By Alan Caruba
My Picks, Cookbooks, Business, Health, Science, History, Children’s, Novels
My Picks of the Month
It may be the most important book published this year. It’s Dore Gold’s The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West ($27.95, Regnery Publishing) and if the idea of an Iran with atomic bombs and nuclear tipped missiles bothers you, then you must read this careful examination of what that means. Dr. Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and he says that time is running out to stop the Iranians from extending a nuclear umbrella to protect a host of terrorist groups that threat Israel, the United States, Europe and everywhere else in the world. He documents how Iran is the main state-sponsor of terrorism and subversion in the Middle East. If they have a nuclear weapon capability it will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the West to take any action for fear of devastating retaliation. And there is what I call “the crazy element” because the Iranian leadership today believes it must bring about the return of a mythical Shiite figure, the Twelfth Imam, and that can only be done with massive death and destruction. Appeasement is the current administration’s approach to this threat and history teaches what that produces. Read this book!
I am a great fan of what are often called “coffee table” books. They are the large size books, usually extensively illustrated, on any topic. I like the heft and look of them. Two have arrived recently. Great Discoveries: Explorations that Changed History ($29.95, Time Inc) is a great gift for all ages. Its title tells the story of its contents that discuss such things as the great discoveries of archaeology such as China’s clay army that lay hidden below ground for ages or explores the Pueblo exodus in the four corners area of America where four Western States meet. Once a thriving society and then abandoned. Planet Earth has provided plenty to explore such as the source of the river Nile, our extraordinary Yellowstone Park, and the Polar Regions. From life on Earth to the solar system, exploration will ignite the imagination of the young and satisfy the quest for knowledge among older readers. The seminal event of the last century was World War Two. Hitler’s Army: The Men, Machines and Organization 1939-1945 by David Stone ($40.00, Zenith Press) will prove to be an extraordinary gift for anyone interested in the military history of that event as it examines how the German war machine was beginning to take shape in the early 1930s and how Hitler and the Nazi party transformed it and a nation still angry over its loss of WWI into a powerful instrument of revenge. Filled with more than 300 photos, as well as multiple maps and diagrams, the author present a complete picture of this intimidating force, while examining its conduct in battle as well as its strengths and weaknesses. How did this apparently unbeatable army go off to war in 1939 and, five years later, experience total military defeat and unconditional surrender? This book explains why. Part of the story of World War Two was the Battle of the Bulge, fought 65 years ago this December. In another large-size book, "The photographic history of an American triumph" ($28.00, Zenith Press) is told in more than 400 photographs and 12 maps. John R. Bruning has done a superb job of bringing the titanic battle to life. Thirty-one American divisions, fully a third of the U.S. Army saw action in this battle and it was an unlikely group of American men who met the challenge, seemingly against the odds of a seasoned German army. Anyone with a love of military history would be thrilled to find these two Zenith titles under the Christmas tree.
With American’s economy in turmoil, many people are trying to figure out what went wrong. In an audiobook, End the Fed, Rep. Ron Paul makes a case ($32.98, Hachette Audio, 6 CDs) that the Federal Reserve is responsible for the current recession, the worst since the 1930s. The author is well known as a strong advocate for the Constitution, for sound money, personal liberty and free markets. He is an anomaly in Congress where he represents a Texas District. Another mystery to most Americans is the World Bank and David Ian Shaman has written The World Bank Unveiled: Inside the Revolutionary Struggle for Transparency ($38.95, Parkhurst Brothers, Little Rock, Arkansas). The bank is supposed to alleviate poverty worldwide, but the global impact of America’s financial crisis will push more people into poverty. Written by a former World Bank insider, this book examines the inner workers of the organization which he says has been marginalized since 9/11. He discusses needed reforms, but at the heart of this extensive analysis is the widespread belief that the lending institution has been largely ineffective and donor countries are displeased that its accountability is at “an all-time low.” This is not light reading, but it is most certainly an important book. Toby Westerman, the author of Lies, Terror, and the Rise of the Neo-Communist Empire: Origins and Direction ($24.95 @ www.inatoday.com, softcover) is an analyst of international news and, as such, provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the long struggle between communism where it is practiced in the world and capitalism which creates wealth and rewards risk. Enter the Islamic revolution into this struggle and you have a world in turmoil. This book will help clarify many of the major trends occurring worldwide and is well worth reading.
