Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bookviews - January 2012

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

A book that has proven so provocative that even Congress is currently trying to fashion a re-write of laws applying to its members is Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich off Inside Stock tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism that would Send the Rest of Us to Prison ($26.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Its author, Peter Schweizer, is the William J. Casey Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a resume as long as your arm. The service his book provides is one that the Washington, D.C. corps of journalists has largely ignored for years in what Schweizer calls “an incestuous relationship” based on the fact that journalists fear losing access to the members of Congress if they dared to expose the larceny that takes men and women elected to office go from moderate income to owning millions. The book describes the process and names names when it comes to the graft involved that includes insider trading, conflicts of interest, and kickbacks. This goes well beyond mere bribery, something regarding as rather old-fashioned at this point. Since Congress has exempted itself from laws that would send others doing the same thing to jail, the process has been completely legal. “Unfair, unethical, and immoral—but legal. By leading a team that examined the records Congress critters are required to make public, albeit a year after the transactions, Schwiezer was able to put together a book that is an astonishing revelation of self-enrichment at the expense of the public they are said to serve.

The Tea Party movement in America was a spontaneous response to legislation passed during the first two years of the Obama administration to aroused dispute and rejection, the best known of which is “Obamacare.” An interesting new book, Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests that History Forgot by Joseph Cummins ($18.95, Quirk Press) tells the story, not only of the famed Boston Tea Party, but of others in the American colonies from Philadelphia to New York and other cities. It offers a thorough explanation why the British imposed taxes on tea, the role in played in the lives of the colonists, and how the taxes, one that followed the Sugar and Stamp Acts, galvanized Americans of that era to resist Great Britain and ultimately declare their independence. It is an exciting rendition of the people and events that sparked the American Revolution.

Some books are just so extraordinary that one marvels at the intelligence and creativity they represent. This is the case with Theodore Gray’s Elements Vault: Treasures of the Periodic Table ($39.95, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers), a slip-cased box of wonders based on an earlier book, “The Elements”, by Popular Science columnist, Theodore Gray in 2009. The book eventually ended up on the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list and thousands of people discovered the genius of the periodic table, listing all the chemical and mineral elements of which our planet is composed. It was created by a Russian chemist, Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev. Gray’s new book, co-authored with Simon Quellen Field, is a response to the readers who wanted to learn even more about the elements, to touch and feel some of them if possible. It is possible because the book contains samples including pure gold, silicon, boron, europium and zirconium. Throughout the book are 23 important historical and supplementary documents related to the elements and the field of chemistry. It is an extraordinary experience enhanced by many stunning photos by Gray. This book should earn a shelf of awards but the biggest reward will be for the reader who delves into it.

Another large format book is the Lights of Mankind: The Earth at Night as Seen from Space ($32.50, Lyons Press, imprint of Globe Pequot Press), edited by L. Douglas Keeney. At night the Earth from space is a two-billion kilowatt map of civilization and the cities that are lighted to reveal where electricity keeps its cities active long after the sun has set on them. Japan is a garland of lighted islands in the Pacific, Egypt is mostly in darkness except for the Nile that snakes through its desert, bejeweled in light. These are photos, taken by NASA’s astronauts in a program that the current administration has ended. Any aficionado of space exploration will enjoy this remarkable tribute to the only planet in our galaxy that not only supports life, but is illuminated by it.

You might not think concrete is a particularly interesting topic, but you would be wrong. In Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World’s Most Common Man-Made Material ($26.00, Prometheus Books) Robert Courland provides a lively history to a material that we use for buildings, bridges, dams, and road. It is everywhere man lives and works, and it has been around for a very long time. King Herod of Judea, a major builder, as well as Roman Emperor Hadrian, and others all relied on concrete, so it’s history is intertwined with the rise of civilization. In America, Thomas Edison once owned the largest concrete plant in the world. Buildings like the Coliseum and the Pantheon are testimony to the skill of ancient architects and builders. The secrets of concrete were lost for nearly a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, but were rediscovered in the late 18th century. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the use of concrete exploded. Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy this book.

Now that the holidays are over many are thinking about their cooking and baking skills, often to either begin or to improve on them. For them there’s Kitchen on Fire: Mastering the Art of Cooking in 12 Weeks (Or Less) by Olivier Said and Chef MikeC. ($35.00, Da Capo Press) and Baking with the Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro ($30.00, Free Press). The former book was written by the founders and instructors of the acclaimed Berkeley cook school of the same name and it prepares the reader to take on any recipe in any cookbook and even to invent new recipes. This is a book about cooking principles which one can apply to any meal. Extensively illustrated, it is a good book for the new bride or anyone who has not learned the fundamentals of cooking. This is a great way to become a master chef in the comfort of one’s own home. The latter book takes its name from the author’s popular television show, The Cake Boss, and offers “100 of Buddy’s Best Recipes and Decorating Secrets.” All manner of delicious treats plus great ways to decorate cakes and other baked goods are described and illustrated with mouth-watering photos.

There is considerable distrust these days of journalism and journalists these days. Thus, The Bloomberg Way: A Guide for Reporters and Editors by Matthew Winkler, Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News ($45.00, Bloomberg Press, an imprint of Wiley) would be a good investment for any journalist. I don’t expect the general public to plunk down that kind of money to learn the rules of financial reporting, but I do think that journalists, students, business professionals and anyone who wants to write about money should make the investment. Winkler’s approach is pragmatic and stresses the ethical standards we expect of today’s journalists. As he says, there is no such thing as being first if the news is wrong. He advises that a journalist explain the role of money in all its forms to reveal the true meaning of the news. At a time when the news is filled with reports about unemployment, huge deficits and debt, the threat to the Euro, this is a very timely, important book.

The election of President Obama spurred the increased sale of handguns, so if you are among those who have made such a purchase or possess handguns, I recommend The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills by Robert Campbell ($27,99, Zenith Press, softcover). The manual provides instructions for taking care of your firearms, from cleaning to general maintenance. It demystifies the sometimes confusing array of ammunition available in every caliber, and provides the basics on firearm safety, marksmanship, competitive shooting, hunting, and person protection. The author is a former peace officer with twenty years on the job. He has published more than six hundred articles.

Memoirs, Autobiographers, Biographies, Etc

Many Americans are looking back at the Reagan era with fondness these days, remembering how he handled economic problems, the threat of Soviet-style Communism, and the other great issues of his time. John A. (Jack) Svahn was a close adviser of Reagan, serving him during both of his terms as the Governor of California and as President. In that capacity he was the a Commissioner of Social Security, Undersecretary of Health and Human Services, and as the U.S. Commissioner to the Canal Alternatives Commission in Panama. He has written “There Most Be a Pony in Here Somewhere”: Twenty Years with Ronald Reagan ($18.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) The memoir blends humor with a serious, candid look at both the political and personal moments spent as part of Reagan’s inner circle. He writes that Reagan was an optimist, a man who always saw the glass as half full, not half empty. This book is an important contribution to our knowledge and insight regarding Reagan and will surely please his legion of admirers.

The world has moved on since the horrendous 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 destroyed its capitol city and surrounding areas. In Rubble: The Search for a Haitian Boy ($l6.95, Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, softcover.) Sandra Marquez Stathis who had lived and worked in Haiti for four years as a human rights observer in the 1990s, tells of her return to search for Junior Louis, an unforgettable boy she had met when he was seven years old and homeless. He was like a son to her and she was determined to find out if he had survived. Her story is not just his story, but a story of Haiti, and a very compelling one. It is only natural to give scant attention to events occurring in far-off lands, but So Far to Run: The Memoir of Liberian Refugee by Louise Geesedah Barton ($l3.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover) is quite extraordinary given that Liberia was established on the African coast as a place to which slaves could return from their captivity in America. At the age of seven Louise became a domestic servant in Monrovia. She had a thirst for knowledge, but just as she was entering collage, Liberia was overrun by deadly rebels, forcing her to flee for her life. Thousands died in the conflict and she spent the next ten years on the run, much of it on foot, through two countries and escaping to a third by motoring over 70 miles in a small boat through the high seas. She currently lives in Atlanta where she now is an advocate for those who remain refugees, unable to return to their homes. We tend to forget that there is plenty of poverty right here in America.

Sandra’s Story: It’s Not Gonna Be a Very Good Day by Garrett Mathews ($14.95, Plugger Publishing, softcover) follows a year in the life of Sandra, a fifth grader who lives in a $200 a month apartment with holes in the wall and mice in the ceiling. A retired columnist of the Evansville, Indiana Courier & Press, Matthews tells of being asked to speak to Sandra’s class and, in the process, learns that many of the boys and girls had never been to a mall, a museum, or a baseball game. He began to take three or four at a time to these places. It was an eye-opening experience for Mathews and his book reminds us that many children in America are living in poverty. The book is filled with events that will touch your heart and open your eyes. Bruce Farrell Rosen is a very talented writer who shares the same publisher as William Soroyan, Laurence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsburg, but he is no hippie. He has written If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away ($18.50, Alma Rose Publishing, softcover). It is a classic memoir, drawing on his life and it is dedicated to his mother who was clearly an extraordinary person, a psychic , and a family of fairly unique, if flawed individuals. Tolstoy said that “All happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This memoir is testimony to that. Rosen tells us of his life, his family, his marriage, et cetera, but he does so quite movingly and you might just, like looking in a mirror, see someone you recognize.

Sports are so much a part of American life that those who play and those who coach become demigods. One of the best biographers of sports figures, Carlo DeVito, has written Parcells: A Biography ($24.95, Triumph Books) about a football legend, Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winning coach of the New York Giants, taking us through his life beginning with his 15-year collegiate coaching career, examining his demand for perfection from his players and coaches, which may just explain why he has turned around many NFL franchises, including the Jets and Patriots. The book covers the life of a man who says, “You are what your record says you are.” In Parcells’ case, it is the record of a winner on and off the field. Basketball, too, has its legion of fans at the collegiate and professional level. One of the most successful collegiate coaches is Jim Boeheim is told by Scott Pitoniack in Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story ($24.95, Triumph). A Basketball Hall of Fame coach for his alma mater, Syracuse University, it is an inspiring story that begins with his youth in a small town, making the Syracuse team as a walk-on, turning down lucrative offers to coach elsewhere, and the incredible run to the NCAA championship in 2003. Along the way he coached young men who went onto great careers in basketball.

There is a growing mythology about the 1960s as a decade of drugs, anti-war protests, the assassinations of Kennedy and King. Among the minor players was Ed Sanders who became a counterculture icon. Fug You ($26.99, Da Capo Press) is his story and, for someone who played such a small role in that decade’s events and dedicated himself to legalizing marihuana, it is a hefty tome. Sanders ran the Peace Eye Bookstore and founded a folk-rock group called the Fugs. He came in contact with some real movers and shakers of the era such as Allan Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Andy Warhol, and William S. Burroughs. Time has passed him by, but it can’t be said he didn’t live an interesting life. This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl by Paul Bannigan ($26.99, Da Capo Press) is a biography of musician Dave Grohl, a key figure in bands that included Nirvana, Foo Fighters, and Queens of the Stone Age. The ups and downs of Grohl’s life will no doubt be of interest to rock fans, including his reaction to Curt Cobain’s suicide made him put aside his career, but he was drawn back in when Tom Petty asked him to play drums with the Heartbreakers on a Saturday Night Live session. He has known great success and being homeless, so the biography is quite a ride since the 1980s.

