Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bookviews - September 2009

Picks of the Month - Matters ‘Literary’ – Biographies/Memoirs – Business - Health Books for Younger Readers – New Novels

My Picks of the Month

One of the abiding aspects of being an American is the dream of becoming rich. Larry Samuel has written Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture ($24.95, Amacom) in which he reminds us that no matter what the state of the economy, there has always been a class of people who remain at the top of the financial stratosphere. The author has been called “the anthropologist of plutocrats”, having researched the American wealth culture and revealed the inner workings of America’s financial elite. In doing so, he has put the American obsession with all things money into a much needed perspective and context. He traces the history of an age of philanthropy that began to erode as an era of wealth exploded after WWII. There are currently nine million millionaires in America and more than 370 billionaires. The author provides a look into the lives of the Carnegies, Astors, and Rockefellers, as well as the Gates, Bransons, Trumps, and Hiltons. You can now also read Empires of Trust: How Rome Built—and America is Building—a New World in paperback ($17.00, Plume). Written by Thomas F. Madden, a professor of history at St. Louis University, the author explores how an unusual set of circumstances led these two republics to attain unprecedented levels of power. In the process, he dispels many of the myths about the Roman Empire which he calls an Empire of Trust because the Romans were asked to extend their protection further and further from Rome as it became clear they could be trusted to exercise power reliably. In a similar fashion, America, after defeating totalitarian regimes in the mid-twentieth century, kept troops in place to fend off the Soviet Empire, to ensure Japan could restructure into a democracy and to extend protection to Korea and other points of conflict. Today, America is an empire of trust. Will it follow the way of Rome? Madden says all empires eventually pass from the scene, but suspects that, like Rome, America’s hegemony will be around a very long time. I heartily recommend reading this excellent book. One of the best books I read in recent years, pointing to why America was heading for a financial meltdown was Empire of Debt by Addison Wiggin. Six years ago he teamed with Bill Bonner to write Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today’s Global Depression ($27.95, John Wiley & Sons). The updated 10th edition is now available and explains the idiocy of spending money to get out of debt. The authors predicted just what eventually happened as the housing, credit and consumption bubble finally burst. If you want to know why and what is happening now, as well as how to protect your assets, this is the book to read. You don’t have to have a college degree, just common sense and an open mind to understand the economics they explain.

A surefire way to get a dozen different opinions going at the same time is to mention Israel during a conversation. The absolutely best book I have read on this subject is Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and its History by Rich Cohen ($26.00, Farrar, Straus & Giroux). I liked this book for its combination of an excellent knowledge of the history of Israel stretching back to its founding some three thousand years ago to the light touch the author brings to the subject. Although Jewish and a Zionist, Cohen who is an American has a clear, unsentimental view of history and, in particular, the Zionist movement that brought about the reestablishment of Israel in 1947 after two millennia of life in the Diaspora. He provides some wonderful portraits of the men and women that devoted their lives to creating the new nation and to the way its wars for survival and present deadlock with the so-called Palestinians shaped the lives of Israelis and altered how the modern world has come to see these “muscular” Jews who have no intension of being annihilated as were six million in the last century by the Nazi Holocaust. Mostly, though, this is just a wonderful reading experience thanks to the talent of its author.

Another interesting book about the Middle East is Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices against Oppression by Ida Lichter ($27.98, Prometheus Books). What too many Americans do not know is that the Middle East continues to slip behind the rest of the world because all of its nations, with the exception of Israel and Turkey, are ruled by monarchs or despots. This explains why it has made so little progress providing education, improving their economies or at least sharing the great oil wealth with citizens. In a world where the strident demands of Islamic extremists capture the media’s attention there are courageous protests of Muslim reformers that barely receive any notice. It took huge riots in the streets of Tehran for people to be aware of the seething discontent of much of its younger population. While many of the women cited in this book want reform to occur within Islam, the reform they demand stands in opposition to many of the fundamental elements of Islam, a religion firmly determined by men with few real rights for women. Change is coming, but it is coming very slowly.

