story.

The social issues of adoption and divorce are explored in Susan Hausman’s novel, Cable’s Image ($12.99, Tate Publishig, softcover). Nevin Cable feels cursed by a name he hates, an absent father, and a mother who is a drunk. When he joins the military to avoid becoming like either one, the decision alters his life forever. The short novel is filled with romance and suspense, an emotional rollercoaster, with settings from Philadelphia to Berlin to Fresno. You can learn more at For a very different, decidedly upbeat story, I think you will enjoy The Cosmopolitans by Nadia Kalman ($28.00, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama) that takes the theme of immigrant families in America, a trio of very different sisters, a Jane Austin-like maze of suitors and marriage, the dreariness of Stamford, Connecticut, and tramsform them into something free and very entertaining. Drawing in her life when her family immigrated from the former Soviet Union where she grew up in Stamford, the author has made a warm and comic debut with her story of the Molochniks, a Russian-Jewish family that is somehow everyone’s family at the same time. There’s lots of rich social satire to be found in The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark ($l4.95, Weinstein Books, softcover) that took the fashion world by storm when it was published last year in hardcover. It follows the strange partnership between Wyatt Hayes IV, an arrogant erudite without social graces, and Lucy Jo Eillis, his earnest, mid-western, headstrong protégé. Re-christened Lucia Haverford Ellis, Lucy submits to a three-month regime intended to turn her into the toast a Manhattan’s social elite so that she may advance her career. Meanwhile Hayes is planning an expose of the process with a book deal that could ruin her career before it takes off. It is an entertaining twist on “Pygmalion”, as current as today’s headlines.

A trio of softcover novels will get you through the holidays and into 2011. Kate Jacobs’ has developed quite a following for her series about “a Friday night knitting club.” Her third novel, Knit the Season, ($14.00, Berkley, softcover) invites readers to spend the holidays with the club in a story about family and friendship, food and craft, and the spirit of the season. Women will recognize themselves and their friends in a story that features a knitting store, Walker & Daughter, now managed mostly by George Walker’s daughter, Dakota. When Dakota’s father surprises her with a Christmas reunion at her great-grandmother’s home in Scotland, Dakota is in for some important realizations about life’s priorities. This is a perfect story for December. A far darker story is found in two other softcover novels. P.L. Gaus has a following of his own with his Amish Country mysteries and you will know why if you read Clouds Without Rain ($13.00, Plume). When an 18-wheeler collides with an Amish buggy on a quiet country road it seems a tragic accident, but the victim’s less than pious life makes Holmes County deputy Michael Branden suspicious. While working a case of local robberies among the Amish, the accident doesn’t make any sense to him, particularly when one of the victims has lived a less than Amish life complete with electricity, cable television, expensive firearms, and more. The ethical, moral, and scriptural nuances of Amish life are the backdrop to an interesting investigation. Lastly, David Holmberg makes his debut as a novelist with The Hurricane Murders ($14.50, Eloquent Books, an imprint of Strategic Book Group, Durham, CT). The author is a veteran reporter who has covered many stories over a long career. He decided to write the novel based on a 1992 mother/daughter homicide that he covered for The Palm Beach Post. The novel reflects his life as the novel’s counterpart, Jake Arnett, a somewhat cynical, largely idealistic reporter is dealing with his latest career crisis, working for a newspaper at a time when it and others are on the brink of closing their doors. He pursues the story of a double murder but coverage of a hurricane interferes briefly with his pursuit of the truth that takes him into beaches, bars, and motorcycle gang hangouts in South Florida. This novel rings true in many ways and on many levels.

That’s it for December! Do tell your friends who love to read about Bookviews, the only monthly report on new books that provides news about many different genre of books about which you might otherwise discover. Now you can spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bookviews - November 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Are you still wondering why America and its economy are in decline? Then you must read Selling Out a Superpower: Where the US Economy Went Wrong and How We Can Turn It Around by Ronald R. Pollina ($26.00, Prometheus Books). Economics may make your eyes glaze over or even just sound boring, but this extraordinary book by a man who has worked for decades with companies seeking to relocate or find a State congenial to their growth will prove to be a shocking explanation of what is wrong with the economy. I guarantee you that it is not boring. For example, I bet you do not know that in 1968 there were 62 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and that today there are 34,000! They outnumber member of Congress and their staffs by a margin of two to one. By 2008 they were spending approximately $8.2 million for influence every day. Few represent the majority of Americans in the middle class. And that is why the real median household income in America has stagnated for more than a decade. The farther the nation has drifted from the constraints of the Constitution, the greater the central government has grown, strangling the economy with massive regulation, rising levels of taxation, and literally driving companies and the jobs they provide offshore. No single book I have read this year comes close to explaining what has occurred and what must be done to avoid a bad, sad future for the next generation of Americans.