If you are just looking for a bit of personal peace of mind, there’s a delightful little book by June Cotner called Serenity Prayers ($12.95, Andrews McMeel) that is a collection of prayers, poems, and prose to sooth your soul. It is small enough to carry in your pocket and draws on writers from Walt Whitman to Mitch Albom to provide moments of relaxation and reflection that will get you through the day. A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland ($25.00, Counterpoint Press) tells of her decision in her late forties, after an upbringing as one of six children, as a feminist and a mother, to get away from all the noise in her life, spending periods of silence in places such as the Sinai desert, the Scottish hills, and a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye. She found her experiences both euphoric and dark, mirrored in the stories of others who encountered silence, explorers, mystics, long distance sailors. Ultimately, she found a deepening happiness and her book is a tribute to tranquility that may inspire readers to discover this for themselves.
Years ago I created and ran a media spoof called The Boring Institute® that issued annual lists of the most boring celebrities, films, et cetera. A fan of my satire was Angus Lind, one of New Orleans’ treasures as a columnist for The Times-Picayune. In New Orleans, people began their day with coffee, a beignet, and Lind’s column. He retired, but people kept asking him to put together a book that would collect his best ones. A native son of the fabled city, a graduate of Tulane University, Lind had captured the eccentricities and human comedy in a city affectionately called the Big Easy for some 32 years. I recommend this book, not just out of friendship but because good writing, wonderful, entertaining, storytelling writing just announces itself. It’s rare and it’s always a joy to read. Culled from almost 6,000 columns, Prime Angus ($19.95, Arthur Hardy Enterprises, softcover) is just pure reading pleasure. The book will appeal to anyone who has ever called New Orleans home, but also to those like myself who loved visiting on a regular basis. Many of the city’s unique characters are captured in its pages and it is a reminder of why, after Hurricane Katrina, we all want the city to return to its former glory. Treat yourself to a copy. Another treat to read is Richard Polsky's i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) ($23.95, Other Press), a droll and revealing look inside the world of the art market where paintings often sell for amounts that are incredible. Polsky knows that world from the 1980s to now and has previously written about it. In 1987 he bought an Andy Warhol painting for $100,00o and his 2003 memoir tells how he spent twelve years in his quest to acquire the painting of his dreams. When he sold it, he thought he had made a tidy profit only to see its price quadruple in value! He laments that the world has gone from art appreciation to monetary appreciation. If you have ever wondered what it's like inside the art world, this private dealer who has represented some of the most famous postwar artists, particularly the "Pop" artists, has written the book to read. It is never boring!
After more than 40 years of reviewing I receive A LOT of requests from authors and publishers (often one and the same these days) requesting that I review their books. As often as not I have to write back and tell them the topic does not fit the general format and interest of Bookviews (me!). Which was I did when Don Langevin wrote to tell me of his book—are you ready? How-to-Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins the All-Organic Way ($19.95, http://www.giantpumpkin.com/). I told him “no thanks” and he sent it to me anyway! And this is the fourth book Don has written on giant pumpkins! It is extensively illustrated with full color photos and professional in every respect. So, if this topic interests you, this is the book for you! Hey, it’s Halloween at the end of the month and the book has a picture of the biggest carved Jack O’Lantern you will ever see. Good luck, Don.
Now We’re Cooking!
My late Mother, Rebecca Caruba, authored two cookbooks and taught the fine art of haute cuisine for three decades in adult schools throughout northern New Jersey. She was an internationally recognized authority of wines and she had a great collection of cookbooks and I have always kept an eye open for new ones.
In our fast-paced society, people want to eat well, but often feel pinched for time. Food & Wine is a trend-spotting epicurean magazine published by American Express Publishing. Its new book, Food & Wine Quick from Scratch Italian Cookbook ($24.95, Food & Wine Books) tackles traditional favorites and introduces new recipes with more than 150 mouthwatering recipes such as grilled zucchini and mozzarella, minestrone, clam risotto with bacon and chives, sautéed chicken breasts, and zabaglione with strawberries, as it runs the gamut of great recipes, each with a full-page photo to tease your appetite. The instructions are easy-to-follow, and there are even recommendations for wines to enhance each dish. This one is a winner!
The Potluck Club Cookbook by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson ($14.99, Revell, softcover) lives up to its title as the authors noted that “Eating in is the new eating out.” Potluck dinners are easy on the budget because no one carries the full cost of a table full of food. Guests each bring their own favorite dish which is great for people who like to sample new dishes and share recipes. Instead of lots of photos, this book focuses on the recipes on topics from appetizers to breads, cakes and cookies, crock-pot meals, fish, chicken, and meat dishes to liven up any luncheon or dinner party.