In a delightful memoir Joann Puffer Kotcher put her values on the line when, fresh out of the University of Michigan, a year of teaching, she became an American Red Cross Donut Dolly in Korea, later setting up four duty stations in Vietnam where she visited the troops from the Central Highlands to the Mekong Delta, the South China Sea to the Cambodian border. She tells her story in Donut Dolly: An America Red Cross Girl’s War in Vietnam ($24.95, University of North Texas Press). This is a unique, personal view of the war, recorded in a journal she kept during her tour. And it wasn’t just handing out donuts. She was once abducted, dodged an ambush in the Delta, and experienced that war in a way that most memoirs do not tell. It is an inspiring story of the men who go to war and of a woman who put her life on the line to bring a measure of cheer when they did. Years ago as a child, I had the opportunity to see and hear Eleanor Roosevelt, then in her later years in the wake of World War II and the beginnings of the United Nations. She had been the First Lady for thirteen years and had redefined the role. In Eleanor Roosevelt’s Life of Soul Searching and Self-Discovery ($19.95, Flash History Press, Paoli, PA, softcover) Ann Atkins tells her remarkable story, highlighting her role in championing African-Americans, Jews, and women. FDR said she was his eyes and ears as she traveled to the front lines of the Pacific and throughout the nation. She was much more. She was his conscience, urging him to accept the changes occurring nationwide and worldwide. Rather than accept society’s rules, she challenged them and, in the process, led a meaningful, purposeful, and successful life.

To Your Health

Parents have lots of questions about maintaining their children’s health and happily Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know is now out in his second section from the American Academy of Pediatrics ($14.95, softcover), edited by William H. Dietz, M.D. and Loraine Stern, M.D. Both have impressive resumes and the book is a complete guide regarding nutritional health from birth through adolescence. It includes standards of weight and height, eating disorders, allergies, and concerns about food safety. The new edition has been updated since it was first published a decade ago. The editors stress that teaching children healthy eating habits is an on-going activity and advises on how to allow for individual preferences, as well as the importance of shared mealtimes that are stress and guilt-free.

The Complete Book of Bone Health by Diane L. Schneider, M.D. ($21.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) is a comprehensive survey of osteoporosis, its nature and causes, along with sensible approaches toward its prevention and management. The most common problem older people encounter is hip fractures and can even be killers; one in five women will die within a year of breaking a hip and one in three men. The good news is that one can reduce one’s risk for breaking bones and it can be prevented at any age. The is a fat book of information on everything from basic health, risk factors, bone density scans, the role of exercise and nutrition, and much more. It is designed to be practical and user-friendly, so that anyone interested in maintain strong bones and good health will come away with a world of information that can prolong and enhance one’s life.

Anti-Aging Cures: Life Changing Secrets to Reverse the Effects of Aging by Dr. James Forsythe ($25.99, Vanguard Press) will surely interest anyone who wants to retain their youthful looks, energy, and lifestyle. A foreword by Suzanne Somers says “The key to youth, good health, and vitality as we age comes from our body’s master hormone, human growth hormone. By rejuvenating the master hormone gland using a range of safe and natural biostimulators, as this book shows, we can improve the quality and duration of the human lifespan.” Since my own knowledge of such matters is slim, I can only say that it appears to provide a useful body of information, but since I am also in my seventies, I have little doubt that, one way or the other, one’s body is going to age despite one’s best efforts. I rely on a full range daily of vitamins and minerals and would certainly recommend them. The author devotes attention to those that work best with regard to the aging process.

Military Matters

Wars have always played a role in history and their potential continues to threaten peace. Several books regarding various aspects of war reflect the ongoing interest in this topic.

Time has published Special Ops: The hidden world of America’s toughest warriors by Jim Frederick ($19.95, Time Home Entertainment Inc.). Frederick is a Time international editor who has reported on the world of military special operations, from the U.S. Navy SEALS who eliminated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan to the Green Berets of the Vietnam War. He traces the history of this units, the missions they fought, from World War II to present missions in a lively, well illustrated book. Continuing these topic, there’s MARSOC: U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command by Fred Pushies ($24.99, Zenith Press, softcover) that traces the Marine Corps rich tradition of special operations—the tip of the spear—from World War II’s famed Marine Raiders to Vietnam’s legendary Marine Force Recon companies. In the wake of 9/11, the need for special operations forces dramatically increased and the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was created in 2006. Its mission is to win wars before they begin, taking combat beyond the frontlines.

Airmen will enjoy two books devoted to former aircraft. The Douglas DC-3 Dakota and the North American F-86 Sabre are subjects of an “Owner’s Workshop Manual.” The former was written by Paul and Louise Blackah and the latter by Mark Linney ($28.00 each, Zenith Press). The Douglas DC-3 revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Tough, reliable, and easy to operate, it played a crucial role in World War II. The F-86 was the first operation Allied swept-wing transonic jet fighter of the post-war era that fought with distinction in the Korean War where it was pitted against the Soviet MIG-15. Both books are sure to please those who flew them and anyone interested in military aircraft.

There are countless books on World War II from the American point of view, but Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis have co-authored The German Aces Speak ($30.00, Zenith Press) that tells the story of those who flew against the Allies and is a reminder of how effective they were. As military history, it will surely interest those who find this of interest. A memoir, Brothers at War, by Werner Gramskow ($14.00, Arbor Books, softcover) tells the story of a boy in Hamburg, Germany in the 1930s who dreamed of going to America. His brother, Hans, had moved their ten years before the start of World War II, but history intervened and Werner was drafted into the Wehmacht. He eventually served in Stalingrad and, knowing he was marching to certain death, he hid out in a tiny German village. Unbeknownst to Werner, Hans had returned to their homeland as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army. By serendipity, Hans found Werner and, when the war ended, sponsored his immigration to the U.S. It is a fascinating story. Lastly, from WWII is Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu by Dick Camp. For nearly 70 years historians and military brass have debated the necessity of the invasion of the small Japanese-held Island. What is not debated is the determination, perseverance and sacrifice displayed by a regiment known as “The Old Breed.” Peleliu would become on of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history and now its story is told in a work of excellent military history.

Science, Real and Fake

The vast global warming fraud, perpetrating since the 1980s, has caused a lot of people to be turned off by claims said to be based on scientific investigation and findings. Suffice to say the alleged data supporting global warming, now called climate change, was found to be utterly corrupt. So naturally, along comes John Grant’s book, Denying Science: Conspiracy Theories, Media Distortions, and the War against Reality ($25.00, Prometheus Books). Unfortunately, it is just Grant’s reality as he continues to rail against “deniers” of the discredited “science”. The book is one long rant against what he regards as “unscientific” ideas regarding a wide range of topics. Suffice to say there is no such thing as a “consensus” among scientists because science exists to be both challenged and expanded with new findings. The book is essentially rubbish. Caveat emptor.

Also from Prometheus Books, Drive and Curiosity: What Fuels the Passion for Science ($26.00) by Istvan Hargittai, PhD, DSc is a tribute to many fine scientists who have advanced our knowledge and improved our world. Little known to those outside the scientific community are the challenges they had to endure while retaining their belief in their discoveries that were often derided by others in their field. In one case, chemist Dan Shechtman who discovered “quasiercrystals” in 1982 encountered rejection and mockery for years, but in 2011, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Anyone with an interest in science or who teaches courses to encourage students to pursue careers in science will enjoy this book. Philip Kitchner, a philosopher, has written Science in a Democratic Society ($28.00) to explore issues such as “climate change”, religiously inspired constraints on biomedical research, and similar topics. As with many such books, its appeal is limited to those who want to grapple with such matters. The historic record is filled with science frauds and is testimony to the human failings of those who perpetrate them knowingly or not. In a comparable fashion, Sam Harris has written The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). Harris takes a distinctly liberal approach to the questions he raises, but it all comes down to the ancient debates about good and evil.

Deadly Powers: Animal Predators and the Mythic Imagination by Paul A. Trout ($26.00, Prometheus Books) is an evocative exploration of the origin and function of storytelling, based on thousands of years in which our human predecessors had to cope with predatory animals who thought then and now that we were a tasty meal. The mythology that emerged from this served as a warning about them and responded to our visceral fears of them that exist to this day. It has manifested itself in literature, including children’s fairytales, and in modern movies in which fantastical creatures threaten humanity. It has shaped human culture and readers will find this an interesting book.

Novels, Novels, Novels

So many novels—hardly a day goes by that I do not receive an email request to review a novel or two. Many increasingly are self-published and stories of the success their authors have found as ebooks now abound. The publishing scene is changing, but this reviewer still prefers what I call “dead tree” books, the traditional book one can hold in one’s hands without worrying if the battery will die.

Some novelists are so good at what they do they develop a fan base that looks forward to their next piece of work. This has been the case for me regarding the novels of Lior Samson, a pseudonym for a writer whose first three novels, “Bashert”, “The Dome” and “Web Games” took the reader to Israel for some classic spy-counterspy suspense. His newest novel, The Rosen Singularity, ($16.95, Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, softcover) departs from that and I would be lying if I did not say I was delighted to find myself quoted on the back cover saying “This extraordinary author has the ability to anticipate events in ways that enhance his novels.” This time Samson delivers a medical thriller; one with plenty of action from page one to the end. The main character, Rosen David, is a research biologist who prefers to mine the work of others to find patterns and, indeed, he makes a major discovery. In 2005, Steve Jobs told a commencement audience at Stanford that "Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.” Rosen has stumbled upon a discovery that puts his life and those around him at risk. The cast of characters include an invisible network of people who want to cheat death and think Rosen’s research can make that happen. I promise you that, if you read this Samson novel, you will want to read the other three.

Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier, the author of the acclaimed “Night Train to Lisbon” ($26.00, Grove Press) is surely worth celebrating. It is an exploration of grief, a profound story of a man struggling to cope with the death of his wife and the impact it has on his life. Phillipp Perlmann is a noted linguist. Scheduled to speak at a gathering of international academics in a seaside town near Genoa, he struggles with the text of the keynote presentation until he realizes he can produce nothing. His confidence has deserted him and, desperate, he decides to plagiarize the work of a Russian colleague who is not able to attend the gathering. But Leskov unexpected arrival is suddenly announced and Perlmann panics. He contemplates even more drastic measures. Deeply emotional and intellectual novels like this are a rare occurrence. Italy is the setting for Joe Costanzo’s new novel, Calabria to be specific. In Restoration ($15.95, Charles River Press, softcover) Stephano Strazzi, an Italian-American from the fiction town of Roccamonti returns to recapture his memories of being raised there before his family immigrated to America. He quickly falls under its spell and, in the process of trying to help restore a medieval church, he finds himself in the midst of an old vendetta that erupts with frightening consequences. Constanzo was born in Pedivigliano and draws on the wellspring of his own life to create a compelling story that reflects both the enchantment and the passions of Italy. A veteran journalist, he displays a fine eye for detail and as a novelist he adds to his reputation as an excellent storyteller.

