Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bookviews - February 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Economists spend lots of time debating each other about the outcomes of the predictions they make and solutions they offer. As we have seen, the leading economic advisors to both President Bush and President Obama were not able to foresee the collapse of the housing market “bubble” even though many others warned against reducing interest rates to virtually zero and former Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was perplexed by “irrational exuberance” as the government distorted the entire banking system by requiring banks and mortgage firms to make loans to people who clearly were unable to repay them. Now the debate has focused on the attempted takeover of one sixth of the nation’s economy, its healthcare system. Thus, The Cartoon Introduction to Economics – volume one: Microeconomics ($17.95, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, softcover) arrives just in time this month to help anyone to better understand what is occurring in the nation’s economy. Written by Yoram Bauman, a PhD in economics who teamed with cartoonist Grady Klein, this book actually makes the topic fun!

The one thing I have learned over a lifetime of reading the work of intellectuals is that these folks are often so impressed with their own intellect, verified by the issuance of higher degrees of learning, that they cannot see the forest for the trees. They are often dangerously wrong. This is the case of Leland G. Stauber’s astonishingly stupid new book, The American Revolution: A Grand Mistake ($27.00, Prometheus Books). A political scientist, Stauber offers his own interpretation of the birth and subsequent development of the United States. He argues that the U.S. independence from Great Britain was “premature” and that Canada offers a “preferable” alternative to our history. No one would argue that the American experience has not been flawed and the Civil War is testimony to the fact that the Founding Fathers dodged the huge moral issue of slavery. Stauber criticizes the American system of government, “based on checks and balances (as) often cumbersome in dealing with contemporary challenges, which are often no so difficult for parliamentary governments.” He worries that Americans have “a deep-seated suspicion of a strong central government, which dates back to our war against British tyranny,” arguing that “this reluctance to use the central government to tackle major social problems cripples the United States from building a more decent society.” I would argue we have the most decent society of all those currently in existence and, as such, are a beacon of liberty to the oppressed around the world whose central governments are intrusive and oppressive. If you want to know what is wrong with the current administration, read this awful book.

For those who pursue foreign affairs issues, there’s an interesting book by Peter Baldwin, The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike ($24.95, Oxford University Press). The author is a history professor at the University of California—Los Angeles and he believes that the U.S. and Europe are more alike than different. He makes a good case for the similarities. Comparing the latest statistics on the economy, crime, health care, education, religion, and culture he lays out his theme, but I think he misses the big questions in the midst of the details and that is Europe fought and lost two wars in the last century. It is extremely gunshy as opposed to an America that has won most of its wars and is pretty much alone in the role of global policeman. Europe has gone far to the left, embracing environmentalism far more than the U.S. and paying a price for it already in its need for new energy plants, etc. In the end, there is no denying how closely tied we are to one another, particularly so far as our economies are concerned. The rise of Asia, i.e. China and India, are going to make us even more co-dependent. A short, hard-hitting softcover, Saving America from the Right Perspective, ($14.99, Xulon Press) makes a case for why political correctness will get a lot of Americans killed by Islamist terrorists. E.J. Courtney, a security and counterterrorism expert, has written a clarion call for common sense and real action to protect Americans. The recent Christmas day attempted bombing of an airliner and the lame response to the incident suggests this book should be read by everyone working for the Department of Homeland Security. Courtney bluntly asserts that “Liberal thinking simply can’t keep us safe anymore.” His view, borne out by the previous administration’s eight years after 9/11, is that “Conservatives are better at keeping us safer.” Judging by the polls, Americans increasingly agree with the author, making this a book well worth reading for its recommendations.

I liked Onramps and Overpasses: A Cultural History of Interstate Travel by Dianne Perrier ($29.95, University Press of Florida) for the way it reminds us how the vast interstate highway system, completed in the 1950s, transformed life in the nation. It was an initiative of the Eisenhower administration, largely because Ike, a former general, understood the need for moving troops around swiftly, a lesson learned from Nazi Germany’s famed Autobahn. I can well recall the long, laborious trip from northern New Jersey to the Shore before the Parkway and Turnpike were built, so the book resonated for me as history, but also because it demonstrates the great power that ease of transportation has had on the economy for the movement of goods and on Americans who got in their cars and began to travel for new employment opportunities and for recreation on a scale never seen before. Another book that I found intriguing is Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in Historyby Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Cambell ($24.95, Union Square Press). It is the story of how, on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2003, a group of thieves broke into an allegedly airtight vault in the international diamond capital of Antwerp, Belgium. It is estimated they got away with nearly half a billion dollars in diamonds, gold, gems, and other valuables. To date, none of the loot has ever been recovered. Better than any Hollywood movie, this story tells of a perfect crime, but an imperfect getaway because police narrowed their focus to Leonardo Notarbartolo, an Italian who took two years to case the vault. The rest of the cast was made up of interesting characters who executed an intricate plot, and of course had an extraordinary payday.

