Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bookviews - September 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

We are besieged with advice on what to eat and the government has long been involved in steering everyone toward certain choices. Much of the advice it has given out over the years has been erroneous and for anyone who has a serious interest in this, there’s Nina Teicholz’s new book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Health Diet ($28.00, Simon & Schuster) that debunks the dogma about the evils of disease-causing fats that are part of the official dietary guidelines and the advice of diet books gurus and other experts. They also are put forth by the multibillion dollar industry of low-fat foods. Teicholz researched this book for six years and her thick volume which includes more than a hundred pages of detailed notes details how a single flawed study by a scientist who devoted his life to convincing influential organizations like the American Heart Association to point to the eating of fat as the cause of strokes and heart attacks. Tons of literature has been written about cholesterol, but it is a vital component of everyone’s body. All this and more is established with the evidence in this book that exposes a hoax that still influences the choices we make. Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, hailed this book saying the author “reveals the disturbing underpinnings of the profoundly misguided dietary recommendations that have permeated modern society, culminating in our overall health decline.” Frankly, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

If you want to understand how Obamacare has destroyed the best health system in the world, you should read Sandeep Jauhar’s Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician ($26.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Jauhar reports on the deep loss of morale among physicians today who cannot practice medicine in the way they would prefer because they are forced to see many more patients for far less time than they want because they are paid far less than in the past. They have to practice a defensive, self-protective kind of medicine because of malpractice suits. A single patient might see fifteen specialists in a single hospital stay. The sharp downturn in payments to physicians and hospitals has forced them to devote less time to patients. “There is no more wasteful entity in medicine than a rushed doctor,” says the author of this profoundly revealing and disturbing book. It should be read by every member of Congress, but it is a message to all Americans that Obamacare should be repealed. Another book provides an insight to the problems encountered by those seeking treatment. Misdiagnosed: One Woman’s Tour of—and Escape from—Healthcareland by Jody Berger ($14.00, Sourcebooks, softcover) is her story of having doubted the advice offered by the physicians she consulted after being told she had multiple sclerosis when in fact she had a sensitivity to gluten. One question, “What are you eating?” unlocked the truth of minor tingling sensations she had in her hands and feet. Berger, a journalist and marathoner, was skeptical of her treatment options and the diagnosis and, after a year dealing with physicians, she found one who examined her entire medical history and provided a completely different conclusion. This book is well worth reading in an era in which physicians, thanks to Obamacare, are forced to see many more patients in order to make a living.

For anyone who is concerned about the role of money in politics, there is no doubt cause when a candidate for President must raise a billion dollars and a Senate candidate must raise at least ten million. Much of that money comes from corporations and the impact of it is addressed in Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution by Timothy K. Kuhner ($90.00/$27.00, Stanford University Press). Yes, the book comes with a hefty price tag, but so does our government these days. Kuhner is an associate professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law who lectures here and abroad. “European audiences can’t believe that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued official state justifications for an unregulated open political market, the sovereignty of donors and spenders, and the demise of political equality.” The relationship of money and politics, along with the rights of corporations in our constitutional democracy is vigorously examined in this book. 


If you have a problem in any aspect of your life, I guarantee you that there’s a book out there to help you solve it. Here are a few that have recently arrived.

The Power of Positive Confrontation by Barbara Pachter with Susan Magee ($16.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) is subtitled “The skills you need to handle conflicts at work, at home, online, and in life.”  As the author points out, there’s always someone out there who is annoying you in some fashion, failing to show respect or courtesy. It’s tempting to respond by expressing your anger or just bottling up your frustration and ignoring the person, but as the author notes, that doesn’t solve anything. This book is being issued for its 15th anniversary which means it has been around a long time, successfully providing a practical guide to interpersonal problem-solving. It is filled with good advice, starting with how you handle yourself and what kind of confrontational style you employ or avoid. Being polite and powerful is the essence of this books message, but mostly how to avoid the common problem of dealing with others who think they don’t have to show you the respect you should receive.

Do you ever feel stuck in a monotonous life built around a routine? Many do and Jamie George was one of them. He was a reluctant pastor in a downward spiraling marriage and he was finding it difficult to look past his circumstances and really embrace life. If this describes you in some respect then the good news is that Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck may just be the book for you ($14.99, David Cook, softcover). It will help if you are Christian and have a sense of the spiritual in your life, but the book shares many deeply personal stories on the author’s journey from being stuck to his new life based on forming meaningful, deep relationships, and living a life of purpose. Today George is the pastor of The Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee which he founded in 2006 as a safe haven for artists and the “religiously wounded.” Stuck? Read this book!

Messy Beautiful Love by Darlene Schacht ($15.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover) addresses the problems that marriages face such as financial problems, sickness, aging parents, and a chronically unhappy spouse. In a world where divorce is a family word and marriage is simply tossed aside, many women are asking, “Is there hope for my marriage?”  The author, married for more than 25 years, understands the temptations and struggles many women face and, coming from a place of brokenness, grace, and redemption, she candidly shares her personal testimony of infidelity and a message of hope with a guide through Scripture. It helps to have a spiritual orientation to benefit from this book.