The American West is the setting for Richard S. Wheeler’s The Richest Hill on Earth ($25.99, Forge) as he turns is well-established storytelling talent to a tumultuous time in Montana history when the copper kinds battled for riches, glory, and control of Butte, the fledging government of the then-new State. Caught up in the struggle are the miners, their wives and children, journalists, and even psychics, all trying to make their fortune in the late 1890s. Several memorable characters play out their part in the struggle, from newspaper editor John Fellowes to Marcus Daly, an Irish immigrant of humble origins who rose to create the Anaconda Copper Mining Copper and his political rival, William Andrews Clark who bought a seat in the U.S. Senate, and Augustus Heinze who tried to steal the mines using lawyers and bribed judges, only to be crushed by the Rockefellers. This is fictionalized history, but it is also a very entertaining look at the real story behind the struggles that hinged on wealth and power. When it comes to westerns, novels that evoke a fabled period, few do it better than Jim Best. His latest is Murder at Thumb Butte ($12.95, Wheatmark, Tucson, AZ, softcover) and I guarantee that you will also want to read The Shopkeeper and Leadville. These are part of a “Steve Dancy” series and, in the case of “Murder at Thumb Butte”, it is the spring of 1880 and Dancy has traveled to Prescott, Arizona to gain control of a remarkable invention. He has barely unpacked when he learns that his friend, Jeff Sharp, has been arrested for a midnight murder and Dancy launches an investigation to find who really did it. The problem is, the whole town of Prescott wanted him dead! He turns to another old friend, Captain Joseph McAllen of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to sort out the suspects and find the real killer before Sharp ends up swinging from the gallows. Best is best at dialogue and his novels move along at a swift pace with some of the best dialogue you’ll find. Nothing fancy, but it reflects real people in real situations. Treat yourself to one or all three of the series.

Murder mysteries are a favorite genre in fiction and D.C. Brod delivers a good one in Getting Lucky (24.95, Tyrus Books) with the story of a freelance writer who is hired to finish one of the stories written by a young reporter killed in a hit-and-run accident. In the process she uncovers shady Illinois land deals. At the same time she is trying to come up with enough money to keep her mother in an assisted living facility. Conflict of various kinds is at the heart of the story that moves along at a satisfying pace. At timely as today’s headlines regarding illegal aliens, Craig McDonald, an Edgar Award nominee, takes us to New Austin, Ohio in El Gavilan ($24.95, Tryus Books) where the locals are struggling with waves of undocumented workers who exert tremendous pressure on schools, police and city services. Three very different kinds of cops scramble to maintain control and impose order, but the rape-murder of a Mexican-American woman triggers a brutal chain of events that threaten to leave no survivors. You will keep turning the pages in a story filled with shifting alliances and circumstances.

A finalist for Germany’s prestigious Friedrich Glauser Prize for Best Crime Novel, Morgue Drawer Four by Jutta Profit ($14.95, Amazon Crossing) is one of several new softcover novels worth reading. It is a change of pace blending a witty genre-bending fusion of hard-boiled crime fiction and a comic ghost story that takes place in cosmopolitan Cologne’s seamy underbelly, a hidden world of gangsters, hustlers, and its red light district. A mismatched pair of impromptu detectives is at the center of the story. One is the ghost of a recently murdered career criminal seeking justice and the other is a quiet, unassuming coroner with the blessing or curse of being able to communicate with the deceased! This is a quirky, well-paced, and very entertaining story. A very different time and place is the setting for an Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg ($15.00, Penguin, softcover) in her debut as a novelist. It is 1830 and Neil McKenzie has accepted a post on the islands of St. Kilda, an isolated archipelago off the coast of Scotland. He is there to minister to a small community of islanders. Joining him is his pregnant wife, Lizzie. He is there to test his own faith against the old pagan ways of the islanders who live in squalor. The result is that his faith, marriage, and their sanity is tested in a place of extreme hardship and unearthly beauty. Mary Shelley gave us Frankenstein and Erica Ferencik gives us Dr. Astra Nathanson in Repeaters ($14.95, Waking Dream Press, Framingham, MA, softcover) and the question must be asked, why are women so good at writing stories that scare the pants off you, have you checking the locks on the doors, and keeping the lights on to fend off the dark? I am not giving away any secrets by telling you that the “repeaters” are the murdered among us, forced to repeat their lives until they find someone to love and thus granted eternal peace. Failing that, they bear the scars of the manner in which they were murdered in past lives. This is one scary story that readers who like their thrills bloody will love.

In today’s economy with headlines such as the collapse of a major hedge fund, bailed out banks, and famed media moguls, Richard Wanderer has authored The Holiday Party ($15.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover) that features a high-powered media mogul holding a dark secret, a publisher with a belief in the supernatural, and an assistant who no longer wants to assist. The result is a novel of corporate greed that leaps off its pages. Adam Gladstone is an heir to the family media empire and, with his brother, is running the business like a family. Meanwhile, mogul Daniel Davenport’s mistress is tired of being his concubine and assistant, and wants to take over the Gladstone umpire for herself, not Daniel. The author, a member of the California Bar, brings his experience working in the advertising departments of major magazines and newspaper publishing companies to good use in this novel that rings true as it explores the machinations of greed and betrayal.

Fans of short fiction will enjoy Geoff Schmidt’s Out of Time ($14.95, University of North Texas Press, softcover) a winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. A debut collection, it is a meditation on meaning and mortality. In his stories, vengeful infants destroy and rebuilt the world, rival siblings and their mother encounter witches and ghosts, along with others, all of whose time is running out. This is definitely a very different literary cup of tea!

That’s it for January as we all embark on a tumultuous year in which people and parties are pitted against one another for the future of the nation. Tell your family, friends, and coworkers about Bookviews.com, the most eclectic monthly report on news fiction and non-fiction. And come back in February for more!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bookviews - December 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding Member, National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

As the European Union totters on collapse as several member nations face default and as the U.S. fails to address and solve its own financial problems, perhaps the one book you need to read to understand what is happening now, in the past, and in the near future is James Rickards Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis ($26.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin) that explains in an easily understood fashion what U.S. policy makers have done or failed to do to protect the integrity and value of the U.S. dollar, the nation’s economy, and its natural security, All three are interlinked. Rickards tells of previous currency wars, their causes and outcomes, identifying the present situation as the third such war. He discusses how, when this war is over, the global balance of economic power may look very different and America’s role on the world stage could be dramatically reduced. The failure of the so-called Super Committee to agree on spending cuts and the possibility of sequestration or automatic cuts are part of this larger picture. At present, the annual Gross Domestic Product, the value of the sale of all goods and services, is approximately $14 trillion. The national debt is now $15 trillion and growing. You don’t have to be a math genius to see where this is going.

It’s not going to leap onto any bestseller list but it surely deserves to be widely read. It’s Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry by Rich Trzupek ($23.95, Encounter Books). A chemist and principal consultant at Mostardi Platt Environmental, he has been an environmental consultant for twenty-five years for several Fortune 500 companies. Trzupek brings a wealth of scientific knowledge and his experience to focus on something many people suspect, but lack the time to explore. The Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, has long since strayed from its original purpose to ensure clean air and water, becoming a rogue agency more concerned with aggressive regulation of all aspects of our lives, but in particular all business and industrial activity, large and small. The result is jobs lost because of decisions not to start or expand a business, or to conduct it offshore. For years now the EPA has been waging a war against access to and the use of all the facets of energy Americans need and use. This is a surprisingly short book for such a big topic, but the author covers all the bases and the examples he cites are chilling. I strongly recommend this excellent expose of a government agency run amuck.

These are election times as the merits of the GOP candidates are being evaluated and we are now beginning to look back at the previous administration with some perspective. A softcover edition of Decision Points by former President George W. Bush ($18.00, Broadway) is now available and provides his story of his life and the reasons he made the decisions he did during two terms leading the nation; the first involving the 9/11 attacked that changed our lives in its wake. The President comes across as a man with a deep religious faith, but also uniquely prepared for the job as the son of a former President, a pilot in the Reserves, a businessman, and as Governor of Texas. He comes across as honest, doing the best he could, and pretty much what we all saw at the time. Mitt Romney is a GOP candidate that many want to know better and R.B. Scott has authored Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics ($16.95, Lyons Press, softcover) that answers many of the questions in voter’s minds. It is the first independent, unauthorized biographical profile and draws on research from two decades, including interviews with people who know him well, allies and adversaries alike. The book also looks at the Mormon Church and its march toward the religious mainstream. If you’re still trying to make up your mind, you will be aided by this book.

December is the month when book lovers look for interesting gifts and anyone who loves elephants—and I do—I recommend An Elephant’s Life: An Intimate Portrait from Africa by Caitlin O’Connell ($29.95, Globe Pequot Press) which is filled with her photos of elephants being elephants in glorious color. The author is a leading field biologist who has immersed herself in a study of elephant society for nearly two decades. Her narration of the photos is kept to a minimum so that the pictures speak for themselves, but it is also invaluable for the understanding and insight it provides. This is photojournalism and nature documentary at its best. It is an intimate portrait. A totally different, but hearty, recommendation is for Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg ($24.95, Camino Books, Philadelphia, PA) subtitled “Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking.” There are few joys to rival fresh-baked breads, bagels, and other taste treats. The Ashkenazi Jewry from Eastern Europe brought with them baking traditions that went back centuries, as did the Sephardic or Mediterranean Jews. This book is more than a collection of recipes and because so much of Jewish cuisine has become part of the American dining scene, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this book. But it helps! The authors recall their youth in Brooklyn and the Bronx, large Jewish enclaves even today. The recipes are based on professional formulas, but adapted for home kitchens. The book is enhanced by many color photos of a range of breads, pastries, cookies and cakes. It’s a great Hanukkah or Christmas gift.

I love big, fat books filled with useful information and was greatly impressed when I received African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence by Lean’tin L. Bracks ($22.95, Visible Ink Press, Canton, MI, softcover). It has biographies of more than 750 influential figures, is filled with little known or misunderstood historical facts, enlightening essays on significant legislation and movements that explore the past, the progress, and current conditions of African Americans. As a true almanac, it covers the civil rights movement, African American literature, art and music, as well as religion, advances in science and medicine, theatre, film and television. It is a tremendous value for the vast amount of information it provides.

One of the most common questions I receive comes from writers who want to know if I can recommend a literary agent or a publisher for their book. The best answer I have is to pick up a copy of Jeff Herman’s encyclopedic 2012 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents ($29.99, Sourcebooks, softcover). It is an extraordinary compilation of data about the many publishing houses that exist, what their preferences are, who their personnel are, and everything else you need to know. The same applies to the section on agents and to independent editors who can assist a writer. The guide even includes a section on the future of book publishing in regard to the ever-changing technology as well as resources for writers, websites and a glossary for those new to the process of finding the people that can transform a manuscript into a finished book. Herman has a track record of representing bestselling authors and this guide will prove a worthy investment.

Memoirs, Biographies & Autobiographies

Kurt Vonnegut whose novels like “Slaughterhouse Five”, “Cat’s Cradle”, and “Breakfast of Champions” became iconic markers of the twentieth century. Generally speaking, the man, himself, was not well known. His life was a series of tragedies that include his mother’s suicide, being a prisoner during World War II, the loss of a sister to cancer. One suspects he survived because he distilled it in his novels and leavened it with his unique sense of humor. Fans will welcome Charles J. Shields’ And So It Goes—Kurt Vonnegut: A Life ($30.00, Henry Holt and Company). It is an authorized biography, the result of five year’s research, hundreds of interviews, and more than 1,500 letters. Just out in November, it has been greeted with praise, hailed as “triumphant” and “definitive”, the best praise may be that it is very entertaining.

The passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs evoked worldwide notice. George Beahm just had his book, I, Steve: Steve Jobs in his Own Words ($10.95, Agate Publishing, softcover) published. It is a collection of Job’s quotations a vast array of topics, from anxiety to zen. Nor is this a fat compendium of lengthy statements, but rather a selection of short takes, often no more than a single sentence, so the 200 quotes actually fit in the palm of your hand. They capture his thoughts, ideas, and opinions on business, technology, culture, and life. Just as we look back at the genius of Edison in his era of innovation and invention, future generations will do the same for Jobs.

The story of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomatic envoy who risked his life to save the lives of more than 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children during World War II. Alex Kershaw tells that story in The Envoy ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) recounts the final winter of the war and the extraordinary story of how Wallenberg used “safe passage” passes and secret “safe houses” throughout Budapest, using material gleaned from international archives as well as interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors and relatives of those whom he saved. The Talmud says that he who saves a single life, save the entire world. Wallenberg’s fate remains unknown, but his story lives on. Fast forward and Anna Badkhen offers a memoir of Afghanistan and Iraq from the point of view of a war reporter in Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). It is an unsparing and intimate history of the last decade’s most vicious conflicts, bringing the human elements to life along with the dehumanizing realities of war, the people, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate to survive. It is a very different view of the conflict that reflects the culture that has declared jihad against the West.

Manny Pacquiao, who many consider the best boxer of our times, has his life told in Pacman by Gary Andrew Poole ($15.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) that takes one behind-the scenes in this first major biography. More than a superb athlete, Pacquiao is a cultural icon known as much for his philanthropy to his country. He has been elected a congressman in his native Philippines, using his position to fight the severe poverty from which he came. Many predict he will one day be the president of that nation. In a classic rags to riches story, fans of boxing in particular will greatly enjoy this biography. From the music scene, fans of the group, Black Sabbeth, will enjoy Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbeth, a memoir by Tony Iommi ($26.00, Da Capo Press) that recounts how his band emerged around 1968 to break through the folksy songs of the hippie subculture to address war, famine, and political corruption, shocking and angering people with a new genre that would be known as heavy metal. As their lead guitarist he recounts how an accident sliced off the tips of the two middle fingers on his right hand, affecting the way he played, producing the deeper, more powerful musical tones for which the band became famous. He recounts his drug and alcohol abuse, marital discord, and the constant management problems that included exists by band members, the most famous of which was Ozzy Osbourne.

Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski recount the surprising story between a busy ad executive and a hungry little boy, Maurice Maczyk, who she encountered one day on a Manhattan street corner. An Invisible Thread ($25.00, Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster) tells the story of how something about the boy touched her heart “as if we were bound by some invisible, unbreakable thread.” The boy, born to an abusive father and drug-addicted mother, living in welfare hotels with his knife-weilding grandmother, had all the odds stacked against him, but he had a special spirit and what began as a simple lunch shared between strangers became a weekly ritual and life-changing friendship. Ron Franscell’s The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, ($18.95, Globe Pequot Press, softcover) is subtitled “The Yukon odyssey of a father and son in search of a mummified human toe…and everything else.” A lifelong journalist, the author grew up in Wyoming. He has witnessed and written about the evolution of the American West, the first months of the Afghan war and the devastation of Hurricane Rita. The author of many books, this one is an account of a road trip with his son where they drank a cocktail containing a mummified human toe and spent the longest day of the year under an Arctic sun than never set. Quite simply, he is an extraordinary writer and the memoir can be read for the pleasure of his prose. Anyone who has ever owned a horse will identify with and thoroughly enjoy Jana Harris’s Horses Never Lie About Love ($24.00, Free Press). When she and her husband moved to Washington State, she wanted to fulfill her dream of starting a horse farm. On a visit to a ranch where horses had been corralled for sale, she fell in love with a handsome mare and her foal, a black colt. When they were delivered three months later, however, she was unrecognizable, having survived a range five that had scarred her head and ears, and damaged her lungs. Could this now half wild horse be gentled? Harris’s book is a heartwarming story of the bonds between those who love horses and the horses who love them back.

Memoirs can also be painful while being cathartic. Betrayal and the Beast by Peter S. Pelullo is subtitled “a true story of one man’s journey through childhood sexual abuse, sexual addition, and recovery” ($15.95, Only Serenity LLC) Pellulo focuses on his corporate life in the music industry where he gained recognition for recording acts like the Rolling stones, Foreigner, and Stevie Wonder. He was active as well in the telecom industry, the Internet, and the financial world, but despite success in these fields, he could not overcome the scars of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of two older neighborhood kids in the 1950s. This book points up, as Pelullo notes, that it is estimated that one in three girls and one in four boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. In his case, it led to a hidden life of sexual promiscuity and pain he sought to dull with prescription drugs, alcohol, and work. He had no one he considered a close friend. This book tells of his journey to recovery which he shares to give other victims like himself hope they too can recover.

Reading History

My understanding of the present and concerns about the future are informed by a life spent reading history. It never fails to fascinate me.

A brilliant new book about the history of Christianity is Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion ($27.99, HarperOne). From an obscure Jewish sect whose teacher was executed by the Romans, the story of Christianity is quite extraordinary one. Stark previously authored “The Rise of Christianity”, but this new book carries history forward from its origins to the conquest of Roman society. His new book applies his considerable intellect to the last two thousand years, often challenging the conventional interpretations of many major events in the Christian narrative. He argues that Constantine’s conversion did the Church a great deal of harm and notes that the majority of converts to early Christianity were women. Some books on religion engage the reader in ways that either strengthen or decrease their faith, but this is a book of history and, as such, it is filled with insights that depart from much that is taken for granted by the faithful. Most surely, Stark’s belief that religion must disappear to allow for a more secular world, confident of its own achievements, is provocative, but he also explains why faith remains vigorous almost everywhere around the world and why Christianity continues to play an important role.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to have lived in an earlier century? If so, you are in for a treat when you read The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer ($15.00, Touchstone Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, softcover. “Imagine yourself in a dusty London street on a medieval summer morning. A servant opens an upstairs shutter and starts beating a blanket. A dog guarding a traveler’s packhorses starts barking. Nearby traders call out from their market stalls…and you, in the middle of all this, where are you going to stay tonight? What are you wearing? What are you going to eat?” Instead of stories about jousts and chivalry, Mortimer brings to life, the daily sights, sounds, smells and tastes of England in the Middle Ages, hundreds of years before electricity, indoor plumbing, and modern medicine. This is history experienced in ways most other books do not convey.

The American Revolution tends to be taught in fairly sterile terms of battles and books about the leaders, but it was fought by real people and experienced by others that by Noel Rae ($30.00, Lyons Press) whose thoughts and experiences were captured in diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other sources of the time has been captured in a great read, The People’s War: Original Voices of the American Revolution. To gain insight to what it meant to live through that long, tumultuous period, this book is the one to read. We are familiar with George Washington and his colleagues, but here we are introduced to a farm boy who ran away to sea at age twelve, a pretty young widow roughed up by Tory ruffians, and a slave who escaped to the British after witnessing his mother being flogged. Not everyone favored the Revolution in much the same way we differ among ourselves over today’s conflicts. This is history at its most entertaining and authoritive, as told by witnesses to the events.

Much of history is about wars and two define much about America. Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year recounts the last year of the military genius brought the Civil War to an end and served as President. Charles Bracelen Flood goes beyond Grant’s memoirs, written in his final days, beset by terminal cancer and cheated of his wealth by a business partner. They were his effort to save his family from destitution and, finished just four days before his death, became a bestseller. Flood paints a picture of a man devoted to his family. His determination, love of family and nation, is captured in this biography. Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub ($24.00, Da Capo Press) recalls the days that followed December 7, 1941 that brought the U.S. into the World War that had been raging in Europe and Asia while Americans resisted being drawn into it. The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor altered history forever. An award-winning historian, author and co-author of more than fifty books, Weintraub describes how Churchill, at great risk, traveled to the U.S. to meet with Roosevelt to set in motion the events of WWII. He arrived on December 22. The book captures the unique feeling of a nation on the brink of war and provides the an insight to the strategic planning of the two most respected politicians of the 20th century. Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll ($35.00, W.W. Norton) chronicles the first two years the followed the attack on Pearl Harbor that claimed 2,500 lives and dealt a blow to U.S. naval power, locking American and Japan in a titanic struggle for control of the Pacific ocean, a struggle that became the largest naval war in history. It tells of the panic, triumph, and sacrifice of the early months of the epic contest and the admirals, political leaders, sailors and pilots on both sides of the conflict. From Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway, the collapse of the Japanese Empire was set in motion. Little wonder this aspect of the war holds our interest to this day. This book is a gripping story that anyone who loves history will devour despite its length or because of it.

Some years just stand out in our nation’s history, 1776, 1864, 1941 and 1968. The last is the subject of a book, The 1968 Project: A Nation Coming of Age by the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society ($24.95, Minnesota Historical Society Press, softcover) does a terrific job with texts and photos catching the highs and lows of a year that was unique culturally, politically, and in so many other ways. 1968 saw the assassination of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It was the year of the Democratic Party national convention in Chicago with its epic battles with protests in Lincoln and Grant parks. Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee. Richard M. Nixon was the GOP choice and, in November, he was the winner. There were more than 549,000 troops in Vietnam; 17,000 had been killed in combat that year. For a sense of a turning point that influenced much of what has since followed, this is an excellent book to read.

For the younger reader there is perhaps nothing more inspiring than to read the lives of men and women who, as Sandra McLoed Humphrey puts it, “made a difference.” They may learn about such people on television or from movies, but nothing is quite so intimate than to hold a book in one’s hands and to read about them. That’s why I would recommend They Stood Alone! 25 Men and Women Who Make a Difference ($14.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) by Ms. Humphrey who takes the reader on a tour in which she says, “heroes are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things…” From DaVinci and Newton to Curie and Einstein, from Gandhi to Neil Armstrong and Rosa Parks, this is a gift that should be under the tree or near the menorah as it celebrates vision and courage.

Advice, Advice, Advice

In the world of books there is no end to advice on every single aspect of life. One of the most challenging is how to find a mate and then how to fashion a successful marriage. It’s not easy but Bari Lyman has written Meet to Marry: A Dating Revelation for the Marriage Minded ($14.95, Health Communications, softcover). Lyman has coached hundreds of singles as a modern-day marriage-broker and her book helps the single reader to find their way to lasting love. She teaches how to recognize one’s own blind spots and to change the way one thinks when mind-sets hinder relationships. One must first be able to live in harmony with oneself while being visible to one’s partner. She offers a three-step program—Assess, Attract and Act. I think this book will help a lot of singles avoid the pitfalls and take the right steps. Then there’s the question, “What does your husband—whom you still love—do that drives you nuts?” It was a question that Jenna McCarthy posted on her Facebook page and out of it came If It Was Easy, They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married ($15.00, Berkley Publishing, softcover). McCarthy is happily married and the mother of two daughters. She is also the author of five books and a very funny writer who brings laughter and clarity it to this subject. Women will identify with what she deems male idiocy, but she also dishes some straight talk to the girls as they navigate through marriage.