I can recall a time when race was the great debate of our times and that Americans resolved the issues involved by passing laws that ensured equality before the law while eliminating the written and unspoken codification of race-based inequality. Guy P. Harrison has written Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) in which he examines the powerful impact the concept of race has had on history and which continues to shape our present world. Drawing on research from many sources, he raises questions such as, if analysis of the human genome reveals that all humans are 99.9% alike, how meaningful are racial differences? He asks, are we all in one way or another, racists? And how does race influence intelligence, athletic ability, and love interests? It is a provocative, interesting book. Last month I took note of a book that revealed how boys are being failed by today’s educational system. This month I want to recommend Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualization of Girls (, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist. As the web address indicates, the book originates in Australia, but it is essential reading for parents, educators, and anyone else who is concerned about the way girls, at younger and younger ages, are being portrayed as sexual objects, pressured to conform to a “thin, hot, sexy” norm, and subject to inappropriate fashions. The results are girls engaging in sexual behavior at ever younger ages or being subject to predation in societies that celebrate this sexualization. The contributors to this book make a strong case for changes in our society. By any measure, we are damaging a new generation of children.

For people who love numbers, I have two books that will interest them. The first is Economic Freedom of the World 2009 Annual Report ($29.95, Cato Institute, large format softcover) an index of nations that measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of the nations profiled are supportive of economic freedom. It is based on 43 data points that look at the size of government expenditures, taxes and enterprises, legal structure, freedom to trade internationally, access to sound money, and the regulation of credit, labor and business. The good news is that, of 103 nations, 92 improved their scores over the previous year, but 11 saw a decrease. Highest ranked for the best place to do business include Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Chile, the United States, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. If you see a British link among these nations, you’re right. At the bottom, African nations. Two other bottom dwellers, Venezuela, a communist dictatorship, and Myanmar, run by a military junta. The Humongous Book of Statistics Problems ($19.95, Alpha Books, large format softcover) will provide hours of fun with its nearly 900 statistics problems and comprehensive solutions. Trust me, there are people who will love this book!

As an old journalist who used to do a daily column, rounding up the local news of the day that did not fit anywhere else in the newspaper, I have a particular fondness for a vanishing breed of columnists who write about the people in their area who are often far more interesting than the celebrities and others in the news. Garret Mathews writes for The Evansville, Indiana Courier & Press. In 2000 he was named Columnist of the Year for Scripps-Howard Newspapers and he has a number of books to his credit. His latest is a collection of some of his columns called Favorites ($14.95 available at that are great reading. There’s an exotic dancer who wants to be a herpetologist, a survivor of the A-bomb on Nagasaki, and Birdie Lee, a 91-year-old who won’t stop bootlegging beer and whisky. These and others are a reminder that people are the most interesting critters on Earth.

Making Sense of the Financial Mess

For anyone trying to make sense of the nation’s current financial mess, there are two books that will prove very helpful.

From Bloomberg Press, there’s Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable by Mark Gilbert ($24.95). Gilbert, Bloomberg’s London Bureau Chief, spent eighteen months warning of the credit crisis which has since affected every investor and consumer, along with every industry and government program. It remains a mystery to many, so this book goes behind the scenes to explain how the sub-prime mortgage loans finally imploded. Gilbert argues that everyone with “skin in the money game” had an interest in pretending that housing prices could never turn into the “bubble” that ultimately occurred. He explains, too, how the crisis was truly international in scope.

Financial Fiasco: How America’s Infatuation with Home Ownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis
by Johnan Norberg ($21.95, Cato Institute) is a general indictment of the crucial role the federal government played in the buildup and meltdown of the housing market, as well as how monetary policy, housing policy, and financial innovations combined to create the catastrophe. The final chapters examine how the government’s mismanagement of the crisis has only led to a potential repeat of the factors that created it. It is written with great clarity and insight.