Were you a fan of Gilligan’s Island, the TV show that debuted in 1964 and is still being seen in reruns by whole new generations? One of its characters was Mary Ann Summers, a sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice Midwest girl played by Dawn Wells. She was the good girl stranded with the other characters on an island. In What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life Wells makes it clear that good girls can and do finish first ($16.95, Taylor Publishing, softcover) in a book written with Steve Stinson that is part memoir, part humor, and a dose of classic TV nostalgia. Its twelve chapters exploring everything from how Mary Ann would respond to changes in today’s culture to addressing issues confronting single women and mothers. Dawn found success in the 1960s, appearing in shows such as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Bonanza, and Hawaiian Eye before being cast in Gilligan Island. Since then she has continued acting on the stage and screen, produced films, and been active in a number of charities. Women will find this book worth reading.

A major concern of parents is to ensure that their children do not fall into the trap of taking drugs. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., who served Presidents Johnson and Carter, the latter as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, as written How To Raise A Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents ($15.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, softcover). It is a guide to keeping children substance-free through the formative pre-teen, teen, and college years. As the founder of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, this has been a long interest of Califano’s. The book addresses when and how to talk to a child about drugs and alcohol, what circumstances put a child most at risk, how binge drinking and marijuana use threaten the development of a teen’s brain, how to address the glamorization of drinking and drug use on social media, the Internet and in films and on television, including how to find the right program if one’s child needs treatment. Raising a child comes with many challenges and this book will make this one easier to deal with.

 Memoirs and Bios

There is no end to memoirs and biographies, many of which provide information and insight regarding those we admire and others which tell us the stories of people we have never heard of before.

In Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh ($37.95, W.W. Norton) one may be inclined to feel that John Lahr has told us more about the legendary playwright than we really want to know. There have been some forty biographies of Williams, but this one plumbs deeply into his sex life, his alcoholism, and the way his warring dysfunctional family and youth informed his greatest plays, “The Glass Menagerie”, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that transformed the theatre of his day, all of which were made into films that made him famed to a vast audience. Lahr, a prolific author and a regular contributor to The New Yorker where, for two decades, he was the magazine’s senior drama critic, has penned over 750 pages with footnotes. It is enhanced with nearly one hundred photos. In person, Williams was a difficult person to be around in ways that only someone of his talent and personal traumas can be. I once met him and commented on how much I had enjoyed his book of poetry, In The Winter of Cities, and he was delighted someone had read it. The biography is a disturbing account of a disturbed and disturbing man. Only someone seeking to know the man behind the dramas will want to read this biography. Men of such talent are often seem more frail, more self-absorbed, and more troubled when their lives are examined in the depth this biography offers. This book is likely to be regarded as William’s most definitive biography and it well deserves to be.

I doubt there is anyone who has not heard of the Beatles and, for the U.S. their astounding fame began in the summer of 1964. The Beatles and Me on Tour by Ivor Davis ($15.99, Cockney Kid Publishing, softcover) who was the only British newspaper writer invited on the entire tour. Over the course of 34 days and 24 cities, Davis watched them make rock history while enjoying unrestricted access to the four lads from Liverpool, from hotel suites to backstage to their private jet. He waited fifty years to write the book because the years in between were filled with other events that he also witnessed, from the assassination of Robert Kennedy to the Los Angeles Watts riots. In the 1970s he was just as busy covering Angela Davis and Daniel Ellsberg, and other figures of the era. In this book he recounts in frank and amusing fashion the adventures of the now legendary band. Fans of the Beatles will surely enjoy it. Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile by Robert Greenfield ($25.99, Da Capo Press) Written by a former associate editor for Rolling Stone magazine’s London Bureau, who was a mere 25 years old when he followed the most iconic band of the British invasion during their farewell tour of their home country. Watching from the wings from Newcastle to Los Angeles, Greenfield chronicles the group during the ten days before their leave England in tax exile. The story is punctuated by Greenfield’s analysis of the seething tensions between Mick and Keith on the cusp of their heyday.

He wasn’t President for long before his assassination, but John F. Kennedy did have a many-layered relationship with a fellow mid-20th century leader, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of Great Britain. Based on previously unquoted papers and private letters between them and their families, Christopher Sandford tells the story of that relationship in Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy ($25.95, Prometheus Books) which had to deal with Kennedy’s disastrous Bay of Pigs episode in Cuba, the Soviet act of building the Berlin Wall, and serious disagreements over the Skybolt nuclear deterrent, that cause a major rift in US-British relations. Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy this slice of it.

I frankly had never heard of or read the works of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, two Canadian poets, but their correspondence over forty years from 1947 to 1987 will surely appeal to anyone who enjoys a look at the creative process at work. We Go Far Back in Time ($39.95, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, British Columbia) are their letters, edited by Nicholas Bradley, an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Victoria. Purdy is often considered Canada’s “unofficial poet laureate” and Birney was a celebrated poet and novelist who received the Governor General’s Award twice for his poetry. Canadians understandably will find this of greater interest, but these two literary figures also reflect their times in which they lives and the inherent issues of the creative process. Both, however, were incredibly prolific, producing many books. By contrast, no one would know of Susan Blumberg-Kason if she had not written a biographical account of her cross-cultural experience in Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong ($14.99, Sourcebooks, softcover). The author is an American who had a fascination with China and, while attending graduate school in Hong Kong fell for what she thought was the Chinese man of her dreams. They married and she believed her intercultural marriage would play out like an exotic fairy tale. It quickly turned into a nightmare as she examines the values of marriage and family in contemporary China and America. As her husband Cai Kason becomes increasingly controlling and abusive, the author is forced to forgo her own Midwestern values to save the relationship and protect her newborn son. When Cai threatens to take Jake back to China for good, she has to stand up for herself, her son and their future. I think women in particular will find this book of interest, but anyone interested in current Chinese culture will as well.