Portraits of Success: Candid Conversations with 60 Over-Achievers by Burt Prelutsky ($25.95, WND Books) is a delightful way to learn about many people whose names have been in the news for a long time as a result of their talents, skills, intelligence, and courage. Among those on whom the author shines his spotlight are syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, actor-director Carl Reiner, Joseph Wambaugh, singer Pat Boone and pollster John Zogby. This is a wonderful collection of short, entertaining, and insightful question-and-answer sessions in which these and others talked candidly with long time Hollywood writer and columnist, Burt Prelutsky. It doesn’t matter where you open the book, you will learn about actors, singers, ambassadors, authors, some departed, but most still on the scene, discovering surprising things about these remarkable, inspiring people. I heartily recommend this eclectic reading experience.

There’s more fun to be had reading Writers Gone Wild by Bill Peschel ($14.95, Perigee, an imprint of Penguin, softcover) if you, like many readers, find the lives of authors as entertaining as their works. The book is subtitled, “The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literatures Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes.” Writers behaving badly never fail to entertain and, from drunken binges to public humiliation, from plagiarism to murder, this book serves up a lively collection of true stories. Years ago I wrote an article for Publishers Weekly on the famed Bread Loaf Writers Conference and was regaled by a story of one famous writer who got so drunk he had to be hustled into a cab and sent home, but before he departed, he said, “God did not intend that many writers to all be in the same place.” You will not find me using a Kindle or any other device to read a book. I want to hold it in my hands, flip the page, and put it on a shelf when I am done. Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Treasured Book is testimony to the pleasures of having a favorite book at hand to re-read and re-visit ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). Edited by Sean Manning with a foreword by Ray Bradbury, the book featured essays by renowned authors such as Joyce Maynard and others from around the world that pay homage to a favorite book. For bibliophiles it will provide some delightful reading.

There are two large “coffee table” books that will make super gifts come December. This first is Sinatra: Hollywood His Way by Timothy Knight ($35.00, Running Press) that pays tribute to the fifty-nine films in which he appeared from the 1940s to the 80s. Best known as a singer, Sinatra was also a very good actor as his performance in “From Here to Eternity” demonstrated, as well as others such as “The Manchurian Candidate.” Musically, he co-starred in the classic “Anchors Aweigh” with Gene Kelly, appearing as well with Hollywood greats that included Rita Hayworth, Dean Martin, and Sophia Loren. For a certain generation, Sinata defined everything that was hip and cool. This book is filled with photos and for any fan of the man and that era of films, it will be a treasure. If you’re a fan of Mad magazine (and who isn’t?) then you will want to add Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of his Finest Works to your list of books you must have ($29.95, Running Press). Aragones is more than a cartoonist. He is an illustrator who has earned a place for himself for his visual gags, some drawn quite simply while others are extraordinarily elaborate. More than 500 of his favorite “Marginals”, the popular tiny cartoons found in Mad magazine’s margins are included In black and white, and in color, this book provides laughter on every page. Aragones has won many prestigious awards over the years including the Comic Art Professional Society’s Sergio Award, named for him!

The Great Penguin Rescue by Dyan DeNapoli ($26.00, Free Press) tells a story that began on June 23, 2000 when an oil tanker en route from Brazil to China foundered off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, spilling 1,300 tons of oil into the ocean and contaminating the habitat of tens of thousands of penguins. Without help an estimated 41% of the species of African penguins would perish, but when the alarm was sounded 12,500 people, most of them lay volunteers, rushed to South Africa from around the world to aid in a massive rescue operation. The author was one of a hundred penguin and wildlife specialists brought in to supervise and virtually all of the penguins were saved and returned to the wild. It took three months and thousands of hours to achieve a truly happy ending. Someone at Free Press likes birds because they have also just published A Year on the Wing: Journeys with Birds in Flight by Tim Dee ($15.00, softcover) who has been enthralled with birds since his youth. He relates following bird migrations for a year, from peregrine falcons to migrant woodcocks. Naturalists and fellow bird lovers will thoroughly enjoy this tribute to the creatures that fill the skies about us.