A very different approach is found in Draw Close ($19.99, Revell) written for Christian couples by Willard F Hartley, Jr. and his wife, Joyce. They share their insights for growing a strong marriage with a devotional because they believe one must draw close to God as well as each other. They must be doing something right. They have been married 48 years! The book addresses a variety of topics that every couple faces in marriage ranging from love to time issues, honesty, harmful habits, selfish demands, criticism, respect, parenting, and so much more. If one’s marriage includes a mouthy, moody teenager, I have just the book for you. It’s Dr. Kevin Leman’s Have a New Teenager by Friday ($17.99. Revell) in which this family expert and author of more than forty books reveals how to deal with the most familiar bad attitudes of teenagers with advice that really works; how to gain respect, establish healthy boundaries, communicate effectively, turn selfish behavior around, and be the influence for the better person you want your teenager to be. Two other Revell books to check out are A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself & Live in the Security of God’s Promises by Renee Swope ($13.99, softcover) and Walk Strong, Look Up by Chantel Hobbs ($13.99, softcover) the author of “Never Say Diet” who is back with a book on the healthful benefits of walking to transform your physical, mental, and spiritual outlook. It is filled with practical advice.

Stephen R. Covey gained fame with his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which sold 20 million copies and he is back now with The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems ($28.00, Free Press) which looks at the traditional way of conflict resolution—my way or your way. He offers a third way in which the parties engaged in “creative dialogue” and temporarily suspend their entrenched positions. This is not exactly a big breakthrough, unless you’re one of those people who believe in “my way or the highway” and then maybe you need to read this book! Most of life involves a degree of flexibility and compromise and that is what Covey’s new book addresses.

Last Laughs: A Pocketful of Wry for the Aging seems an appropriate way to close out this discussion of advice books ($14.95, Two Harbors Press). Actually, Everett Mattlin serves up a collection of essays that skip all the usual feel-good chatter about growing old and gets right to all its most annoying aspects. His advice is to get lazy and be lazy in your “golden years” because as he says, there is nothing wrong with spending your time wallowing in all the wonderfully clich├ęs of old age, a comfy rocking chair, old movies on TCM, your favorite libation, and just remember the good old days. It works for me!

Getting Down to Business

Ronn Torossian has built a reputation for himself and for his public relations firm, 5W Public Relations, over the years as being among the top practitioners of PR that benefits his clients in New York, Los Angeles, and points in between as one of Inc Magazine’s list of the top 500 entrepreneurial firms. So what should a successful PR professional do at this point in his career? Write a book of course. For immediate Release, written with Karen Kelly ($24.95, Benbella Books, Dallas, TX) is testimony to the triumphs and pitfalls of public relations. It is filled with good advice based on real world case histories of what works and what doesn’t. Over my 40+ years as a public relations counselor I can attest to the many ways this book can help everyone from the CEO of a giant corporation to a start-up new business. Much of what we read or hear in the media is directly related to the information provided by PR practitioners as they seek to help their clients and, indeed, federal and state governments engage in massive amounts of PR to advance their agendas and policies, so it isn’t just private enterprise. Non-profits, too, use PR for their causes. This is one of the best books on PR that I have read in years.

Getting new business and then servicing it are the subjects of two softcover books of interest. Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing by Neal Schaffer ($21.95, Windmill Networking) While most who sign up on Linkedin for the purpose of getting a job, Schaffer explores the network’s potency in connecting sales and marketing forces and backs it up with 15 business owners and professional’s case histories. The book shows how to create a sales-oriented profile and connections policy to attract more leaders. He recommends becoming an industry thought leaders by establishing your own community within the LinkedIn demographic. The networking website clearly offers many such opportunities and this book shows you how to get the maximum value from it. Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service is now in its fifth edition ($18.95, Amacom), testimony to its advice on how customers both shop and relate their experience. Readers will benefit from its new tips, tools, and techniques to impress and retain customers, on problem-solving, working with generational and cultural differences and even how to handle the “customer from hell.” For the start-up or the old pro, this book has proven itself over and over again.

When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms by Cal Brown ($24.95, Brown Books Publishing Group, Dallas, TX) takes a look at the many different problems that life throws in our path, examining questions that include what if “I lost my spouse?”, “I lost my career?”, “I lost my investments?”, along with similar questions regarding marriage, the loss of parents, stolen identity, the loss of health and even one’s mind! The author is a financial planner and brings his experience to bear on these common situations. The book is filled with excellent advice on how to prepare for these problems, looking ahead for the sale of one’s spouse, children, and personal future. Put this one on your “must read” list. In Affluence Intelligence: Earn More, Worry less, and Live a Happy and Balanced Life ($25.00, Da Capo Press) authors Stephen Goldbart, PhD, and Joan Indursky Difuria, MFT, join to discuss what constitutes a fulfilling, financially secure life in which you work at what you love, have satisfying relationships, and life a life that has meaning and purpose. We often do not address these questions until too much time has passed by, so a book like this allows you to begin to focus well before it’s too late.

A rather specialized book is Andrew J. Sherman’s Harvesting Intangible Assets: Uncovering Hidden Revenue in Your Company’s Intellectual Property ($29.95, Amacom). The author says that most companies allocate little structured attention to cultivating the resource of their intellectual property; companies that do include Google, IBM, Amazon, and others. Based on his work with some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies, Sherman presents systematic methods for managing, measuring, maximizing, and protecting these assets in an information-centric, innovation-driven world.

Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst’s Fight to Save the Big Banks from Themselves ($29.95, Wiley) by Mike Mayo could not be more timely in light of the events of 2008 and the “Occupy Wall Street” attack on the nation’s banking system. The author is an award-winning Wall Street analyst, Mayo writes about the biggest issue of our time, the role of finance and banks in America. In doing so, he lays out the truth about practices that have diminished capitalism and tarnished the banking sector. He brings to bear his experience working at six Wall Street firms, analyzing banks and protesting against bad practices for two decades. In doing so, he blows the lid off the true inner workings of the big banks. This book deserves not only to be read, but to be a template for correcting the ills and misfortunes of today’s banking community.

Children’s & Young Adult Books

I am one of those people that thinks that, under the Christmas tree, there should be books as well as toys. A child can always return to a favorite book for some quiet time and usually benefit from its story.

There’s Hanukkah, too. The Jewish festival of lights and one of the most entertaining and charming stories with that holiday theme is The Story of Hanukkah Howie, written by Jan Dalrymple and illustrated by her husband, Bob Dalrymple ($18.00, Peanut Buttler Publishing, Seattle, WA) in which a toddler awakes one day with a spike of hair on the top of his head and one by his ear. This is followed by more such spikes of hair and always as Hanukkah is close at hand. It is an amusing tale of how Howie tries to cope with this strange phenomenon as he grows older until a youngster points out that his hair resembles of menorah with nine candles. If there’s a Jewish youngster around 6 to 9 or so that you know, this would make a great gift. Parents can read the story to those of pre-school age.

For the very young there are books that are indestructible, made with thick cardboard pages and covers, but wonderfully illustrated. Parents can develop a love for books by giving them as a gift and reading from them at bedtime. One example is A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson ($7.95, Tanglewood Publishing, Terra Haute, IN). As a beam of sun makes the rounds of his nest, young Chester’s imagination gets the best of him as various creatures are conjured up and sleep is slow to arrive. From the same publisher there’s Wild Rose’s Weaving by Ginger Churchill and illustrated by Nicole Wong ($15.95) for the early reader, 5 to 7, about a little girl whose grandmother wants to teach her how to weave, but she wants to play outside and enjoy nature. When she returns home, there’s a rug that’s been woven that has all the colors and shapes of nature and Rose decides she too wants to learn how to weave. Jabberwocky Books has published a book specifically for the pre-teen who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and there’s an estimated one in one hundred that do. Stuck by Rhonda Martin, M.A., ($15.77) and illustrated by Denis Proulx is about a seven year-old girl who gets “stuck” on things like cleaning her hands, the use of words, and even saying goodbye to her parents. The book will help both the OCD child and their parent deal with the disorder and to know that they are not facing it alone.

Kids Can Press is a publishing dynamo for children’s books. For those ages 3 to 5 there’s My Name is Elizabeth! Written by Annika Dunkler and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe ($13.95) about a little girl who loves her name and does not want to be called anything else like Liz or Lissie. It’s very funny in a sweet way. From the same publisher and also for this age group is Hocus Pocus by Sylvie Desrosiers and illustrated by Remy Simard ($14.95) about a battle of wits between a magician’s rabbit named Hocus Pocus and the magician’s grumpy canine called Dog. Dog wants to sleep. Hocus Pocus wants to eat carrots. The two have a merry time trying to outwit each other. This age group will also enjoy The Call of the Cowboy by David Bruins and illustrated by Hilary Leung ($16.95) about a little cowboy who has to learn that all the noise he is making is annoying his friends, especially a bear and a ninja. They go off on their own and he discovers the value of being quiet around others who return to be his friends again.

For others, Kids Can Press, has some educational books that are also fun to read. Ages 4 to 7 or so will enjoy Look at That Building! A First Book of Structures by Scot Ritchie ($16.95) that’s a brightly illustrated introduction to basic construction concepts of walls, floors and roofs, as well as the many different kinds of structures there are, even in nature. Basic concepts of physical science and space are explained in Motion, Magnets and More by Adrienne Mason will illustrations by Claudia Davila ($18.95). Any parent who works in these fields will want to share this with their child. That’s how young scientists and engineers are guided. And breathes there a child who is not fascinated by dinosaurs? From its series, Tales of Prehistoric Life, there’s Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton, illustrated by the author and Jim W.W. Smith ($16.95) and when I say “illustrated” I mean absolutely extraordinary artwork that brings that lost era alive. The story is a real adventure.

Young Adult

For young adults, there’s a graphic novel, The Sign of the Black Rock by Scott Chantler ($17.95, Kids Can Press) from the Three Thieves series, part two. Told comic book style, it is a story of friendship, betrayal, and escape—all on one dark and stormy night as Dessa, Topper and Fisk continue their search from Grayfalcon in the hope he will lead them to Dessa’s brother. It’s a long night at Black Rock Inn, only to come face-to-face with their pursuer, Captain Drake. It’s a page turner. Just published in November by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group comes Snow in Summer: The Tale of an American Snow White by Jane Yolen ($16.95) in which the fairy tale is turned into a modern, rather grim story of young Summer, a girl growing up in West Virginia who loses her mother and her baby in childbirth, followed by her father’s marriage to a step-mother with a very dark side to her personality. Yolen has authored more than three hundred books, has won a heap of awards, and knows how to spin a tale. The Sea Wall by Leslie Ann Keatley ($11.99, Arbor Books, softcover) is a timely novel set in the fictional town of Moss Ridge, California, where 17 year-old Audrey Kelly finds herself the target of a group of bullies known as the Cheerleaders. Fed up with being a victim, Audrey sets out on a campaign of revenge against the group’s leader, Caroline, but her so-called harmless pranks get out of hand. The novel demonstrates what can happen when frustration and anger get out of control and how dangerous such aggression can be. The book works just as well for an older reader, too.