Math and Science

Prometheus Books is a highly prolific publisher. One of its specialties are books about math and science topics. For those who are interested in these topics, it has four recent books. It Started with Copernicus: Vital Questions about Science by Keith Parsons ($19.95) tackles questions such as can science meet the challenges of skeptics? Should science address questions traditionally reserved for philosophy and religion? The corruption of science is on the minds of many these days as, for example, we learn of how climatology has been used to advance the global warming/climate change agenda when, in fact, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for seventeen years. This and other examples have troubled scientists. Parsons has written a jargon-free examination of areas such as evolutionary theory, paleontology, and astronomy, and others that have generated controversies.

Those interested in the history of science will enjoy The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon’s Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry was Forged ($24.95) by Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite.  These three veteran chemists show that the alchemist’s quest—often to turn ordinary metals into gold—involved real science and recounts the stories of the sages who performed strange experiments by separating and purifying materials by fire to reconstitute them. Despite their objectives, by trial, by design, and by persistence, the alchemists discovered acids, alkalis, alcohols, salts and other elements. It is a fascinating story.

Lovers of math will enjoy Mathematical Curiousities: A Treasure Trove of Unexpected Entertainments by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann ($19.95, softcover) who demonstrate that math can be enjoyable as well as an important skill on which much depends. Exploring our galaxy has been a quest that goes back to early scientists. Curiousity: An Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen by Rod Pyle (19.95, softcover) is a behind-the-scenes look at the recent mission of Curiousity, the unmanned rover whose journey of discovery is providing researchers with unprecedented information about Mars. The author provides stunning insights into how the enthusiastic team of diverse individuals uses a revolutionary onboard laboratory of chemistry, geology, and physics instruments to unravel the secrets of the red planet. The story of the most advanced machine ever sent to another planet makes for fascinating reading.

Kid Stuff

By far one of the most unique and entertaining books for young readers age four and up is Lori Scott Stewart’s Grandma, Aren’t You Glad the World’s Finally in Color Today! ($19.95, Palmar Press), but it is really for all the generations from grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. Told in rhyming verse, it is a tribute to those generations who came well before the technology today’s kids take for granted and tells the story, replete with black-and-white photos on pages facing those filled with color photos, of how those earlier generations lived through events that preceded and included the Great Depression and World War Two, before television, air conditioning, computers and all of the conveniences of our times. I had the pleasure of recommending Ms. Stewart’s debut book, “If I Had as Many Grandchildren as You” that went on to receive a 2013 Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award and Family Choice Awards. This book is sure to win a lot of award as well. It is a delight to the eye, the ear, and the soul as it takes one from those early photos to those that capture the world in full color today.

As the school year begins many parents encounter a child who is afraid to go and Ylleya Fields has written a clever book, Princess Cupcake Won’t Go to School delightfully illustrated by Michael LaDuca ($15.95, Belle Publshing, Cleveland, OH). Young readers, age 5 to 7, will enjoy the many excuses Cupcake makes to avoid that first day of school and recognize them if they have tried them out. In the end, Cupcake does go and discovers that school is a place to make new friends.

It’s football season and a great way to combine encouraging one’s children to be active in some sport and to enjoy, in this case, football, is Sports Illustrated for Kids “Football—Then to Wow! ($19.95, Time Home Entertainment) which has the added benefit of encouraging them to read. Telling the history of the game that was born in 1869, it takes the younger readers, ages 10 and up, on a journey through time, explaining how the game developed—such as the way the shape of the ball came to be the one we recognize today, how protective shoulder pads were introduced as well as the history of helmets, the building of stadiums for the game, and tons of information about its legendary players in various positions. There’s much more and by the time the reader gets to the end of this book, they will be a football whiz, enjoying it on a level well above others. Also from Sports Illustrated for Kids is What Are the Chances? The Wildest Plays in Sports ($14.95, Time Home Entertainment). It will be a big hit with any younger reader who is into sports and, typical of the SI books, it is extensively illustrated and has a lively text devoted to the rare achievements by stars as they scored points to save a game, threw or caught a ball that decided the outcome, The sports highlighted are baseball, football, and basketball. Christmas is not that far off, so if you have a youngster that loves these sports, you might want to put this one on the gift list.

