Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bookviews - July 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

I have written about energy issues for decades and yet The Fracking Truth by Chris Faulkner ($21.95, Platform Press) was so filled with hard data and informed opinion that I found myself being educated all over again on what is likely the most important factor of life in America and around the world, the provision of affordable energy. What I have known prior to reading this book is that “fracking”, the short term for hydraulic fracturing, has widespread opposition by some environmental groups and others who have bought into the lies being told about a technology that is over a half century in use and which has unlocked America’s vast reserves of natural gas and oil to transform our prospects for being energy independent as well as a major exporter, generating needed revenue for a nation $17 trillion in debt. The author is the founder, president and CEO of Breitling Energy Corporation and become over the years a trusted source of information for Washington lawmakers, journalists, and policy analysts from respected think tanks. America is home to people who simply do not like “fossil fuels”, but have no idea how dependent we are upon them, nor that they represent a better life, a stronger economy, and benefits we take for granted, not the least of which is the electricity on which we all depend. This is one of the best books on energy I have read in a while and I recommend you read it too. Learn more by visiting http://www.thefrackingtruthbook.com.

June marked the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. Many Americans, both black and white, felt that the nation had moved on passed the ills of the past and that a bright future of opportunity for Afro-Americans existed. For a relatively small part of the black population that was true, but for too many, it was not. Jason L. Riley, a black member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, has written Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed ($23.99, Encounter Books) and I cannot recommend it highly enough because the statistical data on which it is based clearly demonstrates that, rather than external restrictions as existed prior to 1964, it is black culture combined with government programs that undermine the family structure and diminish the desire to work hard that have proven to be the cause of why so many blacks remain not just unemployed, but unemployable due to a widespread indifference to education and other factors that such as violence that leads to crimes, mostly against other blacks, and extraordinary high rates of incarceration. As is too frequently the case, when one turns to government to solve problems, it fails because only individuals and private groups can effectively address what is happening in the streets and neighborhoods of America.

If often seems that politicians invent issues around which to create laws. Thomas E. Hall, a professor of economics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, takes a look at “the unintended consequences of public policies” in his book Aftermath ($24.95/12.99, Cato Institute, hardcover and digital). What emerges is a look at the way ideas that seemed necessary at the time turned out to impact life in America, as often as not for the worse. The result has been the creation of a vast welfare state, organized crime, and a scarcity of jobs for teenagers and the working poor. The creation of the income tax provided a source of money to grow government because politicians cannot wait to spend it. Hall takes a look at the creation of federal income taxes, taxes on cigarettes that generate criminal activity, the minimum wage that increases unemployment for teens, and what occurred as the result of Prohibition which took a constitutional amendment to repeal. The history of the economic impact of these programs is a graphic example of unintended consequences.

The scandal at the Veterans Administration puts the lie to all the talk we hear from politicians about the value they put on the lives of those who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. The VA management problems have been known for years and the current administration is only one among others who have not addressed them. When a government agency gets too big, it is the individual veteran that too often pays the price. That’s why, in part, Mark Lee Greenblatt’s Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front ($22.95/$11.99, Rowman & Littlefield, hardcover and ebook) is so timely and so needed at a time the Middle East is in turmoil to remind us of those who volunteered to serve their nation. This book takes you to the battlefield as seen through the eyes of individual soldiers, sailors, and Marines as they faced fearful decisions and overcame enormous odds. They all heroes and we duly honored, but unknown to the public. America has always been blessed with men of this stature and courage. It’s good to read about them.

Those who love to read often enjoy exploring the historical aspects of literature and Truth’s Ragged Edge; The Rise of the American Novel by Philip D. Gura ($16.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, softcover) looks at a portion of literary history in America largely overlooked and unknown, but interesting in its own right. A cultural historian, Gura reveals that the American novel has its roots in “the fundamental religiosity of American Life”, an aspect of our history that many try to ignore in the secular present. From the time of the nation’s first novel, The Power of Sympathy in 1789 to the start of the Civil War in 1860, writers were more interested in serving up tales about morality while nurturing broad cultural shifts from broader social concerns to individualism and from faith in a distant God to faith in oneself. In doing so we are taken back to the worlds of Hawthorne and Melville, along with others who have faded into history.

Money, Money, Money

Income inequality has become a political theme among Democrats; yet another way to divide Americans, but the fact is that there has always been income inequality and the best way to address it is by encouraging entrepreneurism, creating more jobs, and keeping the economy growing. Money Sucks: A Memoir on Why Too Much or Too Little Can Ruin You by Michael Baughman ($16.95, Skyhorse Publishing) The author has enjoyed and experienced both wealth and poverty. His book offers words of advice for his college bound grandson as he tries to instill an informed attitude about money and, specifically, the value of money and the way Americans pursue it with vigor. He asks the question, how much is enough?  Happily, it is not filled with boring graphs. Instead it is, as its title says, a memoir in which the author draws on his life and time spent with his grandson to share what he has learned about the pursuit and, ultimately, the value of money as we make our way through our lives. As such, it is a good read for anyone at any stage of life.

Did the Government Write Your Will? By Eric Gullotta ($14.99, Gullotta Law Group, softcover) addresses a surprising situation. Half of all Americans with children do not have wills indicating where their money and possessions should go after they die. This allows the government to come in and control it by tying it up in years of legal red tape, and determine what it goes to the point where the deceased’s family might never get what is rightfully theirs. As the author, and attorney and CPA, notes, “When you die without a will or trust, that’s called dying intestate” and that puts the state in which you die in charge of your assets—not you. A California attorney, he focuses on that state’s laws, but the advice put forth in his book applies elsewhere as well. He has written a short book whose advice will ensure that your loved ones and others will receive what you have worked hard to accumulate, not the state in which you die.

Coping, Coping, Coping

We spend most of our lives coping with changes, some good, some not.

Jennifer K. Crittenden, the author of “The Discreet Guide for Executive Women”, which I reviewed and liked, has written You, Not I: Exceptional Presence—Through the Eyes of Others, ($12.95, Whistling Rabbit Press, San Diego, CA, softcover). This book is written for women as well and it asks if you’re feeling stuck at work, if you suspect you don’t come across well, but don’t know why, and need to modify your behavior to manage others’ perceptions. Once you gain insight to who you are, how others perceive you, how to successfully fit into various situations, and how to stand out to further your career, you will discover how true the advice the author provides. Best of all, she does not just hand out broad generalizations, getting down to specifics in topics like “Some Really Good Ways to Irritate People”  and “The Magic of Common Courtesy.” What Ms. Crittenden knows is that many grow up and go out in the work world without having acquired the most basic skills for successful interaction with others. Her book provides what you may have missed along the way. I rate this one as excellent.

According to The Cancer Journal, the divorce rate for cancer-stricken wives is approximately 21% as compared to 3% when husbands get ill. When Fiona Finn was five months into her long battle with stage III colon cancer, her husband left her on Father’s Day; leaving her and her three children penniless. What ever happened to the “in sickness and in health” part of the marital vows, eh? She tells her story in Raw: One Woman’s Journey Through Love, Loss, and Cancer ($15.00, Mind Trip Productions, softcover). She is blessed, not only with a strong character, but also a strong sense of humor, and her aim is to save others from the sense of hopelessness that she endured and conquered. She does not hide the fact that she made some bad decisions along the way, including two failed marriages, but hers is the story of a survivor and one that will help others who encounter cancer. A very helpful book and a challenging one as well.

Potpourri

Some books don’t fit into neat categories, so here are a few that deserve attention for just that reason.

If you are a lawyer or just enjoy reading about the legal system, you will surely enjoy Law and Disorder: Absurdly Funny Moments from the Courts by Charles M. Sevilla ($14.95, W.W. Norton, softcover). While courtrooms are generally places where all manner of unhappy events or disagreements get sorted out in a serious fashion, they are, as this delightful book relates, places where there are humorous moments. Sevilla is, as you might have guessed, a lawyer and one who is perennially named to the “Best Lawyers in America” list. His friends helped with the book by sending transcripts of those unexpected moments. This book would make a great gift for any lawyer in your life or just to keep handy for a quick laugh.

Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship and Mating Tell Us about Human Relationships by Jennifer L. Verdolin ($18.95/$11.99, Prometheus Books, softcover and ebook) is a reminder that we too are animals like a lot of other species. The author takes a look at a variety of species and provides some interesting connections between the way ours selects mates and the fact that others often demonstrate similar characteristics. Or is it the other way around? Verdolin is an expert in animal behavior and currently a research scientist affiliated with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at Duke University. In ten chapters she covers topics such as first impressions and the role they play for us and other species. She writes about the role that size and strength has for the selection of mates in other species as well as our own. Indeed from beginning to end, you will find yourself being both entertained and surprised by the many ways we display behavior that resembles many of the other species with whom we share this planet. From the same publisher comes William E. Burrows’ book about The Asteroid Threat: Defending Our Planet from Deadly Near-Earth Objects ($19.95, Prometheus Books). This kind of thing is often the theme of science fiction, but the threat is very real and the explosion of a large meteor over Chelybinsk, Siberia, in February 2013 is just the latest reminder of the Earth’s vulnerability in a galaxy that is filled with asteroids and other objects flying around with us. Burrows, a veteran aerospace writer, explains what we can do in the future to avoid serious impact from “near-Earth objects” as they are called in the planetary defense community. The good news is that a powerful space surveillance system is capable of spotting a threat at least 25 years in advance and, if they existed, a space craft “nudge” could throw an asteroid off course.

If history is an interest of yours, you will likely enjoy Andrew Young’s The Lost Book of Alexander The Great ($26.00, Westholme Publishing). “Alexander the Great is well known as one of the first great empire builders of the ancient world. Among those fellow Macedonian officers who accompanied Alexander in his epic conquests from Greece to India was Ptolemy Lagides. Ptolemy served alongside Alexander from the Persian defeat at the Battle of Issus in modern-day Turkey and the journey to find the oracle that proclaimed Alexander to be Zeus incarnate, to the Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC that opened India to the West. Following Alexander's death, Ptolemy gained control of Egypt where he founded the dynasty in his name, created the great library of Alexandria, and was patron of the mathematician Euclid. Sometime during his rule in Egypt, Ptolemy wrote a history of Alexander's conquests. Although it is probable that Ptolemy enhanced his own importance, sources indicate that it was regarded as an accurate and even-handed account of the campaigns of Alexander. However, Ptolemy's book was lost—perhaps with the destruction of the library he founded—and not even an original fragment has survived. His book, however, was acknowledged as a primary source of information for later Roman historians.” The Roman Search for Wisdom by Michael K. Kellogg ($28.95, Prometheus Books) provides a look at the Roman Empire that is not the usual accounts of its wars, conquests, and decline. Kellogg disputes the notion that it the Romans were just a weak comparison with the Greeks. There were in fact many Roman poets, historians, and philosophers that included Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Tacitus, Plutarch and others. I read and enjoyed Kellogg’s previous “The Greek Search for Wisdom” and this book is a worthy sequel.

Did your mom tell you to eat your vegetables? Sure she did and now you can enjoy them by reading Salad Samurai by Terry Hope Romero ($19.99, Da Capo Press, softcover), a collection of 100 “cutting edge, ultra-hearty, easy-to-make salads.”  From the classic Caesar salad to exotic ones like avocado amaranth bhel puri chaat, this book will have you eager to sample a world of salads you never knew existed, but which look very delicious. People have all manner of hobbies and crafts provide a lot of fun for them. Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects by Sophie Maletsky ($16.99, Zest Books, softcover) is devoted to making items from duct tape. It offers detailed instructions and, happily, lots of photos so anyone can develop their skills with more than 70 projects from cell phone holders to room dividers, backpacks, jewelry, bags, wallets and lots more. How popular is this? It’s the rare prom that does not feature a couple wearing clothes made entirely from duct tape. What has made this possible are the many new colors and designs in which duct tape is available these days. This book will appeal to the young, age 12 and up, but once into it, it’s a craft that is likely to be pursued for a long time.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Summer is traditionally a time for enjoying a good book while at the beach or anywhere else we choose to relax and escape into the worlds of fiction. This summer is no exception, given a large number of novels whose various themes will provide hours of diversion for everyone.

Brad Thor’s name dominates the cover of his newest novel, Act of War, ($27.99, Atria Books) because it is his thirteenth thriller featuring Navy SEAL turned covert counterterrorism operati8ve, Scot Harvath. The first dozen were bestsellers and this one will be too. Thor is known for his trademark “faction” in which he blends both fact and fiction in action-packed thrillers and this new novel will keep readers turning the pages as it looks at an enemy of America who knows it cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but, using unconventional devious attacks, could be. I guarantee you will be hooked within the first five pages. When a CIA agent mysteriously dies overseas, his top asset surfaces with a startling claim, but no one knows if she can be trusted. Then a succession of events occur that suggest something more than chance is at work. Six exchange students go missing, two airplane passengers trade places, and a political-asylum seeker is arrested. Facing an imminent and devastating attack, the nation’s new president turns to Harvath to undertake two top secret operations, either of which, if discovered would be an act of war, but are vital to thwarting the covert war being waged against America.

From Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books, comes two novels for those who love a good mystery. In Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour ($15.95, softcover) a Chicago sociology professor, Amelia Emmet, is a researcher whose topic is violence. It gets very real when a student she’d never met shows up and shoots her and then shoots himself. After surgery, she returns to campus with a growing problem with painkillers and the question, why? She wants to return to a normal life, but now hobbles with a cane. Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago’s violent history. Assigned as Amelia’s teaching assistant, he takes on the investigative legwork Amelia cannot. Together and occasionally at cross-purposes, they stumble toward a truth about the attack and which takes them both through the darkest hours of their lives.


In No Stone Unturned ($15.95, softcover), James W. Ziskin introduces Ellie Stone, a 24-year-old journalist for a small local daily in upstate New York. On Thanksgiving 1990, a girl is found dead in the woods. There are three oil spots on the dirt road and a Dr. Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave found by a local hunter. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene and the story may rescue her drowning career. All leads though lead nowhere until she takes a daring change that unleashes unintended chaos as she strives to unravel a dangle of small town secrets.






Two books from Quirk Books offer a serving, one of suspense and second a bit of fun. I enjoyed Ben H. Winters’ 2012 novel, “The Last Policeman”, a pre-apocalyptic story set six months before a massive asteroid is expected to collide with Earth. It is the first of a trilogy and part two was “Countdown City.” The third is World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III out this monthly ($14.95, softcover). Suffice to say that the first received an Edgar Award and was translated into six languages and the second has been nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award and named an NPR Best Book of 2013, so you can be sure this one will prove as enjoyable. It is just 14 days before the asteroid is expected to make contact and America is in chaos. Detective Hank Palace has found a peaceful farm to live out his last days, but there is one last case for him to solve and this time it is personal. He goes in search of his sister, Nico, and finds himself at a deserted police station in Ohio where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. He is determined to solve the puzzle before times runs out for everyone.
 
A very different change of pace is offered in Ian Doescher’s parody of Star Wars in William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return ($14.95, softcover) the third in a trilogy in which Luke Skywalker and his rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. This is a hilarious way to enjoy the original story as told by a very funny parodist.

 
 
Confessions of a Self-Help Writer: A Journal of Michael Enzo by Benjamin W. Dehaven ($22.95, Lagniappe Publishing), is strictly for grownups, as much a comedy as a tragedy, as it tells the story of Enzo, a ghostwriter for the rich and famous, and the author of successful self-help books in his own right who faces having to write another to pay his debts. He may be able to tell others how to cope, but his own life has been filled with all manner of misdeeds that include depravity, substance abuse, and emotional complexity. This is a difficult book to describe because it seems so real, but it is never boring.  A very different story is told by Rich Marcello in The Big Wide Calm ($15.99, Langdon Street Press, softcover). Paige Plant has dreams of being becoming a rock star, saving the world and inspire revolutions with her songs. She sets out to do this with a perfect album. She has talent, ambition, and mega-musical skills. All she needs is a big break. Enter John Bustin, a mysterious former singer/songwriter who offers Paige one year of free room and board at his recording studio. With her help, he confronts the dark secrets of his past that rock the foundation of their relationship. It is a story of trust and the complexities of love seen through the eyes of the young and old. For anyone who is looking for a good romantic story, this is one to read.

