Monday, March 31, 2014

Bookviews -- April 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

If there is no other book you read this year, read Philip K. Howard’s The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government ($23.95, W.W. Norton). If you have been wondering why those elected and appointed to public office do not seem able to do anything more than either pass more laws, add more regulations, or not be able to approve a public project such as a needed new bridge or run a business such as a nursing home without being subject to regulation that is so detailed they cannot provide simple, principled service, this book will explain why. As Howard says, “Government’s ineptitude is not news. But something else has happened in the last few decades. Government is making America inept. Other countries have modern infrastructure, and schools that generally succeed, and better health care at little more than half the cost.” This true is demonstrated in the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—that was 2,700 pages when passed and has now generated regulations that when stacked stand seven foot high. “The U.S. is now ranked below a dozen or more countries in terms of ease of doing businesses and effective governance. These are our competitors in global markets.” Howard calls for a return to our founding values of individual responsibility and accountability. “This requires abandoning the utopian dream of automatic government and giving responsible officials—real people—the authority to make practical choices.” In 1994 Howard authored “The Death of Common Sense: How Law is suffocating America” and he’s back with a look at our present state of stagnation and retreat.

Here, too, is another book you should read if you have concluded that there is no global warming (the Earth has been in a natural cooling cycle since 1997) and that the dangers of climate change are the same ones that have existed for centuries, floods, blizzards, droughts, et cetera. Dr. Tim Ball has been among a number of climatologists and other scientists who have outspokenly resisted and exposed the lies behind the global warming hoax that asserts that carbon dioxide (CO2) is trapping so much heat that all manmade emissions of it must be curtailed. In The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science ($22.95, Stairway Press) Dr. Ball relates how initially he “watched my chosen discipline—climatology—get hijacked and exploited in service of a political agenda, watched people who knew little or nothing enter the fray and watched scientists become involved for political or funding reasons—willing to corrupt the science, or, at least, ignore what was really going on.” The global warming hoax was generated out of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and dates back to the mid to late 1980s. Dr. Ball calls it “the greatest deception in history and the extent of the damage has yet to be exposed and measured.”  I have read dozens of books about the hoax and this one sums up everything you need to know even as the claims and deceptions continue at the highest levels of our government, the United Nations, and the media. This book is detailed, documented, footnoted, and very interesting.

If you want to know what really happened leading up to and in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, you should read Bob Ivry’s The Seven Sins of Wall Street: Big Banks, Their Washington lackeys, and the Next Financial Crisis ($25.99, Public Affairs). Ivry is an editor and investigative reporter for Bloomberg News. The tendency is the think of any book about the business community, particularly banking, is likely to be rather dull, but this one is lively from page one and remains a surprisingly entertaining read even as its revelations scare the daylights out of you. For one thing, it is Joe Taxpayer who now guarantees the success of the top banks in America, all of whom were bailed out, paid back the hasty government loans they received, and then went on to make huge profits as the same banks foreclosed on countless homeowners penalized for the failure of the banks to put the brakes on thousands of “liar’s loans”, bundling and peddling them. As Ivry makes clear, the legacy of the financial crisis in 2008 isn’t stronger banks, but a weaker nation. We normally accord respect for the men at the top of the banking industry. They are often called “titans”, but the reality that Ivry reveals will have you calling them something else and the shenanigans since the crisis. Moreover, Ivry shows how the too-big-to-fail banks and their supporters in Washington, D.C., are getting closer to an even greater economic calamity. Neither they, nor their Washington facilitators in major agencies come off looking good and for good reason.

Living through what many feel is the second Great Depression, anyone who loves history will enjoy Bill Friedman’s All Against the Law ($17.99, $9.99, Old School Histories, hardcover and ebook, available from Based on 47 years of research, it is filled with new information about more than a hundred major critics committed during the Great Depression era by bank robbers, the Mafia, FBI, politicians, along with the misdeeds of police detectives, prosecutors, and judges. Hard times tend to bring out the worst in people, particularly if they are inclined toward crime in the first place. Many from that era became legendary and include John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Alvin Karpis whose partner, Doc Barker, killed lawmen in multiple police escapes. It is also the story of the lawmen that pursued them. The FBI under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover gained fame during this period. Politics during the era is also described where it involved corruption, particularly that of the Kansas Penderast machine. It makes our current times pale by comparison.

Having lived through the beginnings of the atomic age, I think a lot of readers who enjoy history will enjoy Craig Nelson’s The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Age ($29.99, Scribner). The Atomic age began with a past-his-prime German physicist working in his lab and continues to the present day with fears that reflect the failures in Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as those of terrorists with dirty bombs. It began with discoveries of the nucleus by Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller. Craig brings nuclear energy into a modern context. While atomic energy provides electricity (all of France is powered by it) and includes its use for medical purposes, its invisible rays can trigger cancer. This is, however, the story of the people who discovered it and the issues it evoked. As a bomb it was used to end America’s war in the Pacific, but not used since.

The one thing that I do not review, with the exception of anthologies, is poetry. I grew up reading traditional poetry, the kind that rhymed and had a distinct cadence, but over the years many poets abandoned that form, treading close to prose. One who did it to great success was Maxine Kumin whom I met in the 1970s at an annual Bread Loaf Writers Conference where she was already a star. She had since won a Pulitzer Prize and was a U.S. poet laureate. She passed away in February.  And Short the Season ($24.95, W.W. Norton) is the final collection of her work. Though I still prefer traditional poetry, hers demonstrates how a poet can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. While she will be missed by family, friends, and fans, her great body of work will live on. In contrast, death took Marina Keegan too early, shortly after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012, but The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories ($23.00, Scribner) gives us the opportunity to enjoy a body of her writings; enough to make us wish that an auto accident had not taken her life. She was just twenty-two. Anyone who loves good writing will enjoy this collection. They reveal a great talent.

Some books are so thoroughly amusing that they stand alone. That describes How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom by Patricia Carlin with photography by Dustin Fenstermacher ($12.95, Quirk Books, softcover) and it is a satire that offers tongue-in-cheek advice on how to turn your cat from just a pet that lays around a lot into your door to a fortune. Carlin purports to tell the reader how to identify their cat’s special talents, choose a stage name, film and edit a viral video, and more. Anyone who loves cats will find themselves laughing on every page while enjoying the many color photos. Also from Quirk Books comes William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back Part the Fifth by Ian Doescher ($14.95) which is a merry reimaging of George Lucas’s classic film. If the film has been an Elizabethan play, this is how it would sound and for anyone who loves the former this is an entertaining way to enjoy it again. Quirk Books has definitely earned its name!

I sometimes ask myself why a particular book was written and why a publisher thought it was worth publishing. This is what came to mind with The Mammoth Book of Shark Attacks by Alex MaCormick and Rod Green ($14.95, Running Press). Going back to 1900 and moving forward to 2013, this is a collection of stories about shark attacks. They have made headlines that reflect our natural horror regarding such events. There surely are readers who will find this of interest and it will be thoroughly sated by this book.

People, People, People

We read about people of every description, selecting those who interest us. Memoirs, biographies and autobiographies are in a class of themselves. Here are some books that have arrived that illustrate a more general approach.
Let’s start with a fun, lighthearted book about what it’s like to be a Hollywood paparazzi and, more specifically, how Jennifer Buhl became one. She writes about that in Shooting Stars: My Unexpected Life Photographing Hollywood’s Most Famous ($14.99, Sourcebooks, softcover). She has a lively style and begins by telling of her realization that she could make a lot more as a photographer with one good celebrity photo than she could waiting tables as she was doing the day she witnessed Paris Hilton being protected by her entourage amidst a gang of paparazzi. After that it was a question of learning the business. Along the way she made the acquaintance with many of today’s celebrities. Despite the money and fame, she makes it clear that the downside of celebrity is being hunted by the paparazzi. It’s a lifestyle most of us would not want.

Villains, Scoundrels, and Rogues: Incredible True Tales of Mischief and Mayhem is one of those titles that tells you everything you need to know about its subject. Paul Martin ($18.95, Prometheus Books) has brought together stories about folks you may not have heard of, but who played a role in history or literature. Take, for example, the drunken cop who abandoned his post at Ford’s theatre, given assassin John Wilkes Booth access to Lincoln. How about a notorious Kansas quack who made million implanting goat testicles in gullible male patients? Or America’s worst female serial killer ever? Or Ed Gein, Alfred Hitchcock’s inspiration for “Psycho”? Thirty brief biographies offer an entertaining look at some unforgettable characters, especially for anyone who enjoys history.