Some books are just works of art in themselves. This is the case of Star Guitars: 101 Guitars that Rocked the World by David Hunter ($35.00, Voyageur Press, imprint of Quayside Publishing Group). It is a large format book with 288 pages filled with 600 color photos and 100 black and white. The author is a musician and journalist, co-author of the Totally Interactive Guitar Bible, and a couple of other books on the subject, so his knowledge is encyclopedic. This book is an illustrated history of the actual guitars of the stars that made the music; people like B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and many others. Jimi Hendrick’s 1968 Stratocaster sold at auction in 1993 for $1,300,000, so we’re talking some very serious guitars here. If there is someone you know who loves guitars, this one is a Christmas-keeper!

There’s a gadget for people who do not want to use traditional bookmarks. It’s called the PageKeeper® and it slides onto the back cover of whatever book you’re reading and has a thin metal extension that keeps track of the page you’re on as you read through the book. When you need to put the book down to answer the phone or some other task, the device automatically remains on the last page you’ve been reading. It is the clever invention of Scott Capamaggio, founder of The Piedmont Group, located in Greensboro, NC. If you want to ensure you will never lose your place again, check it out at

Getting Down to Business (Books)

Is there anyone who is not concerned with their finances these days? Part of the problem for many is what some call “financial literacy” and it is the subject of Claudio M. Ghipsmann’s new book, Making Bank: The Personal Finance Lessons They Never Taught Us in School, ($15.95, Bridgeway Books, softcover). The author, a former Wall Street executive, believes that part of the present U.S. economic crisis is due to a lack of education regarding the conduct of one’s financial affairs, whether it involves securing a mortgage, deciding on a retirement plan, or just establishing a weekly or monthly budget to confirm with one’s earnings. This can be seen in the many cases of personal debt reflected in TV commercials offering to reduce it or to create a payment plan. The author says that financial literacy means economic stability, can improve your personal financial future, show you how to manage debt, and to avoid real estate traps. This is, to say the least, a very timely book. While on the subject of money, you are likely to find Lars Kroijer’s book very entertaining. It’s Money Mavericks: Confessions of a Hedge Fund Manager ($36.99, Financial Times Prentice Hall) just out this month. As the founder and CEO of Holte Capital, the author took a fledgling London-based hedge fund from nothing to investing about $1 billion within five years. It took a combination of ambition, courage, naivety, hubris, perseverance, hard work, and luck. What makes this book appealing is the way he explains both the simple and complicated truths about hedge funds, including why they have gotten an unsavory reputation. For anyone seeking some real insight regarding hedge funds, specialists in asset management, this book does an excellent job. This is a peek inside the often turbulent world of investing.

Business people are always trying to stay ahead of the curve to ride a wave to profit. Peter Gloor explores this process in Coolfarming: Turn Your Great Idea into the Next Big Thing ($29.95, Amacom). Instead of chasing after ideas that have already happened, the author provides entrepreneurs and business people with a practical, step-by-step process that will help them cultivate the kind of “swarm creativity” that generates not new trends and then how to push them over the tipping point to commercial success. Gloor has written two previous books as an “innovation expert” so one assumes he knows what he’s talking about based on a twenty-year career working with some top financial companies. These days he divides his time between the MIT Sloan School of Management, Helsinki’s Aalto University, and the University of Cologne. There is no end to books about management, but that is because it keeps changing with each new generation and new technologies. Management? It’s Not What You Think! Says Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lempel ($22.95, Amacom) and what these three don’t know about the subject is probably not worth knowing. Mintzberg is an esteemed McGill University scholar that the Wall Street Journal ranks as one of the world’s top ten most influential business thinkers. Ahlstrand is a professor of management at Trent University, Ontario, and Lampel is a professor of strategy at Cass Business School, City University, London. Put them together between two covers and you have a world of knowledge regarding the subject of business management. It is unconventional, provocative, and an exceptionally sensible collection of articles, commentaries, poems, blog bits, rants, and more! This book goes way beyond the standards advice on analyzing and planning.

Surely the hottest trend these days is social media, Facebook, Twitter and such. Barry Libert has written Social Nation ($24.95, Wiley) that is subtitled “How to harness the power of social media to attract customers, motivate employees, and grow your business.” This is surely worth exploring before you rush headlong into creating a profile and start tweeting and blog posting. This book will teach you how to avoid the pitfalls and to make a strong online impact. Hardly a day goes by without news of someone getting into trouble for a blog post or tweet. Stories of how social media has generated success are also common. Libert is the CEO of Mzinga, a company that provides social software to businesses. It is his job to be social media savvy. Another excellent book about making money on the Internet is Jim F. Kukral’s Attention! This Book Will Make You Money—How to Use Attention-Getting Online Marketing to Increase Your Revenue ($24.95, John Wiley & Sons). And with a title like that, what more do you need to know about the book? Actually, the title tells you a lot about the marketing moxie of Kukral, but he can back it up and does in a book that can help anyone starting a business, expanding or revamping an existing one, or hunting for the latest marketing techniques. Over the past fifteen years, the author has help big businesses and small. The book is filled with no-nonsense advice and guidance that anyone can use as the nation and the world transition to the Web as an extraordinary marketing tool.