Still wondering if “global warming” is real? Hint: The Earth has been cooling for a decade! Ralph B. Alexander, who picked up a Ph.D. in physics from Oxford University and been a researcher at laboratories in Europe and Australia, a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, and the co-founder of a small high-tech materials company, just made it easier to understand all the claims with his book, Global Warming False Alarm: The Bad Science Behind the United Nation’s Assertion that Man-Made CO2 Causes Global Warming ($18.95, Canterbury Publishing, Box 1731, Royal Oak, MI, 48068, softcover). In language that a laymen can understand, Alexander explains how the whole “global warming” claim got started, who started it, and how it has been maintained by too many scientists (and others) using deliberately false or distorted “science”. Insofar as the biggest tax in the history of the nation is contained in the “Cap-and-Trade” act that Congress is contemplating, it’s a good idea to know how to refute it because it is based on a claim that “global warming” is real.

Folks who love the history of seafaring will thoroughly enjoy The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894-1922, Volume 1 by H.P. Willmott ($34.95, University of Indiana Press). It is truly a magisterial study of naval power in the 20th century, examining the transition to modern war at sea during the period of the Sion-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Spanish-American War (1898) that advanced the advent of the dreadnought (battleship) and the nearly continuous state of war that culminated in World War I. By 1922, most of the elements that would define sea power in the 20th century were in place. This is an extraordinary work of history writing and an invaluable book for today’s seaman and officer’s corps. Historian Peter C. Mancall has written Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson ($33.95, Basic Books) and, considering that the Hudson River, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay were named for him, this 17th century explorer of the North Atlantic was crucial to England’s efforts to lay claim to Canada. This is a truly wonderful work of history and, on the 400th anniversary of his voyage to New York and the river that bears his name pays tribute to the man who searched for a Northwest Passage and tells the story of the mutiny on his final voyage that set him, his son, and others adrift in June 1611. On their return, the mutineers were charged with murder. For anyone who loves reading history, this one is a keeper.

Sigmund Freud got everybody analyzing their dreams for clues to their unconscious mind. Now The Dream Encyclopedia ($24.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) is in its second edition. James R. Lewis and Evelyn Dorothy Oliver, its authors, examine 276 dream topics and provide some explanation to their meaning. From ancient times, dreams have had attributed to them the ability to predict the future or explain events in one’s life. I am not terribly sure that they do much more than randomly connect synapses in the brain providing some kind of a maze or map to one’s emotional state. That said, if your dreams interest you, this book will too.

Matters Literary

It should come as no surprise that people who love to read books often want to write of their own. As a published author and longtime professional writer, I can tell you that getting published can be quite an ordeal. Many now famed authors were rejected repeatedly until someone took a chance on them. Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us ($16.95, Tarcher/Penguin, softcover) is subtitled “A (sort of) compassionate guide to why your writing is being rejected.” Written by Jessica Page Morrell, an author who has been in the writing trenches, she points out that editors keep stock rejection letters on hand because less than one percent of manuscript submissions are actually accepted. This is bad news for aspiring writers. Her book is a blunt, but well-meaning wake-up call to what’s working within the story and what adjustments are needed to save it from life in the slush pile. Her book teaches how to juggle an intricate plot, avoid confusing the reader, and keep it moving to a thrilling climax. How to create a compelling cast of characters. Why you should avoid clichés and creepy sex scenes and the secrets of good dialogue. Et cetera.

Coming in November, keep an eye out for Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing). It is an entertaining look at its topic and there have been quite a few in recent years. You may recall Oprah Winfrey taking James Frey to task for a largely fake autobiography that had inspired many readers before it was revealed he had played fast and loose with the facts. Perhaps the most famous recent fake was the Howard Hughes “autobiography”, along with the fake diaries of Adolf Hitler. Katsouli takes us on a tour of the authors who betrayed the trust of readers for fame, money, political power, or just for their own amusement. There’s an interesting series of books from Whereabouts Press of Berkeley, CA. They are devoted to the interests of people who love books and love to travel. They are “A Traveler’s Literary Companion” and the three I’ve seen cover France, South Africa and Vienna ($14.95 each). Each is written by someone with a thorough knowledge of the particular nation or city that is featured and, as a result, one can arrive with knowledge of its authors, their books, and history. The guides capture a sense of place and bring it alive in terms of the authors who lived and worked there. They are very good and I recommend you visit to learn more and to get one for your next trip.