If you like true crime stories, you will like A Rookie Cop Vs The West Coast Mafia by William G. Palmini, Jr. and Tanya Chalpupa ($24.95. New Horizon Press, softcover) which is just out this month. Palmini was a rookie detective who began a crusade to take down the West Coast Mafia by gaining the confidence of a notorious mob operative, William Floyd Ettleman. When he and his gang, skilled safe crackers, set out to rob a popular Sausalito restaurant, the Trident, a one-time mecca for Hollywood, the music industry, and New York gang members, Palmini determined to bring them to justice. He was joined by the FBI and, with the aid of an informant, they were able to bring put an end to their crime. From the same publisher comes Deadly Vows: The True Story of a Zealous Preacher, a Polygamous Union and a Savage Murder ($24.95) by Leif M. Wright. It is the story of Joy Risker’s gruesome death at the hand of Pentecostal preacher, Sean Goff. He had been the author’s best friend for 16 years, during which time he weaved a tangled web of deceptions, religion and polygamy in his life and marriage to multiple women, one of which was Risker. Rather than losing his youngest wife when she wanted to continue her education and have a career, Goff set about to commit the perfect crime. After killing her, he took the body miles into the Arizonan desert and used knowledge of forensics from television to ensure it could not be identified. That changed when a couple came upon a stack of lava rocks and notices a foul odor. Reported missing in October 2003, Goff would turn himself in and confess. As is often the case, truth is stranger than fiction.

Due out next month, Damien Lewis’s Zero Six Bravo ($26.99, Quercus, an imprint of Random House) tells the story of a British Special Forces Squadron that were accused of running away from the enemy, but the true story of sixty men who, in March 2003, 600 miles behind enemy lines, accomplished the extraordinary, the surrender of the 100,000-strong Iraqi Army 5th Corps. Their mission was so dangerous that it was known as “Operation No Return” and they encountered an ambush by thousands of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, backed by the Corps’ heavy armor. M Squadron should not have survived, but their courage got them through and this story will rivet anyone interested in military history. Our military is in our thoughts these days as the Obama administration seeks to reduce its budget to pre-World War Two levels. We honor them for their service and for their sacrifice, but a new book, A Trust Betrayed by Mike Magner ($27.50, Da Capo Press) tells the story of the Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune a few decades ago, thousands of whom suffered serious illnesses including lymphoma while their children suffered birth defects as the result of the failure of the Corps to take action when it became clear that the water they were drinking was contaminated. There were miscarriages and babies died. This is an ugly chapter in our history and the book argues for compensation for the victims.

The biography of a gifted baseball pitcher, Bill Denehy, is told in cooperation with Peter Golenbock in Rage ($16.95, Central Recovery Press). He was at the top of his game with the New York Mets until he threw a pitch that changed the course of his life. It was a life shaped by his bad temper that would cost him many opportunities. He had had an injury-plagued career, but would ultimately loose his vision due to injections used to keep him in the game. After that he would descend into addiction, but find recovery. His experience will resonate with athletes, baseball fans and others who struggle with addiction.

A very different story is told in Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics ($25.95, Prometheus Books) by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon. It is the story of two of the boldest and most creative scientists, separated in age by forty years, discovered the existence of the electromagnetic field and devised a radical new theory that overturned the strictly mechanical view of the world that had prevailed since Newton’s time, centuries earlier. It is a lively narrative. Faraday who had no mathematical training rose from being a bookbinder’s apprentice to become director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Maxwell was regarded as one of the most brilliant mathematical physicists of the age. Their theory would join Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and gave rise to many of the technological innovations we take for granted today—from electric power generation to television, satellites, and cell phones, among many others. Anyone with an interest in science will enjoy this excellent book.

Getting Down to Business Books        

Power by Sarah Morgans and Bill Thorness ($19.95, Fenwick Publishing Group, softcover) is the story of how J.D. Power III became the auto industry’s advisor, confessor, and eyewitness to history. His award for consumer satisfaction is highly valued by auto manufacturers. It began when Dave Power founded his company in 1968 to aid auto makers understand the value of listening to consumers’ preferences and complaints. It changed the industry. The book tells the story of Power and those who worked most closely with him. The book is hailed by many industry leaders such as Akio Toyoda and the former chairman and CEO of General Motors, Rick Wagoner.

Success is measured and achieved in different ways and Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret: The Power of a Lot of Little Things Done Well by Pat Williams with Jim Denney ($16.99, Revell, softcover) looks at why Coach Wooden became one of college basketball’s most revered coaches. His years at UCLA are testimony to that with ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including seven in a row, a fear unmatched by any other coach. Pat Williams has more than fifty years of professional sports experience and is the author of dozens of books. He tells how Wooden taught his players every aspect of the game including how to put on their socks and shoes to avoid blisters. When asked, he said that little things matter. Williams takes Coach Wooden’s lesson, along with stories of people whose lives have exemplified the importance of little things one does or doesn’t do that affect one’s integrity, reputation, health, career, faith and success.

Carol Liefer was a successful comedian at a time when television comedy was an exclusive all-boy’s club. Part memoir, part guide to life, and very funny, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy ($19.95, Quirk, softcover) is a collection of essays that charts here three-decade journal through show business that provides valuable lessons for women and men in any profession. How good was she? She was an opening act for Frank Sinatra. Leifer is a four-time Emmy nominee for her writing on such shows as Seinfeld, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, and the Larry Sanders Show. She has starred in five of her own comedy specials. Happily she is still active these days and her book will is both entertaining and instructive.

The Joy of Eating

One of life’s great joys is eating. People love cookbooks and reading about various aspects of dining.

Let’s start with a favorite of everyone, maple syrup. It is the subject of The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup—And One Family’s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest by Douglas Whynott ($24.99, Da Capo Press). Like many I do not give much thought to where the syrup comes from, just that I have a bottle on hand to pour some over pancakes. This book introduces the reader to entrepreneur Bruce Bascom whose family business, Bascom Farms, produces 80,000 gallons of sap a day. Whynott takes us through one tumultuous season as we learn the art of the boil, the myriad subtle flavors of syrup, and the process by which syrup is assigned a grade. You will discover that maple syrup is a multimillion dollar industry, one that contains a black market, was subject to a heist monitored by Homeland Security, and an OPEC-like organization called The Federation—which is fitting since a barrel of maple syrup is worth more than a barrel of oil!

Two other Da Capo books are devoted to food. If you like almonds, you will love Almonds Every Which Way by Brooke McClay ($18.99, softcover). Almonds have become a key ingredient in vegan, Paleo, glutan-free, low-carp, and alternative diets as a substitute for grain flours and dairy. Almonds, we learn, can reduce heart attack risk, lower bad cholesterol, help build strong bones and teeth, and aid in regulating blood sugar and insulin after meals. And I like them because they taste good! McClay takes one on a tour of every meal of the day with more than 150 almond flour, almond milk, and almond butter-based recipes. You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy this book, but if you are one, check out Mayim’s Vegan Table by Mayim Bialik with Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician ($21.99, softcover). As she notes, getting kids to eat their vegetables can be tough enough, but getting them to eat an exclusively plant-based diet can seem impossible, especially when you want them to take a pass on cheese pizza, hot dogs, and other popular food items. She provides more than a hundred recipes along with chapters that address the principles of vegan nutrition for growing bodies. If her name sounds familiar it is because Mayim Bialik is an Emmy-nominated actress who stars on The Big Bang Theory. She is also a Ph.D. and trained neuroscientist, and the mother of two sons.


There is no end to books with advice on every imaginable topic. Here are a few that run the gamut.

Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom is by Andrea Brandt, a Ph.D. with more than thirty years of working with individuals, couples, groups, and children, all of whom seeking help with emotional issues that include anger and aggression ($22.95, W.W. Norton). As we know, anger can be especially destructive to one’s relationships and interfere with achieving one’s goals. When expressed as rage or aggression, it can land you in jail. “There isn’t an area of our lives—relationships, careers, health—that wouldn’t improve with the proper handling of our anger,” says the author. A pioneer in the field of anger management, her book is a guide to making the kind of self-assessments and identifying the causes that generate anger and thereby finding ways to reduce and control it. If you know a constantly angry person, this would make a good gift for them.