Long before there was any technology at all, successful people learned how to read the body language of others to determine if they were telling the truth or not. Now you can too, but first you will need to read Sharon Sayler’s What Your Body Says (And How to Master the Message) ($22.95, John Wiley and Sons). People are most certainly “reading” your body message and this book will teach you to be aware of the signals you are sending, intentionally and unintentionally. You will learn how to use gestures to convey intention, relationships, information, influence and expectations. I know that sounds mysterious, but we do it every day. It strikes me this book would best benefit someone new to the business world and someone who wants to ensure they are making a good impression and the right one. How to Rule the World from Your Couch by Laura Day ($15.00, Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, softcover) is all about intuition and Ms. Day has been teaching people how to tap into it for more than twenty years. Intuition, she says, can help you find love, heal yourself, communicate better and make better decisions. My intuition tells me that somebody is going to find this book very useful. The Laws of Charisma by Kurt W. Mortensen ($21.95, Amacom) purports to teach you how to become that person in the room who has a magnetic personality and, as a result, becomes a success. Mortensen defines charisma as “the ability to easily build rapport, effectively influence others to your way of thinking, inspire them to achieve more, and in the process make an ally for life.” Oh that it was that easy. A lot of what we commonly define as charisma is taught at a very early age in terms of respect for others, the value of hard work, and a sense of optimism. You can, I suppose, learn about such things from this book and others, but you have a head start if your parents provided the right guidance from the gitgo.

Finally, there’s The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Respond to People Who Dump on You, and How to Stop Dumping on Others ($19.95, Sterling). The author, David J. Pollay tells the story of how, twenty years earlier, he was in a cab when it almost crashed into a driver who started yelling at the cabby who stayed calm, smiled and wished him well. When he asked how he did that, the cabby replied, “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment…And, if you let them, they’ll dump it on you. So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally…move on.” This was the initial spark for the author’s excellent book on how to promote your own and other’s happiness, remain civil, and increase workplace productivity. This may seem obvious, but for many it is not and, if you see yourself as needing some advice or being in a position to offer it to others, this is a good book with which to begin.

The Lives of Real People

All history is made, in one fashion or another, by real people and, while we know the names of those made famous, we tend to forget that it took a lot of people to make, for example, America. Thus, America: The Story of Us ($29.95, A&E Television Networks, softcover) celebrates the events and trends from pre-Colonial times to today. Based on the Emmy® Award nominated series, it features lots of historic photographs and excellent graphics, charts, maps and drawings. It is filled with interesting facts that will enhance anyone’s knowledge of the nation’s history. It is a reminder of how America has led the way as a republic, as a technological leader, and as a defender of freedom.

One of the Founding Fathers became known almost exclusively for a single phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death.” I always wondered why he never seemed to merit a decent biography, but now that has been answered with Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by historian Harlow Giles Unger ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Henry was raised in the frontier hill country of Virginia, barely passed the exam to become a lawyer and was a delegate to the Continental Congress before being elected Virginia’s first governor. He was passionate about liberty and, as you might imagine, a first class orator. Neither Madison, nor Jefferson were fans, both seeing him as a continued obstacle to their vision of a new nation. Even so, though offered many positions in the government of the new nation, he declined them all, including a fifth term as governor. Along the way, he found time to father eighteen children! There are reasons why he never rose to a level of regard during and since his days on the national scene. To understand those early years and the role that Patrick Henry played, this biography adds to our further knowledge of the men who were are Founding Fathers.

Some people alter history in terrible ways and the assassin of Lincoln surely did that. The story of John Wilkes Booth is told by Nora Titone in My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth that Led to an American Tragedy ($30.00, Free Press). The historian spent five years working with the letters, papers and diaries of the Booth family to uncover the story of this eccentric and dysfunctional clan. The Booths were a family of actors and Edwin was one of the biggest stars of the 19th century stage as the Civil War began. John lacked his famous father’s and brother’s talent and never achieved their fame. The book does much to explain how John came to the decision to kill the president, but also provides much to reveal the times in which he lived.