People, People, People

What do Colonial explorer John Smith, millionaire Cecil Rhodes, and former president Bill Clinton have in common? They were all influenced by the Meditations and considered its advice of great value. So have others over the centuries. It is the writings of Marcus Aurelius, who is the subject of a biography by Frank McLynn ($30.00, Da Capo Press) just out this month. They was penned by Aurelius during the northern campaigns from 170 until his death in 180 AD as a guide to how we should live and deemed one of the great works of classic literature. Aurelius was emperor of Rome for nineteen years, a man of considerable political and military ability, and considered one of the “five good emperors” to have held that position. The author has done biographies of Napoleon and others. His skill is evident and the subject is worth visiting and knowing.

Three very different women are the subject or author of biographies or memoirs. The brief and meteoric career of a modern poet is captured in Connie Ann Kirk’s biography of Sylvia Plath ($16.98, Prometheus Books, softcover). Much controversy has surrounded her since she took her life in 1963 at age thirty. She had battled depression for much of her life, had a difficult relationship with her parents, was married to a respected poet, Ted Hughes, who was unfaithful, and all the time she was trying to balance a literary career with her roles as wife and mother. Kirk has written biographies of Emily Dickinson and J.K. Rawling, so she brings a seasoned hand to the task of telling Plath’s story. Cici McNair is a very different kind of lady from Plath and she tells her story most entertainingly. Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts: True Adventures of a Female P.I. ($22.99, Center Street, an imprint of Hachette). Raised as a southern belle, Cici longed to escape her suffocating, strict upbringing to travel the world. From working at the Vatican to dining with a Haitian gunrunner, she has lived a very colorful life, but eventually she found herself divorced, unemployed, and very hungry in a Madison Avenue apartment. At that point, she decided to fulfill a childhood dream and become a private investigator. It wasn’t easy and it initially took her back to her Mississippi hometown. After starting her own firm, Green Star Investigations, she established herself and was in demand. This book is never dull! In a reflection of one of the great catastrophes of recent times, Hurricane Katrina, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc tells what it was like to be in New Orleans, before, during and after in Not Just the Levees Broke ($14.00, Atria Books, softcover) which has a foreword by filmmaker Spike Lee. August marked three years since the hurricane and the author takes you there as a former resident of the Ninth Ward. She spares no one as she reveals just how pathetic the response was from Mayor Ray Nagin who issues an evacuation order too late to the failure of emergency services, and the horror of a devastated city and area stripped of everything we count on each day from power to food.

Carl Sagan probably did more to turn Americans onto the wonders of astronomy and the universe as any single figure in modern times. I still recall his wonderful television series, “Cosmos”. An astronomer, planetary scientist, astrophysicist, exobiologist, skeptic and public figure, he made science interesting to a broad public. Ray Spanenburg and Kit Moser have written Carl Sagan: A Biography ($16.98, Prometheus Books, softcover) that is mercifully brief as opposed to the massive tomes that tend to get the most attention. It is a concise, lively biography of a remarkably talented man. I suspect he would have been on the front lines opposing the dubious, junk science “global warming” theory had he lived. I recommend reading this lively story of a remarkable man. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac: Mystic of the Atom ($29.95, Basic Books) by Graham Farmelo is a biography about a man few outside the world of physics have ever heard. Stephen Hawking once called him the greatest British Theoretical physicist since Newton. In 1933 Dirac was the youngest theoretician to win the Nobel Prize for Physics. He predicted the existence of anti-matter before it was detected and co-discovered quantum mechanics, a feat second only to Einstein’s theory. The author was inspired by him to become a theoretical physicist and has spent the last six years research this man who fervently avoided the spotlight, but his theories opened the doors for later scientists to develop the modern string theory and other breakthroughs. What emerges in this biography is a man of astonishing intellect, matched only by his passion for both science and anonymity.

