Friday, February 27, 2015

Bookviews - March 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

A remarkable book about the roots of environmentalism, Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust, ($26.35, Advantage Inspirational, softcover, available on, by R. Mark Musser was first published in 2010 and is now just been updated and reissued in its fourth edition. It deserves a far wider readership than it has gained until now because in part it is not an easy read, but also because it is one of the few books to explain how the Nazi ideology evolved over the decades to reach a point where it initiated the deliberate extermination of Europe’s Jews. The most astonishing aspect of this is how interwoven its belief system was with the environmental “truths” we are still hearing and reading today. For example, Ernst Haeckel, the father of German Social Darwinism, was the man who coined the word “ecology” in 1896. The Nazi “science” that justified racism drew on German romanticism, existentialism, and nature worship. The Nazis incorporated environmentalism into their lives and beliefs, abandoning the Judeo-Christian God for “gaia”, the Earth god. Mark Musser came to his discovery of the inherently evil roots of environmentalism by way of a Master of Divinity in 1994 and missionary service in Belarus and Ukraine for seven years. He is a pastor by trade. I cannot recommend reading this book in strong enough terms because it is a warning that explains why so much of what passes for environmentalism today carries within it the seeds of evil that triggered the Nazi era. Having failed to carry off the “global warming” hoax thanks to the past 19 years of the planet’s cooling cycle, its advocates are now embarked on a “climate change” hoax, claiming it is “man-made.” It is not, but the evil that men do is.

In March 2014, in a commentary on my blog, Warning Signs, I wrote “Do you have the feeling that we no longer have government from the federal to the local level that is able to function because of vast volumes of laws and regulations that have made it impossible to do anything from build a bridge to run a nursing home? If so, you’re right. The nation is falling behind others who do a better job by permitting elected and appointed officials to actually make decisions. We are living in a nation where lawsuits follow every decision to accomplish anything. This is the message of Philip K. Howard in a book that everyone concerned for the future of America should read; “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government.” Happily, a softcover edition has been published ($15.95, W.W. Norton) and, if you missed the opportunity to read it last year, I strongly recommend you do so this year. Howard explains why just changing leaders does not change a Washington which is drowning the nations in laws that often run to more than 2,000 pages in length. The result is a monstrosity of regulations that tell officials and citizens what to do and how to do it. A mammoth government renders decision-making virtually impossible and the result is that our schools, our health care system, and virtually every other element of life is paralyzed or unaffordable. There is, in a word, no accountability, no one who need take responsibility. Putting people back in charge of our government is the heart of this excellent, entertaining, and frightening book.

Have you always wished you had an opportunity to read the classics of literature when you were in school? These days entire generations pass through our schools without more than a brief introduction to Shakespeare or Chaucer. In contrast to that, for 28 years in Naples, New York, you didn’t go to college without passing Alan Griesinger’s Advanced Placement English class. And they loved it. You’ll understand why when you read his book, A Comic Vision of Great Constancy: Stories about Unlocking the Wisdom of Everyman ($29.95, Mascot Books). He provides insights drawn from a reading of “The Knight’s Tale” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They serve as a literary framework for Griesinger’s side trips into politics, religion, psychology, and the general art of being human. His classes were a training ground for character development, good citizenship, and rigorous thinking. His book has the same effect and is very likely to make you the smartest person in the room after you’ve read it.

Improving Your Life

There has been one genre of books that has been around since books were first being published. They are books that impart advice on various aspects of one’s life to help the reader improve in some respect.

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Are: Life Lessons from Winners by Pat Williams with Jim Denney ($16.99, Revell). With more than fifty years of professional sports experience and already an author of dozens of books on leadership, Williams shares how he found success in his family and career. He realized early in life that learning how to become successful meant learning from those who had. He never missed an opportunity to ask those at the top of their field what they felt was the key to their success. He has met more famous people than most of ever will. They include Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, John Wooden, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, and George W. Bush, to name a few. And he kept notes on what they told him. This is a book about developing your own character and values because those are ultimately the keys to success. Williams is senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love after the Big Breakup by Susan J. Elliott ($14.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) may be just the book for women that you or someone you know needs to read. As she acknowledges, overcoming a breakup can be a real challenge and, often, to be successful in the next relationship, we must understand the parts of us that broke up, too. This involves learning to recognize, evaluate, and change the negative patterns that interfere with our relationships, but she says it can be done and her book teaches here readers to set appropriate standards in the dating world. She does not shy from the fact that exes, children, and boyfriends with kids are components of the modern dating scene. Getting back out there may be tough, but says Ms. Elliot, infinitely rewarding, if done right.

Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping Intimacy Alive in Your Marriage by Rick Johnson ($12.99, Revell, softcover) explains why romance and intimacy are so vital to marriage, how men and women differ in their intimacy needs, and what steps they can take to enrich their marriage and even bring back the excitement of when you first fell in love.  He encourages couples to rethink the way they communicate and interact to keep that excitement alive as a couple in a long-term relationship grows through shared experiences, sharing difficulties, and maintaining closeness to one another.

Many people, including church-goers, still yearn for a deeper experience of God in their everyday lives. A leading Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, offers Greg Paul’s new book, Simply Open ($16.99, softcover) that offers a path to using your five senses, your mind and heart, to engage in the practice of prayer that can turn an ordinary workday into a deepening spiritual journey. Paul is a pastor and member of Sanctuary in Toronto, a ministry for the most hurting and excluded people in the city. He has authored three earlier books, one of which was a 2012 Non-fiction Christian Book Award winner. Though Christian in context it has a holistic approach that other contemplating religions employ.

All About Women

The role of women in modern societies has been changing for a long time. For example, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was founded in 1890 and a number of states had granted it in the first two decades of the last century, In 1919 Congress passed the 19th Amendment and a year later 36 states had ratified it. Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr ($14.95, Graphic Press. Softcover) tells the story of one of the lesser known suffragettes. Using her own words, edited by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr., it takes you back to an era that was as dramatic as any that followed. Ms. Milholland was a dynamic New York attorney, a young activist who while on a tour of western states collapsed on stage in Los Angeles on October 23, 1916 and died a month later of pernicious anemia. She had just turned 30. History is filled with such remarkable personalities and, though it took nearly a century, it is good to know that Ms. Milholland is now recognized as well.

Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy by Dr. Melvin Konner ($26.95, W.W. Norton & Company) will surely cause male readers to feel uncomfortable. The author is a professor in the Emory University Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. The author of several books, this one looks at the widespread debate about the future role of women (and men) in human society, taking a look at the animal kingdom in general and our current patriarchal ways in particular, predicting that women will increasingly take leadership roles. He asserts that women are biologically more adept at dealing with the challenges of the modern world. They are fundamentally more pragmatic as well as caring, cooperate as well as competitive, and generally more deft in managing people without putting them on the defensive. They are, he says, builders rather than destroyers. This is, to say the least, a fact-filled look at a highly charged topic and one that I am sure many readers will want to explore.

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) takes its title from the clichĂ© that behind every great man is a woman who contributed to his success. Marlene Wagman-Geller has taken a look at this and her book features forty women who were overshadowed by the males in their lives, yet merit their own place in history. She ranges from the wives of literally figures such as Oscar Wilde, Ian Fleming, and C.S. Lewis. There are Hollywood wives such Alma Reville, Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock and Jane Nebel, Mrs. Jim Henson. She notes the role played by Kasturba Kapadia, the wife of Mohandas Gandhi and Emilie Pelzl, Mrs. Osckar Schindler. There were some infamous ones as well such as Mrs. Julius Rosenberg, convicted along with her husband as a Soviet spy. Imagine, too, being Althea Leasure, Mrs. Larry Flynt. The short biographies salute the women who stood behind their men, for better or worse, and helped steer the course of history.