A new Christmas-themed story is The Taste of Snow by Stephen V. Masse ($20.00, Good Harbor Press, Medford, MA) is ideal for ages 8 through 14. It takes the reader to an Alpine wonderland, Gartendorf, Austria, just days before the Feast of Saint Nicholas where eleven-year-old Nicole Kinders has stopped at Boznik’s market stall on the way to school so her younger sister, Ashley, can buy a sweet. Boznick offers Nicole a candy cane saying, “This is a magic candy cane. The magic will be revealed.” One taste unlocks memories of the most wonderful flavors in her memory. But trouble is waiting when Nicole intervenes in a quarrel between students on the tram home from school. Will the candy cane’s magic work to recapture the joy of the season? You will have to read it to learn. Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang ($14.95, Tanglewood) takes the reader to China in 630 A.D. where Chengli is an orphaned errand boy in Chang’an. At age 13 he feels ready for independence and joins a caravan on the merchant route known as the Silk Road. In part he is searching for a father who disappeared many years earlier. Also on the caravan is a princess and her royal guards. This is a coming of age story filled with adventure and heroism that will delight a young reader. Finally, for lots of fun, there’s Elliott Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster by Carl DiRocco ($8.99, Blue Martin Publications, softcover) in which Elliot, unhappy to be missing events and friends far from the Vermont family cabin on Neshobe Island in the middle of Lake Bomoseen thinks he may have spotted a sea monster and meets Marley “a totally cute girl next door” that turns the summer into an adventure.

Novels, Novels, Novels

David H. Brown puts his experience dealing with Washington, D.C. agencies, taps the current interest evoked by the forthcoming election, and then hypothesizes that would happen if an act of terrorism killed the incoming and outgoing presidents and vice presidents on Inauguration Day! The succession would go to the Speaker of the House and next to the President of the Senate Pro Tempore, but neither is available to serve. Instead, a new Speaker is named and she is given the oath of office, vowing revenge for the perpetrators. You’re not likely to put down Next in Line to the Oval Office ($25.99, but only $16.30 direct from Author House, also available as an e-book) as the search is on to track down the killers. A very timely novel, indeed!


Chick-Lit

There is a gusher of softcover novels available and, in no particular order, there’s It’s a Waverly Life by Maria Murnane ($14.95, Amazon Encore), a sequel to “Perfect on paper: The (Mis)adventures of Waverly Bryson.” Waverly is a popular blogger whose fans call her an ‘American Bridget Jones.’ Busy with her dating advice blog, Waverly has also fallen in love with Jake McIntyre, a physical therapist for the NBA in Atlanta. Having had one broken heart with a previous romance, she is struggling. Life is getting very complicated for Waverly and if this sounds like ‘chick-lit’, it is. The girls will love this one and, no doubt, A Pinch of Love by Alicia Bessette ($15.00, Plume) who tells a warm-hearted story about the young widow of a Katrina volunteer who forms an unlikely friendship with Ingrid her 9-year-old neighbor. Rose Ellen ‘Zell’ Roy is still morning the death of her husband Nick who died on a relief mission. She has taken up baking to pass the time and has set her eye on winning the grand prize to donate in Nick’s honor. The theme of female friendship is explored in Inseparable by Dora Helt, as translated by Jamie Lee Searle ($14.95, Amazon Crossing, also available as an e-book) Life can be complex. Christine’s best friend ran off with her now ex-husband and she is pretty sure she doesn’t need another BFF in her life. Still reeling from her recent divorce, she is hardly looking forward to her upcoming 44th birthday. Then her editor assigns her to write a column about what she’s been through and, when she does, her two other friends hatch a plan, a surprise party, to snap her out of her doldrums. Believe it or not, this is often a laugh-out-loud story as it we discover how important friendships are. This one is a winner!

Mysteries

For the guys (and girls) who prefer some mystery, a bit of violence, and psychological complexity, there’s Already Gone by John Rector ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). Rector’s complex characters and intricate plots have won him plaudits from the media, fellow writers, and a burgeoning fan base. This is his third novel. His main character is Jake Reese, who is teaching writing at a university in the Southwest, has been married to Diane for just over a month, and has a mild drinking problem more or less under control. What could go wrong? Everything. After leaving a local bar to head home, he is assaulted y thugs who do not take his money or car, but just his wedding ring and the finger it was on! The local police are not much help, so he decides to track down his attackers himself. Then he receives news that his wife’s body was found in a car wreck. In his previous life, Jake was a criminal and he reaches out to the crime boss who mentored him for help. Suffice to say this novel has more twists and turns than you can imagine, all quite gripping and worth reading. Another mystery story is Waterfall by David Zini ($17.95, Langdon Street Press) in which police investigators Mark Truitt and Jamie Littlebird are trying to unravel a succession of deaths at Midwest Research Labs, a Minnesota business. The finger points to the Pallidin family that owns the labs, but are they villains or just pawns in a deadly game to control the world’s population? At the center of the story is a vicious contract killer with total disdain for humanity. Scary? You bet!

That’s it for 2011

Wow! 2011 is in the history books and we will now turn our attention to 2012, a year for a national election and who knows what else? In terms of new fiction and non-fiction, I can predict the usual deluge because there is no end to storytelling and to books of all kinds that help us ensure good health, run our businesses better, and provide insight into history. Others teach us about cooking and baking, child care and parenting, and every other aspect of life. Some ask me if ebooks will replace traditional ones. My answer is no. Nothing can replace a book you can hold in your hands and then put on a shelf to revisit.

Tell your friends and other book lovers about Bookviews.com!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bookviews - November 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding member of the National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

With the headlines filled with news about the financial crisis in Europe, Dr. Johan Van Overtveldt has written The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union ($24.95, Agate Publishing, Evanston, IL). It is a timely analysis and, while international economics and business may not seem the most exciting topic, the Belgium-based economic journalist has made it one with a highly readable history of how and why the European Union came into being as a response to World War Two and the threat of Soviet domination. The euro’s fate is tied to the dysfunctional economies of Greece, Portugal, and Spain, and dependent on the decisions that Germany makes in the days and weeks ahead. The author makes a convincing case that Germany may well opt out of its support for the euro which, in turn, will impact the entire European monetary union. His examination of previous failures to unify Europe’s monetary systems suggests he may be right. In a way, the book is a testament to the value of national sovereignty and the need for nations to act responsibly to avoid deficit spending, particularly on socialist programs that redistribute wealth by heavily taxing their populations, retarding growth, punishing the middle class, and taking on too much debt. Since every nation is connected in some fashion to all the others, the fate of the EU is worth learning about.

With a global population of seven billion, issues involving food and disease are going to take on greater importance in the event millions begin to starve—they already are in North Korea—or if an epidemic threatens. In Three Famines: Starvation and Politics ($27.99, Public Affairs) Thomas Keneally takes a look at famine, not just natural causes such as crop failure and drought, but by man-made famines based on bad ideologies and attitudes. Looking at three devastating food shortages in modern history in Ireland and India, both ruled by England at the time, and in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, Keneally provides a portrait of famines that resulted in massive losses of life when a more sensible, compassionate, and moral response could have been taken. Those in administrative positions had the power to stop the suffering, but did not. This book is a reminder that administrative neglect and incompetence have been more lethal than the crop failures. Jonathan Bloom is on a crusade to get Americans to stop throwing out food which he calculates at 197 pounds of food a year. American Wasteland ($18.50, Lifelong Books, an imprint of Da Capo Press, softcover) is one of those tiresome books that blames Americans for enjoying a lifestyle of abundance and generally ignores the enormous export of grains, poultry, and meat we ship to other nations as an important element of our economy. Any time there’s a natural disaster somewhere, Americans send food and aid. Instead Bloom instructs not to keep our refrigerators full, why we should not buy food in bulk-sizes, and why we should monitor our eating habits. If all the fat people I see every day are evidence of waste, apparently a lot of food is being consumed as opposed to being thrown out. The great scourge of mankind has been malaria, the mosquito-born disease that kills some 800,000 every year in Africa, 38,000 in the Middle East, and 36,000 in Asia. Alex Perry has written Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time ($25.99, Public Affairs) in which he take the reader to some of the most malaria infested towns in the world. It is an often surprising portrait of modern Africa and the efforts being made to stamp out malaria, those in the past and present aid programs that are making breakthroughs. If we could go to the Moon, we can surely rid the world of malaria. All it requires is killing its agent, the mosquitoes, and we know how to do that.

I enjoy reading history and I am very fond of big, fat books. When you combine the two as Matthew White does in The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities ($35.00, W.W. Norton), you get a compelling look at history that reveals how it is defined as much by its horrors as by achievements. As history, the author makes clear that “destruction and creation are intimately intertwined. The fall of the Roman Empire cleared the way for medieval Europe.” Tying it all together are the mega-deaths whether they were the Crusades or the partition of India in the late 1940s, but the book includes conflicts we may not learn about in school or college, but which had a significant impact. We tend to know something of our own Civil War which was a bloodbath for both sides and how, in the last century, the destruction of human life was perfected from the First World War to the Second. Though its title aptly calls it a horror story, it is an impressive work of scholarship regarding the ways civilizations expanded or were conquered and disappeared. It is well worth reading. Another great big book is The Space Shuttle: Celebrating Thirty Years of NASA’s First Space Plane by Piers Bizony ($40.00, Zenith Press). It is a classic coffee table book, 10.5 x 11.25, 300 pages and filled with 900 color photos. In short, the perfect Christmas gift for someone who is an enthusiast for life and travel in outer space. In the 1980s, on assignment, I had the opportunity to visit the John F. Kennedy Space Center and tour the site where rockets and space shuttles were launched. I saw a shuttle up close and that is to say I saw a vehicle that was the size of a small building and marveled that it could be lifted beyond Earth’s gravity to circle the planet. One can only marvel at the courage of the crews that went aloft and the scientific and technological mastery that made it possible. This book is a keeper!

In 2007 I reviewed Jim Camp’s NO, The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home ($23.00, Crown Business) and it went on to become a bestseller. Camp is an internationally recognized negotiation coach. Now, Nightingale Conant, the leading producer of motivational and educational audiobooks, has published The Power of No: Negotiating Secrets the Pros Don’t Want You to Know ($99.00) in which the author shares his contrarian and results-oriented program that teaches how to avoid making deals based on being needy and emotional. There is no aspect of life in which we are not negotiating something and this audiobook will unlock the secrets of successful negotiation that will transform your life. It is the very essence of arriving at agreements that are an improvement over those first offers you receive or the dreaded “maybe” answer. In my view, whether you are a corporate executive, work in a governmental position, have responsibility for an organization of any kind, or just want to navigate successfully through life, this audiobook is a terrific investment. You can visit the website of the Camp Negotiation Institute to purchase it and, while there, learn how you can become a certified negotiation expert.