Indiana University Press has published three biographies of interest. A new Johnny Depp movie is out and he plays John Dillinger, a criminal who captured the nation’s imagination during the days of the Depression in the 1930s. To read the real story, pick up a copy of Dillinger: The Untold Story by G. Russell Girardin and William J. Helmer, with assistance from Rick Mattix ($21.95, softcover). I suspect the real Dillinger would be pleased by all the attention, but the fact remains he was a notorious and ruthless outlaw who killed quite a few people while robbing banks. Along the way, he staged three successful jail breaks. This book was originally written in the 1930s by Giradin, but never published. It was discovered by Helmer while researching Dillinger. Giradin got a lot of his information from Dillinger’s lawyer, Louis Piquett, after the gunman had been killed by FBI agents in a famous scene outside a movie house. It makes for some very interesting reading. For music lovers, there’s two books, the first of which is The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Legacy in Country Music ($55.00/$21.95, hard and softcover) where are familiar to many people even if they don’t know the composer. Jocelyn R. Neal traces three of his most influential songs and offers a new perspective on him. Ignaz Friedman by Allan Evans, ($39.95) is about a Polish-born composer and master pianist whose recordings in the 1920s and 1930s rank him among the greats. Little has been written about him, however, and this book makes up for that and, for those who love classical music, this book reveals a rich life of an extraordinary artist that was filled with achievement.

I am one of those people who enjoys starting up a conversation with strangers and, invariably, I find people of good humor and good will for a brief chat. I Am Everyone I Meet by James P. White ($12.95, Tabloid Books, softcover) is a collection of brief encounters with strangers on the streets of Los Angeles. They come from all over the world. It is a testimony to our common humanity and is very entertaining. I’m guessing you need to go to in order to purchase it.

Lastly, there’s J. Randy Taraborrelli’s portrait of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, available as an audio book ($29.98, Hachette, 7 CDs). Taraborrelli is a bestselling author of books about Elizabeth Taylor, Sinatra, and other show business personalities. He tells the heartbreaking story of a world-famous woman, her mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, her foster mother, and the details that continue of hold the public’s attention such as who her real father was, her relationship with the Kennedy’s, and her friendships with those who did their best to either exploit her or help her cope. She was an icon of my youth and, though few mention it, a very accomplished actress who could also sing.

To Your Health!

You may have noticed that Americans are living longer and longer these days. It is no longer uncommon for four generations of a family to be alive at the same time these days and the shift in demographics is having a significant impact on political issues, i.e., the debate over the proposed healthcare “reforms” and universal coverage. As it is, Medicare is running out of money and Social Security is not far behind. A timely book is The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life by Dr. Robert N. Butler, MD ($30.00, Public Affairs). Worldwide people are living long and by 2025, at least 25% of the industrialized nations will be 65 and old. This book takes a long look at the way an aging population will transform our society. That’s why, if you are a senior citizen or have a parent who’s getting older, you might want to pick up a copy of The Real Truth about Aging: A Survival Guide for Older Adults and Caregivers by a trio of physicians ($21.98, Prometheus Books, softcover) that is filled with news of the latest research about the aging process, chapters on preventative medical testing, a look at so-called anti-aging therapies, vitamins and herbal supplement, and much more. The chapters on caring for an aging parent, particularly one that’s frail, are worth the price of the book. Having been through that for a mother who died at age 98, I wish I had been able to read this book during a long care giving period.

Overcoming ADHD
by Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, MD with Jacob Greenspan ($25.00, Da Capo Press) addresses the fact that schools have been pushing the ADHD diagnosis (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) now for years and pressuring parents into drugging their children with Ritalin. The author brings 35 years of clinical practice as a child psychologist to bear on the topic. The problem is that his profession depends on identifying attitudes and problem behaviors that previous generations of parents dealt with in ways that did not include drugs or tons of counseling. Inattention is school, as often as not, is because school is a very boring place in which to be forced to spend most of the day for a lively young mind. It is a normal response. Hyper-activity is just the normal energy that most children have. I am loath to dispute the author, but if I were a parent these days of a school-age child, I would approach this book with caution.

