Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bookviews - June 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month


Some works of history are so monumental that they are especially deserving of praise. This is the case of Norman Stone’s The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A History of the Cold War ($35.00, Basic Books). The Cold War that lasted from 1946 to 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed was an epic struggle that dominated the second half of the last century. Having lived through it, I have vivid memories of its milestones including the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was on the alert in the U.S. Army in the event we had to invade. Sadly, a new generation has little or no knowledge of this epic period in which freedom triumphed over Communism. Stone regards Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Gaulle and Helmut Schmidt to be four of the heroes of the Cold War. It was the military power and economic strength of the United States and a succession of American presidents, supported by Americans, who never wavered. Stone calls the United States a “great creative force” during the Cold War era. The book reflects three decades of research. Its 712 pages reflect the scope of the struggle which, at times, turned hot in proxy nations. To understand our present times, one must know what the Cold War was and did. We are no less challenged for the dearth of world leaders who replaced the giants of a former age. Having lived through the era, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 by H.W. Brands ($35.00, The Penguin Press), I was very impressed with the way the author captured the changes that occurred in America following the end of World War Two. The cliché that America emerged as the only superpower in the world is true and so are the great societal changes that followed in its wake. Brands analyzes the changes in a way that brings clarity to someone like myself looking back or to someone born well into the second half of the last century who might not comprehend. It’s not always pretty because of the turmoil. The gradual distancing from long-held common values and beliefs is the most surprising aspect as the children of returned WWII veterans embraced a drug culture and rejected traditional sexual mores in the sixties. There followed both the end of segregation and the rise of feminism. If you love history you will love this book. I did.

As Americans discuss the latest in a long line of terrorist attacks on America, a new book, Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy is Failing and How to Fix It, as edited by Benjamin H. Friedman, Jim Harper and Christopher A. Preble ($24.95, Cato Institute) has just been published. Cato is a noted D.C. think tank and this book offers practical analysis of current counterterrorism policies which, if the Times Square incident is any indication, are not working all that well. Based on the lessons and experiences of the past eight years, Friedman asserts that “Fear of terrorism is a bigger problem than terrorism and the defenses that we mount against terrorists often heighten our fears of them.” Anyone passing through an airport can attest to that. This book is not light reading, but it is worth the effort for the many insights and recommendations that it offers. One of the recommendations is that politicians and government organizations often have a stake in reinforcing excessive fears. Many different experts have contributed to this book and anyone seriously interested in this topic should read it. The recent scare concerning swine flu turned out to be far less threatening than projected, but is still important to track such outbreaks of diseases that can go global. Mark Pendergrast has written an interesting book, Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service ($28.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) that tells the story of the founding of the Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 for the purpose of saving lives when an epidemic occurs anywhere in the world. Given the history of such epidemics such as the Black Death that killed millions in Europe or the flu epidemic in the early years of the last century that took thousands of lives, the value of the EIS cannot be calculated, nor has the service been without controversy. One of the great contributions to modern life was the development of public health standards. You will learn much from this book and have a greater appreciation for the forces of disease and those who combat it.

The Internet has become so much a part of our lives that a whole new body of law has been developed. An estimated 45% of Americans generate their own online content, including videos, on blogs, websites, and social networking sites. It is becoming essential to know how to stay legal online and to protect your own online interests. Joy R. Butler is a business and media attorney who has authored The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence ($19.95, Sashay Communications, softcover). As a longtime professional writer and someone with two websites and a blog, I would certainly recommend this book for anyone who uses the Internet as a business tool, publishes an email newsletter, or offers original content. There is all manner of excellent advice to be garnered from this guide and it is the kind that can save you from making some costly mistakes as well as protecting against online predators. Want to help a young person graduating from college this month? Give them Gradspot.com’s Guide to Life After College ($14.95, MG Prep, softcover). I wish I had had such a book when I graduated shortly after the last ice age ended! It is filled with excellent advice on finding work and career options, housing options, smart tips on credit card use, budgeting, buying versus leasing a car, and so much more. All the pitfalls that wait for grads (and everyone else) are addressed in this guide.