Historical fiction is well served in Amy Belding Brown’s Flight of the Sparrow ($15.00, New American Library, softcover). It is, in fact, based on the amazing true story of Mary Rowlandson’s capture in 1675 and depicts a monumental moment in our nation’s history. After a long-feared Native American attack, Mary is sold to a female tribal leader who puts her to work but allows her a generous and surprising amount of freedom. She becomes conflicted as she develops an uncomfortable attraction toward an English-speaking Native American, James Printer who seemingly straddles both worlds, becoming her friend and protector. When she is eventually ransomed and returns to her surviving family, she finds re-entry into the restrictive Puritan culture a challenge. The author’s knowledge of this lesser known time in our history makes for interesting reading. In Cynthia Lang’s novel, Preservation ($14.95, Mill City Press, softcover) the year is 1987 and, after the sudden disappearance of her husband, Lee Baldwin resolves to escape Manhattan by moving to Limmington Mills, a town described as one where no one goes and nothing ever happens. She wants solitude but soon discovers that life has other plans for her. Narrated by Lee, the novel tells the story of the lost past she cherishes and the changes that happen for her and the town as she finds herself caught up in the dramas of others around her. For those who recall simpler times before the instant communications of our times, this story will prove especially interesting.
 
Lauren Grodstein, the author of The Explanation of Everything ($14.95, Algonquin Books, softcover), bases her novel on the premise that most of us want an explanation for life on earth and a clear account of our role in the grand scheme of things. It is a story, said Family Circle of “wayward souls search for forgiveness, healing, and personal truth.” It is a deeply felt story of love, loss, hope, and the healing powers of forgiveness that takes on the contentious debate over the origins of life as biologist Andy Waite struggles to make sense of his life. He’s about to make tenure, beginning to understand his daughters, and finally overcome the loss of his wife. When a young, tenacious student shows up at his office, he gradually loses sight of his personal and professional boundaries, as well as his moral grounding, but there is also the possibility of faith. This is a complex, demanding story that will draw the reader in as it explores the salvation that love can offer.

Lastly, there’s a novella by Jerome O. Brown, Calves in the Mud Room ($6.74, available from Amazon.com, softcover). Colorado teenager Wade Summers wants nothing more than to go on his date tonight with high school hottie Glory Schoonover, but a fierce February blizzard has blown in and a couple of first-time heifers and calving early. He’s never delivered a calf on his own but has been shown how to do it by his grandfather. He is a very conflicted teenager who must confront the abuse of his shady stepfather and a betrayal by his somewhat disengaged mother. The novella captures the pains and pleasures of teen romance and escaping his dysfunctional parents while growing up in an agricultural community. Well worth reading.

That’s it for July! Tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com where new fiction and non-fiction that may not get the attention they deserve can be found every month.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bookviews - June 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

The world is a very complex place and that is true of the issues that directly and indirectly affect our lives. There is, in addition, a legion of people and groups eager to lie to us about those issues in order to achieve their goals. That is why books like Robert Bryce’s Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper ($27.99, Public Affairs) are “must” reading if we are to gain any understanding. I first encountered Bryce through his writings about energy. He knows the subject from A-to-Z. His book, “Power Hungary”, is well worth reading and his latest expands to define the true agenda of all those people telling us that we are destroying the Earth. “Their outlook rejects innovation and modern forms of energy, It rejects business and capitalism. Whether the message is explicit or implicit, the message coming from many of the “greens” is an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist stance that is rooted in the nation that any large business is one to be feared.” Bryce’s book takes the reader through the transitions from mankind’s earliest history through to the present showing how the development of the various forms of power, from the use of oxen to plow, to water power, to steam, to coal and oil, have all contributed to the remarkable world we share and why the use of fertilizers and genetically modified crops are feeding an extraordinary seven billion people on the planet. The enemies of mankind include those who preach a return to “a simpler life” when life expectancy in the past was often little more than age 35. These are the people who are forever crying out against the use of coal, oil and natural gas, as well as nuclear power. These are the people who insist organic food is better than that produced on modern farms. It is not better and, indeed, may be less safe to eat. If you want to shake loose of all the lies we’re being told about the climate and about modern life, you must read this remarkable book.

A lot of people complain that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties and they are right when it comes to the growth of Big Government. Both bear responsibility for it no matter who was President. As regards the Republican Party, Richard A. Viguerie, often called one of the fathers of the conservative movement, has written a fascinating book, Takeover, ($27.95, WND Books), subtitled “The 100-year war for the soul of the GOP and how conservatives can finally win it.”  This is a very lively, entertaining, and never boring history of how, more than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt abandoned the Republican Party to advance his progressive political viewpoint that became the philosophy of the party’s establishment, thereby condemning the Party to being largely out of power for a half century until over fifty years ago, conservatives began to battle for control of the Party. When the establishment is in control, you get candidates like Dole, McCain, and Romney, all of whom lost elections. And, while Goldwater, the first to really challenge the GOP establishment did not win, he set in motion the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Viguerie notes, too, that while Nixon, Bush 41 and 43 won with conservative messages, their agendas were compatible with those of the Democratic Party. Anyone with an interest in politics will find this a lively, fascinating look at the past and a prediction of what is to come.

In February 2013, Dr. Ben Carson gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that warned about the dangers facing the nation and called for a return to the principles that made America great. It caused quite a stir, perhaps because President Obama was at the head table. Since then Dr. Carson has even been spoken of as a possible candidate for President, but he is more interested in sharing his concerns. He does that in One Nation; What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future ($25.95, Sentinal, a Penguin Book imprint). “We are the pinnacle nation in the world right now, but if the examples of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Great Britain teach us anything, it is that pinnacle nations are not guaranteed their place forever. If we fail to rediscover the basic principles of common sense, manners, and morality, we will go the same way they did.” He shares his life as he shares his views and, by any measure, a black boy living in poverty with an illiterate mother should not have risen to attend Harvard and become a leading neurosurgeon. Except, of course, in America where merit counts the most. If you share fears of the future, you will find this book of interest.

Parenting must be one of the greatest challenges anyone encounters. I had two wonderful parents who provided me with a happy youth and all the years thereafter. I was always encouraged to pursue my interests and always supported in doing so. That’s why Alfie Kohn’s The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting ($25.99, Da Capo Press) caught my eye. One hears so much about today’s kids being spoiled that it was enlightening and pleasurable to read a book that says it’s just not true. Kohn challenges the assertion that education and quality child-rearing are in decline, saying that claim has been made about every prior generation. Well, it is definitely true that education in America is not turning out students with the same body of knowledge their predecessors had.  Kohn also doesn’t believe there is too much over-or-under parenting going on and says that being an involved parent is far better than being a detached or dictatorial one. Kohn has written a book he hopes will serve the interests of both liberal and conservative minded parents. My Mother took the view that children are guests in the adult’s world and that there are rules for both to respect. They’re not new and include showing respect, being honest, the value of work, etc. For the parent who needs a bit of advice, this book will prove helpful.

If you are one of those people who lives, breaths and dreams about baseball, you will find Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel ($25.99, Da Capo Press) as he recalls the series game-by-game, rehashing the defining moments and reach back into baseball history to show the reader just what made those moments great. Wendel feels that the 1991 series was on the cusp of a new era for baseball. A founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly, Wendel is the author of ten books about the game and is currently a writer-in-residence at John Hopkins University. The 1991 series was the first time a last place team climbed its way to the top—both teams were cellar-dwellers in 1990. Five of the seven games were decided by a single run with four by the last at bat. Here’s the story of two teams that took risks, followed their guts, and play from beginning to end with integrity and heart.

Business, Finance, Etc

As students graduate from college and grapple with choosing a career, find a great job, or start a business, there’s a new book by Ben Carpenter that will prove very helpful. It’s The Bigs ($25.00, John Wiley and Sons) and is about “the secrets nobody tells students and young professionals” about to begin an important stage in their lives. Carpenter’s career has been in the world of finance, much of it spent in Greenwich Capital which became a respected, profitable firm on Wall Street. He went from being a salesman to being its co-CEO. These days he is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group. I cited this because he has written a common sense, up to date book that is filled with the kind of advice you would want your son or daughter to know as they enter the workforce. The book benefits as well from being very readable. For the generation trying to plan for their later years, Ric Edelman has written The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs ($15.00, Simon and Schuster, softcover), a step-by-step guide to making the most of one’s retirement plans and assuring long-term financial security. In these times, this is a critical matter in an economy that has been stagnating now since the 2008 financial crisis and two terms of the current administration. Edelman is a familiar voice to those of us in the tri-state area because his commercials air daily along with his radio and television shows. Edelman Financial Services provides planning and investment management to more than 23,000 clients and has more than $12 billion in assets under its management. As Edelman says, “Unlike members of past generations who were able to rely on their employers or the government to provide financial security in retirement, your success will be determined almost entirely by you.”