Sam Sidawi’s new book, My Rustic Sandwiches: Great Recipes to Savor Artisan Bread ($18.95, Daniel’s Rustic Bread, Montreal) had me practically drooling as I went from page to page with gorgeous full color photos and great sandwiches such as rib eye roast in red wine sauce with shallots and mushrooms on a baguette, a burger au Poivre with porteenie mushroom on a sesame Kaiser bun, or lamb kebab with grilled white onion, hummus and pickled cucumber. This is exotic dining, but the ingredients are all available. The Bible speaks of the bread of life and asks “give us our daily bread.” This book will change your life with its extraordinary approach to the sandwiches. You can check it out at www.danielsrusticbread.com.
The Topic is Health
Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them by Dr. Brad Spellberg, MD, has an important message ($26.00, Prometheus Books). The author makes a strong case, noting that antibiotic-resistant microbes infect more than two million Americans and kill more than 100,000 each year. The current scare of H1N1 flu is a good example of the way viruses mutate every year and, yes, they do kill a lot of people. The really bad news is that as resistant infections increase, research and development of new antibiotics has ground to a screeching halt according to the author. Dr. Spellberg should know. He is an infectious diseases specialist. There is a lot at stake if this trend is not reversed, especially if infectious diseases return to a point where many medical breakthroughs we take for granted like routine surgery, organ transplants, and battlefield medicine are involved.
There is no end of health risks to worry about and the media is constantly telling us of new ones. Dr. Cara Natterson, MD has written Dangerous or Safe? Which Foods, Medicines and Chemicals Really Put Your Kids at Risk ($25.95, Hudson Street Press) covers the top 25 issues that the parents of her patients were most worried about. Among the risks she warns of are cell phones because she is concerned about the electromagnetic waves and their affect on the brain. She is concerned as well about genetically modified foods. From my reading, the testing of cell phones (like transmission wires for electricity) has revealed no health threat and this is true as well of GM foods. The doctor, however, says childhood vaccines are fine because no links between them and autism have been found—to date. I think you need to read this book at your own risk.
How many books has Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. written? By my count, Why Our Health Matters makes it an even dozen! In the midst of a national debate over whether the government should nationalize and take over one sixth of the nation’s economy and let bureaucrats make medical decision, Dr. Weil’s new book ($25.95, Hudson Street Press) says that the U.S. health care system is in a terrible crisis because “every thirty seconds someone in America files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a personal health illness.” I don’t know if it’s that bad, but if it is, some kind of change is needed. Dr. Weil spares none of the parties involved from insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to medical schools as well as what we ourselves can do to maintain good health. Power Up by Dr. Woodson Merrell, M.D., with Kathleen Merrell ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) is subtitled “Unleash your natural energy, revitalize your health, and feel ten years younger.” Dr. Merrill employs an approach to health and healing that emphasizes a partnership between doctor and patient, but I am inclined to believe that is what all physicians try to do. His focus is on our bad health habits and behaviors, particularly as it affects our inner energy sources. In the end, the book offers a lot of common sense recommendations regarding reducing stress, exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep. I have seen a lot of books on this topic and this one is okay and worth reading.
Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men by John W. Anderson ($18.95, Amacom, softcover) reflects that fact that 184,000 women in America in 2008 encountered breast cancer. The author had his wife, his mother, his sister, and his mother’s best friend dealing with this disease and the result is a group of strategies and support techniques that will help the men in the lives of other women address the problem effectively. The book tells men what they can expect to go through with a loved one before, during, and after treatment, and provides advice on medical, psychological, family relationship, sexual and financial issues. Hands Off My Belly!: The Pregnant Woman’s Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers, and Moods by Dr. Shawn A. Tassone, MD and Dr. Kathryn M. Landherr, MD ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) points out that expectant mothers are virtual magnets for unsolicited advice. All the female members of the family and friends tend to offer an endless supply of opinions. In an engaging, humorous, and very informative book, the authors, a husband and wife team, explore the common superstitions and myths surrounding pregnancy, reflecting their twenty years of experience. I would recommend this book very highly to any woman who is or will become pregnant. The New Arthritis Cure: Eliminate Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Pain Permanently ($15.95, Piccadilly Books, Ltd., softcover) takes note of the fact that the most common cause of disability in the U.S. now affects some 46 million Americans or 21 percent of the population. Dr. Bruce Fife further notes that more than 60 percent of those with arthritis are women. Conventional treatment relies on pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs, therapies that treat the symptoms, but not the underlying cause. Dr. Fife offers a natural, drugless approach to prevention and the potential, as the title suggests, of a complete cure. What you think you know about arthritis, says the author, is probably wrong. Based on research, this nutritionist and naturopathic physician offers an alternative to present treatment methods. Since I do not know enough to judge the accuracy of his views, the reader must make their own conclusions.