Getting Down to Business

How to Succeed with Continuous Improvement: A Primer for Becoming the Best in the World ($23.00, McGraw-Hill) by Joakim Ahlstrom, regarded as Sweden’s leading authority in creating a continuous improvement culture. His book is a step-by-step process for any organization that applies principles such as “keep it simple, stay focused, visualize the good examples and the program made, create ownership by asking instead of telling, and be systematic.” He has advised dozens of organizations around the world to include Coca Cola, Volvo, Ericsson, and IKEA.

From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success Without the Stress by Chellie Campbell ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) begins by noting that more than nine million U.S. businesses, generating $1.4 trillion in sales, are owned by women. A personal finance guru, Campbell, has offered “Financial Stress Reduction” ® workshops to help women win at work and in life. Her advice will prove very helpful to any woman as she teaches how to harness the four C’s of career success, confidence, charisma, clients, and cash.  She writes about earning support from spouses and loved ones while gaining business knowledge from everything you do. This includes poker as she is an avid tournament player. This is a book from which any woman business owner can benefit.

What to Do to Retire Successfully: Navigating Psychological, Financial and Lifestyle Hurdles ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Martin B. Goldstein addresses some of the scary questions that occur such as whether you will have enough funds to maintain your lifestyle, will you be able to adjust to a slower pace, and how best to transition into retirement successfully. A neuropsychiatrist by profession, his book will prove quite useful to anyone approaching their retirement years and that includes the 77 million baby boomers that are slated to retire over the next twenty years. Retirement fears are common and this book addresses them and offers some good advice; the kind you need now, not ten or twenty years from now when it could be too late.

Reading History

I love reading history and one of my great favorites from American history is Thomas Jefferson. Addressing a group of scholars, John F. Kennedy said “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  One of the enduring discussions about Jefferson involves his religious beliefs. Some say he was a deist unaffiliated with any particular religion.  Doubting Thomas? The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson by Mark A. Beliles and Jerry Newcombe ($29.99, Morgan James Publishing) will put to rest all the doubts raised in the past. For example, during his presidency, Jefferson attended church at the U.S. Capitol Building’s Supreme Court chambers where a public service was held. This is contradiction of the assertion that he believed in a strict separation of church and state. This book is based on extensive documentation, often providing little known facts based on his letters, as well as his relationships and activities with religious communities. It is an absorbing read and it is supported by The Selected Religious Letters and Papers of Thomas Jefferson ($29.95, America Publications) edited by Mark A. Beliles. It offers more than fifty Jefferson letters and other documents never before seen in print. The enemies of religious belief and expression in America will not want you to read either of these books.

Of course, the history of America has its darker moments and the treatment of the Native Americans is surely one of them. Terry Mort’s Thieves’ Road: The Black Hills Betrayal and Custer’s Path to Little Bighorn ($25.00, Prometheus Books) tells the story of General George Armstrong Custer’s expedition of some one thousand troops and more than a  hundred wagons into the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1874. A severe economic depression had spurred hordes of white prospectors to the Sioux Indians sacred grounds and the trampling of an 1868 treaty that granted the Black Hills to the Sioux. The discovery of gold was the beginning of the end of their independence and their resistance set the stage for the climactic Battle of Little Bighorn. The book’s title gets its name from the Sioux leader, Fast Bear, who called the trail cut by Custer the “thieves’ road.” It was a time when the settling of Indians on reservations was betrayed, a corrupt federal Indian Bureau existed, and the building of the western railroads was transforming the nation. The book makes for lively reading and considerable insight to this period of our national history.

One of the best series around is Visible Ink Press’s “Handy Answer” books. The latest is The Handy Military History Answer Book ($21.95, Visible Ink, softcover), by Samuel Willard Crompton, a captivating, concise, and extensive look at the way war has been a continual element of history and has often dramatically changed it. Indeed, one might call peace the brief intervals of time between wars. This book shows how war creates heroes, along with cowards, spies and patriots were made, how conflicts shaped borders, policies and politics, society and culture, always influencing the future. Answering more than 1,400 questions, you will learn how conquering armies to civil wars resulted in guerrilla warfare, terrorism, modern weapons, and so much more that fill the headlines of our times. To understand history, one must know about warfare from the days of the Roman Empire to the present. This book will do just that.

Reading About Science

Science is in the news all the time, but much of the time is devoted to those groups and organizations that lie about it in order to frighten people from taking advantage of the benefits it offer. The latest debate about vaccinating children to protect them from measles is one example. The battles fought to advance science go back to the earliest days of civilization.

In the Light of Science: Our Ancient Quest for Knowledge and the Measure of Modern Physics by Demetris Nicolaides ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) examines the epochal shift in thinking that led pre-Socratic philosophers of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE to abandon the prevailing mythologies of the age and, for the first time, analyze the natural world in terms of impersonal, rationally-understood principles. This is a look at the vast sweep of history that led to the birth of science and its advancement by those unafraid to question tradition. Combining history and science, it makes for some very interesting reading. From the same publishing house comes Brilliant! Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover), now updated. To celebrate the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to Nakamura, author Bob Johnstone profiles the gifted Japanese engineer who is largely responsible for the coming revolution in lighting technology. The lighting revolution is likely to replace halogen lamps and have a profound impact on the world.

Astronaut Ron Garan has authored The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles ($27.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers) that is enhanced by several pages of color photos. Garan tells of the transformative experience of living on the international Space Station and the lessons he gained that he believes holds the key to solving our problems here on Earth. He provides an excellent and interesting account of what it was like work with 15 different nationalities. At the same time, he addresses many of the problems that afflict people and what must be done to solve them. In his foreword to the book, Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Laureate, recommends we “Use Ron’s idea of the orbital perspective as a way to erase obstacles, boundaries, and resistance to any problem.”

Kid Stuff

You may not know who Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was, but among his many accomplishments was being a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America in addition to writing many children’s books that influenced an entire generation or more regarding life in the outdoors. The Storyteller ($24.95, Langdon Street Press) by Leila Moss Knox and Linda L. Knox is not only a wonderful tribute to Seton, but a wonderful way to get to know about him through excerpts of his writings that are richly illustrated. It has a foreword by the late songwriter and singer, Pete Seeger, who like many felt his life enriched by Seton’s books. This is a great way to introduce him to a whole new generation and I guarantee they will love this book.

Children’s books are a great way for them to learn U.S. history and I am happy to report that Alex Bugaeff’s new book, part of his “Grandfather” series, is American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History ($14.95, available from Amazon) in which “Gomps” shares his historical tales with his grandchildren, Hannah and Carter. It’s good to see them get the attention they deserve. One of them, Deborah Sampson, fought on the front lines with the Continental Army for three years and there were others. These days women are part of the Israel Defense Force and trained for combat like the men. We had such women when it counted in our Revolution.

Wigu Publishing of Sun Valley, Idaho, has a series you can learn about at such as When I Grow Up I Want to Be…in the U.S. Army or a Nurse! The series also includes Teacher, U.S. Navy, Veterinarian and Firefighter. They are available at, Barnes and Noble, and other major online retailers, and come in Kindle editions as well. Parents often hear their children express an interest in a particular profession and this series is well written as stories that a young reader, age 5 to 7 or so can read and identify with. They are both well researched and entertaining.

The odd thing about “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” when it was published in 2011 is that, although aimed at a younger audience of readers, ages 13 and up, it attracted so many older ones that it stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than 80 weeks. In February its sequel, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs ($10.99, Quirk Books, softcover) was published and it picks up where the first left off as the reader follows the story of Jacob and his friends as they encounter a menagerie of odd animals, a band of gypsies, and more peculiar children. Jacob and friends are on the run from “wights” who have turned Miss Peregrine into a bird. They are hoping to find a cure in London. The book is illustrated with photos from earlier times, but it is the characters like Emma Bloom who can make fire with her hands, Millard, an invisible boy, and Olive who is lighter than air that are not only peculiar who inhabit a story that includes Alma LeFay Peregrine who is a shape-shifter and manipulator of time, as well as the headmistress of Cairnholm’s loop. It’s delightful. This one is headed for the best seller lists too.