We use so many common expressions that we rarely stop to wonder where they originated. Phrases such as “Hell is paved with good intentions” or “Virtue is its own reward” are common wisdom and now Julian Baggini has written Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover? 100 Fresh Takes on Familiar Sayings and Quotations ($15.95, Counterpoint, softcover) in which the acclaimed philosopher challenges the reader to think again about well-worn sayings and phrases that we use every day. Is it always best to practice what you preach? Or to do in Rome as Romans do? Is it better to be safe than sorry? Not just a reference book, but an interesting collection of short, stimulating capsules of defiantly clear thinking that will energize your intellect while thoroughly entertaining you. A clever little book, Do Not Interrupt: A Playful Take on the Art of Conversation, by Stephen Kuusisto ($14.95, Sterling) examines the do’s and don’ts of conversation. Lovers of language and communication skills will greatly enjoy this examination of the difference between merely talking with someone else and actually having a stimulating conversation.

For all you “foodies”, here are two books you will love. India is one of the truly ancient civilizations. Its cuisine is unique and a real treat. If you combine its recipes with their history, you get Nani Power’s Ginger and Ganesh: Adventures in Indian Cooking, Culture and Love ($25.00, Counterpoint). It is in part the author’s journey of learning, being invited into the homes of strangers eager to teach her Indian cuisine. Along the way she learned much more. The book is filled with unique, often treasured family recipes from vegetarian homes in India. They range from cheese cubes in a rich cilantro and almond curry to coconut stuffed okra. It all makes for great reading and eating. In my home, there was always plenty of cheese to savor. Now, cheese enthusiast Eric LeMay has written the ultimate cheese-lover’s book, Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese ($25.00, Free Press). This is a world tour of cheese and he relates his travels from Cambridge, Massachusetts to a cheese festival in Bra, Italy, with plenty of other stops along the way as he shares his extensive knowledge. The book even has a comprehensive appendix on how to enjoy and pair cheese with beer, chocolate, coffee, fruit preserves, honey and other choices. Be advised; keep some cheese in the fridge when you start to read this delightful book. It will make you yearn for it.

In the past decade, Malcolm Gladwell wrote three groundbreaking books that have contributed to the way we understand the world. They were The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and Outliers: The Story of Success. All three became audiobooks and now all three are gathered together in a slipcased edition ($79.98) by Hachette Audio, unabridged on 22 CDs) read by the author. If you are in a mood to expand your mind or want to give a remarkable gift, this collection is ideal.

A short, useful book for anyone who wants to learn about socialism is 10 Truths About Socialism available from Coral Ridge Ministries. As far back as 1848, Frederic Bastiat defined it as “legalized plunder.” Socialism/Communism advocates government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. America fought Soviet communism for fifty years, but it has established itself here in the form of Social Security, Medicare (both teetering on financial collapse) and is manifesting itself in the actions of the current administration such as the government takeover of General Motors. The book by a Christian publisher has a conservative point of view, but it has its facts in good order. For a donation of $15.00, purchase it by clicking here.


Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs


Music lovers are in for a treat. Two biographies of music giants, Louis Armstrong and Stan Kenyon are in the bookstores. Terry Teachout has authored Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong ($30.00, Houghton Mifflin) is just a joy It captures Armstrong’s slow, but steady assent in to the highest orders of musical fame and success. Teachout is a gifted biographer and two of his previous books were devoted to George Balanchine, the ballet impresario, and a life of H.L. Mencken, the famed journalist and columnist. Armstrong literally lifted himself out of poverty as a child in New Orleans as the result of his talent. All his life he wore a Star of David to honor the Jewish family that gave him the money to buy his first trumpet and the values they imparted to him were worth much more. He was no angel, but he had innate good instincts and was blessed with a personality that, like his music, drew an ever widening circle of friends and fans. He became a great ambassador of good will for America. Years ago I attended a concert by Stan Kenton’s orchestra and the memory remains strong to this day. Stan Kenton: This is an Orchestra by Michael Sparke ($24.95, University of North Texas Press) tells the story of his great success leading musicians whose brass instrument wall of exciting sound made an indelible mark during the four decades he toured. Born in 1911, Kenton formed his first full orchestra in 1940 and thereafter they toured to enormous concert and recording success. His story is told through the words of those who composed and played the music. Kenton brought an unrelenting quest for his particular interpretation. It resulted in a whole new way to hear jazz and changed popular music. Few know the man and his music better than Sparke and we are fortunate to have this new biography.