Assuming that one’s mental health is highly dependent on whom one marries or surviving the now commonplace ordeal of divorce, there are two books offering cautionary and other skills. How to Marry the Wrong Guy: A Guide for Avoiding the Biggest Mistake of Your life by Anne Milford and Jennifer Gauvin, MSW, LCSW ($14.95, Coldfeet Press, softcover) should be mandatory reading for any woman contemplating marriage. Ms. Gauvin is a practicing marriage and family therapist and Ms. Milford cancelled her wedding exactly five months before the day. What both know is that many women, caught up in the demands and anxiety of planning a perfect wedding often push to the background the nagging fear that they are marrying the wrong guy. The book is filled with stories of women who walked down the aisle knowing they were making a mistake. This book is filled with excellent advice. You can learn more about it and purchase a copy at Another book deals with the heartbreak of divorce, noting that two-thirds of American families are “blended”, which means they are made up of remarried adults and often stepchildren. Many divorced people carry the animosities and negative behavior patterns of their former heartbreaks into their new marriage. Your Ex-Factor: Overcome Heartbreak and Build a Better Life by Stephen B. Poulter, Ph.D. addresses the problems ($18.98, Prometheus Books, softcover) and takes the reader through the three phases of divorce to the security of a stronger and more fulfilling future attachment. If you or someone you know is trying to move forward beyond the pain of emotional loss and attempting to achieve a new loving relationship, this would be a very good book to read.

Getting Down to Business

Labor Day marks a return to greater activity in the world of business after the traditional time for vacations. As always, there is a flurry of new books published to help everyone from the new graduate to managers succeed in their careers, invest wisely, and do well in the world of business.

Let’s start with recent graduates and J.R. Parrish’s You Don’t Have to Learn the Hard Way: Making it in the Real World ($19.95, BenBella Books, Dallas, TX). It is filled with proven advice on how to develop crucial people skills, avoid relationships that can derail one’s goals, establish one’s financial health, find mentors who can be dependable guides, and create good habits to further one’s success. The author went from being a milkman to being a multimillionaire after he established a commercial real estate company in the Silicon Valley based on treating people with fairness and respect. In a similar vein, Why Loyalty Matters by Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy ($24.95, Benbella Books) explores this vital aspect of running a business and why failing to exercise loyalty can destroy a company when workers are seen as expendable, employees job hop, and consumers buy what’s cheapest. It affects one’s personal life, too, leading to divorce and children don’t learn the value of service and citizenship. It is well worth reading. For those starting out in the world or those concerned about making wise investments, there’s Peter Passell’s Where to Put Your Money Now: How to Make Super-Safe Investments and Secure Your Future ($12.00, Pocket Books, softcover). Passell is a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, a non-partisan policy think tank in California. He has taught economics at the graduate school at Columbia University and has been widely published. In these uncertain times, everyone is wondering if their savings will last. The author offers lists of funds and accounts you can trust, reliable websites where you can learn more, and the kind of advice that can get you through tough times.

For those in managerial positions, there’s Organizing Your Day: Time Management Techniques That Will Work for You by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims ($13.99, Revell, softcover) that is filled with advice setting goals, project management, daily scheduling, and setting new habits to make your life more productive. If this is a problem for you, this is the book for you. The Hamster Revolution for Meetings: How to Meet Less and Get More Done by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress ($19.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco) looks at the ways meetings have changed, becoming more frequent, informal, and virtual. That said, the authors believe that most managers and professionals need to upgrade their meeting skills and offer a host of excellent advice they say can save you the equivalent of 15 days a year in wasted time. From tech tips to time-saving tricks, the authors offer an easy-to-read regimen to help you make the best of meetings. If you are a woman, have a product or service for women or just want to sell more to women, pick up The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business by Catherine Kaputa ($24.95, Davies-Black) by the personal branding guru who says that a woman in business doesn’t have to think like a man to succeed. Women, it turns out, are “wired” for certain skills that are highly valued in today’s global marketplace and, she says, have superior verbal and communications skills. Making the most of one’s skills is the essence of this book.