For those in management positions, Robert Bruce Shaw has authored Leadership Blindspots subtitled “How successful leaders identify and overcome weaknesses that matter” ($35.00, Jossey-Bass). The book is filled with detailed case studies that examine how blindspots operate and cites examples from firms like Apple, Amazon, Hewlet-Packard and others. If not corrected they can lead to devastating mistakes. These are often common problems that result from factors such as over-confidence in one’s own judgment, the complexity of large organizations, and being surrounded by yes-men. Changes in the marketplace seem to be happening at an accelerated pace these days, so this book can help anyone at the top or on his way there.

People, People, People

What we most enjoying reading about is other people. Their real lives often tell us things about ourselves or provide insights into the values we share (or not) with them.

For anyone who cannot get enough of the late singer, Michael Jackson, they are in for a treat. Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days ($26.00, Weinstein Books) is by the two men who spent 24/7 with him throughout his final years, protecting him and ensuring he had the privacy he desperately wanted. Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard have written their story with Tanner Colby. Jackson’s final years were spent moving from city to city, living with his three children in virtual seclusion. Whitfield, a former cop and veteran of the security profession was joined by a brash rookie, Beard, both of whom were single fathers as well. This is likely the only first-person account of those final years you are likely to need or read if you are a fan. Jackson was struggling to live a normal life under extraordinary circumstances after having been driven from his Neverland sanctuary by the tabloid media. Imagine having crowds screaming your name every time word got out wherever he was. Hardly a normal life and, at the end, not a particularly happy one.

I was looking forward to reading The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Pulitzer Prize winner, Kai Bird ($26.00, Crown Publishers) who had written some very well regarded biographies of men like J. Robert Oppenheimer. Ames was a CIA officer who was killed in April 1983 when our embassy there was bombed by Islamic terrorists. Bird had known Ames as an older neighbor while he a teenager living in Saudi Arabia with his family. As a secret agent Ames job was to befriend those who could provide useful information for the agency and, while the CIA never responded to his requests, more than forty retired CIA and Mossad officers shared their memories of Ames. He was universally liked by all who worked with him. As for his Arab contacts, it helped that he spoke their language fluently and Ali Hassan Salameh, Yasir Arafat’s intelligence chief, enjoyed a clandestine relationship with him that became the seed of the Oslo peace process. For those following events in the Middle East the biography has value, but the portrait of Ames is so dominated by the author’s admiration that it fairly rapidly become rather cloying to read. That is a personal reaction and others might well disagree.

Americans understandably became weary of the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed in the wake of 9/11. On that day, however, two Naval Academy roommates vowed to defend America and four weeks after Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, President Obama, on the Memorial Day that followed the event, was in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the nation’s fallen where Travis Manion, a fallen U.S. Marine, and Brendan Looney, a fallen U.S. Navy SEAL, killed three years apart, lay buried. Their story is told in Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Col. Tom Manion, Travis’s father ($16.95, Da Capo Press) It is the story of their bond and ultimate sacrifice for the nation. It is the story of real people engaged in real combat and seeing their comrades die. Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor of The Unknown Soldiers blog and, as noted, Col. Manion was Travis’s father and retired Marine. Together, the two men defined a small segment of their generation’s sacrifice who put their nation’s defense first and foremost.

Jerry Sandusky, arrested and found guilty of child molestation, has ruined the name Sandusky for others who share it. One of them is Gerry Sandusky, the sports director at WBAL in Baltimore and the radio play-by-play voice of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. His book is a tribute to his father, Jon Sandusky, a former player for the Browns and Green Bay Packers who went onto become head coach of the Baltimore Colts, as well as assistant coach under legendary Don Shula at the Miami Dolphins. Jon’s life was about family and football, so it is not surprising that his son chose a career path with the game. Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss, and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL ($25.00, Running Press) will please anyone who loves football and, in particular, was a fan of the teams with which Sandusky was associated. Gerry grow up spending his summers observing his father in NFL training camps and his Sundays with superstars, Hall of Fame players, and coaches from Johnny United to Dan Marino, Don McCafferty to Tom Landry. He saw the glory days and he watched his father face a losing battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a heartfelt story told with intelligence and humor that explores a father-son relationship and the legacy of values and enthusiasms his dad left him.

We all wonder what it would be like to be caught in in avalanches, shipwrecks, or the wake of tornadoes where life and death hangs in the balance. Alive is a compilation of such stories ($15.99) by Readers Digest editors. We all hope our will to survive will kick in when we need it and the stories provide fascinating examples from a mountain climber who has to crawl out of a crevasse on Mt. McKinley and must drag himself to safety, knowing his partner did not survive. There’s hiker Larry Bishop’s harrowing 48 hours clinging to the side of a mountain waiting to be rescued. There are two women who were being mauled by a grizzly and had to defy death. It is a reminder that Mother Nature doesn’t much care if you live or die, even if you do! Interesting reading for sure. Center of Gravity by Geva Salerno ($12.95, Levity Press, softcover) is the true account of how a woman changed her entire life in one year and found her personal power. She conducted an experiment in which she gave up dating for a year so she could focus on her transformation and, in the process, make some discoveries that can impact other women who are overworked, divorced, and obsessed with society’s vision of the perfect life. It’s a leap of faith on her part. She tells of dismantling her false life and building a new authentic one. She has since become an advocate for women’s empowerment.

We have a way of turning outlaws like Billy the Kid and the Sundance Kid into American icons and this is particularly true of the Mafia that became the subjects of movies and television series. C. Alexander Hortis has written “the hidden history of how the Mafia captured New York” in The Mob and the City ($24.95, Prometheus Books) and it is a fascinating look at the Sicilian gangs in the 1930s evolved into the Mafia families that gained power as Prohibition became the law and as drugs became widely used, dominating crime through to the 1950s. This is a thorough and authentic history unlike “The Godfather” and countless other books. As such it is filled with surprises, based on primary sources and even secret files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act; as always, the truth is often more interesting than the fiction. The author is an attorney and an authority on the Mafia.

To Your Health

Americans may be the most health conscious people on Earth, despite the obvious fact that many are overweight and enjoy smoking and other things that we are constantly reminded will kill us.

I have been told that meditation is good for one’s mental health and I received Janet Nima Taylor’s Meditation for Non Meditators: Learn to Meditate in Five Minutes ($15.00, available from Amazon.com, softcover). Having spent 20 years as a corporate executive, her passion has been to help people change their behavior to create positive habits. Following her corporate career she became an American Buddhist monk and is now the director of the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City and executive director of the Dzogchen Foundation, a national non-profit Buddhist and meditation organization. The thing I liked about this book is that it does not require you to sit on the floor, close your eyes, or do it as a religious exercise. Instead, it is a pragmatic manual on how focusing on your breathing can help lower stress and create a sense of peace and well-being no matter what your religious beliefs may be or whether you even have any. A short way of describing this is that you will learn how to hit the pause button and rest in the present moment. That strikes me as a very good idea and this book is a way to learn to do it.

Since my Mother taught gourmet cooking for three decades I concluded that you are what you eat. That’s why The Power of Food: Enhancing Stem Cell Growth and Decreasing Inflammation by Bonnie Raffel, R.D., ($29.95, Langdon Street Press) caught my eye. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, the author discovered she was allergic to the drug prescribed to slow the disease’s neurologic deterioration. As a registered dietitian, Raffel search for a way to combat the disease through nutrition and the result is her book that combines original recipes and nutritional advice to help MS patients and anyone seeking a natural, healthier lifestyle. The New Greenmarket Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz ($24.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) combines healthy eating with good health as it offers recipes by New York’s top chefs to take advantage of the produce available from farmers markets. It’s one thing to have access to freshly picked vegetables and fruits, and another to know how to take advantage of them with delicious salads and other delightful dishes that include fish, lamb, and other delectables. It helps if you live in New York, but these markets exist in most big cities.

Athlete, Not Food Addict: Wellspring’s Seven Steps to Weight Loss ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover by Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, shatters widespread beliefs about the addictive nature of food and offers an empowering method for effective weight loss. It is his view that overweight problems are caused by resistant biological forces within us, our culture, and a lack of knowledge about how to manage and overcome these challenges. He wants the reader to be a “weight-controller athlete” and learn how to use their brains to mold their bodies in a healthy direction, just as athlete’s do. One might say it is mind over platter, instead of mind over matter. For women athletes there’s The Pregnant Athlete by Brandi and Steven Dion with Joel Heller, MD, and Perry McIntosh ($17.99, Da Capo Press, softcover). The book says there is no reason that someone used to a high level of physical activity should continue her training through a normal, healthy pregnancy. It charts the changes a woman can expect in her strength, agility, and stamina each month and includes lots of good advice. Brandi is the mother of two, so this book is author-tested.