Though they were a literary phenomenon of my youth and are now on their way to legend, I was never a fan of “the Beats”, writers that included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac. I read Kerouac’s rambling novels without finding the stories that compelling and I thought Ginsberg’s poetry was not worth the accolades it received. Clearly I am in the minority with such views because Bill Morgan has written The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation ($28.00, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). In many respects, Morgan confirms my early reservations. It is in fact a quite fascinating series of revelations about the writers who came to be known as the Beat Generation. They were almost exclusively male and all shared a belief in personal liberation. They also all paid a personal price as it took a toll in varying ways on all of them. At the heart of the group was Kerouac who sought a circle of friends whose love affairs, straight and gay, whose drug use, whose search for spirituality, and whose battles over censorship contributed to a transformation of society. It makes for great reading. From the same publisher comes another biography from the world of literature, Sophia Tolstoy by Alexandra Popoff ($28.00, Free Press). She was the wife of the celebrated writer and cultural icon, Leo Tolstoy. She was also the mother of thirteen, a businesswoman, and a publisher. History portrays her as a shrill, small-minded woman who tormented her husband and actively tried to sabotage his endeavors, but Popoff believes that history has been unfair to her and has written this biography to set the record straight. She is, instead, portrayed as a strong, intelligent, and dedicated woman who participated in Tolstoy’s writings and causes, and shared his sense of mission and important values. Without question, Tolstoy modeled his memorable female characters after her. She emerges as having played an essential role in his life, one for which we can thank her service, encouragement, and management that left him free to write. Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lydall Gordon ($27.95, Viking) explodes many of the commonly held beliefs and views of the extraordinary poetess, 1830-1886, the maid of Amherst, Massachusetts who never married, but produced poems of tremendous emotional depth and indelible beauty. He theorizes that she suffered from epilepsy which carried with it a social stigma. This would account for her reclusive lifestyle. There are other factors that those who love her work will find of great interest. The self-appointed editor of Dickinson’s poetry was Mabel Loomis Todd who had an affair with Austin Dickinson, her older (and married) brother. It set off a family feud. Previously untapped papers and access to the Dickinson and Todd archives illuminate the formerly unknown aspect of her life in ways that make this a provocative biography.

The first and only biography of Nobel Prize-winning novelist, William Golding, has just been published ($32.50, Free Press). It is a monumental piece of work by John Carey, a noted British literary critic. In 1953, Golding was a provincial school teacher whose novel, “Lord of the Flies” had been repeatedly rejected until an editor at Faber and Faber thought better of it. It would sell millions with its tale of original sin and our capacity for evil. Perhaps not surprisingly, Golding was not a particularly nice person, a depressive who regarded himself as a monster, but he was clearly a gifted novelist and for that he will be remembered. Now you can read the full story of his life. Genius is frequently not pretty.