Getting Down to Business (Books)
Business Week magazine called George Cloutier the “turnaround ace.” He’s been called other things less pleasant, but Cloutier has some very good advice for small and medium-sized owners in his new book, Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing ($24.99, Harper Business) subtitled “No-nonsense rules from the ultimate contrarian and small business guru.” For example, he advises that you fire every family member but yourself; that weekends are for working, not seeing your children; to never pay your venders on time; and to wear your control freak badge with pride. Some might argue that these and other similar precepts will leave without customers, venders, friends and family, but Cloutier has 30 years as the president of American Management Services, guiding business owners through tough choices to achieve profitability. It’s a $20 million business he built from scratch, so maybe you might want to pick up a copy of his book, eh? A more traditional approach is found in Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison by Joe Calloway ($19.95, Wiley, softcover). Packed with real case studies, plus personal reflections from successful business leaders, the book will help you apply the best practices of the best companies to set yourself apart from your competitors and become a market leader. Most certainly easier said, than done, but that’s why business is a challenge whether you run a multinational corporation or are part of a two-person startup. There is one thing no one will dispute and that is that our nation and our economy is in a process of transition as we recover from the mortgage meltdown mess, credit freeze, and now an administration that tilts strongly toward unions. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges is now in its third edition ($16.96, Da Capo Press, softcover) and filled with excellent advice for those in leadership positions who need a clear understanding of what changes does to employees and what employees in transition can do to an organization. With chapters on “How to Get People to let Go” and “How to Deal with Nonstop Change”, if this sounds like something you need to know, then this is the book to read.
The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing by Eric Groves ($24.95, Wiley) will prove useful to anyone who relies on emailing as a marketing instrument. Groves is Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Development for Constant Contact, a company that many depend upon for technology, support, and education to promote their products and services. Whether you’ve been doing this a while or are new to it, Groves addresses such things as the ten email pitfalls that will get your business into trouble, the ten things your customers expect you to do, how to use email in combination with other types of marketing, building email lists, and much, much more. Anyone who gets email knows that the sender has mere seconds in which to avoid a “delete” decision and seconds more to get the recipient to read and respond. With that in mind, this is a book worth reading. Planet Google by Randall Stross ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) is subtitled “One company’s audacious plan to organize everything we know.” Like Microsoft before it, Google has become such a giant that it verges on antitrust charges and Stross takes a look behind the “image of a cuddly, anti-corporate company whose mantra is “Don’t be evil.” The author reveals the astonishing scope of Google’s vision for the future and how the company has acquired the power to realize its huge ambitions. He was given unprecedented access to Google’s headquarters and its top management, as well as to its company meetings that have not previously been open to an outsider. As a result, he has written a very interesting book about a company whose impact is reshaping how we engage the world.
I confess I was a latecomer to science in that I rarely took any interest in it in school or college. My focus was literature, but life has a way of steering you in new directions so, when I began to work for clients whose businesses involved some aspect of science, I began to take an interest. There are many interesting books being published on different aspects of science these days.
The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars by Christopher Cokinos ($27.95, Tarcher/Penguin). The ancients regarded shooting stars as omens and Cokinos takes the reader on a journey through time and space as he profiles the maverick scientists, mad dreams, and starry-eyed profiteers who chased meteorites. In time it became a legitimate science and its story takes you from Greenland to Kansas, Australia to the South Pole. Scientists know now how to predict when the Earth is going to experience meteor showers and, on October 21, the Orionids can be seen from the Southeast, one to two hours before dawn. November 17-18 will be the time of the Leonids, best viewed from the East. They have produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history with thousands per hour. The very dust in your home contains particles from the cosmos!