The life of young British boy and his band called The Beatles left an indelible mark on the times and is told in Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes ($29.95, Da Capo Press). Born in 1942 while England was in the midst of war, few would have predicted McCartney would become one of the most successful songwriters, starting a musical revolution with fellow band members. There have been few written accounts detailing his life after The Beatles. This is an exhaustive biography that will more than satisfy any one of his fans. Jazz aficionados will enjoy Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original ($18.00, Free Press, softcover) by Robin D.G. Kelley. Monk broke the rules of musical composition along the way to creating a body of work and a sound that was distinctively his own. As a composer, his songs, “Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Choice”, and “Ruby, My Dear”, are now standards whenever musicians get together to jam or play in jazz clubs. He was a bit of a mystery in life, but his goatee, dark glasses, and beret became the icon for hipster cool. The author has performed a great service to his devotees and a new generation discovering him. The jazz legend lives in this thoroughly researched presentation of a unique life.

The “father of the H-bomb” was to his supporters a hero of the Cold War and to his detractors, the personification of the mad scientist. Between these extremes, an intriguing biographer emerges in Judging Edward Teller by Istvan Hargittai ($32.00, Prometheus Books). Teller was no shrinking flower. In addition to his prodigious intelligence he was, as one observer noted, “a monomaniac with many manias.” He gained fame or infamy depending on one’s point of view, when he denounced J. Robert Oppenheimer who led the team that created the A-bomb that ended the war with Japan, but was seen as a communist sympathizer. He is recalled for his fierce opposition to nuclear test bans during the Cold War and, toward the end of his life, as an advocate for the Strategic Defense Initiative. In retrospect, his excesses may well have contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. He became the prototype for “Dr. Strangelove”, but in truth Teller was a patriot who was totally devoted to the defense of the United States. Anyone with an interest in science and this history of the turbulent times of his life will find the book an excellent, absorbing biography.

If you are a fan of Jeff Dunham, the marvelous ventriloquist, you will want to read his biography, All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed, and Me ($25.95, Dutton) Dunham credits his very understanding parents for letting him pursue his hobby and tells of his long road to fame. Not since Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy has a ventriloquist become so famous and so well liked. The book is filled with wit, honesty, and lots of great show business detail. These days he takes his act all over the world to the delight of audiences everywhere and, of course, he is a great hit on the Comedy Channel. Also from the world of show business comes proof that anyone can write a book and publish it himself. I was sufficiently impressed with Adam Schwartz’s chutzpah to take a look at Finding Howard Stern: A Summer Intern’s Story ($16.99, marked down to $11.55 via Frankly, since I loath Howard Stern I was looking for some further reason to indulge this pastime, but Adam’s version of “what I did at summer camp” provided little insight. This is not a “bad” book, but it also proved to be scant reason to have caused some tree an untimely death. The 2009 internship was, to put it gently, uneventful. If anything, this book argues against internship because the first lesson in life is always get paid, preferably in advance. Adam will, no doubt, go on to become hugely successful in show business. That’s the way these things always turn out.

The 1960s were turbulent times and for those whose youth was spent in that decade, After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties—a Memoir by Catherine Gildiner will ring many familiar bells. It begins with her starting high school and the youthful adventures common to that era. She is a natural storyteller who grew up to become a clinical psychologist in private practice. Her earlier memoir “Too Close to the Falls” drew wide acclaim.

Law and Disorder

Let us begin with a serious constitutional issue and move on to the murder and mayhem. Ironically, the issue, Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right, by David N. Mayer ($21.95, Cato Institute) will have more impact on your life and business than other legal matters that will affect you. This book, by the way, will not officially be available until January 2011. The question is, is economic liberty the same as personal liberty? It has been the subject of a number of Supreme Court decisions over the past century. The author argues that the right of Americans to bargain over the terms of their own contracts has been continuously diminished by court decisions and by the nation’s growing regulatory and welfare state. Granted, this may not seem all that important at first glance, but what if, as in the case of Obamacare, the law requires you to purchase something you don’t want or face a fine for not doing so? What if you can’t bargain over the terms of your own contracts, maximum or minimum wage laws, business licensing laws? That means you’ve lost a big chunk of freedom. Interested now? If so, this will prove to be a very interesting book to read.