For Younger Readers

Getting children accustomed to reading books early on is the key to their success later in life. We’re fortunate to have so many books written for the pre-school, early readers, and teens.

Time for Kids is a publisher of some really excellent books for younger readers. They are particularly educational, but distinguished as well by extraordinary use of photos that make every page exciting. Among the latest are Big Book of When ($19.95) that makes history come alive answering questions such as “When did a human first travel in space?” and “When did the Egyptians build the pyramids of Giza?”  There are 801 such questions covering many topics that will interest any younger reader. Time for Kids also has a series, “Book of Why”, smaller, shorter softcover that also pose and answer many questions ($4.99 each) that include “Really Cool People and Places”, “Awesome Animal Kingdom”, “Amazing Sports and Science”, and “Stellar Space.”  Children tend to lose some of the knowledge they learn during the school year so these books, particularly during the summer, increase their knowledge and deepen their need to keep learning.

Aimed at those kids age 3 to 6, Early Birdy Gets the Worm created by Bruce Lansky and illustrated by Bill Bolton ($15.99, Meadowbrook Press) is a book without text so that the story is told entirely by its illustrations. It is the 2014 Gold Winner in Children’s Picture Books from the Mom’s Choice Awards. In effect, the children “read” the pictures of Early Birdy learning how to catch a worm after watching Mother Bird. It is a very funny adventure and a great way to introduce a child to the joy a book can offer. Others in this series include Polar Brrr’s Big Adventure and Monkey See, Monkey Do.  Next step are books with a text.

From Ideals Children’s Books, Nashville, TN, comes a new series, “Shine Bright Kids”, (http://shinebrightkids.com) the creation of Christy Ziglar, the daughter of famed motivator, Zig Ziglar. A mother of twins and a certified financial planner, she wanted to publish books that will help younger readers develop good money management skills. Must-Have Marvin! ($14.99) will ring a bell for any parent whose child wants to have the latest new things he or she learns about and is, in fact, the second in the series which began in 2013 with Can’t-Wait Willow ($14.99) about a little girl who spends all her time and money on things she doesn’t really want or need. Both are written by Christy Ziglar and are illustrated by Luanne Marten. Both impart valuable lessons from Willow’s need to learn how to delay instant gratification and Marvin’s need to learn that people matter more than things. For early readers, 5 and up, the texts are easy and entertaining, benefitting from the artwork. For parents, they teach good lessons in life in ways that just explaining them might not.

I’m a fan of a series, “When I Grow Up I Want to Be” from Wigu Publishing (www.WhenIGrowUpBooks.com) of Laguna Beach, California. I recommend you visit their websites because you are likely to find a title that fits your child’s interest. The latest is devoted to being In the U.S. Navy ($12.95) that features young Noah who dreams of being in the Navy just like his grandfather who is taking him to tour a real aircraft carrier. Noah’s little sister is coming along as well and as they discover how interesting the carrier is with its crew and different decks, the readers will too. For the early readers of this series, doors open up thanks to the useful, accurate information they provide.

Young adults will enjoy Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca ($`6.95, Sky Pony Press/Skyhorse Publishing), the story of Lilianna Snyder’s sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. One arrives in the form of quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat. With her parents away on business, she finds herself on her own when the bird flu pandemic arrives and friends and neighbors begin dying around her. She must find a way to survive the deadly outbreak and, at the same time, deal with her personal demons, the result of a teacher’s sexual assault. If this sounds very grownup, it is. Also for young adults and for those who like a bit of magic in their fiction, there’s Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl whose previous book, “Beautiful Creatures” is now a motion picture. This novel is part of a series by them and is a tale of love and magic in which a woman with magical capabilities, Ridley Duchannes, and her wannabe rocker boyfriend, Wesley “Link” Lincoln leave Stonewall Jackson High School and their adolescence behind as they head to New York City, each for their own reasons. Ridley is accustomed to using her powers to control Mortals, but her overconfidence has cost her and now she has debts to settle in the city. Link has dreams to become a rock star and joins a band comprised of “Dark Supernaturals.” It’s hard to describe this novel, but that is not to say it will prove entertaining to younger adult readers.

Novels, Novels, Novels

The flow of new novels into my office reflects the even greater number of novels being published these days by large and small publishers as well as self-published. The best I can do is to select from the many I receive and take notice of them for your consideration.

Dodendal: Valley of Dreams by Jim Holmgren ($14.95, softcover) is a good example of a self-published book. The author has created a fictional future of the United States, one very different from the present where we continue to have faith in our Constitution. By tweaking some current trends, his novel suggests the importance of protecting the freedoms we often take for granted. It is fifty years hence and the action takes place over the course of one fateful weekend during the celebrating the tricentennial of the “former” U.S, one bankrupted after Mideast oil wars in the 2030s and missing four states including California after the Second Mexican-American War. The nation is now run by a corporation that has imposed a totalitarian society. Dissenters tend to disappear. You can learn more at www.holmgrenBooks.com. A debut novel by Jeff Critser, Cold Shadows, ($16.95, Dark Matters Press, softcover) has a similar feel to it. It is a techno-thriller that reflects the public’s distrust in government and activities taken outside of any oversight, something in the news as we read of concerns about the National Security Agency. Playing off those concerns, the novel explores themes of smuggling and murder, all committed in the name of an undefined and ill-conceived “greater good.”  When Philip Kurchow, the IT manager for a transportation company in Munich, aware of a smuggling operation in Eastern Europe is murdered, his friend Kip Michelson tries to find out why and how it happened only to find himself ensnared in a dark world of betrayal. A lethal virus, stolen from Russian vaults, is up for sale and Kip is recruited by the FBI to uncover the smuggling. Secretly, the CIA is trying to intercept the technology for clandestine research. Kip finds himself being stalked and must race to expose what is occurring. You won’t put this one down until you’ve read it cover to cover.

Lovers of thriller novels will enjoy The Argentine Triangle ($16.95, Select Books, softcover)  by Allan Topol, the author of “The Russian Endgame” that hit the bestseller lists. Topol has authored nine novels of international intrigue and, in this novel former CIA director Craig Page is enjoying a new, exhilarating life racing cars across Europe. When an old friend goes missing during a covert mission in Argentina, he gets involved. It takes him undercover into the glamorous world of Buenos Aires’ wealthy elite and the plans of two colonels that requires him to implement his experience and skills to expose their plot for a cataclysmic future for South America. This is a classic espionage novel and international thriller with villains and exotic locales. Two Soldiers by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom ($26.99, Quercus) takes you to Stockholm, Sweden where it was originally published and into the life of Jose Pereira, a police officer who heads up the department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, who must find two ruthless young criminals. It is a look at the dark and dangerous world where gang life is the only place that boys from broken, impoverished families can find acceptance and from which there is no escape. The novel has been called an “unsettling portrait of the gangland cycle of violence, desperation, and hope.” It is all that and a very compelling read as well.

A High Price to Pay is a Madeline Dawkins novel by Cynthia Hamilton (www.cynthiahamiltonbooks.com). I enjoyed her last book, “Spouse Trap”, and in this one Madeline’s dual professions as event coordinator and private investigator cross paths during the most lavish affair of her career—a weekend-long fortieth birthday extravaganza for the wife of a famous film director. A simple background check after the disappearance of some family jewels quickly turns into a murder investigation, and before Madeline and Mike can put the pieces together, another body turns up. As the Santa Barbara police and sheriff’s departments search for clues, the Mad Dog P.I.’s use their own methods to untangle the crimes, discovering some unsavory truths behind the glittering faƧade of their clients. To add to Madeline’s already overflowing plate, the D.A. informs her that Rick Yeoman, one of the men who had abducted her three years earlier, has been prematurely released from prison after cutting a deal with the Feds. Besides fearing reprisals from the man she helped to convict, his parole also triggers the reappearance of soulless Lionel Usherwood, lured out his hideaway by the call of revenge. When Yeoman’s body surfaces in Lake Cachuma, Usherwood moves on to the next target: Madeline.