Lauren Oliver has gained an international reputation for her five young adult novels as well as her other books. She is published in thirty languages and no doubt Vanishing Girls ($18.99, HarperCollins) will keep her on the bestseller list for those ages 14 and up with her story of Dara and Nick. The two sisters used to be inseparable, but that changed when Dara’s beautiful face was scarred by a car accident, leaving them estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. Another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished as well and Nick becomes convinced that the two disappearances are linked and feels compelled to find her sister before it’s too late. The readers, too, will feel compelled to see how this novel proceeds and how it ends.

Novels, Novels, Novels

March 8 makes the first anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that went down without a clue. I am a fan of Lior Samson, the pen name of the author of two dozen books that include seven novels like“Bashert”, “The Dome”, and “Web Games.” He is now back with Flight Track ($16.95/$2.99 Kindle, Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, Rowley, MA), a novel that provides a scenario of what might have happened and why to flight MH370. In the novel it is the inaugural flight of Pacificano Transocean’s over-the-pole non-stop service from Singapore to Chicago’s O’Hare. It’s all celebrating and champagne until flight PT20 veers off the radar. This is the kind of thriller that fans of Samson have come to anticipate and enjoy. In this story, an elite team of brilliant young nerds is called upon to help find the missing plane and their high-tech pursuit of what happened turns into a life-or-death race to discover who is behind the disappearance, to understand what’s at stake, and to find a solution against seemingly invincible forces behind it. Like all his novels, it’s not one you will put down until you get to the last page.

Another novel straight out of the headlines is David Thomas Roberts’ A State of Treason($31.50, in which a President who hates the Tea Party sets in motion a confrontation with the Governor of Texas when he seizes a member of the Party in an unconstitutional way. The Governor authorizes a Texas Ranger to free him and his family. The confrontation escalates when the Governor puts the question of independence from the federal government on the ballot and the President declares martial law, sending in armed forces to deny Texans the right to decide whether they want to continue as part of a corrupt government, a do-nothing Congress, and an administration plagued by scandals.

A number of other softcover novels will provide hours of entertainment to rival anything on the TV and you don’t have to be bothered by commercials. Plucked from the headlines being generated by the Islamic turmoil of the Middle East, Lucy Ferriss, the author of A Sister to Honor ($16.00, Penguin) journeyed to northern Pakistan in 2012 to learn about their culture of honor. It is a novel about Pakistani people in America. Afia Satar is studious, modest and a devout Muslim. The daughter of a landholding family, she has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country to serve as a doctor, but when a photo of her holding hands with an American boy surfaces online, she is suddenly no longer safe, even from the family that cherishes her.  It is rising sports star Shahid Satar who has been entrusted by her family to watch over Afia and now he has been ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame. This is the classic clash of cultures and quite relevant to the issues and times in which we live.

The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge ($22.95, Douglas & McIntyre, softcover) is set in the George Eliot Academy, a private school for girls that prides itself on being on the vanguard of learning. For years Audrey Brindle and her mother, Ruth, have wanted Audrey to get into the school where Ruth has taught for a decade, but when she is finally admitted, she discovers that the daily world of Eliot is a place of sly bullying, ferocious intolerance, and bewildering social standards. Her mother, Ruth, finds her own stability dismantled by the arrival of a new teacher. As both navigate the treacheries of their upended worlds, each finds her sense of morality slipping as unexpected possibilities ignite. Clearly a book that women will enjoy and identify with more than men, it is also clearly worth a read for being by turns comic and psychologically intense.

From Thomas & Mercer comes a mystery, The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley ($15.96, softcover), an atmospheric and richly detailed story that weaves together the stories of Beatrice Baker who begins work at the First Bank of Cleveland shortly before its mysterious collapse in 1978 and Iris Latch, a civil engineer hired to survey the abandoned but perfectly preserved bank building two decades later. As she toils amid the bank’s ransacked offices and forgotten safe deposit boxes, Iris is drawn into uncovering the dark secrets of the building’s sordid past; one that includes Beatrice’s mysterious disappearance shortly before the sudden collapse. This is a thoroughly engrossing mystery and a fine debut for its author.

That’s it for March. Come back in April for more news of the best new fiction and non-fiction. Tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers about so they too any can learn about books that often do not get noted by the mainstream print media which in recent times is devoting less and less space to reviews. See you next month!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bookviews - February 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

While we read and hear about the latest barbaric assault on humanity perpetrated by Islamic fanatics, the search for answers as to why they are doing this continues. In present times, the upsurge of those pursuing a holy war or jihad is traced to Iran’s Islamic revolution that began in 1979. After that it took off in the form of al Qaeda, but why so many Muslims have turned to violence to impose Islam is widely debated. One answer will surprise you and comes from Sarah Chayes the author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security ($26.95, W.W. Norton). A foreign policy expert with ten years’ experience in Afghanistan, Chayes examines the ancient and widespread role of corruption that, with regard to many nations in the Middle East and African Maghreb has led to the “Arab Spring” in which the populations of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt drove their dictators from power. Chayes makes a case that the looting of the public treasure and often the ostentatious lifestyle of the dictators or members of their families finally convinced those in their nations to rise up against them. Americans do not live in a nation where virtually every interface with a government employee or with the police requires a bribe, but that has been the life of millions in oil-rich or developing nations. It also explains why American “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed because corruption is still so deeply rooted in their governments. It is a widespread evil and much of what we are seeing worldwide—the latest example is Ukraine—is tied to the growing rejection of it.

In 2012 I reviewed Edmund Contoski’s The Impending Monetary Revolution, the Dollar and Gold ($28.95, American Liberty Publishers, softcover) and thought it was one of the best books explaining how the U.S. got into the 2008 financial crisis, why it could occur again, and why current financial practices are endangering the nation with a huge $18 trillion debt. I am happy to report that its second edition is available and is even more relevant in terms of the past three years. Contoski has not only the knowledge, but the talent to write about the dangerous global and national conditions that exist in a way that anyone can understand. You will, for example, wonder why the U.S. retains Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage corporations that are not government agencies, but that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and which Congress bailed out with billions, just as they did with General Motors. At the heart of our problems is the government’s unrestrained spending. “No nation every spent itself into prosperity”, says Contoski, and “Greater borrowing is no solution for either Europe or America. Governments can borrow and create debt, but they cannot create wealth. If they could, inflation would be unnecessary. So would taxation.”  If you are concerned about the current economy and want to know how to protect yourself against the future, this is a book you must read.

For anyone who loves to read about travel, you’re in for a treat when you read Jamie Maslin’s new book, The Long Hitch Home ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing). I became aware of Maslin when I read his first book, “Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn”, and it provided a very different look at Iranians than we get in the newspapers. They like to have fun too. Maslin likes to travel and if that includes getting into some potentially dangerous situations, that’s okay with him. So, when he decided to travel to London by way of hitchhiking from his home in Australia’s Tasmania, he had to know he was in for an unusual trip. In fact, it required 800 hitchhiking rides, 18,000 miles, four seasons, three continents, and 19 countries. This book takes you along and is a very entertaining trip filled with insights and information you could not acquire in any other fashion.

ZestBooks’ editors have a talent for publishing offbeat and always interesting books that break through the usual formats and themes. A recent example is Members Only: Secret Societies, Sects, and Cults—Exposed! by Julie Tibbott ($14.99, softcover). In a lively, entertaining text she explains the appeal of exclusive memberships and examines the histories and practices of fifty groups such as the Knights Templar of old, Yale’s Skull and Bones Society, and the Illuminati which got its start in 1776 and is believed to be devoted to taking over the world. It is, however, unknown whether or not it still exists! It was a secret society of European intellectuals in the Enlightenment era. The odds are strong that, as its members died, so did the secret society. The various groups she writes about will keep you turning the pages as you learn about those who joined them and why, inevitably, they fizzled out or came to a bad end like Jim Jones cult that committed suicide.