War In The Woods: Combating the Marijuana Cartels on America’s Public Lands ($16.95, Lyons Press, softcover) was written by Lt. John Nores Jr. of the California Department of Fish and Game, with James A. Swan, PhD. It is about the real war going on to eradicate the illegal pot plantations that are turning areas of America’s state and national parks, national forests, and wildlife reserves into war zones. Nores, a 17-year veteran of California Fish and game has led anti-marijuana actions in the North Coast District and, from June 2005 to the present, has been Patrol Supervisor for three counties in the Central Coast of California. Under his leadership 600,000 marijuana plants have been removed from Santa Clara County since 2003. Such drug busts usually get about a minute or so on the TV news, if that, but this book reveals how widespread the problem is and the risks involved in trying to control and eliminate it.

Do you recall the “DC sniper” who terrorized the Washington, D.C. metro area in 2002? There were all kinds of theories concerning John Allen Muhammad who, along with a younger man, randomly killed people until finally being caught. In Scared Silent ($15.00, Atria Books, softcover) his former wife, Mildred Muhammad, reveals that the killings were part of his plan to ultimately kill her and make it appear she was just one of the sniper’s random victims despite the fact she was the mother of three of his children. This is on one level a story of domestic violence, but it is also a look at the twisted mind of a man who could have lived a normal life and threw it away as his rage overtook him. And it is a story of a woman unable to secure the help she needed from law enforcement authorities until too many people were dead. Criminal Minds: Sociopaths, Serial Killers & Other Deviants ($17.95, Wiley, softcover) is not light reading. Jeff Mariotte has written an authorized companion to the hit TV series, providing the stories behind serial killers such as David Berkowitz and Henry Lee Lucas, sexual predators, killers with famous victims, cannibals like Jeffrey Dahmer, traveling killers such as Ted Bundy, and a whole cast of quite loathsome lunatics. If that’s your cup of tea, this book will more than satisfy your interest. In A Peculiar Tribe of People: Murder in the Heart of Georgia ($24.95, Lyons Press) Richard Jay Hutto takes a close look at Chester Burge, described as a slumlord, liquor runner, and black sheep of a wealthy family. In early 1960 when his wife was murdered, suspicion fell on Chester and in the ensuing trial the quiet community of Macon was treated to a story of totally grotesque dimensions in which every social and sexual taboo was broken. The South of that era is the backdrop to the story. It makes for very compelling reading.

The Mob and Me: Wiseguys and the Witness Protection Program by former U.S. Marshal, John Partington with former Rhode Island attorney general, Arlene Violet, ($26.00, Gallery Books) takes the reader behind the scenes with one of the founders of the Witness Protection Program and a personal protector to more than five hundred informants. The program is one of the most successful in law enforcement. Back in 1967, at the request of Senator Bobby Kennedy, Partington was asked to create a program to get bad guys to testify against worse guys. They were offered lifelong protection in exchange for the conviction of the upper echelons of organized crime, including a permanent identity change for every member of the witness’s family. In this way, the Mafia code of “emerta” was broken. Protection would also be provided to other high-profile witnesses. It makes for some very interesting reading. Over the years we have seen how attorneys have become skilled at trying their cases in the court of public opinion as well as in the halls of justice. Kendall Coffey has written about this trend in Spinning the Law ($26.00, Prometheus Books), pulling back the curtain to reveal how and why it’s done. Coffey has been a frequent legal commentator for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. He discusses the behind-the-scenes media strategies in major courtroom battles to include publicity, press conferences, television interviews, and carefully orchestrated Internet exposure. All, says the author, have become an integral part of the legal art of convincing jurors, judges, and members of the public regarding the defendant’s innocence or guilt. Need I remind anyone of a certain former Illinois Governor who beat every rap except one in a recent highly publicized case? With a foreword by Alan M. Dershowitz, this will make for “must” reading by a legion of lawyers and anyone interested in the judicial process.

Coping With Life

From the earliest days of the nation, Americans have shown an enthusiasm for books that can help them improve their lives, to cope better with the challenges thrown at them. That theme remains alive and well today.