Another psychological problem that men in particular encounter is borderline personality disorder. It causes them to have extreme difficulty regulating their emotions. Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, has authored Hard to Love: Understanding and overcoming Male Borderline Personality Disorder ($15.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover.) It is due out in May. Interestingly, it is frequently misdiagnosed in men, leading to no treatment or the wrong treatment. This book will

help any man examine if BPD is the problem he is experiencing. Such men are difficult, but not impossible to love says Dr. Robert Doyle, an assistant medical director at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Child and Adolescent Impatient Union. 

For the gals, there’s a delightful, very funny book by Jenny McCarthy, Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth about Pregnancy and Childbirth ($13.99, Da Capo Press, softcover). The co-host of “The View”, is also an actress, mother, and a former Playboy playmate. She dishes about prenatal cravings, leg cramps, fainting spells, and all the other experiences that go with becoming a mother with the frankness and humor for which she has become known. And despite the various challenges a woman must engage to give birth, she says “Welcome to the best job you will ever have, mommyhood.” 

Kid Stuff          

Every so often a really outstanding book comes along for younger readers. U.S. history is something every American should read, but it is no secret that our schools are not doing a good job of teaching it. When a book like World War I for Kids comes along, it offers an opportunity that a parent should embrace. Written by R. Kent Rasmussen ($17.95, Chicago Review Press, softcover) it is a comprehensive look at a chapter in American history of which many adults are unaware, but WWI was a major turning point in the last century for Americans and, as we know, it set the stage for WWII that started within twenty years. Americans were reluctant to participate in either and did so when provoked by attacks such as the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 that took the lives of many American passengers. Extensive illustrations enhance an excellent text that tells of how the war stimulated technological development as well as changing the way wars had been fought. It became far more lethal. Younger readers from age 10 and up will find this book an exciting look at the event, the people involved, and the activities it invites them to do. In truth, an adult can read this book with as much enjoyment. The For Kids series also offers World War II for Kids and The Civil War for Kids.

Last month I noted a number of new books from Charlesbridge Publishing and I will continue this month.

Kids get a head start on school if they get to read books that introduce them to the alphabet and numbers.  Teddy Bear Addition by Barbara Bardieri McGrath ($16.95) uses images by Tim Nihoff of teddy bears to entertain and educate at the same time. It’s lively verse takes the reader through the basics while they learn important vocabulary such as sums and digits. Once the basics are acquired, it’s time to move onto learning about fractions and that is made easy and fun in Fractions in Disguise by Edward Einhorn with illustrations by David Clark ($16.95) that features George Cornelius Factor who loves fractions so much he collects them. I take my hat off to authors that understand how young minds can absorb these things through stories and artwork. If read by an adult to a child or those age 4 to 8, these books open doors early in their lives.

I confess I never expected to be reading a children’s book about dung beetles, but then I forgot how almost any creature can capture the imagination of young readers. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Alan Marks ($16.95) is for the early reader and one who finds nature of interest. It’s not disgusting, despite what they collect and dine upon, but rather an interesting introduction to the ecology of how everything serves some purpose and how this beetle is a perfect adaptation to take advantage of it.

Three Charlesbridge books provide interesting reading for early readers ages 9 to 12. At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui ($19.95) by Christine Liu Perkins and Sarah S. Brannen tells of how, in December 1971, the tomb of Xin Zhui, the Marchioness of Dai, was discovered. It revealed the almost perfectly preserved body of Lady Dai. The book will transport back to an earlier age in China and the amazing archeology and forensic science that revealed much about her. In Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be by Jane Sutcliffe and illustrated by John Shelley ($16.95) tells the story of how the genius of Michaelangelo turned a giant block of marble into one of the greatest works of art from a statue others had tried to create, but failed. From Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke and illustrated by London Ladd ($16.95) tells the story of how, on the night of May 23, 1861, three slaves made history when they decided to escape across the Confederate line to the Union-held Fort Monroe. Declared “contraband of war” by the Union General, they were allow to stay and as word of their successful escape spread, thousands of runaway slaves followed suit, pouring into the fort and building the first African-American community in the country. It was under the branches of a sheltering tree that they heard one of the first readings of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

From Wigu Publishing comes another in their series “When I Grow Up I Want to Be…” It is devoted to being a firefighter ($12.95) and begins with a boy whose field trip to a local fire station introduces him to the exciting world of firefighting, as well as home fire safety, in a fun and educational book. Upcoming books will include being in the U.S. Navy, a veterinarian, and even a race car driver. Check out the series at

Novels, Novels, Novels

I have no idea how many novels are being published these days, but there are thousands of them. I stick to the established publishing houses with regard to those I recommend though I will occasionally recommend one that is self-published, a trend that is growing. All those noted are softcover editions.

Max Barry has written one of the most curious novels I’ve seen in a long time. Lexicon ($16.00, Penguin Books) It ranges between thrilling, horrifying, and hilarious as a fast, funny, cerebral thriller. Imagine an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, VA where students aren’t taught the usual subjects, but rather the skills of persuasion. Their teachers are a secretive organization of “poets”, elite manipulators of language who can wield words as weapons and bend others to their will. Emily Ruff is running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when this orphan is spotted by the organization’s recruiters. When admitted to the school she becomes its most talented prodigy until she makes a big mistake; she falls in love. There is a subplot that is just as unique, involving rival factions of the “poets.” As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is revealed. I shall say no more! Another novel offers a comparable narrative about a future in which the world’s social order is near collapses and children are abducted for genetic enhancement to become super fighters. In The Devereaux Disaster ($16.95, Two Harbors Press) the son of retired secret-agent Jeremiah Jones has been abducted. Five years have passed and he is determined to rescue him. Soon after his arrival on the Moon, his mission turns sour. He discovered that while Joshua’s body is near perfect, his mind has been poisoned to hate and destroy. With his fellow cadets, they have a mission to attack specific targets on Earth to unite its warring nations. Suffice to say this is a most unusual science fiction novel and one that means Jeremiah can only save the world if his son and fellow cadets are destroyed.

The Catholic church has been in the news for its failure to respond to the problem of priests who abuse children and a novel by Gregory Alexander, The Holy Mark: The Tragedy of a Fallen Priest ($14.99, Mill City Press) takes on this issue as it delves deep into the psyche of a man whose reprehensible acts are perhaps only surpassed by those intent on destroying him. It is a psychologically compelling novel of family, power, and revenge. The author brings insight to the subject having taught English at several Catholic schools in New Orleans. For those who love an old-fashioned mystery, they will welcome news that Johnny Shaw is back. His 2011 novel, “Dove Season” won the Spotted Owel Award for a debut mystery and now he’s returned with Plaster City ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer). Set in California’s Imperial Valley, it’s another raucous caper starring Jimmy Veeder and his best friend Bobby Maves from his earlier novel. Jimmy has settled into a steady life as a farmer and family man, but when Bobby’s teenage daughter goes missing, the two launch their own investigation only to end up in the middle of 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. It’s a big-hearted escape that establishes Shaw as a novelist to watch and read.

I love a good title and Six Months of September ($10.00, available from and other outlets) surely qualifies as eye-catching. Mark Allen gives us Duncan Walsh, a former reporter who has struck up a friendship with tour guide Agnes, a beautiful college student working at the Chicago Museum of Natural History. When she disappears he makes national news and Duncan decides to launch his own investigation. With the help of his best friend, Luis, and Agnes’s boyfriend, James, the search is on. James’ father is a Chicago Police Commander, This is already working on the second installment in the Duncan Walsh detective series and you will enjoy going along as he and his friends uncover secrets and discover who is working hard to conceal them in this debut. Allen is a graduate of the University of Illinois in Urban and the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago, so he knows the territory of which he writes. The pace never slackens.