I’m of a mixed mind about Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince ($15.99, Zest Books, softcover). Growing up, Liz Prince was a tomboy and she tells the story of her transition to recognizing what it meant to be female, doing so with humor, honesty, poignancy and a straight forward account of the physical and emotional changes that occurred as she matured. She goes from a girl who hated dresses, preferred boys clothes and being with them. Her teen years would change that and, being a graphic novel, each page is like a comic strip rather than just text. For young girls who share her early preferences, this will be a useful book as they too must make adjustments in adolescence. This is a “graphic” book as well in the language it employs and sensitive topics it addresses. Hence my concern.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Fans of the internationally bestselling novelist Ken Follett who have been waiting for the third book in his “century trilogy” will be pleased to know that Edge of Eternity ($36.00, Dutton) is now available. In 2010 he embarked on an ambitious project, a historical epic that spans the twentieth century. It began with “Fall of Giants” which was followed by “Winter of the World in 2012.”  The trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English and Welsh—as they make their way through the upheavals of the twentieth century. Each book follows the next generation. The new novel covers the tumultuous era of the 1960s through to today, taking in civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, presidential impeachment, revolution, and rock and roll. The copy I received was 1,098 pages! So prepare yourself for a lengthy, but fascinating reading experience. Follett’s trilogy is a real achievement, capturing the last century in a way that people can relate to through the lives of the characters.

An interesting novel by Bruce Holbert, The Hour of Lead, ($25.00, Counterpoint Press) follows his 2012 novel, “Lonesome Animals”, which was named the Best Book of the Year by both the Seattle Times and Slate. This one is set in the scabland farms and desert brush of Eastern Washington. The story follows Matt Lawson, a 14-year-old boy who is forced to take over his family’s ranch after losing both his twin brother and father in the great snowstorm of 1918. His mother disappears into grief and drinking the local moonshine and Matt realizes that he is on his own. The work gives him some relief from his feelings of loneliness, but when his relationship with Wendy, the daughter of a local grocer, goes sour, Matt sets out on a journey across the nation by way of finding himself. His mother opens her ranch home to Wendy, a local widowed teacher, and her bastard son, Lucky. It takes decades for Matt to return and his long journey will forever change the life of those around him. Stan Yocum always wanted to be a writer, but he took off 30 years to be a businessman. Now, though, he is establishing himself as a writer of indie-suspense novels and his latest is Unrelenting Nightmare ($20.95, iUniverse) that follows Stuart Garrison, a virtual reality software developer on the cusp of industry domination, as he navigates a deadly cat-and-mouse game with an international assassin hired by his fierce competitor. Garrison must outwit the killer at the same time he is releasing the new technology to the world. You will be hard pressed to put this novel down as it explores the prevalence of violence and the impact of virtual reality on youth.

In no particular order there are three novels that offer entertainment. The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee ($23.00, Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster) retells a torrid love affair and the after-effects between two of the most famous monarchs in history. Based on extensive research into the life and times of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, the novel reflects one of biblical history’s most unknown tales and brings the world of ancient Israel to life. In the 10th century BC, the Queen has inherited her father’s throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Her realm stretches west across the Red Sea, but it is new alliances to the north that threaten the trade routes which are the lifeblood of her nation. Solomon is the brash new king of Israel, already famed for his wealth and wisdom. The Queen must test and win his support, but neither rule has anticipated the clash of agendas and passion that threatens to ignore and ruin them both.

Fast forward to present times and The Wishing Tide by Barbara Davis ($15.00, NAL Accent, the Penguin Group, softcover). This is her second novel and the author lives in North Carolina, the setting for the story of Lane Kramer who moved to Starry Point, North Carolina, with the hopes that the quaint island village might be a perfect place to start fresh. She is now the owner of a charming seaside inn, having put aside her hopes of being a novelist and finding love again. When an English professor, Michael Forester appears on her doorstep in the middle of a storm, his familiarity with the island has her wondering if he is quite what he appears. Meanwhile, she has developed a friendship with an older woman who possesses a special brand of wisdom, but a fragile mind with a tenuous grip on reality. Put the three together and a decades-old secret, stir vigorously, and you have an interesting story.

Seventh Street Books has four softcover novels to offer, all available as ebooks as well. The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty ($15.99) involves a small group of mostly German nudists living an extreme back-to-nature existence, worshipping the sun on the remote island of Kabakon. When one of their members, Max Lutzow, dies it is assumed to be from malaria, but an autopsy in the nearby capital of Herbertshohe raises suspicions of foul play. Retired British military police officer Will Prior is recruited to investigate the circumstance of the death and, while the group seems friendly and willing to cooperate, Prior is convinced they are hiding something. The tension grows steadily and the climax is worth waiting for. Cat on a Cold Tin Roof—An Eli Paxton Mystery by Mike Resnick ($15.95) begins as hard luck private investigator, Eli Paxton, is hired to find a missing cat. It is a very important one because its collar is studded with diamonds worth a small fortune. What starts as a routine search of animal shelters soon becomes a perilous journey through a murky underworld. Turns out that the woman who hired Paxton is the wealthy widow of a recently murdered financial adviser with an alias and mobster ties. Eli finds the cat by not the collar. Suffice to say an intricate plot unfolds into a treacherous maze that Eli hopes to survive.