My career as a writer began with weekly newspapers, then dailies, and then as a freelancer for many magazines, so I or anyone who has ever worked with a magazine can be forgiven for having an interest in Stuart Englert’s Sold Out: How an American Magazine Lost Its Soul ($13.94, available from, softcover and Kindle). He tells the story of “American Profile” a newspaper insert similar to “Parade”, but aimed at an audience in “flyover America”, people living in rural communities between the coasts; people whose values differ in that they favor small town life, church-going, and fundamental American traditions, focusing on being of service to their neighbors and communities. That was the original editorial focus of “American Profile” as conceived by L. Daniel Hammond. It was offered to small town dailies and gained up to ten million readers rather quickly, but to get it started he had to turn to Wall Street investors more interested in its quick success as a reason to sell it. To sustain it financially its advertising staff soon took over its editorial content in order to sell ads to big brands such as cigarette manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. From an editorial success story to something far less than its origins is told by Englert who was with the publication as an editor for 14 years. His book is a case history of what happens when good editorial standards are sacrificed for fast dollars. “American Profile”, however, is still being published.

I have never played golf, but I know a good book about the game when I see it. That was my reaction to Kalliope Barlis’s Play Golf Better Faster: The Classic Guide to Optimizing Your Performance and Building Your Best Fast ($19.95, softcover, purchase at as well as, Kindle, and other outlets.) The author took up golf in her twenties and in a remarkably short time, she became a professional golfer. These days she tours the country as a golf improvement specialist addressing groups of people who share her love of the game. There is a huge mass of information about golf and what impressed me about this book is the way it focused on the fundamentals while providing excellent advice why the game is about much more than the equipment it requires. She reveals both the mental and the physical elements that will lift the golfer to a higher level, from the novice to the experienced player.

Reading History

The fascination with the American Civil War has generated many books and there’s always room for one more, especially if it is as good as Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged by William C. Davis ($32.50, Da Capo Press). It is a hefty volume of 629 pages that looks at both men simultaneously, removing the myths surrounding them to present them as complex men with very different, but strikingly similar, personal and professional lives. Davis is one of the nation’s top Civil War historians, having authored or edited more than fifty books. He is a three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award. The reader gets to follow Grant and Lee through their four meetings over their lives from the Mexican-American war when they were on the same side to Lee’s surrender on behalf of the Confederacy. Both men died at the age of 63. Davis concludes that as leaders, decision makers, and soldiers they were virtually indistinguishable. The book’s focus is less on the incidents of their lives than on their moral and ethical worlds, what they felt and believed and why. In this respect the book fills an important role for those who find the Civil War of interest.

The era that preceded the Civil War is addressed by Eric Foner in his new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad ($26.95, W.W. Norton). James Oakes, an author and winner of the Lincoln Prize, says of this book that it “liberates the history of the underground railroad from the twin plagues of mythology and cynicism. The big picture is here, along with telling details from previously untapped sources.” Between 1830 and 1860, operatives of the underground railroad in New York helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom. Their defiance of the disastrous Fugitive Slave law inflamed the slave states and contributed to their decision to secede. It is hard for us to conceive of what it meant to live in those times, but this book brings them to life.

Most certainly Theodore Roosevelt became an almost mythic figure, but Harry Lembeck tells us of an aspect of his presidency of which most may not have heard. Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics ($27.00, Prometheus Books). In August 1906, black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, were accused of going on a lawless rampage in which shots were fired, one man was killed, and another wounded. Because the perpetrators could never be positively identified, President Roosevelt took the highly unusual step of discharging without honor all 167 members of the black battalion on duty the night of the shooting. Lembeck tells the story which begins at the end when Sen. Joseph Foraker was honored by the black community in Washington, D.C., for his efforts to reverse Roosevelt’s decision. At that time racism was widespread in America, making Sen. Foraker’s effort to reverse Roosevelt’s decision even more courageous. Sixty-seven years after the event, President Richard Nixon finally undid Roosevelt’s action by honorably discharging the men of the Brownsville Battalion.

The internment of Americans born of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry during World War II was a dark chapter in our history. Just how ugly it was is captured by Jan Jarboe Russell in The Train to Crystal City ($30.00, Scribners) which tells the story of an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas where immigrants and their American-born children were sent without ever being charged with a crime. It was the only family internment camp during the war and it was the center of a government prisoner exchange program during which hundreds of prisoners, including their children, were sent back to the nations from which they had emigrated for Americans deemed more important in exchange for imprisoned diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries. This is a tragic story but Russell notes that the Texas Rangers ran the camp with compassion and the inmates created churches, schools, and other amenities. The story of Crystal City is the story of the hysteria that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s subsequent declaration of war on America. Those were bad times made worse by bad decisions that ignored the very reason immigrants had come here, freedom. You’ll read this book and wonder how it happened, but it did happen.

Further back in history, we visit England in 1649 when members of its parliament and others became so frustrated with King Charles I that they did the unthinkable; they beheaded him. He had been king since 1625, ruling over England, Scotland and Ireland. He was completely devoted to the concept of the divine right of kings; the belief that he was king by appointment from God. He was also arrogant and corrupt, living the high life at the expense of his noble class and the peasants. After seven bloody years of a war against Spain and Europe’s Catholic powers that had caused much suffering, a tribunal of 135 men was hastily gathered in London. Charles refused to acknowledge it and they decided to behead him. His son, Charles II was restored to the throne and, instead of learning anything from the execution, he set on retribution. This set in motion the concept of a constitutional monarchy with limited powers that exists to this day. You can read all about this incendiary moment in history in Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I ($34.95, Bloomsbury Press). It is testimony to why fact is always superior to fiction because it so often defies the imagination.

Bios and Memoirs

Hugh O’Brian was one of those actors I grew up seeing in movie and on television. For many he is best known for starring in the TV series, “Wyatt Earp.” When I read Hugh O’Brian, or What’s Left of Him, his memoir written with his wife, Virginia, ($14.00, Book Publishers Network, softcover, available from I discovered a remarkable man. Published on the eve of his 89th birthday, it has forewords by Hugh Hefner and Debbie Reynolds. She tells a delightful story of how he taught her to kiss. She was raised in a very strict family and had never even held hands with a boy. They went on to become good friends. O’Brian tells stories of his life in the Marines, of changing his name from Krampe to O’Brian because nobody seemed to know how to pronounce or spell it. He led what appears to have been a life filled with being in the right place at the right time. It didn’t hurt that he was incredibly good looking. Along the way he met people from Marilyn Monroe to Albert Schweitzer; the latter inspired him to create the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership to encourage community service. His work on this project would put him in contact with Presidents Nixon, Clinton and Bush over the years. If you think of him solely as an actor, his memoir reveals how much more he was and did in his life. It is well worth reading.

Many years ago I did public relations for Actors Equity and had the pleasure of meeting many of the leading actors and actresses of the time. Among them was Theodore Bikel who was president of the union at the time. He has had such a remarkable life that it is good news that a new edition of Theo: An Autobiography ($21.48, softcover, available at has been published. It’s a celebration of Bikel's ninth decade, in which he looks back at his life as an activist for civil rights and progressive causes worldwide, and a singer whose voice has won him great applause. A compelling life story, it practically requires a passport to read, Bikel was born in Austria, raised in Palestine, educated in England, and has had a stellar career in the United States and around the world. His personal history ran parallel to momentous events of the twentieth century. In an eloquent, fiercely committed voice, he writes of the Third Reich, the birth of the state of Israel, the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s, the tumultuous 1960s in America, and events in the Middle East. He is perhaps best known for playing the role pf Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, but he also created the role of Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”. He has had more than 150 screen roles and many others on television and has recorded 37 albums over the years.