Those for whom the cosmos remains a constant fascination will enjoy Cosmic Conversations by Stephan Martin ($16.99, New Page Books, a division of Career Press, softcover), a collection of interviews with some of the world’s famed scientists, mystics, indigenous elders, and cultural icons, who share their insights on the nature of reality, the interplay of science and religions, the future of humanity, and the role of humans in the evolving universe. Clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are one of those who thinks about how vast the universe is, filled with thousands, if not millions of galaxies, you will enjoy this mind-tickling book. From the earliest days of modern man, pondering these mysteries has been an element of many civilizations. I recall that when news of the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, reached the public, the first reaction was to worry whether it would create a black hole that would suck the Earth into oblivion. Collider: The Search for the World’s Smallest Particles by Paul Halpern, Ph.D ($27.95, Wiley) puts those fears to rest while telling the story of this extraordinary scientific quest. Right now the collider has been shut down after a coolant leak and magnet failure, but it is projected to begin collecting data this month. Should the first experiments be successful, it could give scientists new insight into the birth of the universe, how it evolved, what it’s made of, and what governs its behavior. The author does a great job of explaining the science and mysteries of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theories to provide the reader with an understanding of what we do know and the new knowledge that the collider is likely to provide. Unfortunately what seemed to me to be an interesting topic, the cyclical nature of the universe and everything else was rendered far less so in Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr’s The World According to Cycles ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing) because the author swiftly got bogged down in the stories of the people who initiated the study of cycles and only belatedly gets around to explaining why cycles matter, how to recognize a cycle when you’re in one, and other topics like how cycles can be used to profit financially in the stock market, among other things that the average Joe would find of interest. It is a good effort, but the author, a veteran journalist, is just too interested in the details of who and where, as opposed to why. By contrast, anyone with an interest in mathematics will thoroughly enjoy How Many Licks! Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything by Aaron Santos, Ph.D. ($14.95, Running Press, softcover). If you have ever wondered how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop or how long it would take to dig one’s way out of prison using just a spoon, this book will prove immensely entertaining as the author applies the user-friendly Fermi method of approximations. No degree in quantum physics is necessary.
Medicine, of course, is a science and Prometheus Books, a favorite of mine, has two books to satisfy the interest and curiosity of those regarding the topic. Gifted Hands: America’s Most Significant Contributions to Surgery by Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz, MD, ($27.95) tells the story of how and why the United States is the established and essentially unchallenged leader in the field of surgery. He provides a sweeping history of American surgical practice and how it advanced from comparatively crude practices to the preeminence of scientific surgery today. This book will interest both layperson and professional alike and is filled with interest examples, the internal squabbles over who developed anesthesia, and the “firsts” such as a gallbladder operation. In the twentieth century, there were great developments in vascular surgery, cardiothoracic surgery and organ transplants. The Real World of a Forensic Scientist: Renowned Experts Reveal What It Takes to Solve Crimes has three authors, Dr. Henry C. Lee, Elaine M. Pagliaro, and Katherine Ramsland ($25.98). Television has greatly increased the public’s interest in this field of science. The story begins with Dr. Lee’s personal story, filled with interesting examples of how science and law enforcement came together, and then goes on to explain how many different disciplines combine to point the finger at criminals in ways that have become standard practice these days.
History, History, History
The only way to understand the present and have a glimpse of what the future may hold is to know history. It is filled with the stories of people who made a difference for good or ill and the way decisions in high places influence events, often dragging people into wars or causing financial ruin over which they have no control.
When Americans talk of the Founding Fathers, they almost always mention George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison. Rarely do they think of James Monroe. He is remembered primarily and almost solely for the Monroe Doctrine letting other nations know that colonization and European interference in America’s affairs and interests was over. Overlooked for too long, Harlow Giles Unger fills the gap with his new book, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Monroe was America’s fifth president and was largely responsible for expanding the nation’s borders with westward expansion, the construction of roads and canals, and other steps. Despite the fame of the presidents that preceded him, Monroe inherited a nation suffering from political factions, foreign enemies, and bankruptcy. He arrived at the job with a superb resume that included have been a state legislator, a U.S. congressman and senator, ambassador to France and Britain, governor of Virginia, and having served as both U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of War. America was fortunate to have him as president during a critical time of growth and readers are fortunate to have this extraordinary biography.