Blind Moon Alley—A Jersey Leo Novel by John Florio ($15.95) takes the reader back to the days of Prohibition. It’s Philadelphia and Jersey Leo doesn’t fit in. He tends bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. When his old grade school buddy calls from death row and asks one last favor, all hell breaks loose for Jersey who finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush, the sultry Myra Banks. Intrigued? You will be when you read this delightful novel filled with some great characters. And lastly there’s The Button Man—A Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor ($15.95) in which a former FBI profiler, Hugo Marston, has just become head of security at the U.S. embassy in London. He’s asked to protect a famous movie-star couple, Dayton Harper and Ginny Ferro who, while filming a movie in rural England, have killed a local man in a hit and run. It is a disaster from the beginning because, before he even meets them, he discovers that Ferro has disappeared and her body has been found hanging from an oak tree in a London cemetery. Hours later, a distraught Harper gives Hugo the slip. Putting the connections together with the help of a cast of characters, he must elude a serial killer after more bodies show up. Yes, it is another suspenseful, well told gripping tale.

That’s It for September

Lots of good books, fiction and non-fiction, this month as you can see. With the advent of autumn, the publishing world kicks into a high gear, producing many more. Come back in October and don’t forget to tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers about where you will find the work of authors who deserve attention.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bookviews - August 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

One of the most interesting new books is Patrick J. Buchanan’s The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority ($28.00, Crown Forum). A large part of the population today was born after Nixon’s era and, if he is remembered or known for anything by them it is the Watergate scandal that forced his resignation in his second term. Even though I lived through the Nixon years, I knew relatively little about the man and Buchanan who was one of his political team, now a respected commentator and author, provides a fascinating history of a President who was a canny politician, a pragmatic conservative, and a very popular leader in his time. He served from 1969 to 1972, finally bringing the unpopular Vietnam War to an end and opening diplomacy with China. After suffering stinging defeats in the 1960 presidential election against John F. Kennedy and in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, the Washington press and politicians declared his political career over. Yet on January 20, 1969 he took the oath as the 37th President. Buchanan’s book tells how he resurrected his reputation and reunited a shattered and fractured Republican Party. The book begins in January 1966 as a firsthand account of Nixon’s remarkable return during a decade marked by civil rights protests, the assassinations of JFK, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King. I recall the riots, campus anarchy, and the rise of the New Left. Anyone interested in U.S. history will want to read this book.

Fans of Jay Leno will enjoy Dave Berg’s Behind the Curtain: An Insider’s View of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show ($24.95, Pelican Publishing). Berg was one of the show’s producers, active in booking many of its guests from the world of show business, sports, and politics. For Berg, what was not seen by the viewing audience, the reality of dealing with guests from former presidents, candidates for the job, and even Barack Obama whom he spotted years before he as a national figure, was just as exciting and interesting as how well they performed on air. He makes it clear that he and other producers looked at the “numbers” of how many viewed the night before and how well the guest segments did, play an important role in producing the show. It was in competition with the David Letterman Show and they all wanted to be number one. Leno would in time achieve that goal and hold onto it. Berg provides an entertaining, but generally serious look at a wide range of guests from Jerry Seinfeld to John F. Kennedy, Jr. If you are into celebrities, the book is filled with them.  Readers will also discover a different Jay Leno than appeared on camera all those years. The show, other than his marriage and passion for classic cars, was his life from when he woke until he went to bed. He was totally absorbed and devoted to it. His monologues were always entertaining. His comedic talent and his devotion to the show made it a hit. That was quite an achievement considering he was following in the footsteps of Johnny Carson. Despite rubbing elbows by the biggest names of the day, he remained the guy who could have lived next door. In many ways, he was.

Pelican Publishing is based in Gretna, Louisiana and publishes many books that celebrate the state, its cuisine and comparable topics. People who have visited New Orleans are often so taken with its unique architecture, restaurants and other pleasures they return again and again. For them, I recommend Let’s Walk the French Quarter: A Visual Tour by Kerri McCaffety ($19.95, Pelican, softcover) a photographer and writer who has authored several books about the city. If you have been there, it is a reminder of favorite places and an invitation to visit those you missed. If you have always just wondered what this famed section of the city looks like, you will find it celebrated from Rampart Street to Jackson Square. Little wonder she has received a Gold Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. It’s a wonderful book.

If you are a fan of weirdness, you will love Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Reality Shock! ($28.95, Ripley Publishing), a large format collection of items that are a mix of can’t bear to look and can’t look away, jammed packed with images and stories of people such as the wolf-man, Werner Freund, who lives with a pack of wolves or the grandma that has 18-inch long fingernails; they haven’t been cut in 20 years. There are women with scarily tiny waists and a guy who owns 2,000 Barbie and Ken dolls. Every page has something to make you wonder, gasp, or just feast your eyes on the antics and creations of people. This kind of books makes a great gift for the person who “has everything.”

To Your Health

I have always enjoyed good health; as my doctor succinctly put it, “Good genes.”  That and eating moderately, but well, plus a daily batch of vitamins and minerals to start the day, and getting a good night’s sleep, have served me well over the years. One thing is for sure, there is no end of books on health topics.
One unusual book that arrived is Losing Patience: The Problems, Alarms and Psychological Issues of Shaken Baby Syndrome by James Peinkofer ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover), a child abuse consultant with more than 18 years of experience in medical and mental health clinical social work. It only takes two or three violent shakes in as little as five seconds, by an angry parent or caregiver to punish or quiet a crying child to inflict a lot of harm. The author says that it is the leading cause of abuse-related deaths among infants with as high as 80% of survivors suffering permanent brain damage. If there are expectant parents in your family in which one or both have anger management problems—a bad temper—this would be a good book to give them. It also offers good advice as to what to look for in a perspective caregiver and what a family should do if they suspect shaken baby syndrome. Consider the harm that can be done to an infant this is a book that should receive wider media coverage. It’s due off the press in October.