Also from Cato Institute, The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom by Robert A. Levy and William Mellor ($9.95, softcover) will prove a revelation to those who trying to understand how a republic based on a limited federal government and state’s rights became the goliath that now intrudes into all aspect of citizen’s lives and centralizes power in Washington, D.C. in direct contravention of the intent of the U.S. Constitution. In his foreword to the book, Richard A. Epstein, says, “Regrettably, the Court has too often taken the plain wording of the Constitution and interpreted it to mean exactly the opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended. By that process the Court profoundly altered the American legal, political, and economic landscape.” This is an exceptionally important books.

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

Since our own lives are retricted by our personal experiences, reading the lives of others broadens our understanding of the world beyond our own space.

Three generations of Leakeys have scratched the baked, unfriendly soil of East Africa to unearth fossil evidence of the earliest humans and their ancient ancestors. They have defined the field of paleoanthropology. The Leakeys: A Biography by Mary Bowman-Kruhm ($17.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) is an engrossing biography that tells their story, beginning with patriarch Louis Leakey, a native of Kenya, who would garner international recognition after years of early struggle, often barely able to making a living. At the end of World War Two, thanks to funds from a benefactor, Leakey found Proconsul africanus, an 18-million-year-old skull that was the precursor to both evolving apes and humans, that led to funding from the National Geographic Society. He and his wife, Mary, then discovered Paranthropus boisei who lived about 1.75 million years ago. It was Leakey who encouraged protoges, Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey of chimp and gorilla studies fame. Then, following Louis’s death in 1972, Mary and their son Richard discovered a rich cache of fossils in northern Kenya. This is an engrossing story that is well worth reading.

Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution for Peace by Salman Ahmad ($24.99, Free Press) presents a far different picture than the daily headlines about suicide bombers and jihadists bent on killing in the name of Islam. Born in Pakistan in 1963, Ahmad would immigrate to the United States in the 1970s where he attended junior high and high school. He found solace in music and joined a garage band in New York with friends that included an Irish Catholic guitarist and Jewish bass player. He returned to Pakistan to study medicine and, though the nation had turned fundamentalist by then, he led a movement of clandestine rock and roll bands. In time he gained renown within and beyond Pakistan, eventually selling more than 25 million albums worldwide. He has dedicated himself to waging a cultural jihad and effort to advance Islam’s Sufi values of coexistence and mutual acceptance. Fans of rock and rolls in particular will enjoy this entertaining and enlightening autobiography. They are also likely to enjoy I Am Ozzy ($24.98, Hachette Audio, 3 CDs) as read by Frank Skinner. It is a memoir of sorts by Ozzy Osbourne who, for reasons beyond my understanding, has become a television reality show celebrity after having been an entertainer, famed for bizarre behavior. The audio book contains an interview with him as well.

Letters to Zerky by Bill Raney and JoAnne Walker Raney ($27.00, Nickelodeon Press) is subtitled “A father’s legacy to a lost son and a road trip around the world.” Pakistan and Afghanistan are in today’s headlines, but in November and December of 1967, they were just two remote nations visited by a young American family that had embarked on an around the world journey. Along with their 18-month-old son, Zerky (Eric Xerxes Rainey) and their miniature dachshund Tarzan, they spent three weeks in those nations, driving around in a Volkswagen camper. They traveled also across Europe as well as Turkey and Iran, then flew onto Thailand and Hong Kong. Along the way, Bill wrote his infant son a series of letters so that he could later recapture the family adventure. Tragically, following the adoption of a second child, JoAnne died from an undiagnosed cerebral aneurism. A year later Zerky was killed by a truck at age four. Armchair travelers will enjoy this memoir of the trip in a very different era than our own.