That’s it for April. Come back in May as I can guarantee you that many new books are on the way. And tell your book loving friends, family and co-workers about so they too can learn about many fine books that do not necessarily get the attention they should.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Bookviews - March 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

When the U.S. Justice Department announces it will not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act you know that same-sex marriage has the full support of the White House. An interesting new book by William Tucker, Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, ($27.95, Regnery) takes a look at monogamy and how its adoption by societies in the West made all the difference in their development as opposed to those that retained polygamy. Monogamy contributed to less aggressive societies, ones with less crime, less internal friction, and humanity benefitted from men who took a greater role in raising children. Spousal relationship benefitted because they were more devoted to one another. The story of humanity has been one of growing trust and cooperation between the sexes and this has led to more stable communities and nation. Every human society has created some form of marriage. Not only do a couple pledge fidelity to each other, it draws the line between the bonded couple and the group. Tucker says that everywhere polygamy is practiced, it creates conflict. There is much to be said for traditional marriage and its history and practice is presented in this book.
Craig R. Smith has written seven books individually and, with Lowell Ponte, another five. These books look at economic and governmental issues with a particular emphasis on the way progressivism has undermined the dollar and the ability of the nation to achieve and maintain our remarkable leadership in manufacturing and in finance. That is beginning to falter and you will want to read The Great Withdrawal: How the Progressives’ 100-Year Debasement of American and the Dollar Ends ($19.95, Idea Factory Press, Phoenix, AZ). Far from being a dry analysis, it is a dramatic examination of what is happening in America today and why. The book opens with a look at Detroit, the largest American city to declare bankruptcy and why decades of bad management and corruption have led to its debasement. This is happening in many cities across the nation led by progressives. These cities build huge ranks of government workers with ample pension and other benefits that thrive off of the middle class until it begins to move to the suburbs to escape the ever rising taxes and other costs. In addition to the $17 trillion in debt on the books, the U.S. has off-the-balance-sheet federal liabilities estimated to be at least $87 trillion. The trillions pumped into the economy in recent years have largely been wasted via crony capitalism or simply failed to “stimulate” growth. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Your life and that of your children and grandchildren are being affected.

In a nation that appears to be seriously divided, we owe Dr. Wayne Baker, the author of United America ($15.25, Spirit Books, @, softcover) a debt of appreciation for a book about “The surprising truth about American values, American identity, and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear.”  Dr. Baker is the chair of the Management & Organizations area at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and his book is based on his research over several years. The values American share include respect for others, freedom, security, self-reliance and individualism, justice and fairness, among others. They are shared by a vast cross-section of Americans of differing political outlooks, gender, and other elements. These values are strongly held. The book is not some boring academic study, but a lively examination of the values and one that will be of use to individual readers as well as educators and groups devoted to preserving the nation that is suffering the deliberate effort to divide Americans by class, sex, and other attributes. I recommend this book for anyone concerned about the current divisions we hear and read about daily.

Fans of Hillary Clinton with an eye on the 2016 elections will find HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes ($26.00, Crown Publishing) of interest as these two journalists, the former who covers the White House for Bloomberg News and the latter for The Hill, look back over the past years since 2008 when her political ambitions took a hit from an unknown Illinois Senator when he was became the Democratic Party nominee for President and won. In the six years since then, she has reemerged on the world stage as one of its most influential figures. She is now regarded as the front-runner for the Democratic ticket in 2016 and this book provides a look at what they regard as a master strategist at work. She would become Obama’s Secretary of State and one of his greatest allies and advocates. While the authors report both her successes and stumbles, based on numerous interviews, take the reader behind the scenes. Both hold her in high regard and this book provides readers with their coverage and views of the decisions she made and their likely effect on the next national elections.

A book that is likely to generate a lot of discussion is The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business by Christopher Leonard ($28.00, Simon & Schuster). I must confess I was astonished to learn that when you’re buying beef, pork or chicken, it turns out that four beef companies control 85% of the national market while four companies control 65% of the park. As Leonard points out, forty years ago there were 36 companies that produced chicken, but now there are two that provide half of the chicken we eat, controlling every aspect of the process from the egg to the chicken to the chicken nugget. The result is that meat prices relentlessly increase while the share of every dollar that goes to farmers is falling. The profit margins of the nation’s biggest meat packers continue to rise even as the national economy is lagging in other sectors. The Big Four, Tyson, Cargill, JSB, and Smithfield saw their average profit margin double between 2008 and 2009, and then double again between 2009 and 2010. Why the federal government felt it necessary to send millions to these and other farmers in “farm aid” begins to raise serious questions for consumers and 80% of the farm bill was devoted to funding food stamps. Anyone interested in how this sector of the economy functions will find this book very interesting and just a tad scary. 

One of my enduring childhood memories was riding the train to the New Jersey shore where my grandparents lived and, since it was the war years, I recall visiting with the many young soldiers who were on the train, all destined for combat. At my grandparent’s home, the trains came by every day and it was a treat to wave at the engineers and have them wave back. Trains in those days belched huge clouds of black smoke. These memories were evoked by Tom Zoellner’s book, Train, ($32.95, Viking) in which he tells of his rail travels around the world, starting in the birthplace of the locomotive in England. He shares the history of trains in the various nations he visits from Russia, China, India, in South America and, of course, the U.S. where the train transformed and expanded the nation to the West. Along the way he talked with many others on those trains and gains a glimpse into their lives. He does so with a gift for prose that borders on poetry. He is a very good writer and that greatly enhances the trips he invites the reader to take with him.

Readers are just as frequently writers and many wish to polish their skills. A book that will help them is Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language ($16.00, Atria Books, softcover) in which she draws on her four decades as a teacher and writer to share her practical experience. She has written twelve books and this one will prove helpful to anyone who wants to learn how to tap into their own life. For anyone headed for college this fall or attending one, Halley Bondy has written an entertaining book, 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College ($14.99, Zest Books, softcover). A great gift for high school grads and college students, it is filled with ideas that will surely enhance the experience beyond the classroom. Among her tips are starting an on-campus club, learn how to prepare a perfect meal, and learn self-defense. There’s bound to be a recommendation in the book that a student will find worth trying out.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

For those coming out of college and looking toward a career in the world of business, Robert L. Dilenschneider provides a lot of good advice in The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life ($15.00, Citadel Kensington, softcover). The author made his name in the field of public relations, but has found time to author a dozen advice books. This one includes a foreword by TV business news host, Maria Bartiromo, who notes that “Mobility, personal and professional, has dramatically increased” and that “Technology has created new opportunities for advancement in the world of work.” Dilenschneider recalls an era when mentors helped the newcomer learn the ropes. His book “substitutes for all those generous men and women who would have helped you in an earlier era.”  If you or someone you know is just starting out, make sure they read his book. It will give them an advantage of those who do not.

These are nervous times for investors, but there are some fundamentals and Timothy F. McCarthy, a former president of Charles Schwab & Company before leading overseas asset management companies. His book, The Safe Investor: How to Make Your Money Grow in a Volatile Global Economy ($30.00, Palgrave Macmillan) should be your first investment whether you are just starting out or whether you are questioning your present investment program. Despite the plethora of investment information available, most people feel uncomfortable to some degree these days. This book shows the reader how to mesh three dimensions of investing, asset classes, countries, and time to create a strategy that will ensure they have enough to get them through their retirement years. Since many have others manage their investments, McCarthy tells readers what they need to know to make a good choice and what to expect.  There are so many choices an investor can make that it is surely helpful to understand one’s own psyche before putting money on the line and that is what Brian Portnoy’s new book is all about. The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice ($27,00, Palgrave Macmillan) is the work of a man who has been advising hedge funds and mutual funds for the past 14 years. Portnoy is currently the Head of Alternative Investments and Strategic Initiatives for Chicago Equity Partners, a $10 billion asset manager and he came to them with an impressive resume so the reader can be confident he really knows what he is writing about. He addresses how to select the right money managers and investment vehicles and how to avoid the losers. With literally tens of thousands of investment choices, his advice and insights regarding what he calls behavioral finance, he demystifies the opaque world of financial entities, providing practical tools for investment success.

All of us have sat through too many meetings that had no structure and did not lead others in the room toward successful cooperation. In Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change ($32.00, Simon and Schuster) authors Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon are on a mission to eradicate time-sucking, energy-depleting meetings and workshops, and replace them with high-engagement strategic conversations that foster better cooperation. Their book offers a few core principles on the best ways to get an organization facing a high-stakes challenge to address it despite conditions of uncertainty using inter-active problem-solving sessions that engage participants, not just analytically, but creatively and emotionally as well. This book will help leaders at all levels achieve this whether it is a business challenge, educators and healthcare practitioners mired in slow-to-change sectors, or enterprising business school students with ambitions to tackle the big challenges.
For those who have to make a presentation, the first problem to overcome is the “jitters”, the fear of not being able sell ideas by using visual thinking. In Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations Dan Roam ($27.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin) presents a powerful guide to give everyone the confidence they need to share their story with any audience. Roam has previously authored two international bestsellers and this book is relatively short, but goes right to the core of how to help others see what we see. Filled with page after page of illustrations, he demonstrates how to entertain, educate and motivate an audience. He has worked with major corporations and his book will show you how to achieve the success that he has had.