A strong, healthy heart should surely be a priority and Joe Petreycik, RN, an ASCM certified clinical exercise specialist, has spent the last six years writing a book that helps those who have had a heart attack and those trying to avoid it. Pump It Up! Exercising Your Heart to Health ($19.95, Take Exercise to Heart, LCC, Stratford, CT, softcover) According to the World Health Organization, 17.3 million people die from heart attacks and strokes every year. Illustrated with dozens of photographs to illustrate the exercises that Petreycik recommends, anyone with concerns in this area will surely benefit from reading this book. If you come from a family with a history of heart attacks and strokes, order it today!

Useful Advice

Got a problem? There are many books filled with advice on how to solve it. Here are four new ones.

Parenting on the Go: Birth to Six, A to Z by Dr. David Elkind, PhD ($14.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) covers a wide range of subjects and offers solutions to run-of-the-mill concerns as well as the more multifaceted issues, like the right amount of computer times, that are pertinent to today’s information-age parents. Drawing on his extensive experience in child psychology and development, as well as the most up-to-date research on parenting, Dr. Elkind gives 500-word answers to more than a hundred of the most common questions parents ask.

Getting a Life with Asperger’s: Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood by Jesse A. Saperstein ($15.00, Perigee, softcover) is a useful book even if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a disorder that interferes with being able to pick up the clues that other people’s behavior that most of us easily read. It is an aspect of autism. “Growing up and becoming a reasonably functioning adult is difficult in the best of circumstances,” says Saperstein, but those with Asperger’s encounter greater problems. Studies show that between 80% and 90% are chronically unemployed because they miss the social clues and sometimes exhibit inappropriate behavior. The book is a self-help guide filled with good advice on dealing with family, romance, college, job interviews, and the crippling baggage of being bullied. Filled with wit and self-deprecating humor, it will help anyone live a “normal” life.

Put More Time on Your Side: How to Manage Your Life in a Digital World by Jan Yager, Ph.D, ($20.95, Hannacroix Creek Press, softcover) is her fifth book about productivity, among her 39 to date. This one is for anyone who wants to get more done in less time. It is full of good advice on topics such as coping with time wasters like over-scheduling, procrastination or perfectionism. There’s advice on how to master office relationships and politics to save time, and lots more. Time is our most valuable resource and knowing how to get the most out of it in business and at home is why this book is worth reading.

Master Your Money in 7 Days by Dale Gibbons ($11.69, softcover) will be a big help to anyone encountering money problems these days and that’s just about everyone. It is an easy to read book that reveals the secrets of simply money management that you can learn more about at Do you run out of money before the end of the month? Worry how to afford the important things for your family? Have an overdrawn account? This is about getting the control you need to put your financial life on a smooth path.

Books for Kids and Teens

One of the best things you can do for your kids this summer is to provide them with interesting and entertaining books to read. Good reading skills and habits are essential to their success later in life.

For the very young, early readers, there are books from the We Do Listen Foundation featuring Howard B. Wigglesworth, a rabbit character, and the 14th in its series is Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns We Can All Get Along ($15.00) aimed at those aged 4 to 8 with a message on how to live in harmony with everyone around them. Howard begins to learn why always wanting his own way is a sure fire way to not make friends. The text is an easy read and the illustrations are delightful. The series has many such books to help learning good attitudes.
Another book that addresses this is Stewie Boomstein Starts School by Christine Bronstein and illustrated by Karen Young ($28.99/$9.99, hard and softcover, @ for kids aged 3 to 6. Stewie has a very bad first day at school because he doesn’t like following rules and wants to do what he wants, not what the teachers does. Another problem kids encounter in school is bullying and Laura S. Fox’s Stan the Timid Turtle: Helping Children Cope with Fears About School Violence ($9.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) for those in the early school grades. Many children have many fears about a world the TV demonstrates is filled with violence. This book will help them deal with those fears and Stan the turtle becomes fearful when a violent event happens at a nearby school and several young turtles are hurt. With help, he learns it is okay to be afraid, but not to let fear rule his life. Another new book from this publisher is Siggy’s Parade: Helping Kids with Disabilities Find Their Strength by Blanche R. Duddly, EdD ($9.95, softcover) about Siggy, a mockingbird who only has one wing and who rallies his friend to celebrate and appreciate their unique disabilities. Written for those in the early school grades, it is upbeat and delightful. Using the alphabet, Keeping Fit from A to Z by Stephanie Maze ($15.95, Moonstone Press) is due out next month and is unique in that it provides its text for the very young reader, age 3 and up, in both English and Spanish. Extensively illustrated with many color photos, it will teach them the importance of getting out and engaging in sports and other activities. This is an early encouragement to not sit in from of the television or just play video games. It’s a very good investment in one’s child’s health.