Regular visitors to Bookviews know that books of unique specificity also interest me. One such is My City, My New York: Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places by Jeryl Brunner ($12.95, Globe Pequot Press, softcover) in which more than 300 folks of varying degrees of fame, actors, literary types, the very rich, et cetera, explain why they could not live anywhere else. Mercifully the book is small or short enough not to exhaust the topic as their views are mostly one paragraph long. If you have a New Yorker in your life, this would make a great holiday gift. If they happen to love the Giants then you can also give them 100 Things Giants Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Dave Buscema ($13.95, Triumph Books, softcover). I ignore virtually all sports so all I can say is that this book appears to be the sum total of all useful and interesting information about the Giants. In the interest of fairness (and fun) Jets fans will enjoy Jets Underground by Jeff Freier ($14.95, Triumph Books, softcover) that is a far cry from the usual boring statistics. Instead, Freier treats the reader to a collection of the maddest and baddest of everything related to the NFL’s most colorful franchise. It is subtitled “Wahoo, Joe Willie, and the Swingin’, Swaggerin’ World of Gang Green.” It is very entertaining reading.

Tolstoy called The Iliad by Homer a miracle. Goethe said that it always thrust him into a state of astonishment. Homer’s epic poem is widely regarded as an essential element of an individual’s education though it has not been a part of most curriculums for a long time. Part of the problem have been previous translations, but Stephen Mitchell has remedies that with his translation of The Iliad ($35.00, Free Press) that brings to life its heroes, Achilles and Patroclus, Hector and Priam. Despite having been authored 2,700 years ago, this translation reminds us that war and all the human characteristics we regard as modern phenomenon existed long ago in ancient Greece. Mitchell has been widely hailed for his masterful translations and this one, I think, will be regarded as the capstone of his reputation. Simply stated, it is a marvelous story, filled with excitement, strong characters, and a plot that, despite its length, keeps one reading to its profoundly moving end.

Getting to Know Your Brain

By coincidence, a number of books regarding the workings of one’s brain have been published. In no particular order, let’s begin with What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). The former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a contributor to science journals, DiSalvo asks why do we routinely choose options that don’t meet our short-term needs and undermine our long-term goals? Why do we insist that we’re right when evidence contradicts us? Why do we yield to temptations that undermine our need to overcome addictions? His conclusion is that what our brains want is frequently not what your brain needs. This book is an excellent way to get to know how your brain (and everyone else’s) works and how to turn that awareness into the kind of action that yields a better life and better decisions about that life.

Your Brain on Childhood: The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan by Gabrielle Principe ($17.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) takes a look at the way, for most of humanity’s existence, childhood was spent in natural environments, out-of-doors, exploring the world. How different modern existence is with its artificial environments intended to make life easier and more secure for children, strapped into bouncy seats, sitting in front of a television set, playing with battery-operated toys, or interacting with computers. The perfect metaphor is the film 2001 where two astronauts had to deal with the computer HAL that tries to kill them. In basic terms, real childhood development comes from face-to-face communication and freewheeling pretend play. The strict regimen of school—which seem to begin a younger and younger ages is really designed for a society intent on developing a new generation of drones as opposed to freeing young minds to learn at their own pace. For today’s parents, this book is well worth reading. The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain by Thomas Armstrong, PhD ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) aims at eliminating negative terms and labels that put millions of people into categories of mental illness, often reducing their opportunity to make the most of one’s brain despite being said to have attention deficit problems (common to anyone bored to tears) or depression (which may be a perfectly rational response to tragedy or other challenges). In effect, the author redefines what are considered mental disorders, explaining why may of the world’s greatest thinkers from Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Ludwig van Beethoven, if they were alive today, would be labeled in this fashion. The book is filled with practical tips for employers, parents, and teachers to make the most of one’s neurodiverse brain. While acknowledging that the medical model has been helpful for people with serious mental disorders, his model is more flexible and more encouraging when it comes to understanding how the brain works.

Pieces Missing: A family’s journey of recovery from traumatic brain injury by Larry C. Kerpelmann, PhD ($16.00, Two Harbors Press, softcover) tells the story of the author’s wife, Joanie, who was out jogging when a freak fall caused her to sustain a traumatic brain injury. Their tranquil life became one of emergency room visits, two hospitalizations, one brain surgery, and months of rehabilitation. It is the story, too, of her determination to recover the pieces missing from her memory, speech, confidence, and joy of life. For those encountering such injuries and their families, it is a memoir of love, hope, family, healing and recovery. A similar memoir is that of Martin Magoun in Russian Roulette ($17.76, Wharfratbooks.com, softcover) who suffered from depression with insights to the way depressed people view the world, medical studies of depression, and its crippling affect on people. It is testimony that one can recover from a disorder that is fraught with ignorance and misunderstanding.

William Ian Miller has written Losing It whose entire title goes on to say “In which an aging professor laments his shrinking brain, which he flatters himself formerly did him noble service. A pliant, tragic-comical, historical, vengeful, sometimes satirical and thankful in six parts, if his memory does yet serve” ($27.00, Yale University Press.) I confess I requested it thinking it was about the affects of aging on the brain from a scientific point of view, but I found instead an intellectual examination of how old age was regarded in ancient civilizations, its pleasures and its indignities as youth gives way to natural decay, and how we cope with it these days. There are moments of pure delight in this book, but one needs to have an inclination for digressions and discussions of Icelandic sagas, references to Beowulf, Vikings, Hebraic, and many other elements of literature. If you are prepared to take a leisurely walk through questions regarding aging, then this book will provide much to illuminate one’s mind, so long, of course, you’re not losing it.

The most devastating definition of “losing it” is Alzheimer’s disease and the affect on the family can be as hard, if not more so, than its victim. Kerry Luksic grew up in a family of fifteen, her mother and father, and twelve siblings. Throughout it all, her mother was the source of calm, of wisdom, of support, operating, as Kerry says with the efficiency of an engineer in Life Lessons from a Baker’s Dozen: 1 Mother, 13 Children, and Their Journey to Peace with Alzheimer’s ($17.99, plus shipping, purchase direct from www.kerryluksic.com, softcover) It is also available from Amazon.com. This is the story of Bobbie Lonergan who like too many really wonderful people fell victim to Alzheimer’s and, in time, did not know the names of her children, losing the memory of her own life. Kerry takes us on that amazing, sometimes heartbreaking, journey that led ultimately to her mother’s most powerful life lesson. She includes a very useful resource section for anyone whose life is affected by the disease. I am happy to heartily recommend this book about family relationships, motherhood, and eldercare.

Christopher W. DiCarlo has written How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) that examines one’s own and other’s answers to questions such as what can I know? What am I? Why am I here? How should I behave? And what is to become of me? How you answer such questions, says the author, reveals a lot about yourself and the same applies when you ask other. The book provides the tools that allow you to question beliefs and assumptions held by those who claim to know what they’re talking about. These include politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, clergy, and just about everyone else. The book teaches how to analyze your own thoughts, ideas and beliefs, and to understand why you act on them, as well as understanding others who might hold opposing views. In this regard, it can open doors to your mind that are extremely helpful. Stephen F. Kaufman wants you to question some of your fundamental beliefs, but particularly those that do not want you to question faith as a belief system. Faith, Kaufman asserts, covers up the failure to have confidence in our own intellect. In two softcover books, Self-Revealization Acceptance and Practicing Self-Revealization Acceptance ($14.95 and $18.95, Hanshi Warrior Press, New York) takes the reader on a journey in which one defines themselves in ways that enhances their potential for independence, and the ability to be the person they want to be and become. If you have doubts about the faith-based system into which you were born or accepted, these books will prove of interest.

Memoirs, Biographies & Autobiographies

From those in ancient times to today, the urge to write of their lives never ends and, in many cases, that is a good thing as we get to know ourselves better as a result.

Caesars’ Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire by Annelise Freisenbruch ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) is a study of some of most powerful women in early Western civilization. Not only is it excellent scholarship, it is a fascinating chronicle and narrative of the women behind the men who created and maintained the Roman Empire for five centuries. The wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Caesars have been the basis for novels and dramas, but who were they really? The author provides the answer amidst some of the most intense intrigue imaginable.

Then and now populations were on the move and Towards A Better Life: America’s New Immigrants in Their Own Words—from Ellis Island to the Present by Peter Morton Caon (26.00, Prometheus Books) is an excellent way to understand why immigration has played such an essential role in American history. Today, immigrants comprise nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, a larger proportion than at any time since World War II. Ten percent are here illegally, but when you read this book you will understand why America has been such a magnet for people willing to leave their homes behind and launch themselves into a new life. The answer is freedom and America offers more than any other nation and backs it up with the oldest living Constitution. As the grandson of immigrants and one who loves history, I greatly enjoyed this book and you will too. A very different story is told in A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deceptions, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres ($26.00, Free Press) the story of the largest mass suicide in modern times when, on November 18, 1978, the followers of Jim Jones either voluntarily or were forced to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. It was really more a mass murder than a suicide thirty-five years ago, but it shocked people worldwide. It is a terrifying story, but one that testifies to the utter evil of Jones and his lieutenants.

I do not know how many books have been written by survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust that took the lives of six million Jews and another five million Christians, gypsies, homosexuals, and assorted “enemies” of the Nazi state. David Karmi has written a memoir, Survivor’s Game, ($20.00, Arborhouse, softcover) about his life as a teenager in the death camps. We need to read such books to fully grasp the horror of the deliberate genocide of Europe’s Jews and the fate that others shared as well. The author survived almost by pure instinct and after being liberated by the allies made his way to what was then the Palestinian mandate administered by the British until a Jewish state was proclaimed in 1948. Later he moved to the U.S. and had a thriving career in construction in New York City. This is history as lived during a nightmare and one with a happy ending. Another nightmare is recounted in a memoir by Bonnie E. Virag in The Stovepipe ($17.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover). The author was just age four, living on her family’s farm in rural Canada with her parents and four sisters until they were taken away by force and put into the Children’s Aid Society, spending the next 14 years being pulled apart and struggling to reconnect. Some nights the only warmth they had came from a stovepipe in an attic. It is a heart wrenching memoir but a testimony to the human spirit and the resilience of four young girls. Every region of the nation has its legendary outlaws and Larry Wood has written Desperadoes of the Ozarks ($15.95, Pelican Publishing, softcover) that is a collection of stories from the era of bootlegging, highway robbery, and vigilante courts. From the cow-town of Baxter Springs, Kansas to the mining camp of Granby, Missouri, the Ozarks were a magnet for lawlessness. Whether you live there or not, this is very entertaining reading. These days the former bootleggers are into selling “meth” and other drugs so not all that much has changed except the names on the wanted posters.

Gang life is too often romanticized by Hollywood, but Luis J. Rodriguez tells the true story in It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (24.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). It is a compelling autobiographical account of growing up as a Latino gang member in the mean streets of Watts and East Los Angeles. His previous memoir, Always Running, became a huge bestseller and this one too is likely to do the same as it recounts the challenges facing urban youth and the perils of gang life.

Usually, such illness is covered up in the interest of career, but Sorbo has written an interesting memoir in True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved My life ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Actor Kevin Sorbo was on top of the world in late 1997, playing the role of a popular television show, Hercules. He had just become engaged to the woman of his dreams, but one morning while doing bicep curls, a searing pain show down his left arm. A visit to a chiropractor found a “soft but moveable” lump near his shoulder. He was advised to see an internist right away. The drive home became a nightmare as his brain “went haywire.” He had suffered a stroke. The story of what followed will be of interest to his fans and others.