There isn’t an industry, business or enterprise of any kind that doesn’t have associations. There are an estimated 100,000 professional and trade societies that can help anyone open the doors to their personal success. Robert Skrob, CPA, CAE, is an expert and he has written Your Association Shortcut: The Definitive Guide for Generating Customers Through Associations ($7.86, Association Marketing, softcover). This book, officially published in April, but available now via, will teach you how find associations in your field and to select the best ones for your brand. Then he teaches how to get the most value from your association. He has coached a diverse range of associations including some of the largest in the world in fields that include medical, manufacturing, chambers of commerce, from the local to the state and national levels. And he has helped thousands of companies tap into the power of associations to generate customers for their own business. “Associations are the affiliate partner you never knew you had, promoting your company as a member benefit” says Skkrob, “Plus association marketing gives you more credibility as everything you do carries the implied endorsement of the association.” As someone who has provided public relations services to associations over the years, this is a book you definitely should read.

To Your Health

We now live in times when you’re not old until you have gotten passed 70 or so. Maintaining one’s health to ensure that the senior years are not beleaguered by ill health has become a significant concern. That’s why books like Robert Moroney’s book, Total Body Detoxification: The Way to Healthy Aging ($16.95, Swing-Hi Press, softcover) is well worth reading even if you are still in your early years. The author details his own battles with lung cancer and hepatitis that causes stress and addictions to alcohol and drugs. Then he shows, step by step, the research, modalities, and healing regimens he employed to help himself and others recover from physically and mentally debilitating conditions. He’s been in private practice for 16 years as a nutritionist and peak-performance coach. As someone who has taken vitamins and minerals to enhance my own health, there is much in this book that will benefit any readers. You can avoid the toxins and you were learn which ones and why.
Healthy Joints for Life by Dr. Richard Diana, MD, ($17.95, Harlequin, softcover) an orthopedic surgeon and a clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine was a former National Football League player and he uses that experience and his later profession to learn how to deal with problems involving inflammation, a common joint ailment. He has put his plan to reduce pain and inflammation, how to avoid surgery, and to get moving again into his book. Having been named a Top 100 Doctor, he has been an orthopedic consultant to several collegiate athletic programs, as well as the Boston Red Sox.  His book provides a proven 8-week program that can help any reader with joint-related physical ailments.

Biographies and Memoirs

Reading about the lives of real people, past and present, is an excellent way to not only learn the lessons of history, but to learn how others coped with the challenges of their times.

A new look at James and Dolly Madison is provided by Bruce Chadwick in a biography of the same name, America’s First Power Couple: James & Dolly Madison ($24.95, Prometheus Books) regarding the fourth President’s service and the role that his wife played. Historians have tended to regard Madison, credited with much of the creation of the Constitution, as a boring, average President, while others have regarded him as a vibrant, tough leaders and a very successful commander in chief during the War of 1812. A new portrait emerges as the result of recently uncovered troves of letters at the University of Virginia, among other sources. He credits a lot of Madison’s success to the political savvy of his much younger wife whose social skills created a dynamic role for the position of First Lady with parties and backdoor politicking. This makes for lively reading about a couple whose life together contributed much to the future course of the nation.

We remember F. Scott Fitzgerald for his book, “The Great Gatsby.”  In Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, ($29.95, Penguin Press) Sarah Churchill takes us back to the autumn of 1922 when he was at the height of his fame for “Tales of the Jazz Age.”  His return to New York that year coincided with another event, the discovery of a brutal double murder in New Jersey, an unsolved case that is all but forgotten today. The news coverage of the event, however, would influence Fitzgerald who began writing “Gatsby” in the autumn of that year. He would write of his fictional characters, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

An interesting memoir by Tony Cointreau, Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…And Me: My Improbable Journey from Chateaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta ($24.95, Prospecta Press) is the story of a life of a man who was an heir to the French liqueur family who enjoyed a successful international singing career and, after several years on the Cointreau board of directors, found himself seeking something more meaningful for his life. Despite the wealth and success, his youth was impacted by an emotionally remote mother, an angry bullying brother, a cold and unprotective Swiss nurse, and a sexually predatory school teacher, all of which led him on a lifelong quest for unconditional love and for a mother figure. Initially he found her in the internationally acclaimed beauty, Lee Lehman, and then the famed Broadway diva, Ethel Merman, who became his mentor and “other mother.” His memoir addresses his close family relationships with both women and, then in quest of more meaning to life, his years of work and friendship with Mother Teresa as his “last mother.” He speaks of the value of sharing even a small part of oneself with others.
 Ethel Merman was a legendary Broadway musical star and Nothing Like A Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theatre by Eddie Shapiro ($39.95, Oxford University Press) will delight anyone who loves the musical theatre with its interviews of twenty of the greatest leading women of Broadway. Among them are Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, and Patti LuPone, along with some of the younger stars such as Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth. Shapiro’s encyclopedia knowledge enhances the conversations. He is a longtime critic who has covered the arts for several publications.

The man who conceived of the method of saving the life of someone choking on something is told in Heimlich Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Lifesaving Innovation by Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, MD ($19.95, Prometheus Books, softcover). His memoir tells of his best known procedure as wll as his other life-saving inventions. He is the inventor of the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve that saved thousands of lives during the Vietnam War and the MicroTrach which provides a remarkably efficient way to for people to take oxygen. Anyone interested in medicine will find this memoir of interest as he describes his research, as well as the controversy and resistance he encountered. A very different memoir is found in The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return ($16.00, Penguin Books, softcover) by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro who brought her journalist skills to bear on the story that begins when Tebincevic was age eleven, living a happy life in the quiet Bosnian town of Breko. In the spring of 1992, war broke out and his friends, neighbors, and teammates all turn on him because he was Muslim. He relates his family’s final terrifying year in Bosnia and their miraculous escape from the brutal ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia. Though he swore he would never return, after two decades in America he honored his father’s wish to visit their former homeland. The visit in which he wanted to revenge the treatment his family received tells a story of redemption for the horrors to which they and others were subjected. 

Books for Young Readers & Teens

One of my favorite publishers of books for young readers is Charlesbridge of Watertown, MA. In February they published for the very young, Feathers—Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, ($17.95) that provides a glimpse into the real lives of birds in the wild and the role their feathers play for flight and camouflage or to line a nest. It’s educational and entertaining. This month Wild About Bears by Jeannie Brett ($17.95) will also appeal to those aged 6 through 9. They author introduces them to all eight species of bear and via some great watercolors, takes them around the world where they live including a map of where they can be found, as well as interesting information about bear traits and behavior, how they raise their young, and how they find food. This book, too, is both educational and entertaining. For those aged 4 to 7, there’s Music Everywhere! By Maya Anjera, Elise Hofer Derstine and Cynthia Pon, ($17.95) published in February as a celebration of music and the joy it brings. It is filled with photos of children around the world singing, dancing, and playing instruments. It will inspire some youngsters to explore their own musical passions. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Alan Marks ($16.95) is aimed at those age 5 to 9 and they might find fascinating to learn about a beetle that loves to feed on dung. Sounds disgusting, but it isn’t. It is filled with amazing facts and compelling images that will appeal to the very young. Older readers, age 10 and up will find Ocean of Fire: The Burning of Columbia, 1865 by T. Neill Anderson ($16.95) an insight into the Civil War as the author tells of Sherman’s march on Atlanta that included the destruction of southern cities like Columbia in South Carolina. The story is told through several characters, both real and imagined. This is historical fiction that makes such events come alive for younger readers.

Tony Tuso Faber has teamed up with Benton Rudd, an illustrator, for a series of books in “The Poodle Tales” series and book one is Poodlemania ($15.99, Mindster Media) that readers from age 4 to 9 will enjoy for both the artwork and the delightful story of a boy and girl poodle who get together and share various growing up skills, life lessons that readers will learn as well. The stories are light, comical, heartfelt, and educational. You can check out this book and the series at The author is a very talented lady who began her modeling career at age 13, published a California magazine, and pursued many other interests. She and her husband, Bruce, live in Orange County with their three poodles. Find Momo ($14.95, Quirk Books) is filled with photos by photographer Andrew Knapp of his border collie. He began posting photos of Momo in Instagram hiding out in all kinds of settings from Central Park in New York as well as fields, snow banks, and toy stores. They became an Internet sensation and young readers age 4 to 7 will surely enjoy them in this delightful book.