The world of war always serves up stories of people who achieved much in life and Cataclysm: General Hap Arnold and the Defeat of Japan does that for one of World War Two’s great leaders and heroes ($24.95, University of North Texas Press). Japan’s defeat required extraordinary men and the strategic planning to bring about the destruction that yielded surrender. Herman S. Wolk has written of the General’s role during the Pacific War of 1944-1945. The retired Senior Historian of the U.S. Air Force, Wolk is especially qualified to share with the reader the thinking of its commanding general as he led those who crafted the weapons, organization, and command of the strategic bombing offensive against Japan. A lot preceded the dropping of the two A-bombs that ended the war in the Pacific. For those who love military history and lore, this book will prove to be a treat. For a personal story of triumph over cerebral palsy, John W. Quinn has written Someone Like Me ($16.96, History Publishing Company). Despite having been born with cerebral palsy, John wanted to be in the U.S. Navy, but the Navy didn’t want him. Even though every step he took was measured in pain, the Navy requirement for a “duck walk” initially disqualified him. He never made mention of his CP. Instead he put himself into a regimen of self-applied physical therapy for a year until he could fulfill the requirement. It meant learning to deal with a new level of pain and it led to a twenty-year career in the Navy! He retired as a senior chief petty officer and earned numerous citations and awards. This is not the story of an easy life at any point along the way, but it is one of great determination that can serve as an inspiration to those born with CP and anyone else inclined to feel sorry for themselves.

An icon of the labor movement, Mother Jones: Raising Cain and Consciousness, is the subject of a biography by Simon Cordery ($21.95, University of New Mexico Press, softcover). Mary Harris was born into a family of Irish radicals in 1837. Like thousands of others, the Irish potato famine forced them to immigrate to Canada. She married George Jones and settled with him Memphis, only to lose him and their four children to a yellow fever epidemic in 1867. She then lost her dressmaking business to the great Chicago fire in 1871. She found a home in the emerging labor movement after that, crisscrossing the nation to be an organizer. By all accounts she was a force to be reckoned with and in time she gained a national reputation in mines, factories, and workshops across the nation. There’s even a magazine named after her these days. If you have heard of her but never knew how she gained her reputation, this book will prove of interest as part of America’s history.

How to Survive Being Alive

Was it Yogi Berra who said you can learn a lot by just watching? Well, you can also learn a lot by reading books that explain how others survived their individual journey through life. They are frequently entertaining and often inspiring, but they always open a door to other’s experiences that can prove useful to your own life choices.

In America, we learn that everyone has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that it is a pursuit, not a guarantee, but James D. Baird, PhD, and Laurie Nadel, PhD, have joined forces to write about Happiness Genes ($15.99, New Page, a division of Career Press, softcover) whose subtitle is “Unlock the positive potential hidden in your DNA.” An inventor-engineer, author and researcher, Dr. Baird has studied the subject of happiness for more than 20 years. He got an assist from Dr. Nadel, herself a bestselling author, a former New York Times columnist, and a radio host. Together they offer scientific research that proves the links between science, spirituality, and happiness. It turns out that compassion, acts of kindness, meditation, and prayer play a significant role in one’s happiness, just as we have been taught by parents and by observation. The authors offer a 28-day “natural happiness” program the reader can use to turn on their happiness genes and program their emotions, their beliefs, and their behaviors to create a steady stream of well-being. Another book that will prove helpful is Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies by Charles H. Elliot, PhD, and Laura L. Smith, PhD ($21.99, Wiley Publishing Co., softcover.) It is filled with excellent advice on how to get one’s fears and worries under control, identifying your anxiety triggers, and information about the latest treatments and medications. It is testimony to the fact that there is a book out there to help anyone with any problem and surely anxiety is high on the list these days given the economy and the threats of terrorism.

Last One Down the Aisle Wins
by Shannon Fox and Celeste Liverside ($16.95, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Griffin, softcover) is subtitled “10 keys to a fabulous single life now and an even better marriage later.” The book is directed at young women. Ms. Fox is a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist and Ms. Liverside is an attorney specializing in family law. Together they bring considerable experience to the view that one’s twenties are not just a waiting period before marriage. They offer a wealth of statistics and other data that demonstrates that waiting until one is closer to one’s thirties increases their chances of having a healthy, long-lasting relationship more than double! They offer tips on how to develop and improve one’s emotional health, body image, and confidence. They also identify the ten top reasons women marry too young and why they should be avoided. Sometimes people’s memoirs offer the key to understanding one’s own life. Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still Intact is an hilarious, truthful tale of one woman, Anna Mitchael, ($15.95, Seal Press, softcover) that details impulsive moves to new cities, domestic disasters, and even the occasional nervous breakdown. It is about growing up! She made her way as a copywriter in advertising agencies across the nation, but she has since returned home to her native Texas.