Psychologist Kevin Fauteux, Phd, MSW, has authored Defusing Angry People: Practical Tools for Handling Bullying, Threats and Violence ($14.95, New Horizons Press, softcover) and, since we all know people like this, it will no doubt come in handy if you have to deal with them. We live in times when a lot of people are angry for one reason or another and knowing how to disarm those who target you can do much for your sanity, if not your life. The author provides proven step-by-step guidelines to safeguard yourself, describing the seven stages of anger, helping readers to recognize the traits at each stage, judge how serious they are, and safely manage unstable and fuming confrontation. Another common problem is procrastination. Psychologist Joseph R. Ferrari, Phd, a professor at DePaul University, has authored Still Procrastinating? A No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done ($15.95, Wiley, softcover) and his twenty years of research can be put to work for you. Contrary to popular wisdom, chronic procrastination is not about poor time management, but rather stems from self-sabotaging tendencies that can prevent you from reaching your full potential. In Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson, with a forward by Vaclav Havel, pay tribute to the human spirit as they tell the story of more than eighty acts of resistance, spanning the world and the 20th and 21st centuries. Their theme is that there is no oppressive force so strong that it can repress people forever. Crawshaw is Director of Advocacy at Amnesty International in London and Johnson is Vice President of Social Responsibility for MTV Networks International. This is a very encouraging book.

On a more personal level there’s Have a New You by Friday, a guide to accepting yourself, boosting your confidence, and, according to Dr. Kevin Leman, changing your life in five days ($17.99, Revell). The author has enjoyed success with this formula that he has written about in “Have a New Kid by Friday” and “Have a New Husband by Friday.” This is commonsense psychology and will prove useful to anyone who has not paid attention to the good advice offered by one’s parents, family and friends over the years. If you don’t like the “you” you are, pick up a copy. One of the ways some people express unhappiness with themselves is anorexia, a mental disorder that involves avoiding food. Answers to Anorexia: A Breakthrough Nutritional Treatment That is Saving Lives by Dr. James M. Greenblatt, MD, ($16.95, Sunrise River Press, softcover) is the author’s breakthrough new treatment for addressing and preventing the disease. “Anorexia nervosa,” says the author, “is not just an eating disorder. It’s the most lethal psychiatric disorder on the planet. One out of every five patients dies within twenty years of diagnosis, predominantly from suicide.” Sadly he concludes that the medical profession has failed the millions, primarily young women, though increasingly men, whose self-imposed starvation is unleashed by the disorder. Need it be said that if you know someone with the symptoms, you should put the book in their hands or those close to them.

On the lighter side, there’s From Heartbreak to Heart’s Desire: Developing a Healthy GPS (Guy Picking System) by Dawn Malsar, MS ($14.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover). There’s nothing light about heartbreak, but a lot of women want to stop wasting time, energy, and emotion falling for the wrong man, but have a record of dating disasters that attest to their inability to find Mr. Right. If this describes you or a friend, the author provides a program to get out of the rut of unfulfilling relationships that addresses how to put an end to frustrating relationships, stop trying to fix him and fix yourself, and remove the blocks that prevent you from securing a relationship that works.

Novels, Novels, Novels

There must be fifty novels, hard and softcover, waiting to be read as this is written. Month after month they pour in, a deluge of fiction and one can only wonder at the size of the market for them all. Here are some recommendations for a select few.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the terror attacks around the world has fueled an interest in Islam, if only in self defense. The Topkapi Secret by Terry Kelhawk ($25.00, Prometheus Books) is a story of cultures clashing and the emotions that soar as Arab researcher Mohammed Atareek and American professor Angela Hall race away from death towards discovery. Will what they learn about the Koran cost them their lives or change the world? It centers on a fictional Topkapi Codex, an ancient manuscript of the Koran involved in the murder that split Islam into two sects, Shiites and Sunni. In the novel, Atareek is obsessed with getting his hands on the manuscript, displayed within the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. Years ago Topkapi was the locale of a novel made into a movie involving an attempted gem theft. This book offers a comparable tale, but one with explosive potential. Another novel reflects the culture clash that has stamped this decade from 9/11 to Iraq to Afghanistan as Americans respond to the threat to their way of life, values, and freedom. Lipstick in Afghanistan ($15.00, Gallery Books, softcover) by Roberta Gately is the story of an American nurse’s life-changing journey into a war zone. It is the story of Elsa who dreamed of being a nurse and of leaving her working class Boston neighborhood to help people whose lives are far more difficult than her own. Her secret weapon is a tube of lipstick and, when she uses it, she can take on any challenge. Still, even nights as an emergency room nurse could not prepare her for the devastation she witnesses at a small medical clinic she runs in Bamiyan. For an insightful look at the harsh realities of Afghanistan, a dash of romance, and some adventure, this story, based on real life experience is well worth reading.