The Internet continues to offer all manner of new opportunities and to generate books about them. Scott Fox has written e-Riches 2.0 ($25.00, Amacom) on how to go about building a online business by using the wealth of low-cost, state-of-the-art tools and vehicles for connecting with customers. The problem for most, however, is that trying to get the handle on all the new opportunities for marketing online can be daunting. As Fox says, “The good news is that you don’t need to figure them all out.” This book builds on his first, Internet Riches and his popular blog. He keeps the focus on using today’s latest Web technologies for the purpose of making money. Others may still be wondering if they can make money on eBay and, for them, there’s The eBay Marketing Bible by Cliff Ennico and Cindy L. Shebley, eBay Certified Instructors ($22.00, Amacom, softcover). Incredible as it may seem, across the USA, nearly 900,000 small business retailers are making a living, either full-time or part-time, on eBay. With more than 80 million registered users worldwide, eBay has a real buyer for virtually every collectible and commodity imaginable. The book is full of good advice for the serious seller, particularly if you want to stand out from the crowd. For Internet addicts (and I am one of them), there’s an interesting and important book, Google Bomb which is “the untold story of the $11.3 verdict that changed the way we use the Internet.” Written by John W. Dozier, Jr. and Sue Scheff, ($14.94, HCI Books, softcover) it makes abundantly clear that it can take twenty years to build a sound reputable business and about twenty minutes “of vicious keystrokes to destroy it all.” This book explains how the Internet can be used against you, from job seekers and small business owners, to parents and students, and explains the things people can do today to protect themselves against those who bare them ill will or are simply malicious. Here’s how to be safe online, defensive tactics, and how to spot an Internet predator. Dozier is an attorney and Scheff is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resources Experts, Inc., a child and parenting advocacy organization. She is an expert on Internet defamation.

I recently received New Neighborhoods: The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-op, and HOA Living by Gary A. Poliakoff and Ryan Poliakoff ($16.95, Emerald Book Co., Austin, TX, softcover). For anyone contemplating moving to any of these housing options, I would heartily recommend reading this book first. A man’s home used to be his castle, but for millions of Americans, that could not be further from the truth. More than sixty million people live in shared ownership communities and some two million volunteers serve on association boards and committees. The degree of intrusion and control that these communities can exert is sometimes astonishing and many who have chosen to live in them have discovered this truth the hard way. To learn about the rights and responsibilities of shared ownership, pick up a copy of this excellent guide.

Books Kids Will Love

I am a strong advocate of getting youngsters to read at as early an age as possible. Books unlock the world and energize the brain. The reading habit can last a lifetime and provide endless hours of entertainment and knowledge.

Have I Got a Book for You by Melanie Watt ($16.95, Kids Can Press) is ideal for the very young, either pre-school or early readers because it slyly reveals how all manner of products are pitched by smooth talkers. Starring a fox, it takes the reader through all the usual ways salesmen get people to buy anything; in this case her book. Watts is an accomplished and established writer of books for youngsters and this one is pure fun. From the same publisher and for the same age group comes The Delicious Bug by Janet Perlman ($16.95) about two chameleons who get into a big fight over a delicious buy each wants to eat, resulting in they’re almost becoming dinner for two crocodiles! The message is a good one; don’t fight over things that can be shared. It is a very funny story with excellent artwork. Snowy Sports: Ready, Set, Play by Per-Henrick Gurth ($14.95), also for early readers, explores hockey, ice skating, and other favorite winter pastimes. For those who live where the snow falls along with the thermometer, this is a good one for youngsters in those climes. For readers age 7 to 10, there’s Out of This World: The Amazing Search for an Alien Earth by Jacob Berkowitz ($17.95) that combines science with an imaginative text and illustrations to describe how life on Earth began and the exploration for it elsewhere in our galaxy. A visit to will provide a look at its new and earlier texts.