The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller ($15.00, New American Library, softcover) is a story of a woman who just needs to get away and relax. Paige Reinhardt, a hardworking marriage counselor, is looking forward to reconnecting with his busy husband for a summer in the Hamptons, but a mysterious emergency at work ruins their travel plans and everything begins to unravel. As Paige tries to figure out what is really going on in her own marriage, her sister suddenly returns after twenty years and Paige discovers that she may not know her family as well as she thought as she digs into her husband’s work crisis. She must figure out if it is worth it to find herself at the risk of losing her most precious relationships. This is about the complicated bond between sisters and the secrets kept to protect the ones we love. The author is a divorce lawyer and this brings a special level of insight to the story.

That’s it for June! Be sure to come back in July and, in the meantime, tell your friends, family and coworkers who enjoy reading about Bookviews.com.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bookviews - May 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

If you have been trying to understand what is going on in the Middle East and the Maghreb (northern African) nations of Tunisia and Libya, among others in the wake of the “Arab Spring” that occurred in 2011, then you must read Walid Phares’ excellent analysis, The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid ($27.00, Palgrave Macmillan). Phares is an expert on the Middle East, terrorism, and Islam. He is a frequent guest on news programs and an advisor to members of Congress and the European Parliament. Like the mythical Casandra who could predict the future, but who no one believed, Phares predicted that a younger, technologically connected generation, along with secular Muslims, were reaching a point where they would no longer accept the oppression of the region’s despots. The “Arab Spring” was ignited in Tunisia, but spread rapidly to Egypt, Libya, and Syria. He documents how, in each case, the Muslim Brotherhood waited for the demands, often of millions of citizens as occurred in Egypt, brought about the removal of men who had ruled for decades. Then, as a well-organized force, took over the revolutions and sought to exert their Islamism, Sharia law, and the same controls against which the people had revolted. What also emerges is the fact that the U.S. sided with the Muslim Brotherhood against the will of the people. Other U.S. policies failures followed, as in the case of Syria. This is the best book you will read about what occurred, why, and what the future may hold.



If you are of a political frame of mind, you may want to pick up a copy of The Benghazi Report ($12.95, Skyhorse Publishing) that was produced by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. With an introduction by Roger Stone, a consultant who played a role in the election of Republican presidents from Nixon to George H.W. Bush. “The revelation that the U.S. government has made an affirmative choice not to bring the killers of four Americans to justice is disturbing and unconscionable,” says Stone and many agree. As the event recedes in time and memory, the short report contains the relevant facts. One caveat; Hillary Clinton’s role in the events is never mentioned, nor is she named at any point in the report. In late April we learned that the White House told a complete falsehood, discounting the fact that it was a terrorist attack, calling it spontaneous, and blaming it on a video.

Those who favor conservative politics will thoroughly enjoy Guardian of the Republic by former Congressman, Allen West ($26.00, Crown Forum), a memoir that is also a presentation of the personal views and values that shaped a life devoted to faith, family, and freedom. West earned two master’s degrees, one from Kansas State University in political science and the second from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in military arts and sciences.
 
He is a natural born teacher and his book is valuable for its chapters about conservative political thought; its origins and application. An African-American, he rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army to Lt. Colonel, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While much of the African-American community shares a liberal political philosophy, West found purpose and value in conservatism and it took him to a term in Congress as a Representative from Florida. Along the way his experiences and beliefs deepened his views. He is likely to have a real impact on American politics in the years ahead.

 
James Madison was our fourth President, but other than being mentioned among our nation’s Founders, he tends to take a back seat to Washington and Jefferson in the minds of most people, if indeed they even know he exist. Dr. Lynn Cheney, PhD, a noted scholar, a member of the Commission on the Bicentennial and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has gifted us with an extraordinary biography, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered ($36.00, Viking).
Madison, though younger than most of the Founders, was recognized by all of them and others with whom he dealt as an extremely gifted intellect. He is generally credited with much of content of the Constitution, most certainly its Bill of Rights. In his day, the idea of a large republic composed of the people’s representatives initially was greeted with skepticism, but he pushed for a strong, but limited federal government to replace the failed Articles of Confederation and respond to the ways the colonies were printing their own money and engaging in practices that harmed other colonies. Dr. Cheney brings him to life, not only with the facts, but with an engaging, entertaining text that provides valuable insights to the times in which he lived. Put this book on your list for summer reading. You will be glad you did.

I have always enjoyed books based on a clever idea and that describes Mario Giordano’s 1,000 Feelings for Which There are No Names ($16.00, Penguin Books, softcover). He has captured those moments that we react to emotionally without necessarily being aware of it. They are moments from our lives such as the hesitation before sending an important email and the happiness of fulfilling one of your mother’s lifelong dreams. It’s the kind of book you can open at random although it does have sections of sorts. This is the kind of book you keep around to remind you of life’s many pleasures and fears. We all share them. For the sheer pleasure of reading good writing that spans a wide variety of his experiences, I recommend Christopher Buckley’s But Enough About You, ($27.50, Simon and Schuster), a series of essays, by an esteemed humorist, traveler, and an irreverent historian. He is extremely gifted and as one goes from essay to essay, one is treated to reading his insights, friends such as authors Joseph Heller and Christopher Hitchens, dinner at the Reagan White House, flying a Cessna through Alaskan mountains, working aboard a freighter, gardening, and other topics galore. One is both entertained and enlightened in so many ways that reading Buckley, for aspiring writers, is a lesson in how to observe life and write about it in a superb fashion.

Readers are often aspiring writers and, if you have to write as part of your job, you will benefit from How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide by Laura Brown ($35.00, W.W. Norton). It lives up to its title as it teaches how to organize, draft and revise what you write and gets into the differences between academic writing, how to write instructions, and expository writing. Everything from a business letter to a memo, an apology to a speech is discussed. There are rules and there are options. You can learn about all of them in this definitive book on the subject. More and more these days, people are choosing to write memoirs and, for them, there’s Roberta Temes’ How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days ($14.99, Readers Digest, softcover). It offers step-by-step instructions for creating and publishing your personal story. Janell Burley Hofman has authored iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up ($17.99, Rodale, softcover), a particularly useful book for parents who want to teach their sons and daughters about the boundaries and expectations of how to use the many communications technologies that are available to the younger set. It is well worth reading to keep one’s children how to deal with cyber-bullying, and aspects of their lives that should not be instantly shared online and in cyber-space.

In a month, a lot of young Americans will be graduating from high school. They are doing so in some very bad economic times that add to the uncertainties that come with the transition. For high school students, figuring out what to do after graduation can be a major question because there are many options. That’s why Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After School by Genevieve Morgan ($14.99, Zest Books, distributed by Houghton Mifflin, softcover) is just the right book to give a young man or woman at this point in their lives. It helps by putting the decision-making power back where it belongs, with the teens themselves, while exploring the options that are available whether it be a training program, a community college, the military or a four-year university. It provides an in-depth look at what they can expect to earn, what kind of lifestyle to expect, and possible downsides of different scenarios. Being undecided is what being human is all about. Providing a helping hand is a great gift.

Memoirs, Biographies

My youth happily included the movies that starred Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. When the first volume of The Touch of Roy and Dale I was very pleased to read it and revisit those days. A second volume is out and includes many new photos, some 600, along with an excellent text by Tricia Spencer ($21.95, West Quest). In volume II the author draws on 40,000 pieces of fan mail from the Rogers estate, plus new perspective from Roy and Dale’s grandchildren, along with the thoughts of those close to them during their long career. A portion of the sales will go to their Happy Trails Children’s Foundation. They touched the lives of thousands and had a huge fan base. How nice to read about two celebrities whose lives were not touched by the often tawdry things we read about the generation that followed them.

Almost fifty years after its release, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” is thirty-fourth on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Best Songs of All Time and remains Broadcast Music Inc’s most played song of the twentieth century. It was sung by the Rightous Brothers, Bill Medley and the late Bobby Hatfield. Together they left an indelible impression on the music theirs and succeeding generation loved. Medley has penned The Time of My Life: A Rightous Brother’s Memoir ($26.99, Da Capo Press) and fans of their music will thoroughly enjoy his account of growing up as the son of musicians in Orange County, California, where he recorded his first solo songs on two tape recorders in his living room. His first paying gig was with a four-piece group, The Paramours, where he met his future partner, Bobby. Together they enjoy enormous success, making more money that two men who were “young, dumb, and full of rum” to know what to do with. They were performing with groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, as well as Elvis Presley. After they split up, Medley went onto a successful solo career, but his life was not without tragedy as he tells in the heartbreaking account of his first wife’s brutal and unsolved murder, and his struggle to raise their son Darrin as a single parent. His second marriage is in its 27th year. The memoir is enhanced by a foreword by Billy Joel. Medley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and continues to tour and perform.