Before They Changed the World by Edwin Kiester, Jr. ($19.95, Fair Winds, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group, softcover) is an interesting book because it looks at the “pivotal moments that shaped the lives of great leaders before they became famous.” As such, it provides an insight that most other history books do not. Here you will learn about such moments for people as diverse as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar and Ho Chi Minh, John F. Kennedy to Mohandas Gandhi. Were they born to greatness, had it thrust upon them, or just subject to circumstances that placed them at a certain place at a certain time? Each is unique and, especially for the younger reader, this book is well worth reading. As we all struggle to cope with a new recession that has threatened to grow deeper, Morris Dickstein has authored a timely and entertaining book, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression ($29.95, W.W. Norton & Company). This is narrative history at its best and a great look back at a very bad time that afflicted an earlier generation of Americans. At the same time, however, it was the time when the Empire State Building as built, when “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed, and the high-stepping Rockettes became a part of American life. It was a time of creativity in film, literature, music and theatre that imprinted the 1930s on our lives. Anyone who loves to read history will find this book a totally satisfying experience.
World War Two continues to generate new books. Zenith Press focuses on it (note “Hitler’s Army” above) and has published a history of the famed 82nd Airborne Division, the first to see combat and the only parachute division still active today. Phil Nordyke captures their story in All American, All the Way: From Sicily to Normandy ($22.99) recalls the role they played as they engaged the enemy in some of the deadliest combat across Italy and at Normandy during the D-Day invasion of Europe. Black Flag: The Surrender of Germany’s U-Boat Forces by Lawrence Paterson ($30.00) tells the story of what followed the May 1945 surrender of Nazi Germany whose Kriegsmarine, its U-boat forces that had waged war in four oceans and five seas, wreaking havoc on Allied and civilian vessels. Stepping back further in history to World War One, Dennis Giangreco has penned The Soldier from Independence: A Military Biography of Harry Truman ($28.00) an often overlooked element of Truman’s life who came of age on the battlefields of France, displaying the leadership that would take the nation through the years following WW2.
To War in a Red Subaru: A Memoir is a thoroughly engaging story by Adolfo Neufeld ($22.95, Jorge Pinto Books, softcover), a nice Jewish boy from Argentina who, when Israel was barely three years old, decided to see for himself what the new Jewish homeland was all about. Twenty years later, at the start of the Yom Kippur War, he returned to give aid to the nation under siege. It is an interesting story as he moves between his youth in Peronist Argentina to the raining shrapnel of the fight for the Golan Heights. Neufeld has had many adventures, but he does not sugar coat the horrors of war and the imperatives of the Israeli commitment, “Never again”, to survival in the hostile Middle East. It is an exciting, provocative, and inspirational reading experience.
In a similar fashion, Greg Dobbs, a veteran news correspondent for some four decades, tells of covering major news events, spanning 80 nations around the world. Life in the Wrong Lane: Why Journalists Go In When Everyone Else Wants Out ($13.95, Rising Star, iUniverse) provides a look inside the world of journalists who thrive on adrenaline as they struggle to tell the unfolding story of major events. It is a hard life, though often exciting and frequently dangerous. As news media lose their credibility these days, it is worth recalling that some of their members put their lives on the line to tell the truth about what they were seeing. A memoir of life in the Federal Bureau of Investigation is told by Jack Owens in Don’t Shoot! We’re Republicans! ($16.95, Chronology Books, an imprint of History Publishing Company, softcover). Owens never wanted to be anything other than an FBI Special Agent and he lived that ambition, working mostly out of the Birmingham, Alabama, office. His life, working in counterintelligence in Washington, D.C., as part of the FBI Swat Team, and encountering the various directors from Hoover to those who served in the Clinton administration, provides a frequently lighthearted insider look at the agency.
Kid Stuff: Children’s and Younger Reader’s Books
I love the new books for babies to two year olds being published by Begin Smart’s Read-and-Play Program! If you or someone you know has an infant to a toddler, let them know about http://www.beginsmartbooks.com/ because they have some of the most clever creations to get the very young off to a good start with language and other skills. Moreover, the books are sturdy, filled with easily recognizable illustrations, and geared to specific age groups from newborn to six months building early visual activity; from six to twelve months, when babies begin to respond to words and actions; twelve to eighteen months building language development and general concepts; and eighteen months to two years when they make the big leap to following verbal directions and begin to speak. Begin Smart has more than just books; they have tactile learning devices that are fun. Some of the books for the eighteen to two year olds include noise-making devices, big buttons a child can push while mother or dad reads the text. The entire line of items is very impressive.