To Your Health

Due out officially in March, The Handy Nutrition Answer Book by Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) will answer your questions about what foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, as well as fats—some are good and some are not. This book is filled with information that brings the complexity of food and healthy nutrition together as it answers nearly 900 common questions such as how are calories measured and why is high fructose corn syrup so controversial? What’s the best way to cook vegetables to keep their nutrients from being destroyed? And what does the word “natural” really mean on the label? The authors—Patricia is a science writer and Thomas is a scientist—are very skilled and have previously written “The Handy Biology Answer Book” and others. Indeed, I would recommend you visit to check out the many excellent books filled with answers about history, science, and most recently, about Islam.

There are books being written about gluten, a substance that causes gastrointestinal problems because some people have an intolerance for it. It is the basis for celiac disease. Found in wheat, it varies in flours such as rye and barley. By far the largest book I have seen to date is The Gluten Free Revolution by Jax Peters Lowell ($28.00, Henry Holt and Company, softcover) that is 632 pages in length. The book’s subtitle says it is about “Absolutely everything you need to know about losing the wheat, reclaiming your health, and eating happily ever after.”

The author was diagnosed as suffering from celiac for more than twenty years before it was traced to eating wheat-based foods. Thereafter she devoted herself to bringing national attention to why a gluten-free diet would spare others allergic to gluten. For anyone diagnosed as gluten-intolerant, this encyclopedic book has every answer to every question you might have.

My Mother was an internationally honored authority on wine and I grew up enjoying it with the gourmet dinners she prepared. Wine has many health benefits. I came to know people who produced wine and they are a special group devoted to one of the oldest skills, dating back to biblical times and earlier. Natalie Berkowitz is a wine, food and lifestyle writer who has been published in leading publications such as The New York Times, Vogue, and of course the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. She has even taught a wine appreciation course to seniors at Barnard and Columbia University for more than a decade. She has written The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir ($27.95, Columbia University Press) and I guarantee you, if you love wine, you will love this book. Indeed, even a beginner just learning about the joys and benefits of wine will enjoy it. She has interviewed more than forty of the top viticulture maestros from all over the world with the result that the readers get to learn about the wine-making process which is both an art and a science, from harvest to bottling. To fully enjoy wine there is much more than just drinking it. It has a history, it has a location, it has various distinctions in terms of the grapes from which it is made to the special qualities it will possess. “Terroir” by the way is a French word for “land” and how geography and climate interact with plant genetics. It refers to the way wines are influenced by where they are grown, the soil in which they are planted. After you read this engrossing and entertaining book, your next stop will be to purchase a bottle or two of wine.

Kid Stuff

For the younger crowd, age 4 and up, there’s an inspiring story, Sadie’s Big Steal by Marla McKenna, ($10.99, Tate Publishing, softcover) a sequel to “Mom’s Big Catch” as told by Sadie, the family dog who loves to catch balls and tells of her plan to steal a major league baseball that Mom had caught at a game. She wants to share playing with it with her other dog friends. Along the way, though, she realizes that it would be wrong to do that and she realizes, too, that she wants to help a new dog in the neighborhood find a home with the help of the local shelter. It’s the kind of story that teaches some valuable lessons about respecting and helping others. I would recommend it to any parent that wants to share those lessons.

There's a lot of fun to be had reading The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers by Sheila and Letty Sustrin, wonderfuly illustrated by Thomas H. Bone III ($17.95, Blue Marlin Publications). Written by identical twins and retired teachers, this is a fifth in the series about "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire" aimed at readers aged 5 and up. When she cleaned a number of slippers and put them out to dry, they disappeared. The rest is a hilarious account of the effort to find them and all the people who joined in to help. The culprit is a cat, but when they disappear again you will be delighted by the way it ends.

For the pre-teen and teenager there’s Psi Another Day by D. R. Rosensteel ($9.99, Entangled Publishing, softcover) that features Rinnie Noelie, a girl with a keen fashion sense, a secret identify, and fierce fighting skills. By night she is a Psi Fighter battling the Walpurgis Knights, lethal villains who brutalize her city. By day she’s a high school student and that can be just as frightening because the school is one in which bullying is a part of everyday activities. She wants to use her fighting skills to protect her outcast friends from the school bullies known as the Red Team, but that might reveal the secret of her true identity and place her in mortal danger from the Knights. I am pleased to report that the book lacks the foul language one finds in too many young adult books these days. It’s anti-drug and anti-bullying message would resonate with any young reader. This is an exceptionally well-written book and the good news is that it is the first in a three-book series.

A book written to inspire younger readers is The Hero's Trail by T.A. Barron ($8.99, Puffin Books, softcover). Aimed at those age 8 and up, it is filled with profiles of young heroes who displayed courage, hope, generosity, compassion and perseverance. The book is a reflection of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that honors them and the author's mother. Over the years, close to $550,000 has been awarded to nearly 350 children and the book features 71 of them. If Barron's name strike a chord, it is because he is the author of the "Merlin Series" which has sold millions of copies worldwide. This would make a great gift for any young person.

Novels, Novels, Novels

A number of novels offer a variety of reading experiences with their themes and one that is sure to grab your attention is The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson ($25.00, Caravel Books) set in the merciless and magnificent high desert of Southwestern Utah. This is Anderson’s debut novel, but he has had short fiction published that earned praise. In this novel, Ben Jones is on the verge of losing his small trucking company. A single, 38 year old truck driver, his route takes him back and forth across one of the most desolate regions, providing daily deliveries that bring him into contact with an eccentric cast of character that include an itinerant preacher who drags a life-sized cross along the blazing roadside, the Lacey brothers who live in boxcars mounted on cinderblocks, and Ginny, a pregnant and homeless punk teenager whose survival skills make her an unlikely heroine. Ben is drawn into a love affair with Claire, who plays a cello in the model home of an abandoned housing development and her appearance reignites a decades-old tragedy at a roadside cafĂ© referred to by the locals as the “never-open desert diner.” The owner is an embittered and solitary old man who refuses to yield to change after his wife’s death. The diner was the scene of a horrific crime that was committed forty years earlier and now threatens to destroy the lives of those left in its wake. Sound interesting? It is!

Shady Cross by James Hankins ($14.95 and $9.95 ebook, Thomas & Mercer, softcover) introduces us to a small-time thief named Stokes who is not a good guy which is why he is not particularly upset when he accidently runs a car off the road, killing the driver. About to flee the scene, he spots a backpack near the car that has a pile of cash in it, enough to pay off his debts and let him leave town and start a new life. The bag, though, also contains a ringing cell phone and when he answers it turns out to be a little girl in distress. “Daddy? Are you coming to get me?” asks the girl. Stokes must decide whether to keep the money or use it to save the child’s life. Hankins has three bestselling thrillers to his credit and this one will keep you turning the pages to see what Stokes will do. In Andy Siegel’s Cookie’s Case: A Tug Wyler Mystery ($14.99, Mysterious Press, softcover) the author who in real life is a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney in New York, transmutes his experience into the second novel based on the character of Tug Wyler who is also an attorney. His first novel, “Suzy’s Case” was selected as a Poisoned Pen Bookstore Best Debut Novel and a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2012. In this latest novel you will understand why Tug decides that Cookie is the victim of a spine surgeon and wants to secure a medical remedy and a fair shake for her. Cookie is the most popular performer at Jingles Dance Bonanza and she has a devoted audience even though she must wear a neck brace. Will justice triumph? You will have to read this novel to find out.