War always generates memoirs and a particularly moving one is by the late Max Gendelman, A Tale of Two Soldiers, ($14.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover) and begins on December 18, 1944 when the then 12-year-old soldier was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. A Jew, he had more reason to fear for his life than other prisoners. While imprisoned, though, he met Karl Kirschner, a lieutenant in the German Luftwaffe. It turned out that both had a passion for chess and, in time, they decided that both, captor and prisoner, would escape the prison camp! Their friendship would last sixty years and transcended the bigotry of the times they shared. It is a story of courage, faith, and honor. Gendelman returned home, married and started a family and a successful business. In 1952 he helped his friend come to the United States. He died in June 2012 and was buried with military honors.

One of the most dramatic incidents of World War II was the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945 as it made its way to a small island in the South Pacific, sailing unescorted after delivering uranium to be used in the first atomic bombs. Told that the waters were safe, Edgar Harrell and several other Marines were sacked out on deck when six torpedoes sank the ship, leaving him and other survivors in the ocean for five horrifying days, until those not killed by sharks, were picked up. The story of his courage, ingenuity and faith is told in Out of the Depths ($16.99, Bethany House Publishers). Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and TV personality, said, “There aren’t too many times when the word ‘hero’ is appropriately used. Heroes are people who do extraordinary things and in the service of others, Edgar Harrell is a true American hero.” One of the tragedies of World War II was the refusal of the U.S. government that on May 13, 1939 that denied entry to the MS St. Louis, sailing from Hamburg, Germany, and filled with Jews seeking to escape the Nazi government. Among those on board were the grandfather and uncle of Martin Goldsmith and they and the other passengers were returned to Europe where many were sent to concentration camps where they died. In Alex’s Wake, ($25.99, Da Capo Press), he details his six-week quest to retrace their journey to assuage the guilt he carried for living happily in America despite his family’s tormented history. The book is more than just his and his family’s, but one that many experienced, including Germans who regretted the horror the Nazis inflicted on Jews and others. It is 75 years since that event and a reminder that America only entered World War II after being attacked by Japan. The Nazis were defeated, but not before they killed millions, among whom were the victims on the MS St. Louis. 

A memoir by the mother of Tim Burroway, Losing Tim, ($14.95, Think Piece Publishing, softcover) is dedicated to him, “Captain, Ranger, Paratrooper, husband, father, hunter contractor for humanitarian mine removal in Iraq, Republican, romantic, idealist, perfectionist, gun nut, my first born, my baby.”  After serving in the U.S. Army, Tim became a private contractor, essentially undertaking the same jobs as those in service, but without many of the benefits. How big a role do they play? A large number of those serving the nation in Afghanistan are private contractors, but according to a recent RAND survey, many return home with mental health issues at a higher rate than the soldiers and there are 22 suicides a day in the veteran population. Janet Burroway has authored fifteen books for adults and three for children. The journey that Tim took was one from a defender of America to one deeply disappointed by both the origin and outcome of the war in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. As she notes, one in three returns from our war zones with a mental disorder and the life Tim imagined and then lived was filled with disappointment despite his commitment to it. Some lives are just filled with too much tragedy, but Tim was fortunate to have a mother who could relate the facts of his life.

Minding the Mind

The power of our minds and the way it exerts that power over our lives always makes for interesting reading and, in many cases, useful insight.

One of the problems that have increasingly come to public attention has been autism, an affliction that parents notice early on. The diagnosis often is devastating, but Autism Breakthrough: The Groundbreaking Method that Has Helped Families All Over the World by Raun K. Kaufman ($25.99, St. Martin’s Press) will come as very good news for those families dealing with it. Kaufman is the director of global education for the Autism Treatment Center of America. He is living proof autism can be treated and overcome. He shares the groundbreaking principles and strategies that helped him and offers new hope through a scientifically proven roadmap that helps autistic children overcome it. His parents literally turned all the recommended cures on their head and chose to work with him instead of against the symptoms he displayed, building a bridge to his world. The book is an accessible, step-by-step guide.

For those who like to explore the scientific side of things, there’s Mental Biology: The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate by W.R. Klemm ($19.95, Prometheus Books, softcover.)  The author focuses on how the mind emerges from nerve-impulse patterns in the densely-packed neural circuits that make up most of the brain, suggesting that the conscious mind can be seen as a sort of neural-activity-based avatar. As an identity in its own right, the mind on a conscious level can have significant independent action, shaping the brain that sustains it through its plans, goals, interests, and interactions with the world. He also delves into the role of dream sleep in both animals and humans, and explains the brain-based differences between non-conscious, unconscious, and conscious minds. Dr. Klemm has written extensively on this subject.

Can love and anger co-exist? Yes say the authors of Riding the Passionate Edge: Converting Tension into Emotional Intimacy, ($15.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover). In an intimate relationship it is a common error to believe that emotional closeness and tension can’t co-exist. Mary and Tom Cushman provide concrete skills for transforming relationships, even those that may feel beyond repair, into those that recapture the original feelings that drew two people together. They make a powerful case for engaging tension directly and skillfully through empathetic listening, straight talk, compassion and forgiveness to heal the damage caused by unresolved emotional wounds. The authors are a married pair of long-time counselors, having been clergy and teachers, who for the past 16 years have been private practice counselors. Another book that can prove helpful is Be Real: Because Fake is Exhausting by Rick Bezet (19.99, Baker Books), the pastor of New Life Church in Arkansas. “God makes it simple for us,” says Bezert. “Being fake is exhausting, and it drains us and eventually kills our body and our soul. But being real requires us to put God first in our lives and to allow his love to overflow into every area of our lives. Our hope in him is real.” Well, I did say he was a pastor, but he is also an engaging author who knows that the world is full of fakers and even some who attend church every Sunday can be included among them. His book is a call to readers to live a life based on authenticity. For those with a healthy spiritual life, this book will prove supportive and instructive.

Books for Tots & Teens

The greatest gift for any child is the enjoyment of reading, so get them started early.
 
A new addition to her series is Cynthia Bardes’ Pansy in Paris: A Mystery at the Museum ($18.95, Octobre Press), illustrated by Virginia Best. Her previous book was “Pansy at the Palace: A Beverly Hills Mystery.”  In this one Pansy, a poodle and Avery, a little girl who adopted her, solve who is stealing paintings with a story that will surely entertain those to whom it is read or old enough to read it for themselves. It is told from Pansy’s point of view and this large format book with full page artwork is just delightful. The same age group, from 2 and up, will enjoy A Bee Named Bea by Candace A. Dietz with illustrations by Virginia J. Rost ($14.95, Mixed Media Memoirs), a collection of poems about various animals such as a cow that can’t stop mooing or a lonely bee that everyone is afraid of. Each poem ends with a cheerful resolution. The book has twenty poem-stories to keep young minds engaged. Some books for the very young with the intention to teach important life lessons and A Simple Idea to Empower Kids by Kathleen Boucher ($13.95, Balboa Press) offers three principles to young readers age 3 to 12, about the power of love, choice and belief to help them develop self-confidence and deal with whatever comes their way in life. Parents will find this book very helpful to get a child off to a good start.

Miss You Like Crazy by Pamela Hall and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell ($15.99, Tanglewood) is written for those ages 6 to 8 and is a story that reminds children that, even when parents are away at work, they are always thinking about them. It is a lighthearted way to reassure children of their importance in their parent’s busy lives. Also from Tanglewood is Audrey Penn’s A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon ($7.99) for the even young set, ages 2 to 4. It is now a board book, made study enough to withstand all manner of handling. This book is becoming a children’s classic, having already touched the lives of many readers who benefit from Mrs. Raccoon’s secret for making a child feel safe and secure.