Pre-teens in particular will benefit from the history lessons in two books from Calkins Creek, a Honesdale, PA publisher. Both are by Selene Castrovilla. By the Sword ($17.95) is about the Revolutionary War and the adventures of a young teacher who sacrifices his career to join George Washington’s army, engaging in the Battle of Long Island. Beautifully illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, it is a great way for a young reader, aged 7-10, to learn about the Revolution while being entertained by a first class story. Her other book, Upon Secrecy ($17.95) deals with the end of the Revolutionary War as the French fleet is soon to arrive and bottle up the British at Yorktown. Keeping it a secret, yet knowing of their arrival is essential to Washington and trusted spies aid him. Illustrated by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson, this too is history at its best for the younger reader.

Who doesn’t love girls? Well, their parents and friends do and American Girl is a publisher devoted to their interests. Pre-teens and teens will enjoy some of their new titles. All About You Quiz Book ($9.95) permits readers to do some early self-evaluation regarding their attitudes and behavior. Always a good idea at any time! Similarly, A Smart Girl’s Guide to Understanding Her Family ($9.95) helps the reader sort out the many questions about relationships with parents and siblings. Learning to understand one’s feelings is always a good idea. A Smart Girl’s Guide to The Internet ($9.95) explains how to connect with friends, find what you need, and to stay safe online. It is full of great ideas and good advice. A really girly-girl book is Spa Fun: Pampering Tips and Treatments for Girls is full of health and beauty tips that any young lady will want to learn about. Visit for a world of excellent books.

Mirrorstone is the younger reader’s division of Wizards of the Coast, one of the best publishers of fantasy books. It has a series featuring dragons and the latest is the Green Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham ($9.95) that spins a spellbinding story about a particular kind of dragon. There are the good ones, metallic, and the evil ones, chromantic. Coming soon, too, is the Silver Dragon Codex. Green dragons, as everyone knows, have 80-foot wingspans and breath jets of chlorine gas. The previous books in this series include the Red and Bronze dragons. These are fantastical tales It’s always nice to see new talent emerge and this is the case of Melissa Burmester who has been writing about vampires and supernatural creatures and events since the age of 12. Presently in high school, she has penned Ginger High, ($14.95, Infinity Publishing) a school for students with special powers, the descendents of a parallel universe, but the school is encountering some unexplained deaths and it is up to Daisy Fisher to solve the mystery. This is an impressive debut. Check it out at

Novels, Novels, Novels!

One day last month I received seven books. Of the seven, four were adult novels and one was written for young adults. That’s too many novels on one day. And that is what it is like to be a book reviewer these days. In the fall, catalogs arrive from publishers large and small. They all seem to have endless novels and just a few non-fiction books. I don’t know who is buying all these novels, if in fact they do sell. One assumes they do or the publishers would not be publishing them. So, with that lament, let’s look as some of the better ones that have arrived of late.

Combining today’s headlines with a fast-paced thriller, Gray Garland has written Top Secret: Escape from Iran ($16.60/$11.60, Authorhouse, hard and softcover editions). In this novel, the President and the CIA work together to send an American businessman to Iran on a top secret mission. The object is to bring home an old college friend and to persuade an Iranian scientist to defect. After a life spent as an international businessman, the author serves up an entertaining story. That he began writing in his 80s says something for having a lot of experience under your belt. A more traditional mystery is served up by Peter Lovesey in Skeleton Hill: A Peter Diamond Investigation ($24.00, Soho). This is the tenth mystery in which Inspector Diamond is the key player and it is, of course, very much in the English tradition of such novels. In a reenactment of a battle that took place over 350 years ago near Bath, England, two of the reenactors discover the headless skeleton of a 20-year-old woman. One of them is then found murdered. The English have perfected this kind of novel with its many twists and turns and you will be turning the pages as quickly as you can to find out whodunit.