The Cloak and Dagger Cook: A CIA Memoir by Kay Shaw Nelson is an absolutely delightful account of a woman who, in 1948, joined the newly created Central Intelligence Agency out of a yen for international travel and a life with a bit more excitement than those times offered. She got the travel and a husband with whom to travel. Together they worked in places such as Turkey and Cyprus, Syria, Libya, France, Greece, and other ports. She combined her love of travel with food and, often using her cover as a “foodie” learned, not only secrets, but recipes from kebabs in Turkey to kimchi in Korea, eels in Spain and Rumbledethumps in Scotland. The result is a book that will provide a great deal of entertaining reading as she recalls her life spent in the course of major events, extraordinary corners of the world, and the pursuit of everything that tastes really good. The common interest in food that she found wherever she and her husband were assigned opened doors and yielded some great dining and some very useful intelligence. A Brilliant Darkness by Joao Magueijo is the story of Ettore Majorano, a troubled genius of the nuclear age ($27.50, Basic Books). Majorana was a nuclear physicist in Enrico Fermi’s research group known as the “Via Panisperna Boys.” Unfortunately he is best known for having mysteriously disappeared in 1938 after discovering a key element of atomic fission. This odd biography is really the story of the mystery around the man, but it does keep you turning the pages much in the way of a good spy novel. Scattershot: A Memoir by David Lovelace tells of what it is to live in a family with a member who suffers from a bipolar disorder ($15.00, Plume, softcover). These people are “up” some of the time and “down” others. The author’s relationship with the disease began as a young boy in the 1960s when both his preacher father and artist mother was diagnosed as manic depressive. The result in part was that he spend much of his childhood in church camps and parish residences where he witnessed the intersection between fundamentalism and mental illness. When the symptoms manifested themselves in his own life it slid into drugs. In 1986, his father, his brother and himself were committed to mental institutions in quick succession. He eventually learned to accept the disorder and lead a more stable life. This is often a devastating look into the world of the mentally ill.

Combining history with biography, Jure Fiorillo has written Great Bastards of History ($19.99, Fair Winds Press, softcover). Being born out of wedlock has long been a burden to those whose birth was no fault of their own. Throughout history illegitimacy often involved neglect, abandonment, disinheritance, and social exclusion. The usual routes to education, wealth and status were often blocked. Thus, it is come as a surprise to readers that many famous and accomplished persons were, in fact, bastards. They included our own Alexander Hamilton, one of the most brilliant of the Founding Fathers, and Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest men of his age. In America we owe the Smithsonian museum to James Smithson, the disinherited son of an English Duke. In chapter after chapter, history emerges in an entirely new way in this quite interesting book.

A really terrific audio book is Martin Luther King, Jr: The Essential Boxed Set ($49.98, Hachette Audio, 15 CDs) which contains the landmark speeches and sermons of the great civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. As someone who heard him speak in life and met him briefly, this collection is as inspiring now as it was then. African Americans in particular should have this as part of their family library and share it with new generations fortunate to grow up in an America that has shed its restrictive laws. If you would prefer a shorter collection, there’s The Concise King ($19.98, Hachette Audio, 2 CDs). It is an ideal introduction to the man.

Advice on Everything

If there is one thing a reviewer learns over time, it is that there is no end of books offering advice on everything. This is, I think, a good thing, because each new generation faces the same general problems as well as new ones brought on by new technologies, attitudes, and influences.

Such is the case of The Digital Pandemic: Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Digital Age by Dr. Mack R. Hicks. PhD; a psychologist for three decades ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover). The subject is the way so many people have become addicted to electronic devices and why, too often, people no longer talk with one another or relate well on a personal basis. According to Nielson Online, more than 45 billion minutes are spent each year on social networking and blogging sites globally. As someone who has a daily blog with nearly 250 “followers” as well as others who read my posts on other websites and blog, I know the feeling of how strange it is for people to form a friendship or relationship with me based solely on my writings. In one way these people come to “know” me, but in others they would not recognize me in the same room with them. And, yes, I have a Facebook page. Dr. Hicks believes that those who are particularly addicted need to unplug themselves from their computers and cell phones, and begin to reconnect in more personal ways. Due for publication in May from the same publisher comes The Widower’s Toolbox: Repairing Your Life After Losing Your Spouse by Gerald J. Schaefer with Tom Bekkers, MSW, APSW ($14.95, softcover), filled with advice for men who have lost their wives and need help to heal from the pain of losing a life partner. There are an estimated 465,000 widowers annually and the book offers constructive tasks and tools with which to make the necessary transition, often only belatedly realizing the many things their partner did to make their lives function smoothly, from cleaning and cooking to managing children’s activities. There is a lot of very fundamental wisdom in this book and it will prove very helpful.

Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love: Relationship Repair in a Flash ($16.95, Tarcher/Penguin, softcover) by Nancy Dreyfus, Psy.D, is a very clever way for two people who presumably love one another to communicate without the problems that often lead to arguments and misunderstandings. It features more than one hundred of what Dreyfus calls “flashcards for real life”. They are straightforward, brief, and sometimes funny as they range from an accusation of bullying to an admission of personal confusion. Any couple having these common problems talking with one another will benefit from this unique book.

Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes may not be the longest title of the new year, but it will give others a run for their money. Written by Therese J. Borchard, a popular blogger ($21.99, Center Street), the author offers practical advice, support and encouragement for those living with severe mood disorders as well as those with fleeting anxiety or sadness. The National Institute of Mental health estimates that about one in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Borchard wants people to know it’s often natural to be depressed or sad or anxious. It’s called life, but when it becomes one’s entire life, treatment exists because, as she points out, depression can be an organic brain disorder, not just a passing emotion in response to events. She calls on her own life that included severe depression. If you or someone you know is beyond that normal aspects of sadness or anxiety, pick up a copy of this book TODAY. Coming in April is a book by Barry T. Schnell, MA, Helping a Mentally ill Loved one in a County Jail ($23.95, Social Sciences Publishing, Bear, DE). A family with a mentally ill member or friend behind bars in a county jail or juvenile detention center has a serious crisis on its hands. An estimated million families a year face this problem. As the author says, the criminal justice system is often “a meat grinder” for the mentally ill and the jails a dumping ground to replace mental hospitals and community mental health resources. The advance copy of this book has received much praise. Here again, if you know of someone trying to cope with this situation, this book will prove very helpful.

Three softcover books from Revell, a Christian book publisher, offer advice on a variety of relational topics. Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Your Anger by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD with Ann McMurray ($12.99). He says that anger doesn’t have to be ugly. “It can be motivational and empowering” if channeled into healthy avenues, but having said that, he also says anger can be especially unhealthy and destructive for women. With a compassionate and encouraging text, Jantz reviews the most common catalysts for women’s anger and reveals how best to cope. In the course of doing so, he draws heavily on scripture and biblical wisdom. Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half: Why Differences Make a Marriage Great by Rick Johnson ($13.99) examines the differences between men and women, noting that many are disappointed with their spouse does not react as they expect or hoped, becoming frustrated or discouraged as a result. This is just good, old-fashioned marriage advice for the modern couple, exploring seven major areas of difference to spark strife and how to identify and cope with them. Finally, there’s 50 Ways to Feel Great Today by David B. Biebel, DMin, James E. Dill, MD, and Bobbie Dill, RN ($12.99). You simply cannot go wrong with a book that has a title like that and, in fact, it is filled with wonderful advice on the countless things anyonecan do to boost your good moods and keep them going. It is advice that may seem obvious to some, but to others it grants permission to explore life a bit more.

There is no end to advice on investing and the management of businesses. Since the nature of both these activities changes, here are two books and an audiobook that will prove helpful. The first is Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity to Advantage in Business and Life by Ralph de la Vega ($24.99, Thomas Nelson) begins with a few pages of praise by some of the leading businessmen of our times and others. The author arrived in America at the age of ten from Cuba. He had been separated from his parents by Cuban authorities and it would be four years before they were reunited. In time, de la Vega would become the president and chief executive officer of AT&T Mobility. In that job he faced many obstacles in merging the largest wireless operations in the U.S., Cingular and AT&T, but as he notes in his book, the right attitude and determination to succeed can and does make all the difference. The book is filled with excellent advice. Sean Brodrick of Weiss Research has written The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide: The Smartest Money Moves to Prepare for Any Crisis ($27.95, Wiley) in which he encourages fellow suburbanites to become more independent, showing how to prepare for uncertain times without giving up a 21st century lifestyle and without spending a fortune. As is often said, the time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens and Brodrick provides a roadmap to dealing with events like a stock market shake-up, oil and currency crisis, to floods and fires. This is a step-by-step guide to regaining control over an increasingly automated society that, should it break down even temporarily will cause panic for the unprepared. I highly recommend this book. And, an audiobook by Burton G. Malkiel, The Elements of Investing, ($24.98, Hachette Audio) offers straight forward talk about the fundamentals of financial success, from the need to diversify over different forms of investment, having long-term goals, using employer-sponsored plans, and much more. This one could be a game-changer for the uninitiated.