I am particularly fond of picture books for those who have mastered the fundamentals of reading and, by age 8 and up are taking an interest in good stories and the world around them. Some arrive that are instantly recognizable as unique and special. That’s the case of Lights on Broadway: A Theatrical Tour from A to Z by Harriet Ziefer and wonderfully illustrated by Elliot Kreloff ($19.99, Blue Apple Books, Maplewood, NJ). Never mind that I spent 62 years growing up and living in Maplewood and now live one town over. And never mind that my late Mother took me to countless Broadway matinees as I was growing up. And never mind that the book comes with a CD with a song performed by Tony Award winner, Brian Stokes Mitchell. For those reasons and many more, this is a great introduction to heart of American theatre. Officially due out in November, this book will delight any young boy or girl with thoughts of a career in show business someday. It is truly a complete course about the theatre. You can check out this book at www.blueapplebooks.com. I believe children should be introduced to the arts early on so as to tap into their own creativity and apparently so do MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga who have authored Great American Artists for Kids: Hands-On Art Experiences in the Styles of Great American Masters ($18.95, Bright Ring Publishing, Bellingham, WA). I have long been a judge for the annual Benjamin Franklin Awards and was happy to see this book had earned a Silver Award for Excellence in its category. From age 4 up through 12, this book introduces 79 American artists through open-ended art activities that encourage the reader to explore different art styles. Along the way, they read biographies, and learn about painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, architecture, and more. It’s a complete hands-on experience. This publisher specializes in bringing the world of art to kids. Visit www.brightring.com to learn about its other books.
Among the picture books for young readers (or those to whom a book can be read), there’s the Pumpkin Baby by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Mitchell ($19.95, Key Porter Kids Ltd., Ontario) about the remarks between two sisters, one the mother of a girl who starts out at age 3, in which the sisters tease each other about having babies. As she gets older, she tries to figure out what the banter means about pumpkins, cabbages, and storks bringing babies, while discovering what it means when she becomes an older sister to one. It’s a comforting story for children who might fear they will play second fiddle to a new child. Yolen is one of the most prolific writers of children’s books today and a winner of the coveted Caldecott Award. In The Scarecrow’s Dance, beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, ($21.99, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), she spins the sale of a scarecrow who gets loose from the pole to which he’s fastened and has an adventure, dancing in the corn field and finding his way to the farmhouse where he hears a boy’s prayer for his well-being as he guards the fields from crows. He returns to the field, knowing that’s his job and is proud to serve. Yolan tells a Christmas tale in Under the Star: A Christmas Counting Story illustrated by Vlasta van Kampen ($19.95, Key Porter Kids), retelling the story of the birth of Jesus, using numbers from a single angel up to ten children who, along with shepherds and animals, come to visit the new child.
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson ($16.95, Tanglewood Press) that subtly teaches children age 3 to 8 how to deal with the loss of a loved one or friend or the need to attend a funeral when Chester learns that his friend, Skiddel Squirrel has had an accident and will not be returning. His mother teaches him how to retain his memories of his friend and how to memorialize him. This may sound like a dark subject, but it is handled so well and with such beautiful artwork that it provides a cushion of comfort. Ms. Penn is the author of several bestselling children’s books. You can visit www.audreypenn.com to learn more.
For teens, 14 and up, there’s a wonderful and scary book, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey ($17.99, Simon and Schuster) that begins in 1888. An orphan, Will Henry, is apprentice to a monster-hunting doctor. When a grave robber knocks on the door, he brings their most dangerous case; a corpse entwined with the body of an Anthropophagus—a monster that feeds through a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth in its belly. They are supposed by be extinct! The story is chock-full of gruesome graveside encounters and thrilling pursuits. Yancey has a track record as the author of the award-winning Alfred Kropp series, as well as several novels for adults. This novel is the first in a new gothic series.
Novels, Novels, Novels!
There is hardly a day that goes by when I do not receive an email from self-published novelists. That’s because modern technology has made it affordable to have one’s book produced, literally with as many or few copies “on demand” as the author may require. Promoting one’s book via blogs and websites is becoming a way to create “buzz” and sales. Most, however, do not prosper because most have not gone from through the vetting process that occurs when a fulltime publishing firm, large or small, gives thought to the literary merit, the quality of the writing, and takes on the financial risk of publication, promotion, and distribution.