It’s a good thing to have been born and raised in Nebraska if you are going to write Secrets of the Porch ($17.99, Tate Publishing, softcover) which is set there. Sue Ann Sellon has written an inspirational, coming of age romance featuring 16 year old Sophie Mae Randolph who has been adrift since her mother died of cancer. To get away from abusive foster parents she hits the streets and together with a boy named Gabe gets arrested for robbing a gas station. The judge lets her avoid juvenile detention when she agrees to spend a year in Nebraska on her grandmother’s farm. She has never met grandma Lila but their relationship develops and she realizes that they both have their secrets. She finds a boyfriend named Blake and everything is fine until Gabe shows up.  Kirkus reviews called this one “a sweet, smart story about growing up and learning to trust.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Perhaps the most unusual novel I have seen in a long time is Five Days: Which Days Would You Choose? by Matt Micros ($9.18, Micropulous Press, available at When 40-year-old Mike Postman rescues a drowning boy he allows himself to drown. Since he died a hero the angel Gabriel gives him a gift of choosing five days that he can relive. The book raises questions about life and death, suicide and the afterlife while raising questions about which five days you might relive if given the opportunity. Definitely offbeat, but it will appeal to some.

That’s it for February. Tell your family, friends and coworkers who love to read about and come back in March for more news about interesting non-fiction and fiction books you may not read about anywhere else.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bookviews - January 2015

By Alan Caruba

Happy New Year!

My Picks of the Month

The Rand Corporation is a think tank created after World War II that describes itself as a “research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, health and more prosperous.” It was formed to connect military planning with research and development decisions. A recent study, Blinders, Blunders, and Wars: What America and China Can Learn ($49.95, softcover, was authored by David C. Gompert, Hans Binnendijk, and Bonny Lin. Anyone interested in wars, past, present, and future will find this examination of “eight strategic blunders” and the lessons to be drawn from them will find this book of interest. It looks at Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, repeated by German military leaders in 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, and other such decisions including the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It also looks at four cases of warfare that were not blunders. A combination of history and strategic analysis makes this a very interesting book.

When Globalization Fails: The Rise and Fall of Pax Americana by James MacDonald ($27.00. Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a historian and former investment banker, takes a look at the way the U.S. has gone most recently from the number one economy to number two for the first time since well before World War ii. MacDonald concludes that the U.S. is withdrawing from its long role as a protector of the sea lanes and as the global policeman that intervenes to avoid problems from rogue nations. Suffice to say he sees a nation in decline, but he does so as the U.S. has become a major energy power thanks to technology that has unlocked vast quantities of natural gas and oil. For six years the Obama administration has withdrawn from wars in hotspots like Iraq, but is now reversing that policy because the decision led to a worsening situation. As the U.S. comes out of the 2008 financial crisis, its dollar will strengthen and the likelihood is that it will regain its global role, but you will not read that in this otherwise interesting book’s cloudy crystal ball.

If you’re thinking of taking a vacation or business trip this year, pick up a copy of The Savvy Traveler: 175 Ways to Save by Robert B. Diener ($8.99, softcover, $2.99 Kindle, available from The author is the founder of, a hotel booking site, and a frequent guest on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC, as well as a source for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times. His book is very reader-friendly as he tells you how to find the very best hotel room rates, domestically, and make good travel choices. Its international travel section provides tips on how to handle currency issues, be safe, and find the best deals overseas. All manner of ways to save money from renting cars to selecting a cruise, as well of course finding the best flights for any destination while avoiding fees and other costs. This is the kind of information any traveler would want to know and should acquire before leaving home.

Another book, The Disaster Handbook is by Robert Brown Butler ($15.95, softcover, available from an architect who has penned five other books that were published by McGraw-Hill. This book addresses what to do to prepare your home or workplace for a disaster and do so in advance when it counts. It provides advice on how to be safe when a disaster like a hurricane occurs and how to best repair afterwards. It goes way beyond that, however, describing how to store and use all the foods, tools, and other “calamity commodities” you will need should misfortune come knocking on your door and how to survive with no electricity and pure water. It is packed with practical information and it does so while avoiding scaring the heck out of the reader by providing a lighthearted text that is “user friendly” from beginning to end. This is a “safe, not sorry” book worth reading before a disaster occurs.

There was a time when every parent knew that providing incentives and rewards was an excellent way to guide a child. Teachers, too, used them in the form of gold stars and in some schools they have even eliminated grades. Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast have joined together to write Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn—and Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well ($14.95, The Heartland Institute, softcover). Their book offers research that proves rewards help children learn and the failure to provide them can actually hurt their development. If you don’t know whether you’re doing well or not, why would you try to do better? The elimination of rewards is the result of the progressive ideology that puts the emphasis on self-esteem at the same it eliminates any reason for students to feel confident in a personal achievement that is ignored. Indeed, as the book reveals, students in teachers colleges are no longer being taught to use the rewards that served the many generations of students that preceded the present ones. It’s no secret there is a crisis in our public education systems these days and this book addresses one important reason for it.

There’s fun to be had in PsyQ by Ben Ambridge ($16.00, Penguin Books, softcover) that provides a way to “test yourself with more than 80 quizzes, puzzles, and experiments” designed to reflect everyday life. As you work your way through them, you will better understand yourself as the author, a psychologist, explains how psychology identifies and determines the forces that guide one’s personality, choices, et cetera. Beginning with the famed Rorschach test and moving through scores of other methods psychologists employ, you will become your own psychologist and learn a great deal about this branch of science. For pure fun, there’s Uncle John’s Canoramic Bathroom Reader® ($19.95, Bathroom Reader’s Press, Ashland, OR, softcover) whose 27th edition tips in at a whopping 544 pages that is a collection of the world’s weirdest and most fascinating facts and stories. It has sold more than 15 million copies since its debut in 1988. Whatever your interests, you will find plenty between its covers to interest you and plenty more as you flip through its pages. This is the ultimate trivia book and one that is also wonderfully education and entertaining at the same time.

I have never had any contact with police that was much more than asking for directions, but what happens when it involves something more serious? What should someone say if a police officer stops to ask a few questions? Why does it take so long for most cases to go to trial? How can one help a relative who has been accused of a crime? If these questions interest you, then pick up a copy of Dan Conaway’s Arrested: Battling America’s Criminal Justice System ($19.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover.)  As the author makes clear, too many Americans have no idea how dangerous, confusing and frustrating the criminal justice system really is. An attorney for 19 years, he was named one of the Top Ten Attorneys in 2013 by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. This one of those books that anyone who might have to deal with the system should read.

December was a month filled with news of Islamist attacks from Australia to Pakistan, all quite senseless. For those who want to learn more about Islam, there’s The Handy Islam Answer Book by John Renard. Ph.D., ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) a professor of theology and scholar of Islam with more than forty years of research and teaching experience. His book takes a scholar’s approach, not offering moral judgments, but it does offer a vast cross-culture understand of Islam in terms of its history, beliefs, symbols, rituals, art and literature, customs, traditions, and ethnic diversity. It is the world second largest religion and this user-friendly guide will answer most questions that anyone might have. Visible Ink Press has a number of these guides and I have been happy to recommend those devoted to history and to science in the past.

Show Biz

For anyone dreaming of going to Hollywood and making a career in films or television, it would be a good idea to read Hollywood War Stories: How to Survive in the Trenches—A Rule Book by Rick Friedberg with contributions by Dick Chudlow ($14.95, softcover, available at This is truly an insider’s look at the industry for anyone thinking about working in it creating and producing music, writing comedy, acting, and other elements of “show biz” Hollywood-style. Friedberg is an award-winning writer/director of movies such as “Spy Hard”, television, “CSI-Miami, the Real Housewives of Orange County”, documentaries, music videos, and television commercials you have likely seen during the Super Bowl or World Series. It is filled with “war stories” and lots of very excellent advice on how to navigate the industry, particularly how it functions behind-the-scenes.  You will learn the do’s and don’ts of dealing with the frustrations and politics that must be addressed in order to have a lasting career. It is a very entertaining as well as educational book.