From Blue Martin Publications, there’s Sofia’s Stoop Story: 18th Street, Brooklyn by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson ($17.95) that is set in the 1960s as Uncle Frankie begins telling Sofia and her counsins a story about the day he met the baseball geat, Carl Furillo. Sofia is called away by her Nana to do some errands and when she returns the story is over, but Uncle Frankie shares the whole story with her and he gives her a keepsake that he has saved since 1947. It is evocative of the era and locale, and beautifully illustrated. A series of books from Wigu Publishing is devoted to the theme of “When I Grow Up I Want to Be…” and the latest is A Teacher ($12.99) that begins with a girl named Carlee who wants to become one. Her own mother is a new teacher at her school and readers journey with Carlee on first day there as she learns about her own independence and identity. This series is quite inspiring.

For readers age 9 to 13, two books from Capstone will provide some reading pleasure. Sherlock, Lupin & Me: The Dark Lady by Irene Adler which draws on the original Sherlock stories and offers a romp through 1870s France in pursuit of both a murderer and a thief. The twist is that the characters are introduced as children, making the story more accessible to a young audience as they find themselves caught up in a web of crime they must investigate. It is the first in a new series. Secrets & Spies: Treason by Jo Macauley delves into the world of England’s Reformation era as a young spy unravels dangerous plots against the kind. A second book in this series is title Plague and features a 14-year-old Beth Johnson, a talented and beautiful young actress. The year is 1664 and she becomes embroiled in a perilous adventure to unravel a plant to kill Charles II. Both books are priced at 12.95 and are a good investment in encouraging a young reader to discover the pleasures of fiction.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Fans of J.A. Nance is back with her 50th book. Moving Target  ($25.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) is yet another detective novel in which a police academy-trained former reporter, Ali Reynolds, embarks on a trip to England with her longtime household assistant and right-hand man, Leland Brooks. Her greatest concern is helping her friend face his long-estranged family, but Ali soon finders herself investigating violent crimes spanning two continents and eras as vicious attacks unfold in Texas and an unsolved murder from the 1950s Bournemouth, Leland’s hometown resurfaces. Though they seem unconnected, they are and readers will not put this book down until they get to the last page.

Some years ago I reviewed Cynthia Hamilton’s novel, “Lucky at Love” and since then she has published three more, the latest of which is Spouse Trap ($14.00, Woodstock Press, softcover) in which Madeline Ridley, a Santa Barbara fundraising socialite sees her perfect life collapse in a swirl of blackmail, sabotage, and deceit after she awakens in a hotel room—alone, naked, and with a splitting headache and no idea how she got there. A group of lurid photos has been sent to her husband. She is in for the battle of a lifetime, but she discovers who her real enemy is. This is the first installment in a new series and provides lots of provocative, interesting reading.

Just out this month is Bobby Cole’s novel, The Rented Mule ($ 14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). It is a tough, clever caper about a businessman who has been set up by a mysterious criminal to take the fall for his wife’s kidnapping. Behind what seems a good life, Cooper Dixon has been caught up in a never-ending cycle of arguments with his wife and his cocaine-addicted business partner is scheming to sell his business out from under him. When his wife is kidnapped his face is all over the television news and Dixon must depend on an unlikely ally to rescue his wife and clear his name.

Robyn Carr has won a number of awards for her previous novels and you will find out why when you read Four Friends ($24.95, Harlequin MIRA) that debuts in April. It is a gripping story of four forty-something women whose lives hit the marital skids, but they find the strength and courage to face the difficult challenges they face. Set in the San Francisco neighborhood of Mill Valley, friends and neighbors think Gerry has the perfect marriage with her husband Phil. It is a relationship that is more comfortable than passionate after 25 years, three children and demanding careers. She discovers an affair her husband had years before and he is committed to do to make up to her, but she finds it difficult to forgive him. With her friends she must come to terms as they too must cope with marital problems. The shifting relationships make for interesting reading, one they many will see in their own lives and around them.

That’s it for March! Tell your friends, family, and coworkers about, a monthly report on books that include nonfiction and fiction that may not receive the attention in the mainstream media they deserve.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bookviews - February 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

The new “hot” book of 2014, debuting last month, and likely to remain newsworthy through the November 2014 midterm elections is Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates ($35.00, Alfred A. Knopf). As one reads this book, what becomes evident is that he writes, not just about Iraq and Afghanistan, but about the various “wars” he fought as he became the only Secretary to serve two Presidents, Bush and Obama, both with very different personalities and policies. One of the wars was a political war with Congress every day he was in office. He describes “the dramatic contrast between my public respond, bipartisanship, and calm, and my private frustration, disgust, and anger.” Gates arrived at the job having served for more than two decades in the Central Intelligence Agency where, under President George H. W. Bush, he was its director. Under George W. Bush, he had to direct the latter years of a conflict in Afghanistan that continues to this day as efforts were made to introduce democracy, Western values regarding women, education, and the training of an Afghan military almost from scratch. If this wasn’t enough, Bush43 undertook a war with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein that led to his removal, but also led to fierce fighting ably led by General Petraeus. While the media has emphasized what appeared to be conflicts with Obama, he points out that he fulfilled Obama’s objectives that included a surge in Afghanistan and the coming withdrawal by the end of this year. The withdrawal from Iraq when it refused to agree to ways in which the U.S. forces were to be treated has led to a renewed conflict as al Qaeda has returned to seize portions of the nation. What impressed me was the candor with which Gates wrote of his experience, providing insight into the incredible challenges of the job. What is most inspiring, though, is the reason he shouldered these responsibilities and endured so much political conflict. Simply put, it was his love for the troops and his sense of a personal responsibility for them. On his last day in office in 2011, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. He earned it!

A new book takes a look at Vladimir Putin, the Russian republic’s version of Stalin. Kicking the Kremlin by Marc Bennetts ($16.99, Oneworld Publications, softcover) takes a look at Russia’s new protest movement composed of those who want to see Putin removed from power, but it is also an excellent look at the way he came to power, his biography before that occurred, and how he has exercised it. As 2011 came to a close, 100,000 took to Moscow’s freezing streets to protest his election victory. A few months later, Pussy Riot, a girl band, was arrested from their anti-Putin demonstration in a Russian orthodox cathedral. As the book makes clear, opposing Putin can get you arrested and even killed. A series of assassinations of Russian journalists and protest leaders is far more than just a coincidence. Despite his protestations that the Russian constitution which protests free speech and public protests, doing so has become hazardous at best and Russia has no history of such activity, having been run by dictators from the czars to the communist dictators who replaced them. It is a good book to read as we get ready for the Winter Olympic Games, but it is worth reading to understand more about Putin and Russia whose economy is heavily dependent on its exports of oil and natural gas. Bennetts is a British journalist who has reported from Russia, Iran and North Korea for many years and, from late 2011 through early 2013, he worked for RIA Novosti, the now dissolved Russian state-run news agency. Suffice to say Putin controls the media.

The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class by Fred Siegel ($25.99, Encounter Books, imprint of the Perseus Books Group) may sound like some boring political or historical treatise, but, if you want to understand how we have reached this point in our society where Socialism has given us the disaster called Obamacare, then this will prove to be an interesting, easy-to-read re-write of history of much of what you may have come to believe about Socialism. For example, it did not begin with Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressivism or Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Siegel tells how it began after World War I in the 1920s when a group of writers and thinkers—intellectuals—disillusioned with American society began to call themselves liberals as they adopted the hostility to the bourgeois—the masses—that was already in vogue among European intellectuals. Liberalism was born among a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals who were critical of mass democracy and middle-class capitalism; you know, the values that made the U.S. the greatest economic power the world has ever seen! Well worth reading!