That is why Bookviews tends to favor full time publishers and their authors because, for the former, their livelihood depends upon the success of the books that select and offer. Just out this month is The Test by Patricia Gussin ($24.95, Oceanview Publishing), a suspenseful and complex plot that introduces the Parnell family, a complicated one, quite wealthy, and in modern terms, extraordinarily dysfunctional. Determined to leave something more value that money to his six children, the patriarch, Paul Parnell, has left a will that stipulates that the lion’s share of a two billion dollar fortune will be divided among the heirs who pass “the test.” The six children have only a year and it is one the reader will not forget as the test becomes one of life or death. A historical novel about the son of Sacagawea, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, is found in Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart ($26.95, Doubleday). The real Jean-Bastiste was born in 1805 during the Lewis and Clark expedition, the son of the translators. The novel evokes the formative years of this mixed-blood child of the frontier in Missouri as he is raised by his parents among the villages of the Mandan tribe and as William Clark’s war in St. Louis. In 1823, the 18-year-old is invited to cross the Atlantic. He encounters a world he could barely imagine and he encounters love with the daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant. He must make a choice whether to stay in Europe or return to the wilds of North America. This is an excellent story, well told. The early years of America are captured in Gloryland by Shelton Johnson ($25.00, Sierra Club Books/Counterpoint). Born on Emancipation Day, 1863, to a sharecropping family of African and Indian blood, Elijah Yancy never lived as a slave, but his self-image as a free person is at war with his surroundings, Spartanburg, South Carolina, during Reconstruction. For his own survival, he is sent West to the Nebraska plains and joins the U.S. Cavalry. Through his life the reader experiences the expansion of the nation. This is a powerful story that will prove very satisfying for its unique characters and setting in time.
For those who love heart-pounding action, there’s Roy Hayes’ new novel, The Last Days of Las Vegas ($14.95, Solothurnli Corporation, softcover) which takes the espionage genre to a higher level, involving thirty significant characters, 45 secondary ones, and a story that takes place in 25 different places, large and small, including London, Lisbon, Maastricht, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, to name just a few. There are 50 chapters and you will feel like you have visited these places by the time you are through. Hayes knows how to set a plot in motion and his previous novels have all drawn high praise from critics. His main character is described as a reluctant spy, a tad burned out and more cynical than ever. He’s no James Bond. He’s real. Ask yourself what it would be like if someone wanted to nuke Las Vegas? You need to jump into this book with plenty of time to read so you can follow its intricacies. To learn more, click on www.thelastdaysoflasvegas.com.
In softcover editions, there are a number of entertaining novels. Dragon House is a new novel by John Shors ($15.00, New American Library). Set in modern-day Vietnam, it tells the tale of Iris and Noah, two Americans who, as a way to heal their own painful pasts, open a center to house and education Vietnamese street children. The novel’s themes are that of suffering, sacrifice, friendship and love. It brings together East and West, war and peace, and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. Check this novel out at www.dragonhousebook.com and then read it. If suspense is your literary choice, you will find plenty in Sophie Hannah’s The Wrong Mother ($15.00, Penguin Books) that tells the story of a brief affair during a trip away from the duties of wife and mother. That might have been the end of it had she not come upon the gentleman’s name. All the details are the same as to where he lives, his wife and daughter, but both of them have been murdered and the photo is not the man with whom she had the affair. She realizes her own family is in peril. Tracy Price-Thompson offers up a sexy novel, 1-900-A-N-Y-T-I-M-E ($15.00, Atria Books) whose central character was born crippled and severely deformed, but she has the voice of an angel and the actor’s ability to be anyone her caller’s imagine and want. Now in her 20s, she makes a living with her service, but she is inevitably drawn into her caller’s life and must make peace with her own disabilities. By contrast, A Taste of Fame by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson ($13.99, Revell) is part of the “Potluck Catering Club” series and this time the Summit View, Colorado ladies find themselves invited to participate in a television reality show where the top prize is a million dollars! How they navigate New York, cutthroat contestants, and maintaining their close friendship in a surreal world makes for a lot of fun reading.
If you prefer to listen to a good novel, you can never go wrong with Hachette Audio editions. Among the new titles available are Michael Connelly’s Void Moon; Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper; Elizabeth Kostove’s The Historian, and Anita Shreve’s A Change in Altitude. These and many other books, non-fiction as well as fiction, offer hours of enjoyment and a recommend that you check them out at www.hachetteaudio.com.
That’s it for October! I turned 72 this month and for more than half that time, I have been reviewing and recommending books. The National Book Critics Circle celebrated its 35th anniversary last month and I was there among the founding members. Time flies when you’re having fun!
Tell your friends about Bookviews by Alan Caruba; now a blog after many years as a website. And come back in November. Time to start making your Christmas lists of gift and books are some of the best gifts ever.