Coming in February, Black History Month is Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way by six-time Tony Award winning producer and author, Steward F. Lane. He offers an insider’s look at Broadway in a book filled with more than 300 photos ($39.95, Square One Publishers). For anyone who loves Broadway, this book belongs in their library as Lane puts the spotlight on landmark shows such as A Raisin in the Sun, Porgy and Bess, Dreamgirls, The Wiz and many more who gave us an opportunity to enjoy the talents of Ethel Waters, Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Pointier, Sammy Davis Jr, who lighted the stage in plays and musicals by August Wilson, Larraine Hansberry, and other greats of the theatre. All your favorite black performers are to be found in this book about the struggles and triumphs on stage of names of those whose talent has made them legends. The book celebrates the playwrights, songwriters, directors, choreographers and designers who changed the American theatre and around the world. This is great history from minstrel shows to vaudeville, from the jazz age to the golden age of the American musical. This is not just black history, but American history.

Getting Down to Business Books

One of the most entertaining business books is Mitzi Perdue’s book about her husband, Frank Perdue, the man behind the chicken empire. Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue ($20.00, Significance tells how a father and son business, thanks to Frank Perdue’s ethics and ambition, grew into a business employing 19,000 men and women, selling its products in a hundred different countries. For the business school student or future entrepreneur, this book will prove invaluable because it spells out what took young Frank in the 1950s selling chickens in the way the industry had done to the development of a whole new way of reaching out to the consumer. The book offers lessons from the way Perdue conducted his life and his business that are invaluable for success. They start with being honest always, treating everyone with respect and courtesy, and remembering to laugh, have fun, but knowing that hard work can be satisfying and fulfilling. I recommend this book for its timeless lessons and its story of a remarkable man.

More than three million small businesses have decided to go without employer-provided insurance because of the cost. The co-author, Rick Lindquest, of The End of Employer-Provided Health Insurance: Why It’s Good for You, Your Family, and Your company, ($24.00, Wiley) written with Paul Zane Pilzer, says “It no longer makes financial, legal, or social sense for any U.S. employer to continue providing health insurance to its employees.” Since 2000, the percentage of Americans covered by employer-provided health insurance has declined annually. The authors argue that the Affordable Care Act has made it easier and cheaper for most individuals to buy their own insurance and therein lies the flaw to this book. What many have discovered is that the ACA premiums are higher than expected as are its deductibles. It even penalizes companies who fail to sign up if they have a higher than specified number, causing many already to have put employees on a part-time basis and to not employ more. The authors note that some businesses will replace their group policy with a defined contribution plan that offers a stipend to employees to buy health insurance. This book will help the reader understand the problems that the ACA has created, but you would be advised to read “around” it and to understand ObamaCare is at risk of being revised by Congress or even repealed at some point. Nobody seems to like it much.

In a similar fashion Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare by Dr. Lee Hieb, MD ($17.95, WMD Books, softcover) is testimony to the fact that government health care anywhere in the world has never been as good as they provided by the free market. This book is a guide to prepare you and your family to prevent and deal with a multitude of medical issues, from finding doctors during a shortage to tips for dealing with everything from rashes to fevers to fractures and chest pain at home. Dr. Heib is a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. His book explores what ObamaCare will and won’t cover, which medications you should stockpile, and tips to maintain your health so you won’t need a doctor. If you or your family members are at risk for hereditary illnesses, this is must reading, but it is also must reading in order to prepare for the problems the Affordable Patient Care Act has created.
Due out in February, The Job Pirate by Brandon Christopher ($16.95, Bleeding Heart Publications, softcover) is a funny, irreverent, first-person account of the author’s journey through the American job market that some are calling a workplace “survival guide” for Gen-X and Millennials. Christopher writes of some two dozen “crappy” jobs out of the eighty-two he has worked over the last twenty years. Some are hilarious and some are absurd. He writes with wit and intelligence as he offers a look at the lighter and darker sides of humanity in the workplace. It is a compassionate look at the lives of the many people we encounter anonymously every day. As Christopher says, “Knowing the score is half the battle. Once you realize that this is no longer your Day’s America, it becomes easier to survive it. Much about the employment scene has changed and this book is an excellent introduction to the new realities.

In Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life ($16.99, Adams Media, softcover) Nancy D. O’Reilly, a clinical psychologist brings her knowledge and experience interviewing successful women for the past seven years to the pages of a book that encourages women to “claim power and respect, conquer your internal barriers, and change the world by helping other women do the same.” This book is a new addition to a genre of similar books intended to help women who enter the male-dominated world of business and to break free of limits that can impose. Studies have shown that companies in which women have risen to be CEOs and on the boards actually do better than those who do not. This book synthesizes the experiences and the advice of women who have achieve success and will no doubt help any woman, especially the younger ones entering the workplace, to find their own success.

Once you have found success and worked hard, the next hurdle to master is retirement. What To Do to Retire Successfully: Navigating Psychological, Financial and Lifestyle Hurdles ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Martin B. Goldstein is due out in February. Seventy-seven million baby boomers are slated to retire over the next twenty years, about 10,000 daily, and the author, a physician whose clinical practices specialized in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders, is happily retired and wants you to be as well. Many planning on retiring have been hard hit by the recent economic recession and a very slowly improving economy. The plans they made have been disrupted. Everyone worries that they may not have enough funds to maintain their lifestyle. If that description fits you or someone in your family, this book will likely prove very helpful for them, at any point in their life, to make the right decisions about the rest of it. The budget bill that Congress passed in mid-December has changed the status of pensions, allowing the payout to be altered. If you have such a pension you should look into this because many pensioners are likely to find they will receive less in the years ahead.

Your Mental Health

Life is filled with problems and how we deal with them determines how we can achieve peace of mind. How to Survive: The Extraordinary Resilience of Ordinary People ($14.95, Think Piece Publishing, softcover) by Andy Steiner offers a number of inspiring recovery stories as well as resources to help people get through difficult times. There’s a lot of practical wisdom in this book by a writer with some impressive credits to her name, included Self, Glamour and Fitness, to name just a few publications in which her work has appear. You will learn how the people in the book overcame a massive heart attack, bankruptcy, the death of a spouse, the suicide of a family member, and other challenges. For anyone passing through a comparable situation, this will be a welcome book to read. In a similar way, Overcoming Shock: Healing the Traumatized Mind and Heart by Diane Zimberoff and David Hartman ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) tells us that a serious trauma is experienced by 7.7 million adults nationwide and millions more worldwide annually. It can be a threatening illness, the sudden death of a loved one, or a terrorist act like the Boston Marathon bombing. It causes people to mentally and physically shut down. This book provides proven strategies, techniques and tools for successful treatment and provides real-life stories of people who successfully overcame the debilitating effects and post-traumatic ramifications of shock and trauma. Ms. Zimeroff is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Hartman is a clinical social worker who specializes in trauma resolution.

All of us encounter anxiety in some fashion in our lives and Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg has written The Ten Best Anxiety Busters: Simple Strategies to Take Control of Your Worry ($13.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) that will help the reader address and overcome any one of a wide range of often common fears. From fear of flying to not like being in a confined space like an elevator, whether the anxiety is minor or a more serious panic disorder, the good news is that one can address and overcome it. The author, a doctor of psychology, has provided ten simple techniques that include breathing exercises and relaxation practices, as well as how to effectively talk to yourself, among other ways to rid yourself of anxieties, large and small, that interfere with enjoying your life. And then there’s Guilt, Shame and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions by Dr. Peter R. Breggin ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) who has devoted decades to leading successful efforts to reform the mental health field and promote empathic therapies. His work has provided the foundation for modern criticism of psychiatric drugs and diagnoses. His latest book offers the first unified theory of guilt, shame, and anxiety, showing how these emotions eventually become self-defeating and demoralizing. He guides the reader through the “Three Steps to Emotional Freedom” and for anyone whose life is being diminished by negative emotions, this book will surely open doors to a far better one.

I would particularly recommend Change Your Mind, Change Your Health: 7 Ways to Harness the Power of Your Brain to Achieve True Well-Being by Anne Marie Ludovici, ($15.99, Career Press, softcover) a noted behavioral health consultant. Americans are overwhelmed daily by all kinds of advice on how to avoid heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, all leading causes of preventable death, but as often as not, they don’t make the changes necessary to ensure good health. The author notes that nearly 80 million Americans are deemed obese or overweight and smokers often take up to seven or more tries to actually stop. Her new book offers proven, evidence-based behavioral tools for “achieving a self-assured and sustainable sense of health and well-being in the face of all obstacles or challenges.” If you are experiencing a struggle to take up good habits and break bad ones, this book will prove very helpful.