An interesting book about an aspect of history that is generally unknown is Nicholas Johnson’s Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms ($19.95, Prometheus Books). A professor of law at Fordham Law School where he has taught since 1993, Johnson chronicles the underappreciated black tradition of bearing arms for self-defense that reaches back to the pre-Civil War era. From Frederick Douglass’s advice to keep “a good revolver” handy as a defense against slave catchers to the armed self-protection against the KKK, it is clear that owning firearms was commonplace in the black community. He also addresses the issue of young black men with guns and the toll that gun violence takes on many in the inner city.

The Home Book: The Complete Guide to Homeowner and Homebuilder Responsibilities ($49.95, Building Standards Institute, Sacramento, softcover) is intended to show homeowners what to expect with any new or remodeled home. It covers every possible condition referencing homeowner and homebuilder maintenance, providing 380 residential workmanship guidelines that are presented in are easy-to-read. Most homeowners don’t know where to find answers when they discover a defect in their new or remodeled home and this is particularly true if they aren’t detected right away. What, for example, are homeowners to do when the roof of their new home springs a leak? Or kitchen cabinets sag? Or they smell mold in the bathroom? The book was vetted by more than 70 industry professionals as well as government building officials, trade organizations, and consumer interests groups. It is the real deal and will no doubt save homeowners a lot of grief if they read it and keep it handy.

I enjoy what even I admit are “silly” books, but that is because many are written to entertain as well as inform. A good example is Scared Stiff: Everything You Need to Know About 50 Famous Phobias by Sara Latta ($12.99, Zest Books, softcover). We are generally aware of common phobias such as fear of heights, acrophobia, or confined spaces, claustrophobia, but there are others that include fears of insects, dogs, cats, mice or rats, to name a few. And let’s not leave out fear of germs. The book helps readers understand that they are not alone in have extreme fears. Ms. Latta comes from a science background so the fears noted in the book are treated seriously and she includes helpful information on how to cope with phobias, although some must surely require professional counseling when they interfere with living a normal life.

The baseball season is around the corner and for fans of the Boston Red Sox, Lew Freedman has authored The 50 Greatest Players in Boston Red Sox History ($17.95, Camino Books, softcover) that takes a look at its 110-year history that had it share of great players like Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and David Ortiz, to name some of those that come to mind. Freedman has authored more than sixty popular sports books and this one will be a must-read for fans of this ball club. In addition to examining the personal stories of the best-known players, Freedman studies the careers of some of the excellent athletes who represented the club so long ago as to be nearly forgotten.

Getting Down to Business Books

In addition to having been a business and science writer for decades, I have largely earned my living as a public relations counselor, so I know something about PR. It is an essential element of success for entrepreneurs, corporations, the government, associations and individuals seeking to call attention to their causes and achievements. That’s why I am happy to recommend Christina Daves new book, PR for Anyone, ($14.95, Morgan James, softcover). Proof of the good advice she offers to small business owners is the fact that she has appeared on more than fifty media outlets in less than one year! It is filled with easy, actionable tips that would make that possible for anyone who reads her book. Public relations is an essential element of marketing one’s products and services, but many are unaware how to put it to work for themselves. Her book will open doors and create the “buzz” that lifts one’s business into public view, the kind of thing that can increase sales and achievement. It’s also a good reason to consider hiring a PR professional if you lack the time to do it yourself. Knowing the process helps you judge their success.

Another excellent book for entrepreneurs is Tom Panaggio’s The Risk Advantage ($14.95, River Grove Books, softcover). We all approach risk from our personal point of view and clearly some people are greater risk-takers than others. For those less inclined to take a risk, this book will prove very helpful as it explores our inclination to do so or not. As the author says, “The unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk and then having the courage to take it. It is the story in part of how Pannagio and his partners created a thriving American business and he uses his amateur racing exploits as a metaphor. “By viewing risk as just another challenge when opportunity presents itself, you’ll grab that edge—and win!” That’s true, but he also addresses how to deal with the failure than might occur from taking a risk and that’s an important part of being ready to risk again. This is fundamentally a book about the choices and judgments that anyone engaged in business must make and, after reading it, you will be better prepared to do so.

Advice on How Live More Wisely

There is virtually no aspect of life that someone has not written about to provide advice on how to cope, how to succeed, and how to make it better in some respect. As 2014 begins, here are some of the latest.

Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work by Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein ($24.95, Da Capo Press) runs counter to what we are told about never giving up and thinking positively. Sometimes those negative thoughts about our habits, our relationships, or our jobs are the right ones and should be acted upon. As the authors say, “Quitting is a healthy, adaptive response when a goal can’t be reached or when a life path turns out to be a blind alley. Simply putting quitting on the table—seeing it as a possible plan of action—is a necessary first step to changing your perspective.”  They argue that the most satisfied people have mastered the art of disengaging from unproductive goals and creating better ones to move them in a new direction. Grounded in the latest research, the book examines why people persist when they shouldn’t and how to fully disconnect from unproductive goals, cope with emotions caused by quitting, and form, prioritize, and implement better objectives to move people forward.
The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle ($27.95, Viking), a Bloomsberg columnist, examines how to find success by how quickly and nimbly we learn from our mistakes. A Libertarian, she makes a case for the way America is unique in its willingness to let people and companies fail, but also in the determination to help them pick themselves up afterword. She argues effectively that we have become too risk averse and that it is bad for ourselves and our children, as well as for enterprises that fail to compete effectively. The nation is in an era of “bailouts” that tap taxpayer dollars and may not serve as well as a trip to the bankruptcy court. Drawing on new research in science, psychology, and behavioral economics and insights from many who have experienced failures, she offers good advice on how to learn to make better decisions and break bad habits in business and life.

Another book about transforming our lives is I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life by Brad Formsma ($14.99, WaterBrook Press, softcover). If you feel that you’re not as generous as you should be, you’re not alone. We have been told that it is better to give than receive and Formsma is on a mission to change the way we see generosity as he challenges us to give wherever they are and in whatever manner they can. He wasn’t always that way, but a number of experiences convinced him of the truth of this. He is a successful entrepreneur and a philanthropist who, in 2007, sold his business to helping others.

Two problems that some encounter are addressed in Cheating Parents: Recovering From Parental Infidelity ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) and Facing the Finish: A Road Map for Aging Parents and Adult Children (15.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover).
The former, written by Dennis Ortman, PhD, a clinical psychologist, reflects his more than 35 years of counseling experience working with individuals suffering from the trauma of parental infidelity and examines how that affects their lives, especially when they too become adults. It affects their ability to have intimate relations, often cheat on their partners or marry those who cheat on them or are emotionally disengaged in their relationships. In a society where nearly forty percent of men and twenty percent of women in all economic stratus admit to having affairs during marriage, this is a very big problem. Their children often end up as walking wounded. Like so many others these days when parents are living longer lives and encounter the problems of old age, I could have used Sheri L. Samotin’s book on how adult children and their parents can address those problems. No one wants to think of their parent’s death and this includes the parents as well. Her book tackles the issues involved, offering advice on choosing the right caregiver, choosing to live at home, with family, or in the perfect senior housing community, as well as the fear of outliving one’s money or living on a fixed income when the cost of everything is rising. If this book reflects your present situation, I would strong recommend reading it.

We all have concerns about our health and fitness, and Ken Blanchard, the co-author of the bestseller, “The One Minute Manager”, and Tim Kearin, a fitness coach, have teamed up to write Fit at Last: Looking and Feel Better Once and For All ($24.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco). It has been lauded by both fitness experts and those in the business world, but Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen summed it up saying, “In the Army, teamwork and discipline are key to building successful teams and leaders.” In their book, “Ken Blanchard and Tim Kearin team up to deliver a disciplined holistic formula laced with personal challenges and successes that many of us have experienced in our quest to maintain physical fitness. This book will inspire you to not only begin but persevere toward the sheet job of being fit—at last.” The book is filled with excellent advice and I agree that it will change your life for the better after you have read it. And, for those with a big tummy, pick up a copy of 21-Day Tummy: The Revolutionary Diet that Soothes and Shrinks Any Belly Fast by Liz Vaccariello ($25.99, Readers Digest). Based on the latest research on the importance of eating anti-inflammatory and carb-light foods, the book is enhanced by more than 50 recipes that are delicious recipes to make weight loss easier, as well as inspirational stories and advice from those who found success with its recommendations. It’s about healthy eating and we all can benefit from that.


For many, the desire to set down the details of their lives and what they have learned from them results in writing a memoir. We can often gain some insights from them.