One of the best publishers in Time for Kids which has two wonderful new books out. For ages 7 and up, there’s Snakeopedia ($19.95) that is filled with 180 full color pages with 400 photos, images and facts from Discovery experts and a herpetologist that combines fun for young readers, many of whom find snakes fascinating. They can read about the twelve families of snakes as well as other members of the reptile family such as lizards, turtles, and crocodiles. In his youth my older brother was permitted to have a black snake as a pet and it was a great learning experience for both of us. Also just published is Time for Kids’ Robots ($14.95) that is filled with photos and a great text that teaches how robots are having an increasing role in the way we all live, from helpers to robo cops. From their early history to the robots we have sent to explore Mars, this one will keep any young reader turning the pages and returning to enjoy it again and again.

My Mother was not just a great cook, but she taught gourmet cooking for three decades in the adult schools of our hometown and others. Learning how to cook is a great skills to have and The Green Teen Cookbook: Recipes for all Seasons – Written by Teens, for Teens ($14.95, Zest Books, softcover) by Laurane Marchive and Pam McElroy is filled with advice on how to navigate the kitchen and other skills involved with cooking such as shopping on a budget and eating healthier. It has more than 70 recipes and cooking is something every young person should learn.

Getting pre-teens and teens to turn off the television and discover the pleasure of a good story is well served by several need books written for this age group. A young-adult fantasy novel, The Adventures of Horace, George and Ingle—The Rise of the Black knight by Hugh Cumming ( is available as a hardcover, softcover, and ebook. Three brothers aged 15-17 are growing up in relative calm in a land once dominated by great battles in a kingdom that stretches as far as the eye can see. When a raging storm causes fires in their village, King Reynold makes the unusual choice to appoint his son, Ingle, to assit in the investigate the scene of the fires. It addresses the bond of siblings, the challenges of coming of age and dealing with unforeseen complexities of the adult world, and the age-old battle between good and evil. Another novel also uses fantasy and science fiction. Flight of the Akero: The Book of Milo (Bablefish Press, softcover) is by Douglas Lieblein, a writer and producer for Universal, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, The Disney Channel, and Nickelodean. It is book one in a series, a fiction tale that is comic, action-packet, and quirky. Milo Wolfe is the tallest third grader at his school but his problem is that he has been put in sixth grade where he is the shortest, weakest, wimpiest and by far the least popular student. Looking forward to no school, Milo wants to do as little as possible, but he is forced to embark on an unexpected journal to find a father he’s never met. It is filled with surprises.

Another new fantasy-adventure story for young adults is found in The Age of Amy: The Thumper Amendment by Bruce Edwards ($9.95, Lambert Hill, softcover) as 16-year-old Amy wants to avenge the sixth grade boy who mistreated her in third grade. She gets her change when she encounters him seven years later during a U.S. presidential campaign for a candidate she supports. But there’s a problem. He has grown into a kindhearted (and cute) young adult and her feelings turn to those of affection. Is she falling in love with her grade school nemesis? This is an intriguing story that is well worth reading. Lastly, for those 12 and up there’s Billy Christmas by Mark A. Pritchard ($16.95, Alan Squire Publishing, softcover) that begins when Billy’s father mysteriously disappears. Then, just twelve days before Christmas, Billy acquires a magical Christmas tree with a dozen ornaments, each of which supposedly holds a clue to finding his father. In order to do so, however, Billy must solve one puzzle a day. This is a young adult fantasy with rich, compelling characters and delightful twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the end, as he and his best friend—and secret crush—Katherine are thrust into a dark, magical world, that has placed them both in grave danger.

Novels, Novels, Novels
As Israel defends itself against the terrorist organization, Hamas, attention has been fixed on its invasion of Gaza, an area that Israel gave the Palestinians in 2005 after evicting 8,000 of its own citizens that lived there. Torn Blood by David J. Bain ($17,99, Bo Iti Press, Wyoming) is the result of seven years research and depicts the mortal battle to destroy Jerusalem’s Jewish residents and the right of Jews to their ancient homeland. It does so in a fashion that fans of Tom Clancy’s novels will enjoy because it is an action-packed adventure filled with suspense. This is an ideal summer reading experience as he draws the reader into a story that captures the reader’s minds and hearts as the ultimate fate of Jerusalem and her people reveals itself in an apocalyptic conflagration. This is Bain’s debut novel and I heartily recommend it.

Political corruption is the theme of William Lashner’s Bagman ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). Lashner is primarily known for his series of legal thrillers featuring Philadelphia attorney Victor Carl and in this compelling story Carl finds himself working as a bagman for an ambitious congressman. It seems like he might finally be on a trajectory to the top as he traverses the streets of Philadelphia and finds himself associating with the city’s elite, filing his coffers with new-client retainers, and involved with the congressman’s sexy and highly unstable sister. Things become complicated when he becomes the fall guy for murder. With the police, reporters, and a couple of thugs on his trail, Carl turns to a shadowy group of old-time bagmen to find answers and, with their help, he follows the truth—and the money—to a final confrontation with the ultimate symbol of wealth, power, and entitlement known as the Big Butter. It’s a fast-paced, darkly humorous thriller, ideal for a day at the beach.