Colonial Puerto Rico in the mid-1800s is the beginning location for Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa ($25.99, St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books). It is there that Fela, a slave, works as a seamstress at a sugar plantation. She carries a “special stone” with her into which the essence of her unborn child was carried. After sex with the plantation owner, she becomes pregnant and dies soon after giving birth to a daughter Mali. She becomes a powerful “curandera”, a traditional folk healer. The novel follows the lives of daughters, born generation after generation, until it ends with Carisa, born and raised in New York City. It is quite intriguing. Motherhood is at the heart of 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton ($24.95, Unbridled Books) when a mother wakes in the middle of the night convinced that something is wrong with her adult son. In his early twenties, he has turned from being a sensitive, idealistic man into one upset and distant. Thus begins a search for him. What the reader knows, however, is that he is just 31 hours from committing an act of violence in a New York subway for which he trained in Pakistan where he has secretly been for several months. This is about the making of an Islamic militant and it is a thought-provoking and gripping story by a veteran journalist who has covered the Middle East. A quite different local is the background for The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim ($33.00, Henry Holt and Company). Inspired by her own family history, the novel actually began as a work of non-fiction, but evolved into the story of Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher who longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother, but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially at a time in the last century when the Japanese were gaining control of his beloved country. To avoid being married off at age 14, her mother sends her to serve in the king’s court as the companion to a young princess, but the king is soon assassinated. She most cope with increased oppression and seek to continue her education. This is a look at Korea’s history that is rarely offered an American audience or readers and it is well worth reading.

I always like it when a former intelligence operative writes a thriller because you know it is based on real experience. This is the case with John J. Le Beau who served as a clandestine operations office in the CIA for more than 25 years, most of which took place overseas, including nations experience active terrorism and insurgency. Since 2006, Dr. Le Beau has been a professor of national security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center in Garmisch, Germany. Thus, Collision of Evil ($25.95, Oceanview Publishing) has the ring of authenticity to it when it begins with the murder of an American tourist in the Bavarian Alps. The German detective in charge of the case discovers neither clues, not suspects, nor motives. When the victim’s brother arrives and insists on joining the investigation things get even murkier, some reaching back to the Third Reich, and all pointing to a deadly plot. Can you imagine by the son of an acclaimed novelist and wanting to write one yourself? That was the challenge for Peter Leonard, son of Elmore Leonard, one of my favorites, but he has acquitted himself quite well in Trust Me ($24.95, Minotaur Books). It has an ensemble cast of schemers, losers, thugs, con-men, and killers. It has a high-speed plot that unfolds as it careens through the neighborhoods of Detroit. There is no way to explain the plot without giving it away, so suffice it to say that it will prove very entertaining. This is Leonard’s second novel and he is on his way to making his dad and his readers very proud of him. Based on a true story, Dead Weight by Batt Humphreys ($25.95, Joggling Board Press) is the result of his return to his native South after a career in network news at CBS. In 1910, Daniel Duncan, a young black man of respectable employment and temperament was arrested on the even of his wedding for the murder of a local merchant. Suffice it to say that local justice in those days was no justice at all for an African-American. The novel is told through the eyes of a fictional reporter from New York who is assigned to the trial. It was such a miscarriage of justice that a hurricane that hit Charleston after the hanging was seen as divine retribution for the death of an innocent man.

For a very nice change of pace, there’s Robert Rave’s Spin ($24.99, St, Martin’s Press) that just has to be made into a movie. This debut novel explores the lives of the puppet masters who pull the strings behind the scenes. They are the people who keep us glued to our TV’s, computer screens, magazine pages, and all in the name of celebrity. The main character is a corn-fed young man from the Midwest, Taylor Green, who is in the right place at the right time. He gets hired by New York public relations dominatrix, Jennifer Weinstein, soon becoming her right-hand man, getting drawn into her world of sex, greed, power, and fame. His new life conflicts with his core values, though, and he must choose to leave the glamour of a wild New York celebrity scene and a return to one that makes a lot more sense. As someone who has earned his living in public relations (though not this variety), I naturally found this very entertaining and I am confident you will too.

That’s it for September, but mark your calendar to return in October when the best in new books on a wide range of topics is explored.

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