While women have many books to call upon that offer advice about dealing with life’s twists and turns, men often do not. What, for example can men do to cope with the loss of a wife? The Widower’s Toolbox: Repairing Your Life After Losing Your Spouse ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Gerald J. Schaefer joined with Tom Bekkers, MSW, APSW, to provide an excellent guide for grieving men that sets them on the path to healing. Schaefer draws on his 26-year career experience managing people and dealing with many of the issues facing him and his young sons after the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Bekkers is a licensed psychotherapist and advanced practice social worker with twenty years experience in professional counseling. Together they provide a wealth of information and advice on such things as organizing household tasks, resolving issues that prevent healing, handling children’s special needs, and learning to love again. Robert Rodi has penned a hilarious and heartwarming memoir, Dogged Pursuit: How a Rescue Dog Rescued Me ($15.00, Plume, softcover). It is an account of a year in the dog show world that is filled with outsize personalities, lots of laughs, and the unforgettable bond that was forged between himself and an unlikely, loveable teammate. When he began training his Sheltie, Carmen, in canine agility, he had no idea what lay ahead. He soon caught the competitive bug and when Carmen was sidelined with a hip injury, he went looking for a new dog to take to the competitions. His choice was a surprising one; a scrawny, scruffy rescue dog that alternated between Cujo-like aggression at home and possum-like paralysis in the ring. Dusty had a talent for finding ways to do things wrong, but by then they have bonded in ways that taught Rodi some valuable lessons. The author owns three dogs and has authored seven novels. This may turn out to be his favorite book and, if you love dogs, is likely to become yours as well. Halfway to Heaven: My White-Knuckled—and Knuckleheaded—Quest for the Rocky Mountain High by Mark Obmascik ($15.00, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, softcover) is the story of a man who joined the more than half million people who attempt to climb one of Colorado’s 54 mountains over 14,000 feet high. A stay-at-home father of three in Denver, he never thought he would become one of them, but when his 12-year-old son, Cass, called home from his Colorado summer camp, ecstatic about climbing Pike’s Peak, Obmascik found an activity they could enjoy together. He tells the story of his outrageous midlife adventure in this memoir of taking off for the mountains at the weekend’s early dawn to huff and puff his way toward climbing every one of the 14,000 foot mountains. Men will identify with this delightful story.

A debilitating disease that puts fear in the hearts of anyone approaching their senior years is Alzheimer’s. It has no cure and it does not appear that any new drug is on the horizon to offer one although some do offer some palliative use. Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik has teamed with Ellen Clegg to write The Alzheimer’s Solution: How Today’s Care is Failing Millions and How We Can Do Better ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). As the Baby Boomer generation arrives to expand the elderly population the prospect of more cases is expected. This book offers a measure of hope and coping strategies for people facing Alzheimer’s now and in the future. Dr. Kosik is a neurologist and leading researcher on the disease. Ms. Clegg is a healthcare journalist. Together they outline a bold vision of one-stop centers for information about the care required, explaining why the current healthcare system is poorly equipped to deal with Alzheimer’s patients and how market economics stymies physician creativity. This is an extremely informative and provocative book on a subject that will loom larger and larger in the years ahead.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz ($28.00, Free Press) takes a look at today’s workplace and finds it about as enervating as a salt mine. He points out that human beings aren’t designed to operate like computers—at high speeds, continuously, running multiple tasks at the same time, but as often as not that’s the kind of demand being put on today’s workers. The result is distracted, exhausted, and often demoralized workers in tough economic times. Written with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, PhD, the book offers a way for individuals to manage their energy more skillfully. It will help those in management positions by pointing out ways to ensure their co-worker’s energy levels are taken into account these days, creating organizational policies and practices that fuel rather than deplete human energy. It refutes the myths that people can get by with little sleep or that fear is a motivational device. It lays waste to the notion that multi-tasking is a good idea. As if the workplace wasn’t stressful enough, the process by which one selects a career path can also be a challenge. Work to Your Strengths by Chuck Martin, Richard Guare, PhD, and Peg Dawson, EdD, ($21.95, Amacom) puts forth a program on how best to identify one’s best skills and channel them into jobs that will prove satisfying over the long run. The authors say your brain is hardwired to function in certain ways and you have to match that to jobs where you will find the most success and satisfaction. It identifies specific executive skills that will enhance the work experience. This is not light reading, but it can ignite the kind of insight that you can use to make good choices.