If you or someone you know is the parent of a child with autism, Living Autism Day By Day: Daily reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage ($23.00. Freedom Abound, softcover) by Pamela Bryson-Weaver will provide some valuable insight on how to cope and what to do. The author has three children with special needs. John, her youngest, has autism and Joshua, the oldest, has Tourette’s and ADHD. That set her on a journey from being “just a mom” to becoming an expert on these conditions. Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a multiplex of development disabilities. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in fifty children in the U.S. has autism. Her book tells what information and help is available for the services and professionals who provide it, what to believe and dismiss regarding what one will hear about autism, and what types of feelings, emotions, and issue you will deal with on a personal level as a parent or caregiver. The book has received a great deal of praise from professionals and parenting experts.

For the beautiful women in the world, there’s a book especially for them. The Beautiful Woman Syndrome and the Invisible Man by Jake Kelly ($13.35/$14.95, softcover and Kindle, available from explores his hypothesis that they have more frequent encounters with me because, while they wanted comfort, nurturing and caring, the men wanted sex. “They universally complained of frequent, successive encounters ending with sex and then rejection. They felt it was their fault; that they weren’t loveable; that they always fell for the wrong guy when what they wanted was a good guy. For those women experiencing this syndrome, Kelly has written a book on how to spot a “hit man”, the type who’s only interested in adding one more sexual conquest, how develop the ability to spot this type and avoid the unhappiness that comes with them. The “invisible man” is basically a good guy and there are plenty of them. I have known a few beautiful women in my life and can confirm that this book offers some excellent advice to them.

Kid Stuff

Only received one book for the kids, but it is well worth recommending. It is Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds by Monica Russo with photos by Kevin Byron ($15.95, Chicago Review Press, softcover). Aimed at ages 7 and up this older reader found it fascinating. I have no doubt that a grade-schooler would as well thanks to its interesting text, brief and fact-filled on each page, and for its many wonderful full color photos of all manner of species. The activities it suggests are easy enough for any young reader to undertake, but the focus here is on observing the great diversity and beauty that exists among many bird species. It treats the reader with respect and in addition to information about migration, nesting, food, territories, conservation, and other bird facts, it provides “Bird Words”, a useful glossary as well as common and scientific names, plus resources on the Internet that will provide more information for the curious. I would not be surprised that this book produces some ornithologists in the future.

Novels, Novels, Novels

A taunt, fast-moving thriller with a historical context is found in Patricia Gussin’s After the Fall ($26.95, Oceanview Publishing). Laura Nelson’s career as a surgeon has ended due to a tragic accident, but has led to her accepting a position as vice president of research for a large pharmaceutical company. As she works to finalize approval of the company’s groundbreaking new drug, Jake Harter, a malicious Food and Drug Administration employee is working to stop the approval because he is obsessed with Adawia Abdul, the beautiful Iraqi scientist who discovered the drug. He does not want her to have any reason to return home to replace her dying father in Saddam Hussein’s bioweapons program. A number of forces are a work as Hussein’s henchmen apply pressure to assure her return and, if Laura Nelson gets in his way, he will eliminate her as he has her predecessor, and his own wife. The novel has an added sense of reality due to the fact that the author has practiced medical research and been an executive with a leading healthcare company. Her first novel, “Shadow of Death”, was nominated as the best first novel by International Thriller Writers. This sixth novel is bound to attract awards and is the fourth and final novel in her Laura Nelson series.

The Widow Tree by Nicole Lundrigan ($22.95, Douglas & McIntrye, softcover) is set in the 1950’s post-war Yugoslavia and marks a departure from her previous four novels. When three childhood friends find a long-lost stash of Roman coins it precipitates the unraveling of their relationships as they argue over what to do with their new found wealth. Nevena insists it should be turned over to authorities as the coins belong to the country. Janos wants to keep them and Dorjan walks the line between the two. The decision to conceal their discovery turns disastrous when Janos disappears. This is a compelling, richly layered story of silent betrayals in a tightly knit village where the post-war air is simultaneously flush with hope and weighted with suspicion. Amidst an intricate web of cultural tensions, government control, family bonds and past mistakes, the truth behind many closely held secrets is revealed with life-altering consequences. The author is a masterful storyteller and this one is more than a notch above most novels. World War Two serves as the backdrop for Sprouting Wings by Henry Faulkner ($17.99, Two Harbors, softcover) in which Alan Ericsson begins his journey to become a Navy pilot prior to the U.S. getting into the war. The novel expertly weaves together adventure, love, and historical fact to take the reader back to those days in the early 1940s as it showcases the difficulties of daily life for American military men and women. This is the first of a series of five novels that will follow the protagonist from rookie pilot to a respected member of a squadron. Another perspective will be seen in Alan’s wife, Jennifer, who works for the Office of Naval Intelligence and transfers to Pearl Harbor in August 1941. It would be attacked in December. For anyone wondering what life was like in those days and who also enjoys reading about aviation, this novel will prove a treat.

If You Needed Me by Lee Lowrey ($22.94, iUniverse, hardcover, $14.98 softcover and $3.99 Kindle) is a compelling narrative of loss, loyalty and love drawn from the real life of Ms. Lowry. When Jenny Longworth offers aid and comfort to her former college sweetheart David Perry who had recently lost his French wife to cancer, their youthful passion is reignited, creating a gauntlet of social and moral conflicts arising from the disapproval of friends and family when she uproots her life in Boston and moves to Europe to console David while he attempts to put his life back together. Most of his friends welcome her but some view her with hostility. And David’s children, Mark and Delphine, react to Jenny’s presence with confusion and ambivalence. It should not surprise the reader to learn that Lee Lowrey gave up a successful career in Boston and moved to Europe to help an ex-lover cope with his grief becoming in time an expatriate, second wife, and step-parent. 

For those who enjoy a psychological thriller, they will find one in The Blue Journal by L.T. Graham ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover). When one of Randi Conway’s psychotherapy patients is found dead of a gunshot wound, the investigation is turned over to Lieutenant Anthony Walker, a former New York City cop now serving on the police force of an affluent community in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He lives among the privileged gentry, but knows from experience that appearance often hide reality. This is certainly true of Elizabeth Knoebel. When Walker finds her private journal entitled “Sexual Rites” it is clear she has been recording the explicit details of her sexual adventures with various men, many of whom are married to the women in her therapy group. She was a sexual predator and Walker believes that the killer is another of Randi Conway’s patients. You will find it hard to put this novel down. L.T. Graham is the pen name of a New England-based suspense writer who is the author of several novels and readers will look forward to the next one featuring Detective Anthony Walker.

Michael McCarthy is widely read in conservative circles and has authored  a novel, The Rainbow Option ($13.50, 30 Cubits Press, softcover) a sequel to “The Noah Option” both of which look to a very different, future America when people struggle to survive under a flood of government oppression. It is a nation in which gangs stalk the streets and are ruled by petty tyrants. If that seems to come out of recent headlines of gangs of people shouting “Kill the Police” then you have a sense of the future in McCarthy’s second novel when economic collapse and tyranny is everywhere. The novel features software genius Isaiah Mercury and a brilliant botanist Grace Washington who lead the underground resistance people by those who have fled to refuges called “Arks” after Noah’s Ark. When the government unleashes a deadly virus against its own citizens, Grace and Isaiah race to develop a cure before millions die.  It is a fast-paced tale that will hold your attention and make you think about the future.

That’s it for January!  Tell your book-loving family, friends and coworkers about, a report that tells you about books you may not read about anywhere else, but are sure to enjoy depending on your interests.