Kids, Teens, Young Adult Books

One of my favorite publishers of books for younger readers is Charlesbridge Publishing of Watertown, Massachusetts. Spring is just around the corner and they have a number of new books worth considering. We begin with books for those aged 2 through 5. Teaching a child to count and recognize colors and shapes will be easy with Teddy Bear Counting ($7.75), a real treat for any beginning learner as its illustrations make it fun and quick to learn them all. Animals of every description interest the pre-school and early readers. Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Woody Miller ($7.95) is, of course, about howler monkeys. It full of facts and the fun of a little howling along with the text. The culture of Korea comes alive in What Will You Be, Sara Mee? Written by Kate Aver Avraham and illustrated by Anne Sibly O’Brien ($7.95) it is the story of Sara Mee’s first birthday and the unique way it is celebrated by Koreans. Many have made America their new home.

Staying with the youngest readers, ages 2-5, let’s have more fun with new books from Kane Miller, another favorite of mine. The artwork by Nina Rycroft in Boom Bah by Phil Cummings ($15.99) is just fabulous as a menagerie of animals, cats, pigs, chickens, goats, bulls and horses come together in a parade filled with sounds. It’s great fun from beginning to end (and then you can start over!) One Night in the Zoo by Judith Kerr ($15.99) is a flight of fantasy as elephants fly and flamingos turn from pink to blue. Who knew what astonishing things could happen in a zoo? Well, now you do! The Best Family in the World ($15.99) written by Susana Lopez and illustrated by Ulises Wensall is a delightful story of Carlota, a little girl in an orphanage who learns she has been adopted and spends the night wondering what her new family will be like. Could they be pastry chefs, pirates, astronauts, perhaps? Turns out they are less dramatic, but, as Carlota discovers, they are the best family in the world. For the older set, ages 10-14, Kane Miller has a unique series, Conspiracy 365, by Gabrielle Lord that consists of a dozen books to be published between January and December. It is a thriller that begins when Callum Ormond, a 15-year-old who faces a year of daily dangers and challengers after he is chased by a staggering, sick man with a deadly warning, “They killed your father. They will kill you. You must survive the next 365 days!” It’s like a combination of the TV show “24” and the “Da Vinci Code” as the mystery unfolds amidst constant danger.

Thanks (or no thanks) to television, young people are privy to some of the uglier aspects of life and sometimes fall prey to them, For example, the statistics on runaways reveal that as many as one in seven kids between the ages of 10-15 will run away at some point and the older there are, the more they think they can ignore adults and make it on their own. Runaway Storm by D.E. Knobbe ($16.95, Emerald Book Company) is a cautionary tale of how young Nate learns that running away is no answer to his problems. Frustrated by his parent’s divorce, he takes off from New York to the Gulf Islands near Vancouver. What starts as an adventure soon enough turns dangerous and this young adult novel will discourage any such thoughts for any reader. A happier theme is embraced in Stephen V. Masse’s Short Circus ($20.00, Good Harbor Press, Boston) that centers on 12-year-old Jem Lockwood who relates his adventures with his Big Bother Jesse Standish, along with a host of neighbors and friends. When Jem discovers that Jesse’s rented house is about to be sold, he does everything he can think of to make it unmarketable. This leads to the “circus” that ensues and includes a search for the evil person who sabotaged the city’s swimming pool. The Big Brothers of America perform a valuable service as friends and mentors to young men who need a role model.

From Edge Books, an imprint of Gauntlet Press, Colorado Springs, CO, comes The Curse of the Shamra: Book One by Barry Hoffman ($12.25, softcover) that is classic fantasy for younger readers. When the peaceful and isolated land of the Shamra is invaded and its people enslaved, a young Shamra girl named Dara must lead the resistance and defeat their conquerors. She must also overcome the Shamra opposition to women in a leadership role, plus her own self-doubts, and those of her followers. Two shorter, related stories are told in Crystal Cave Stories ($5.99) and Life Lesson Stories ($4.99). To learn more visit

Novels, Novels, Novels!

It didn’t hurt Anthony Pour’s new book, The Undercover Gentleman, ($13.95, Marlborough Books, softcover) to put a quote of mine on its back cover and introductory page because nothing pleases a reviewer more than to be quoted. That said, Pour continues to demonstrate why he needs even more recognition than I can provide because he is a master storyteller. As hard as you many try to second-guess where the plot is going, he is always full of surprises and this new novel featuring a reluctant spy combines the elements of a thriller with two plot lines involving an intriguing and entertaining cast of characters swept up in events over which they have no control. When you put this novel down at the end, you will want to see what the next one will be like.