Norlights Press in Nashville is a small press with a variety of eclectic titles, one of which is Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget ($15.00, softcover) by Maria Ross who brings 16 years of experience to her new book. We know how the big guys like Apple, Nike and Harley Davidson create a brand image that inspires countless consumers, but the author says a small business can do that as well and then provides the blueprint to do it. Branding effectively and connecting with customers is not about how much money you have to spend, she says, but how clearly, consistently and relevantly you can communicate your message. It’s about being authentic. Check out this title and others at www.norlightspress.com. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of women in the workplace. Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World by Birute Regine ($19.00, Prometheus Books) examines the transition from the traditional roles to the revolution in which a society once based on domination and power over others is beginning to crumble as an era of cooperation and community emerges, founded on the principle that power should be shared with and for others. The author weaves together the stories of sixty successful women from all walks of life and throughout the world. She spent several years in eight nations interviewing dynamic, female role models from a Congresswoman to a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and others whom she calls her “Iron Butterflies.” For those of a philosophical inclination, this book will prove quite interesting.

What do you do if you have built a successful business and want to sell it? The first thing is to purchase Built to Sell by John Warrillow ($24.95, Flip Jet Media, Toronto). The author started and sold four companies, becoming in the process an expert on how to get the most value out of a business when selling it. He is a small business expert who is widely quoted in publicans from Business Week and Inc Magazine to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. In this book he reveals the secret of building a business to sell, offering eight steps to making a business sellable. “You can always run a company as if it will last forever, and yet you should also strive constantly to maximize its value, building in the qualities that allow it to be sold at any moment.” Good advice.

Books for kids and Teens

For the toddler set, there’s a book that’s out just in time for Father’s Day on June 20. Dad and Pop: An Ode to Fathers & Stepfathers by Kelly Bennett ($15.99, Candlewick Press) and illustrated by Paul Meisel is aimed at kids age 4-to-7. In an era when half the marriages end in divorce and often lead to remarriage and a new father figure, this book offers warm illustrations and a comforting text on how to look at a happily blended-family scenario. It reassures that the birth dad and the step-dad both love their child. Dance, Y’All, Dance is another Kelly Bennett book, illustrated in a delightful fashion by Terri Murphy ($16.95, Bright Sky Press) that celebrates country music and the way folks of all ages love to dance to it. It recreates the fun and excitement of Saturday nights at the dancehall for ages 4 to 8. Also among the books for this age group is a wonderful story taken from real life, Miles of Smiles: The Story of Roxey, the Long Island Rail Road Dog (17.95, Blue Martin Publications) by Heather Hill Worthington with warm and wonderful illustration by Bill Farnsworth. Roxey became a legend 1900s when he was granted complete access by the crews of the Long Island railroad system. When he jumped on board President Teddy Roosevelt’s private car Teddy was delighted to learn he had a railroad pass attached to his collar and let him stay for a while.

For the teens, there are new novels coming along at a rapid rate, but first let me recommend Aim High: 101 Tips for Teens by Brad Berger ($9.75, www.aimhigh101tips.com) It is filled with short, easy to absorb points on how to speak, be helpful, acknowledge mistakes, forgive, maintain health, and lots, lots more. Any parent of a teenager, particularly the early teen years, will want to pick up a copy and just leave it around. It shortcuts the difficulties often encountered in communicating with this age group.