For the younger set, pre-teens, there is an excellent book based on American history, Pilgrims to Patriots: A Grandfather Tells the Story by Alex Bugaeff ($24.95, print, $8.99 Ebook, Create Space) that, in fact, the older reader will enjoy as well. A grandfather shares his knowledge of the years that led up to the American Revolution and brings to life the nation's founders as real, living men, along with a host of other characters from our early years such as Molly Pitcher, a cannoneer, and events like the War of Jenkins' Ear, to Elizabeth Key, the slave who sued the Virginia Colony for her freedom. It is both educational and very entertaining. The book's value is enhanced by the need to impart such knowledge to a younger generation that is not receiving it sufficiently in our schools.

Pre-teens and teens benefit from reading novels that overcome today’s “tweet” reduction of everything to 140 characters. Cara Bertrand begins her “Sentantia” series with a fantasy story, Lost in Thought ($19.95/$11.95, Luminis Books, hard and softcover) about Lainey who everyone thinks has severe migraines from stress and exhaustion. In truth, Lainey, age 16, has visions of how people died or are going to die, a secret she keeps to herself. Doctors advise she be enrolled in a private New England boarding school to help cure her, but while there is no cure, she discovers that everyone at Northbrook Academy has a secret too where half the students and nearly all the staff are members of Sententia, a hidden society of the psychically gifted. This paranormal theme, along with a bit of romance, and lots of action-packed twists to the plot will keep any young reader turning the pages.

Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley ($9.99, HarperTeen, softcover) will gain the author even more readers, especially if they have read her two previous young adult readers. It’s about the daughter, a teenager, whose Mommy Blogger has no concept of boundaries, having been writing about her since before she was born, telling everything about her on the popular blog. At age 15, Imogene has been protesting to no avail. When a mandatory school project requires her to start her own blog, she is reluctant to expose any more of her life online until she realizes that the project is an opportunity to define herself for the first time on her own terms and to give her mother a taste of her own medicine! This is a story that is heartfelt and often laugh-out-loud, sure to please the girls for whom it is written.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Spring for the publishing world is—as is the autumn—the time they roll out many new books and, when it comes to novels, it would appear that fiction still has a large audience to satisfy.

You can’t write novels unless you have an active imagination and Anna Godbersen surely does. She already has two bestsellers, “The Luxe” and “Bright Young Things”. Having come of age when Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential superstar, I must confess the theme of her new novel, The Blonde, ($26.00, Weinstein Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group) was a bit off-putting, but that will surely not be the case for most others younger than myself. In this book, Godbersen conjures up a Marilyn Monroe who, through the help of a mysterious stranger, rises from being the young, unknown Norma Jeane Baker with aspirations of being an actress to the famed movie star twelve years later. Her benefactor, however, is a member of the then-Soviet KGB and she is told to find something about John F. Kennedy that they can use in some fashion. Instead of aiding the KGB she falls in love with him and, when she learns of plans to assassinate him, she must escape her Soviet handlers to save him and herself. The novel incorporates the Hollywood of her era, the murderous intrigue, and the elements of a well-known actual history. Together they become a novel that makes for a great read and is likely to end up a film at some point. Intrigue and murder from an earlier era, that found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, is found in The Conan Doyle Notes: The Secret of Jack the Ripper by Diane Gilbert Madsen ($28.95, MX Publishing, London, available via Amazon.com). The publisher is the world’s largest specialist in books featuring the most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Steve Emecz, the MX managing director, says “There has never been a better time to be a Sherlock Holmes fan” he is thrilled to have her novel. “It’s perfect for a fan base with an appetite for modern thrillers with a link back to Conan Doyle.”  Her novel involves a wealthy Chicago lumber baron’s diary which reveals that Doyle left some valuable handwritten notes during his 1894 visit to Chicago. They contain vital information about the Ripper murders. When the diary is stolen, D.D. McGil, an academic turned insurance investigator, comes upon information she believes confirms the identity of Jack the Ripper and finds herself a target in a deadly game to locate a literary find that could rewrite history.

In Monday, Monday Elizabeth Cook tells the story of a tragedy in Texas that changes the course of three lives ($26.00, Sarah Crichton Books). Based on an actual incident when, in August 1966, Charles Whitman hauled a footlocker of guns to the top of the University of Texas tower and began firing on pedestrians below. He killed sixteen people and wounded thirty-two. It was the first mass shooting of civilians on a campus in American history. The novels follows three students caught up in the massacre, Shelly who walks into the path of the bullets and two cousins, Wyatt and Jack, who heroically rush from their classrooms to help the victims. On that day a relationship begins that entangles them in a forbidden love affair, an illicit pregnancy, and a vow of secrecy that will span forty years. Reunited decades after the tragedy, they will be forced to confront the event that changed their lives and that has silently and persistently ruled the lives of their children. At its core, it is the story of a woman determined to make peace with herself, with the people she loves, and with a history that will not let her go.


A very different story is told by Mike Mullen in Book 3 of the “Ashfall Trilogy”, Sunrise, ($17.99, Tanglewood). It takes place after the Yellowstone super-volcano has nearly wiped out the human race. It is now almost a year after the eruption and the survivors seem determined to finish the job as communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived has completely collapsed. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivor’s constant companions. The debut novel “Ashfall” in 2011 was a big hit as was Book 2, “Ashen Winter” in 2012. No doubt Book 3 will enjoy a similar acclaim as it is a triumph of imagination as Mullen takes on the task of writing about a world of survivors must overcome the horrendous outcome of the eruption. It addresses questions of responsibility, and bravery, civilization, and society. Though written as a young adult novel, I think older readers will enjoy it as well.

A number of softcover novels provide some entertaining as well.  We have entered an era in which anyone who wants to write a novel can get it published. Jeff Turner has had a long, successful career as a college professor with more than twenty college-level textbooks to his credit and he draws on his experience in academia and life to have written The Way Back ($14.95, Page Publishing). It is about a college professor who is at the top of his game, living a posh live in a Connecticut shoreline town, whose world is turned upside down when he faces trumped up charges of academic harassment. In the midst of that crisis he discovers his wife has been unfaithful and that his son is being bullied by high school thugs. If that isn’t enough, a seductive and mysterious woman enters his life, along with troubling memories of an incident from a family swimming pool party that went horribly wrong. He and his family must cope with uncertainty and upheaval. It is the story of the emotional frailty that can strike anyone without warning and how his family must deal with the family’s inner demons. This is a novel that demands to be read from cover to cover because it is going to be hard to put down. A very different story is told by Lynne Raimondo in Dante’s Poison, a novel, featuring a blind psychiatrist, Mark Angelotti, who is helping Hallie Sanchez defend her oldest friend against murder charges. A muckraking journalist, Rory Gallagher, has died from a fatal dose of Lucitrol, a powerful antipsychotic drug and suspicion immediately falls on his longtime lover, Jane Barrett, who has just defended the drug’s manufacturer against product-liability claims. Mark and Hallie succeed in obtaining Barrett’s release, only to discover that Gallagher’s killer may still be on the loose and targeting them as his next victims. Angelotti was in Raimondo’s novel, “Dante’s Wood.”  The author formerly was a general counsel for Arthur Anderson and later the Illinois Department of Revenue. Her background, combined with her talent, combine for a new novel that anyone who enjoys such intrigue and danger will enjoy.

In J.T. Prescott’s thriller, Arts and Crafts, ($16.95, Two Harbors Press) a former covert operative. Ken Frazier, is looking forward to retirement after leaving the clandestine world behind is sought out by a former colleague, George Larson, and confronted with outrageous claims about a government conspiracy that includes major U.S. cities falling prey to snipers. Hesitant to believe the claims, he is suddenly thrust back into action when Larson shows up dead and the rumors turn out to be true. This is a fast-paced adventure, filled with conspiracy and murder, as Frazier’s experience and instincts kick in and he recruits the help of two members of his former team. Together they band together for one last desperate mission. In a somewhat similar theme, Johnny Shaw tells a story in Plaster City ($14.95, Thomas and Mercer) of Jimmy Veeder who is enjoying life as a farmer and family man with occasional breaks to act as wingman to his best friend’s booze-fueled misadventures. When Bobby Maves teenage daughter does missing, Jimmy will be along for the rescue mission and what begins as a bad situation turns into something else entirely involving a violent turf war between a fierce motorcycle gang and a powerful crime lord, fighting it out on a desolate strip of desert known as Plaster City in the landscape of the California-Mexico borderland. Shaw’s previous novels received awards and his long career as a screenwriter and novelist demonstrate his skills.

That’s it for May! Tell your friends, family and coworkers who enjoy reading about Bookviews.com so they too any get the latest word about new fiction and non-fiction. And come back next month for more!