I also had kind words for Mike Brogan’s previous novel “Business to Kill For”, an advertising mystery that went on to win a Writers Digest award for mainstream fiction. Mike’s second novel, “Dead Air”, is doing well too. Happily he’s back with Madison’s Avenue ($19.95, Lighthouse Publishing), officially due out in March. Drawing on his years as an advertising executive and his talent for writing suspenseful fiction, Brogan’s new novel is a thriller that begins with a frightening call from Madison’s father, followed by news a few hours later that he has committed suicide. She inherits his firm and his enemies, suspecting that his death was a murder and that she is in the crosshairs of a global ad agency that wants to take over the Manhattan agency. This is a look inside the dog-eat-dog corporate boardrooms that will also take you to the beaches of the Caribbean and to the Cannes Ad Festival in southern France. It will be available in leading bookstores and at This one is Mike’s next big winner!

It helps to be born into the right family in the right place. The opposite is the case in Forest Gate ($14.00, Free Press, softcover) by Peter Akinti. Born of Nigerian ancestry, raised in Forest Gate, one of the “council estates”, projects in London, Akinti lifted himself out of a neighborhood of suffering, violence, and failure. He became an attorney and publishes his own magazine for British black men. He now lives in Brooklyn. This is his first novel and it begins with a double suicide and ends with a rebirth as it explores the feeling and vitality of the immigrant experience, and the grievous racial tensions that attend it. This is a very gritty reading experience, but one that will take most readers to a place they have never been, providing insights they can gain no where else.

Everybody wants to write a novel, including Dr. John Bell, a surgical podiatrist and a professor at Strayer University in Memphis. The story focuses on what happens when a young, unwed girl has a child with a man, particularly one she does not want to marry. That man, however, the subject of Invasion of the Baby Daddy ($18.00, Jamar House Publishers, softcover) has rights and responsibilities to the child. In the process, this can wreak havoc for the families involved. Dr. Bell is particularly concerned about the more than 70% of African-American families that face these challenges and his story examines what happens when a doctor building a medical practice meets a woman at a church he visits in Charlotte, NC, is deeply attracted to her, only to discover she is pregnant. He proposes but there is the issue and the problem of the “baby daddy.”

Matt Beaumont is back with e2 ($15.00, Plume, softcover) featuring a wacky cast of characters from his former novel, a motley crew from the Miller Shanks Ad Agency that has now moved on to join Meerkat360, a sleek new boutique agency with its own cast of nut jobs. The mad world of advertising gets a workout as they employ all the newest technologies to sell the most ghastly succession of products and services. I guarantee that you will laugh…a lot. By contrast, if you want to slip into a somewhat melancholy world, then pick up This Time Tomorrow by Michael Jaime-Decerra ($24.00, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press) to spend time with Gilbert Gaeta, a forklift operator in a dairy, with a daughter, Ana, and a girlfriend Joyce, whom he wants to marry. Written from their three points of view, we watch as their competing interests and hopes commingle to produce a novel of hope and love. Set in southern California, this is an impressive debut novel. The American Girl by Scandinavian novelist, Monika Fagerholm, has been a bestseller in Sweden and Finland, selling more than 200,000 copies in 13 nations. It is now available in America ($15.95, Other Press, softcover) with its intricate story of a young American girl who drowns in a Finland marsh and whose premature death becomes part of the local folklore. It sparks the imaginations of two young friends, Sandra and Doris, who search for a hidden meaning in the girl’s death. Suffice it to say they go to extremes, both playing adult games that have adult consequences. The story moves from the swinging 60s to the mod early 70s. This book will appeal to the female psyche.

For some listening pleasure, Hachette Audio continues to offer the works of James Patterson, Worst Case, and David Baldacci, Absolute Power, two thrillers that will have you on the edge of your seat. A longer listening experience can be had in Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves (17 CDs, 18 hours) about an artist who attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art. It is a mystery that unravels the mind of a troubled artist and for those whom art is of great interest, this novel will provide a great deal of entertainment. Another kind of mystery, why a man would simply get up from his job and walk away from everything, including his family, is explored in The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (7 CDs). It is a heartbreaking story of a man who has been taken for granted.

That’s it for February! Tell all your friends about this blog so they, too, can learn about the many books that will not get the bestseller treatment in the mainstream press, but deserve an audience of enthusiastic readers. And do come back in March for a host of new fiction and non-fiction that will enhance your life and expand your understand of the world and yourself.


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