We know that teens will read a longer book from the Harry Potter series and Cory Doctorow has written a novel, For the Win, (17.99, a Tor Teen Book) that explores the world of labor politics and the free market economy in a worldwide post-economic collapse. Sounds timely, doesn’t it? The plot is about a movement that will draw opposing forces, Western corporations, the Chinese police, and organized crime into the ultimate struggle for freedom. Doctorow has won awards for his previous books with comparable adult themes and as co-editor of BoingBoing,net. It is set in the world of online gaming and is sure to intrigue any teen who picks it up.

Two softcover novels are worth a read for those ages 12 and up. Star Crossed: Taurus Eyes by Bonnie Hearn Hill ($9.95, Running Press Teens) and involves astrology, often an interest of teens. Logan is spending the summer at the camp of her dreams and is determined to secure a coveted writing spot in the camp’s anthology. It’s a summer of challenge and a bit of romance and Logan wonders if the stars can guide her through them. The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla ($16.95, WestSide Books) offers a serious theme when 17-teen-year-old Sam, instead of worrying about final exams and the prom is trying to save her best friend’s life. He has a form of cancer that does not respond to treatment, but Sam is there by his side as friendship ripens into love as time threatens to run out. I will not give away the ending, but will recommend this interesting novel.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Summer is a traditional time for reading at the beach or just the back porch and there is a surfeit of novels for those who enjoy fiction.

Allie Larkin has written a funny, romantic novel about a woman who watches the longtime love of her life marry her best friend instead. Stay ($25.95, Dutton/Penguin Group) is the story of how she drowns her sorrow initially in Kool-Aid-vodka cocktails and watches reruns of Rin Tin Tin. Then, impulsively, she buys a German shepherd over the Internet. Her new companion, Joe, is a clumsy, slobbering hundred-pound beast that only responds to commands in Slovak! But he helps her begin to mend her broken heart and it doesn’t hurt that Joe’s vet is a rugged sweetheart with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. This is a warm, witty, laugh-out-loud story and a very good debut. Another debut novel is by Brando Skyhorse. In The Madonnas of Echo Park ($23.00, Free Press), just published this month, he gives voice to a Mexican community in Los Angeles not far from Dodger Stadium. We are introduced to and come to know the story of Aurora Esperanza, a young girl caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting with a dozen other girls and mothers while acting out a scene from a Madonna music video. This is straight out of the life of the author, himself a Mexican-American, who knows these people well having been born and raised in Echo Park. This is a very timely story and a moving one that will provide a window into the world of Hispanics.

Andy Andrews takes the reader back to World War Two in The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances ($18.99, Thomas Nelson) when a German U Boat officer is betrayed for refusing to kill Americans while sinking supply ships destined for Europe in the Gulf of Mexico in 1942. Shot by a fanatical Nazi and left for dead at sea, he washed ashore in Alabama where he is found by a beautiful young woman whose husband has been in killed by Germans in the war. Torn between leaving him to die and saving his life, she elects to hide him until he recovers and tries to elude capture. The stage is set for an extraordinary emotional and action-packed journey as both explore their past lives and face a crucial decision together. It is a story of how people overcome anger and hate, and about the value of forgiveness; a gift to yourself and others. In The Wave ($18.95, Sherman Asher Publishing, softcover) author Tom Miller uses his degree in geology, his thousand dives as a recreational scuba diver, and a thousand hours piloting everything from a small Cessna to Lear jets, combining them the fact that the big island of Hawaii is surrounded by massive undersea landslides. An earthquake or volcano eruption could trigger staggering tsunamis. Combine that with a heart-pounding story filled with nail-biting events and you have one heck of a tale that will keep you turning the page.