Cook It, Bake It, Enjoy It

I love anything that is roasted. It brings out the flavor. One of the best books on the topic, All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art, ($35.00, W.W. Norton) doubles as a great holiday gift for anyone who loves preparing delicious meals. This large format, coffee table book, features 150 mouthwatering recipes by Molly Stevens, accompanied by gorgeous color photos in a book that is just over 370 pages in length. She is already a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and the Bon Appetit Cooking Teacher of the Year. The book will teach you how to choose the best cuts of meat, chicken and fish, basis roasting methods, roasting times and doneness tests, and everything else you need to know to master roasting. I have seen many cookbooks, but this one is in a class of its own.

Kathleen Flinn has written The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, ($26.95, Viking) whose sub-title is “How a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks.” It’s an entertaining story of how Kathleen looked into their cabinets and refrigerators, sampled their cooking, and taught them basic booking skills. Instead of loading up on processed foods, she teaches how to opt for fresher alternatives and to create easy meals. This basic knowledge is not necessary being passed along these days as many women work and preparing meals often takes second place to having time for other pursuits. Nothing beats a real home-cooked meal or replaces sitting down together to enjoy it. As one’s self-confidence in the kitchen grows, it affects all aspects of one’s life. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese ($24.00, Free Press) takes a similar approach as she tells often funny stories surrounding her learning curve, asking questions such as is homemade better, how much time is involved, and a host of similar questions those new to the kitchen ask. To help the reader, she provides more than 120 recipes. Take my word for it, nothing beats home-baked bread, warm from the oven, and other dishes prepared with love.

My late Mother, Rebecca Caruba, taught gourmet cooking and baking for three decades and authored cookbooks. She loved French cuisine and we all loved their desserts. Now you can learn their secrets in Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride ($18.00, Running Press). The macaron is a meringue-based sweet with two colorful almond-flour cookies sandwiching a creamy, fruit-based or chocolaty filling. They can often be expensive to buy, if you can find a story that offers them. The authors provide information on, not only the French, but the Italian and Swiss meringue methods. Feeding friends and family these incredibly delicious treats will make you a legend among those fortunate enough to enjoy them. Even vegetarians enjoy a treat and Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have teamed up to write Vegan Pie in the Sky ($17.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) with 75 recipes that include tasty pie crusts, fruit, creamy and chocolate pies. Vegans will enjoy its delicate tars, crumbly cobblers, and other delicious desserts.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

There is no lack of books to teach you how to be a successful entrepreneur, how to manage people, how to plan, et cetera. For anyone who has not spent four years in business school, they are a handy shortcut and they have the benefit of adapting to changing and challenging condition.

It’s Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss by Susan Wilson Solovic ($22.95, Amacom) is a perfect example. At a time when many people are thinking about starting their own businesses because of the bleak job market, the problem is that, in good times or bad, more than half of such enterprises fail. Some of today’s largest companies began as start-ups in down times. The transition from a W-2 employee to being their own boss is not easy and especially for those who do not know what really makes a small business work. The author has learned from experience after four decades of being “a serial entrepreneur.” If you or someone you know is contemplating going out on their own, I strongly recommend they read this book for its pragmatic advice. I liked Plan B: How to Hatch a Second Plan That’s Always Better Than Your First ($26.00, Free Press) for the same reason. David Kord Murray asks and answers why some companies have stayed flexible enough to survive even after a stumble or two? It’s one thing to have a Plan A with which to begin an enterprise or expand one’s business, but one needs a Plan B and that involves knowing how and when to make changes to your business model. Murray argues that too many strategic plans aren’t flexible enough to change with a changing business environment. Product life cycles once measured in decades are now being measured in years, even months. Making the necessary transitions depends on being able to confronting existing problems, responding to market conditions and the moves of your competition; companies that did this are still around and thriving. Those that didn’t are gone.

The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration—and Get the Most from Your Employees ($25.95, Amacom) is one of those titles that tells the whole story. In this book Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, leaders of the Hay Group’s employee researcher division, share their insights regarding why some employees become frustrated, examining the sources of their aggravation. For example, depending on the industry, between 32% and 48% of employees report work conditions that prevent them from being as productive as they could be. One-third of employees report that they do not have the resources to do their jobs well. Another third say they lack sufficient authority to carry out their job responsibilities effectively. The key to happier employees is enabling them to do their jobs, inhibiting their opportunity to shine. The authors contend that, as often as not, it is the workplace, not the worker that is the problem. This is a book managers at all levels need to read. The Diversity Index by Susan E. Reed ($27.95, Amacom) is subtitled “The alarming truth about diversity in corporate American…and what can be done about it.” I am old enough to remember when women stayed home and raised children, when blacks and other minorities had limited opportunities in the corporate world, Suffice to say it is a very different world today and has been since, fifty years ago, the first affirmative action policy was created by executive order by John F. Kennedy. What Ms. Reed discovered after studying the leadership structure of Fortune 100 companies from 1995 to 2009, that white women have made remarkable gains in climbing the corporate ladder, but that there appears to be significant barriers against native-born men and woman of color. In 2009, more than 40% of the Fortune 100 had no minorities among their executive officers. More than half of the Hispanic and Asian executive officers were born outside the United States. Like JFK famously said, life is unfair.

For women aspiring to positions of leadership, Christine K. Jahnke has written The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best ($19.00, Prometheus Books). Jahnke is a renowned speech coach who has been teaching women what works and what doesn’t when it comes to delivering a speech or presentation. Whether it’s the PTA or the boardroom, this ability is often deemed among the most important to master. This holds true for both sexes, but this book will prove especially helpful to women with its strategic advice on everything from messaging to hair and hemlines that give one the edge.

Lastly, in times when housing prices are low and real estate opportunities exist for the bold, Dr. David Schumacher, PhD, with Steve Dexter have written Buy and Hold Forever: How to Build Wealth for the 21st Century ($21.95, Schumacher Enterprise, softcover). Schumacher is a multimillionaire property owner. Dexter is the president of National Capital Funding and both have authored award-winning books describing their strategies. If, like me, what you know about real estate investing could fit in a bug’s ear, this book holds the potential to make you into an expert like the authors as they explain how to select properties with real profit potential, choose the locations that will become tomorrow’s hottest neighborhoods, and to negotiate lucrative real estate deals. If have always found it unique that successful people like these two would share the “secrets” of their success with anyone who wants to become successful too, but in America we have a philosophy that wealth is a good thing and derives from hard work.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Based on the daily requests for reviews of novels, it sometimes seems to me that everyone is writing one. It is impossible to review them all, let alone read them all, so here’s a selection of a few that made it past the gate.

Erin Brockovich made a name for herself exposing toxic waste sites and became the subject of an Oscar-winning movie that bears her name. She has joined with CJ Lyons, a medical suspense author, to author Hot Water ($25.99, Vanguard Press), a novel about an environmental activist who is drawn into an investigation of a nuclear facility in South Carolina designed to create medical isotopes with the potential to save millions of lives. The plant, however, has been plagued with mishaps that have defied previous investigations and drawn the attention of anti-nuclear groups. This is an old-fashioned thriller. Another thriller is based on the very real prospect of the massive volcano that exists beneath Yellowstone Park. It’s the reason the park’s geysers are such an attraction, but if it every erupted, the impact would be unimaginable. Well, that is until Mike Mullin imagined what would happen in Ashfall ($16.95, Tanglewood, Terre Haute, IN). Given the increase in volcanic activity worldwide, this is a very timely novel and I think you will enjoy a story about a teenager whose life is turned upside down when the Yellowstone caldera erupts and his harrowing search for his family and friends begins. With a fellow teen, they must fund the strength and skills to survive an epic disaster.

The unrest between Islamism and the rest of the world is the backdrop of Hotamah! by Jay J. Schlickman ($27.25, available at Amazon.com) that is based on the Koranic verse 104, a prophesy of nuclear conflagration. It opens in 1982 Tehran and projects forward to an imagined 2045 alliance between prominent Islamic leaders to achieve world domination. Carefully researched, the novel examines Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most of all the danger that religious fanaticism represents to the entire world. The author says that the book is intended to educate readers to a better understanding of Middle Eastern dynamics, the current crisis as the fortunes of nations in the region shift and change, and what a holy war would produce if steps are not taken to retard its progress.

The author, John Barth, has established himself among top-ranked writers and his fans will enjoy Every Third Thought ($24.00, Counterpoint Press) in which an elderly American writer/professor experiences the destruction of his home due to a tornado. He notes that it occurs on the 77th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, a detail that would be insignificant were it not for several subsequent events. As he and his wife depart on a European vacation, he suffers a fall on his 77th birthday, and he begins to experience five serial visions, each appearing to him on the first day of the ensuring seasons and each illuminating the successive stages of his life and career. It is a story of uncanny coincidences and one that will keep you turning the pages. Another novel that explores how chance can turn one’s life upside down is The Gentlemen’s Sport & Social Club by Joe Petterle, ($19.95, Langdon Street Press) in which a one-dimensional life is upended when a recluse from his former corporate life meets a beautiful and engaging woman who invites him to join her exclusive club. It is part metaphysical adventure and part mysterious romance. Incarnation and past lives are the basis of My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris ($10.77, softcover, also available on Kindle, Amazon.com) when a gifted musician experiences an injury to stop playing, she meets a healer, liar, fraud who may be her future incarnation or just a psychological figment. It is a multilayered story of souls on a conjoined journey in real time and across the centuries. Not my cup of tea, but sure to be of interest to those who find such themes intriguing.

Those of a certain age who can recall growing up before, during or after World War II are in for a treat from two non-fiction novels based on the life of E.E. Smith. Boardinghouse Stew and Times Like These ($24.95 each, Phoenix International) capture an earlier, simpler time from the perspective of six decades later. In the first novel, we encounter an 11-year-old girl, happy to have found work as a maid and cook in a down-at-the-heels Sacramento guest house in 1943 and the second is a sequel set in 1945 when she has relocated to a small town in Nevada, both of which evoke the way patriotism and mutually experienced hard times brought people closer together. Older readers will recognize many aspects of those days and young readers will benefit from learning about them. The author takes you in, sets a place at the table for you, and recreates the life of a young girl in a totally engaging way. Finally, World War II has generated many novels because it was a great traumatic drama. In Hitler’s Silver Box ($16.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover), Dr. Allen Malnack has created a thriller in which a physician, the chief emergency room resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has his attention diverted from his practice by the mysterious death of his uncle Max, a Holocaust survivor. He discovers a journal of his ordeal at Theresienstadt concentration camp that sheds light on his death and sets him on a quest to find a document written by Nazi leaders and hidden in a silver box. Dr. Malnack’s father came to the US from Lithuania at age 16. All the men, women and children of that family were sent to the death camps and exterminated by the Nazis. There is a quality of authenticity that mixes with the story and gives ian immediacy to the events described.

That’s it for November!

Wow, 2011 is almost over. More than 800 fiction and non-fiction books have been the subject so far of Bookviews and we have December yet to go. Please do tell your friends, family and co-workers to visit Bookviews and discover a world of publishing that is generally overlooked in the mainstream media these days due to the end of book sections or even a page or two devoted to new books that used to exist. And come back in December for some great gift books to give for the holidays.