The Hero Among Us: Memoirs of an FBI Witness Hunter by Jim Ingram with James L. Dickerson ($19.95, Sartoris Literary Group, Brandon, MS, softcover) is filled with Ingram’s personal experiences with some of the events of his career. Ingram passed away in 2009 after having served as well as Mississippi’s Public Safety Commissioner. It sheds light on some of the notorious cases of the modern era such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the “Mississippi Burning” civil rights murders and bombings, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the murder of Federal Judge John H. Woods, the FALN bombings by Puerto Rico separatists, and the FBI counterintelligence operation known as COINTELPRO. It is about the remarkable career of a remarkable man.

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively ($26.95, Viking) has an intriguing title as one might expect from a successful author of many books for both adults and children, including the Man Booker Prize-winning novel “Moon Tiger” and others. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. It is a reflection on old age and, if that describes you, then you may find it of interest. It spans many years of her life from a childhood spent in Cairo and later at an English boarding school when her family was forced to leave due to the turmoil that occurred in Egypt and led to the seizure of the Suez Canal. I must confess I was unaware of the author’s career and books, but it must be said that she tends to ramble at length throughout so I suspect it will be of greater interest to those who are fans of her books and interested in the subject of old age.

The Most Beautiful Girl: A True Story of a Dad, a Daughter, and the Healing Power of Music by Tamara Saviano ($16.95, American Roots Press, softcover) has a foreword by Kris Kristofferson, the singer and actor. Saviano has achieved remarkable success and happiness in the music industry as an award-winning producer of albums. In 2012, she won the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year award for tribute albums, but growing up she lived in fear as the frequent victim of her father’s abuse when he was under the influence of alcohol. When he wasn’t drunk, he was an adoring father who was her staunchest ally. The title of the book comes from the famous song of the same name. Now a 52-year-old woman, she shares her story and anyone who loves country music and may have experienced a similar childhood will find it of interest and value.

Antoinette Tuff put her life and her faith on the line when she confronted a young school shooter and talked him back from the brink of killing students at the school in Atlanta. She tells her story in Prepared for a Purpose ($24.99, Baker Publishing Group). This memoir will inspire those who share her faith in God. She averted a tragedy while demonstrating courage. This is a story as well of how she faced up to and overcame tragedies in her own life. The account of her confrontation with the shooter is worth reading as is her life.

Novels, Novels, Novels

The deluge continues. For every novel mentioned there are many others, but since reading fiction is a great way to relax or gain insights that may not be addressed in a non-fiction book, I am happy to recommend a few of those that have arrived.

I have been reading and reviewing Lior Samson’s novels now for several years and enjoying each one. He has a special talent for taking issues and events from real life and turning them into fictional suspense and action. This is true of his latest novel, Gasline ($14.95. Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, Rowley, MA, softcover). Samson is comfortable addressing science and technology, but they are the background to the plot which, in this case, involves a safety engineer for a company that owns natural gas pipelines. Kat Gaudet in the field and Len Bergen, a technician in the company’s control center are drawn into events that involve a cyber-attack that could set off a huge explosion. It is so real because the events in the book reflect those that have occurred and, as he says in the author’s afterword, “The threat is real. Many parts of our natural gas transmission pipeline system are controlled by networks that are wide open to intrusion and to sabotage by relatively simple methods. Having written “Web Games” Samson knows his way around the technical aspects involved, but this new novel takes it to a new level of riveting storytelling.

Novels reflect real life or potential risks and Todd M. Johnson addresses what would happen if a nuclear facility that turned out plutonium during the Cold War suddenly has a huge explosion. Critical Reaction ($14.99, Bethany House) focuses on the fictional Hanford Nuclear Facility’s poisoned buildings that must be guarded by men from sabotage as they monitor the building which they have been told the dangers are under control. The main character, Kieran Mullany, survives the blast, but is met with threats and silence when his attempts to discover what really happened are raised. He reconnects with an old friend, an inexperience lawyer, Emily Hart, and both are convinced that those in charge are hiding something, concluding they will not get far in the courts. Emily’s estranged father, Ryan, has the courtroom experience they need and, together, he digs for answers and, as he does, the court case gets stranger and more dangerous for them. This is an excellent debut novel.

I liked “Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs when it was published in 2011 as a unique fantasy story paired with haunting vintage photography. Though a “young adult” novel, it could be equally enjoyed by older readers and it spent more than 60 consecutive weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Twentieth Century Fox with a release date of July 2015. A sequel arrived in January, Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregine’s Peculiar Children ($17.99, Quirk Books) and begins where the first book ended, opening as Jack and the other peculiars are on the run from “wights” posing as soldiers. Desperate to reach London before it’s too late, the children hope to find a cure for their beloved Miss Peregine who is trapped in a bird form! Along the way they encounter a menagerie of peculiar animals. The story doesn’t let up until the end and the sequel is likely to be another bestseller. One has to wonder what Riggs has in store for book three.
We can welcome the debut novelist, K.C. Woodworth who has authored Cutting Off A Whale’s Head ($14.95, Page Publishing, softcover) whose intriguing title is just the start of a fast-paced story that introduces us to Cree Quinn, a victim of the recession that has wreaked havoc on his adult-novelty business and other investments. He finds himself facing a vast financial loss that threatens to take away the family home and the fund for his young son’s college years. Suffice to say he is desperate until he learns of a decomposing carcass of a killer whale near the Golden Gate Bridge and, even though it is against the law, decides to cut off its head and sell it. Sounds bizarre? Yes, but that’s just where the fun begins. This novel will make you laugh and make you root for Quinn right up to when he is arrested and becomes a public hero of sorts. I won’t tell you how it ends. Along the way you will encounter a variety of wonderful characters.

I am a bit late in taking note of To Sleep…Perchance to Dream, an October debut novel by Donald A. Grippo ($24.00, Turn the Page Publishing) as a sexy, psychological thriller starring an Eurasian beauty, Mai Faca, who plots to marry Jake Warden, a successful oral surgeon forbidden to her because of family honor. In a bizarre scheme a fellow surgeon falls victim to Mai’s seduction as she and Jake play a cruel game in order to be together. Jake acts with surgical precision to clear the path to Mai’s happiness that threatens lives, including his own. The novel has a dense plot that will keep you turning the pages.

William F. Nolan, the author of “Logan’s Run”, notes that there have been more than 450 books written about the Kennedy assassination, but that John A. Gaetano’s novel, America’s Deceit ($23.40, WD Murray, softcover) “is the only one to explore the full truth regarding the death of our thirty-fifth president” noting that it is backed by thirty years of research that dismantles the “lone gunman” theory. Gaetano is convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill JFK! At close to 700 pages, it is a novel “that conspiracy buffs have been waiting for”, calling it “a mind-blower.” It fully fits the description of being an epic novel and it is one whose author is convinced that the government has engaged in a cover-up. That catch is, of course, this is a work of fiction about a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist whose life is changed by his investigation into the assassination. Gaetano was an active member of the Screen Actors Guild from 1977 through 1988 and is a skilled story-teller.

Two softcover novels from Langdon Street Press debuted in December. The Last Ferryman by Gregory D. Randle ($14.95) is set in Millerville, Minnesota, a ferry town and Buck Shyrock is certain it will stay that way. A local ferryman, his livelihood, like his father’s and grandfather’s before him, depends on it, but there are rumors that a bridge is coming to cross the Wabash River, though he dismisses them as gossip. It isn’t and as the construction begins, his family tried to help the old man accept the unstoppable progress. This isn’t just a story about progress, but also its impact on people’s lives and that of the community in which he lives. Randle grew up on the Wabash River in southeastern Illinois. This is his debut novel and a very good one. Here By Mistake: The Secret of the Niche by David Ciferri ($14.99) is about Brandon and his friends, Stephen and Sarah, who sneak into his Aunt Faye’s basement that is filled with antiquated treasures. They find more than they were looking for. It is a trove of gold coins, a knight’s armor, a stuffed grizzly bear on a pedestal and a mysteriously decorated niche. As they read the Latin inscription they leave New York 2005 and are transported back to another time and place, New Orleans 1965. They find the niche again, but gain a new perspective, not only about their history, but about the lives of people they think they know best. It is an intriguing story.

That’s it for February! Tell your book-loving family, friends, and co-workers about so they too can enjoy its eclectic report on books, some of which are bestsellers, but which focuses on books that may not receive the attention they deserve.