For good, old fashioned suspense and intrigue, Alan Jacobson has served up another Karen Vail novel. In Velocity ($29.95, Vanguard Press) Vail, a FBI profiler, learns that her boyfriend, Detective Robby Hernandez, has vanished in Napa Valley with no clues other than a blood stain and a tenuous connection to a serial killer operating in wine country. As a task force seeks to find Hernandez, the killer challenges Vail by leaving his high profile victims in public places. It is a frantic race against time as Vail marshals her contacts to find him, culminating in a tangle of unforeseen dangers that puts her life on the line. This one is a real page-turner.

Do you recall the recent Russia/US adoption scandal when an American mother sent her adoptive son back to Russia? Or the attention that celebrities like Angelina Jodie and Madonna adopted children from Africa? Conservative numbers put adoptions in America at around 73,000 annually and Chandra Hoffman addresses the theme of adoption in Chosen ($25.99, Harper/HarperCollins Publishers). At the center of the story is Chloe Pinter, the director of The Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program, juggling the demands of her boss and the incessant needs of clients. When a child goes missing the dreams of a young couple become nightmares. The author draws on her own experiences as an aide worker in Romania’s infamous Orphanage Number One that took her back to a domestic adoption program in Portland, Oregon.

There are many softcover novels and the following is just a small selection of those received. You will find a special treat in American Suite by Diana E. Sheets ($19.95, Pinto Books) about a transplanted New Yorker who departs the city after 9/11 seeking what she believes will be a more authentic life in the “flatlands” of Middle America. It is told via the diary entries of three women, Rosalyn Selby, her elder daughter Sophie, and her younger daughter Arisa. It is what used to be called a comedy of manners and it is a subtle send-up of what is now called “chick-lit.” Wickedly funny, it is a real treat as the author takes a look at life today. Speaking of “chick-lit” one excellent example is The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate ($15.00, Gallery Books). At age 30, Holly Maguire has yet to have found her place in the world. Holly’s grandmother, a revered cook and fortune-teller on Maine’s Blue Crab Island told her that the great love of her life would be one of the few people on earth to like “sa cordula”, an Italian delicacy featuring lamp intestines stewed with onions, tomatoes, and peas. The novel opens as she prepares to serve the dish to her love of the moment, John. He thinks it’s disgusting and, what’s more, he’s fallen in love with his administrative assistant! On a visit, her grandmother passes away in her sleep, bequeathing her cooking school to Holly. This begins her adventures in things culinary and in romance. It’s a hoot.

A more somber tale is found in A Disobedient Girl by Freerman ($15.00, Washington Square Press), a heartbreaking tale of two women, connected by a shared and tragic history, yet separated by their respective destinies. Set in the author’s native Sri Lanka, a beautiful country where fate, religion, and sorrow are universal, a five year old Latha is brought into a home as a servant girl and companion to Thara, the daughter of the house who is also five. Though they are as close as sisters, Latha rebels against a life of servitude. There is much more to this story that takes you into another culture, another world. The world of the Amish in America is another culture and it is the backdrop for two Amish-Country mysteries by P.L. Gaus in Blood of the Prodigal ($13.00, Plume) and Broken English ($13.00, Plume). The seemingly serene Amish communities in Holmes County, Ohio, would not appear to be places where crime occurs, but it does as in the case of the first novel in which a young Amish boy vanishes and a search begins. The trail leads to the murder of the son of prominent member of the church. In the latter novel, a marauding ex-convict descends on the town of Millersburg, Ohio where the sheriff is joined by a professor and pastor in a quest to end a wave of local violence. These mysteries pit the values of the Amish, love and forgiveness, against the society in which they live and this makes for very interesting reading.

Step back in time to England’s Victorian era with Posie Graeme-Evans’ new novel, The Dressmaker ($16.00, Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). Ellen Gowan, a beautiful and clever girl of humble means reinvents herself to become a famous designer to London’s most fashionable and aristocratic ladies. Starting on her 13th birthday when he father suddenly dies, she encounters life-changing events that cover many years from toiling in a dress factor to setting up her own salon in fashionable Berkley Square. It is, as well, a romantic odyssey that provides a look at a past time and those who lived through it. The American South has generated many great novelists and stories. Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart ($14.99, Thomas Nelson) follows in
that tradition with a story of Anne Brumley who has long dreamed of romance while the bells of St. Michael’s ring, but those dreams are beginning to fade by age 36. She loves the city and is determined to make her life there. Family, friendship and faith converge in a beautiful story about following one’s heart

That’s it for November! Tell your book-loving friends and family about Bookviews, a monthly report on the best in fiction and non-fiction where books you may not learn about in the mainstream media are waiting to be discovered. You can share the word on your Facebook page or via Twitter. And come back in December to learn about some great gift books!