Henry Roth (1906-1995) wrote novels that were always a literary event when published. He’s perhaps best known for Call It Sleep (1934), but he was always highly regarded. Now, fifteen years after his passing, another novel, An American Type, has been published ($25.95, W.W. Norton). Set in 1938, it tells the story of his alter ego, Ira Stigman, who at 32 years of age is standing, in his words, “at the portentous crossroads of maturity.” His first novel has been published to wide acclaim and he is doted upon and provided for by an older women, the alter ego of Eda Lou Walton who was Roth’s lover at the time. In the novel, Ira is experiencing the angst of initial success and keeps re-writing the first pages of a second novel. His relationship with his lover feels like a Faustian contract he’ll never escape, and he is terrified of what stretches out before him. Written in the years before his death, this is a wonderful look inside the life of authors to whom success has come swiftly and unexpectedly. Fans of Roth will enjoy this along with anyone who wants a look inside the life of novelists who must draw on their own lives for inspiration. It is funny, touching, and a lot of fun to read.

Among the softcover novels worth reading is Samantha Bruce-Benjamin’s The Art of Devotion ($15.00, Gallery Books), a haunting debut novel filled with secrets, love, betrayal, obsession, and deceit. It is a window into one family’s dark and complex history as told from the view of four women and tells the story of the emotional damage within a family led by a matriarch who was tragically widowed too soon, the almost inappropriately close relationship between her son and daughter, and the deceit of an outsider. Its plot is too intricate to describe, but that makes for a story that is hard to put down once begun. The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge ($15.95, Counterpoint) will please those familiar with the poet Elizabeth Bishop. In 1951 she boarded a ship bound for South America to visit friends in Rio de Janeiro for two weeks and stayed for seventeen years. In a mesmerizing debut novel, Sledge creates an intimate portrait of Bishop, her life in Brazil and her relationship with her lover, the aristocratic Lota de Macedeo Soares. Drawing on her lifelong correspondences and biography, he imagines the poet’s intensely private life, lived in conflict with herself as a writer and a woman. There is much to admire and enjoy in this novel that closely mirrors the reality of the poet’s life.

For the girls, Sophie Hannah serves up suspense in The Dead Lie Down (15.00, Penguin Books) in a story about Ruth Bassey to whom a man confesses a murder committed years ago, but Ruth knows a woman of the same name as the alleged victim and she is very much alive. Set against the background of the London art scene, this story has twists and turns for which the author has acquired a growing base of fans. Just out this month is Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth ($13.99, Tyndale House Publishers) is set in a five-star resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Riley Sinclair has just settled into her new job as director of guest relations while putting her own life together again. With a hurricane headed straight for the resort, Riley and three women guests forge unlikely but powerful friendships as they each deal with varying fears. The result is laughter and lunacy, heartache and healing. The prolific novelist, Jane Green, has proven her writing chops and is back for some summer reading with Dune Road ($15.00, Plume). Set in a Connecticut town, Kit Hargrove has bounced back from her divorce with a new sense of freedom. She’s enjoying her life and can’t believe she had landed a job as the assistant to a dashing, famously reclusive novelist, Robert McClore. At a rare book event, Robert meets Kit’s friend, Tracy, who has a weakness for older men. Life begins to get complicated again and ties to friends and family become crucial. It’s an intriguing tale.

Finally, my friend, David H. Brown, has penned a classic mystery, Murder at 250 Center Street, ($15.99, Author House) with a plot that has so many twists and turns you will not want to stop reading. From abandoned newborn fraternal twins found in an apartment building basement after eight days, to their teenage mother being shot to death shortly after delivery, to a lapse of two decades when the murder weapon is found, the story just rockets along, buoyed by a great cast of characters, more deaths, a bizarre trial, and much more. They used to call such a novel a pot boiler because the lid was sure to blow at any moment. Treat yourself to this one.

That’s it for June! And do come back in July for still more news of the best of new non-fiction and fiction. Tell all your book-loving friends about Bookviews, too!

1 comment:

  1. "IRISH POWER vs ENGLISH POWER"

    BNP (Black National Party)

    The BNP (Black National Party) has been created to expedite the work of the Race Equality Secret Service (RESS).

    The BNP (Black National Party) gets stronger as "STORMFRONT" gets weaker.

    http://raceequalitysecretservice.blogspot.com/2010/02/bnp-black-national-party.

    ReplyDelete