In Gideon’s Confession Joseph G. Peterson ($15.95, Switchgrass Books, softcover) enhances his reputation as a novelist as he addresses the themes of money, work, success, and the way a young man drifts through life, alienated from his father and two brothers who have gone into the family business. It is his good fortunate that he receives checks from his rich uncle every month and, in exchange, the uncle asks him to come up with a plan for his life, but Gideon Anderson puts that off, spending the money on alcohol, horserace gambling, and useless purchases. His luck continues when he meets a lovely, ambitious woman, Claire, who encourages him to do more with his life and asks him to come to New York with her where her father can set him up in his firm and bankroll a business venture. Gideon’s failure to commit to anything and anyone is at the heart of the novel, one that twenty-somethings in particular should read. At the other end of life, D.D. Lanz addresses what occurs when one dies in Going, Going, Gone ($15.95, Two Harbors, softcover) when John Janne is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He makes plans to end his life before the cancer does. The novel taps into humanity’s universal fear of death and the unknown that follows. Not wanting to have his family watch him die slowly and painfully, he plans a canoe trip in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters where a death by drowning will look like an accident. Before the trip, however, he spends countless hours reading about how different religions and cultures envision the afterlife, but it leaves him confused and uncertain as to whether God or an afterlife even exists. The trip opens his eyes and anyone interested in world religions will find this novel very interesting.

Heaven Sent Rain by Lauraine Snelling ($15.00, Faith Words, softcover) will appeal to women with its story of scientists Dinah Taylor, the CEO of a successful pharmaceutical company. She likes her orderly existence, enjoying her work and her luxury apartment, but one day she encounters Jonah Morgan, a seven-year-old, for whom she buys breakfast. Along with his dog, “Mutt”, they become part of her routine as she becomes the mysterious boy’s main source of refuge. When she gets a call from Jonah asking her to rush his badly injured pet to a clinic run by a handsome veterinarian, Garett Miller, their lives begin to collide and their relationship changes. Snelling is a bestselling author of more than sixty-five books and this latest one is an intriguing look at how people affect one another in ways they don’t anticipate.
Finding Flipper Frank by Patrick M. Gary ($9.95, Kendric Books, softcover) tells of Walt Honerman who has just about given up on life in Billings, Montana at age 38, but who embarks on a trip to fulfill a promise made to a dying uncle. Along for the trip is 76-year-old Izzy Dunleavy, a loquacious nursing home resident and Moira Kelly, a young woman who befriended Izzy during his hospitalization. Izzy entertains them with stories about a grand resort he once owned in Crawfish Bay, but when they arrive there, he is arrested on a decades-old embezzlement charge, I don’t want to give away too much about the unraveling of truth and fiction Walter and Moira encounter because it is the heart of this entertaining novel that has a lot to say about the human condition with its flaws and hopes. It is a very good read.

Last summer readers were treated to Stephanie Evanovich’s bestselling debut novel, “Big Girl Panties”, and she is back with The Sweet Spot ($26.99, William Morrow) featuring two of the characters from that novel, Chase Walker, the hunky professional baseball player and his beautiful and exceptionally sassy wife, Amanda. She is a successful levelheaded woman who built her restaurant from scratch. She was not looking for prince charming and when Chase begins to pursue her she pays little attention. She’s used to celebrities and politicians doing at her place, but she just can’t stop staring at Chase and the feeling is mutual. For Amanda their romance is too good to be true, but he has a little kink to his personality. He likes to indulge in a little passionate spanking from time to time. When a tabloid reveals their relationship she must decide whether to give up her single-girl freedom or will Chase’s stardom spell doom for this sexy couple? You will have to read this novel to find out!

For those of a classical turn of mind, there’s Medea by Richard Matturo ($32.00, Livingston Press, University of West Alabama) which is set in Bronze Age Greece. The myth is told in the form of a modern novel, eliminating none of the passion or violence as Medeo, an awkward, introverted daughter of a royal family, growing up in a remote backwater of the Greek world encounters the dashing and feckless Jason, offering an escape from her stifling life. She bears him twin sons and then watches as he falls out of love with her. His announcement that she will be exiled, minus her two boys, so that he can marry the king’s daughter brings on the final catastrophe. Matturo holds a doctorate in English with a specialization in Shakespeare and Greek Mythology. This is his sixth novel. Strong emotional ties is the theme of Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom ($16.00, Penguin Original, softcover), originally published by a small press in India, Pinto’s debut novel is suffused with compassion, humor, and hard-won wisdom as he introduces us to Imelda and Augustine whose young narrator calls “Em” and the “Big Hoom.” Most of the time Em smokes “breedis” and sings her way through life, inspiring the love of her husband and children, the narrator and his older sister. However, Em suffers bipolar disorder and when it seizes her she becomes monstrous. The novel charts the ten-year courtship of his parents in the 1960s in Bombay to their efforts to come to terms with the desolation she leaves in her wake.

That’s it for August. Come back next month to enjoy Bookviews’ blend of news about many new fiction and non-fiction books. Tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about this unique monthly report.

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

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.


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, 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 where new fiction and non-fiction that may not get the attention they deserve can be found every month.