Friday, July 30, 2010

Bookviews - August 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month


There’s no debate that North Korea is the classic “rogue nation”, making nuclear weapons and missiles for sale to anyone that has the price. Ruled by dictators, now into the second generation, reading anything good about the place is rare. You will, however, find it in Eating With the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea From my BBQ Shack in Hackensack by Bobby Egan and Kurt Pitzer ($25.95, St. Martin’s Press). It is the story of how Egan who was involved with the issue of POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War era caught the eye of government officials along with his Vietnamese contact, Le Quang Khai during a time when Vietnam was trying to normalize relations with the U.S. in the early 1990s. What occurred next with North Korea, however, was unprecedented. Khai talked to the North Korean consulate about Egan and recommended they get to know him. It led to a meeting with North Korean consul Han Song Ryol and an amazing friendship was forged over the course of a decade. Egan accomplished a great deal over the years using his gift for friendship. His story suggests that the effort can accomplish much even in the face of longstanding hostilities between the two nations. The World for Ransom by D.R. Burgess ($26.00, Prometheus Books) looks at the rise of piracy along the Somali coast. A jurist and historian, he argues a case for linking piracy and terrorism that goes much deeper than just the headlines. It may offer civilized society the key to fighting international terrorism if terrorists were defined as pirates. It would eliminate the current maze of legal restrictions that hampers the prosecution of both pirates and terrorists. For anyone interested in the legal aspects of dealing with terrorism, this makes for some very interesting reading.

If science is your area of interest, you might consider reading Absolutely Small: A Layman’s guide to the Miraculous Realm of Quantum Theory that Explains Our Everyday World. Written by Dr. Michael D. Fayer, PhD, ($24.00, Amacom) it looks at everyday realities we take for granted and how physics attempts to explain them. Why are blueberries blue and oranges orange? Why does white-hot molten lava look red while the sun appears yellow? Most quantum physicists can only provide answers that will make your hair catch on fire, but Dr. Fayer has the gift of explaining the complex in a way that is completely accessible and, happily for me, free of math. This is an intriguing and excellent book that unravels the mysteries of nature and life around us. Those who keep an eye on such things believe that Iceland is in for a major volcanic eruption that could make the most recent one small by comparison. If such things interest you, pick up a copy of Volcano: Iceland’s Inferno and the Earth’s Most Active Volcanoes ($19.95, National Geographic, softcover), edited by Ellen J. Prager with a foreword by Marcia K. McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Despite the claims that humans are altering the atmosphere and causing climate change (they’re not), even the most disinterested observer knows instinctively that the powers of the Earth are so much more vast that the claims are absurd. Volcanoes are living testimony to that and, an eruption in Iceland could transform the weather of the northern hemisphere as it spews enormous amounts of chemicals and cloud-filled particulates into the atmosphere. The other major volcanoes are examined with a reminder of what occurred when Mount Pinatubo altered the climate for years after its eruption.

Amil Imani’s new book, Obama Meets Ahmadinejad uses satire to reveal some fundamental truths about these two men. Ahmadinejad, of course, is the president of Iran and so hated there that crowds filled the streets to protest. Iran is the classic Islamic nation that uses brutality and oppression against its own people. Imani’s book ($17.95, Free American Press, softcover) has already been hailed by some of the leading voices warning against the Islamic threat to freedom and liberty. They include Robert Spencer, the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades; Dr. Wafa Sultan, author of “A God Who Hates”; and Dr. Ali Sina, the author of “Understanding Muhammad and founder of FaithFreedom.org. It is available directly from his website, http://www.amilimani.com, or from Amazon.com. Amani, born in Iran, is an American with deep insights regarding Islam. He has been warning Americans and others around the world about the threat the present Iranian regime represents to its own people, the Middle East, and global peace. I add my voice to those recommending it. For those who want to delve into Islam, Ibn Warraq, the author of “Why I am Not a Muslim” has had a collection of his essays, Virgins? What Virgins?, published ($19.00, Prometheus Books) that are insightful, controversial, and frequently witty. He discusses the totalitarian nature of contemporary political Islam and explores whether there is any prospect for a reformation comparable to the Protestant Reformation in the West. Indeed, one essay is titled, “Why the West is Best.” One really needs to read this and comparable books to truly understand the threat to western civilization that Islam poses.

Britain continues to produce some great literature, art and entertainment. A case in point was the television series, “Prime Subject”, starring Helen Mirren. I watched every episode in the 1990s when it was aired and am delighted that Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection will debut in September in a 9-disc set of feature length mysteries as well as a 50-minute behind-the-scenes special ($124.99, Acorn Media.) The tenacious, driven, and flawed main character, Detective Jane Tennison, has risen through the ranks, solving some awful crimes while battling office sexism and her own demons. Mirren is an Oscar® and Emmy ® winner, and her performance in this series is testimony to her extraordinary talent. For sheer viewing pleasure, this is worth having in your own collection of great drama or as a great gift. Since the 1950s when I discovered the poetry of Dylan Thomas, I have often taken a collection of his poems from the bookshelf to read again and again. They are magical and totally unique. Along the way I have read biographies of the man, memoirs of his last trip to New York in 1953 where he died from what was medically deemed an “alcoholic insult” to the brain. His personal life was messy. A drunkard, he was married, the father of a son, Colm, and a daughter, Aeronwy. She took ten years to set her memories of him to paper, starting with the move her parents made to a boathouse in the small Welsh village of Laugharne when she was six. She would become her father’s literary executor, a writer and poet in her own right. In 2009 she passed away just before the British publication of My Father’s Places. The American edition will be officially published in September by Skyhorse Publishing ($19.95). For those who love his poetry and other writings, this book fills in a missing piece of the puzzle that was Dylan Thomas

I have always been fond of books that contain information in a compact presentation that would be difficult to acquire otherwise. Such is Nathan Belofsky’s The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities ($13.95, Perigee, softcover). There are those, including myself, who think there are just too many laws being passed, burdening enterprise and individuals without good reason. This entertaining book is proof of that as it reveals a plethora of often idiotic laws such as the one in 2006 that got a Brooklyn man sentenced to 5 to 11 years in jail for killing a goldfish. Reaching back in history, it is astonishing how frequently the death penalty was the choice for almost any infraction. The creation of writing, first on stone tablets, papyrus, and printing led to the publication of many laws, many of which dealt with crimes common to the modern times, but whose punishment was draconian. The proliferation of laws has led to the increase in lawyers, but the book does demonstrate that humans have long striven for order in society. Entertaining in a totally bizarre way is People of Walmart: Shop and Awe by Luke Wherry, Adam and Andrew Kipple ($12.95, Sourcebooks, softcover), due out in September. It is page after page of photos of people who shop there wearing and doing very strange things in such a public place. Every page makes you wonder whatever possessed these people to even leave the house. Weird tattoos. Weirder haircuts. Still weirder clothes. It would make a great gift for the Walmart shopper in your life.

Getting Down to Business

The paralysis that has seized the economy, accompanied by the massive government spending we’re told will get us out of it has forced Americans to seriously question what some economists, particularly those writing for mainstream publications, keep telling us. Most people know that, if you’re in debt, the first thing to do is stop spending, cut back on expenses, and begin saving as much money as possible. I am sure most people would be astonished to learn that, over the past twenty years, Americans have purchased $6 trillion more in goods from other nations than we have sold to them. This is just one of the many facts to be found in Ian Fletcher’s book, Free Trade Doesn’t Work, What Should Replace It and Why ($24.95, U.S. Business & Industry Council, Washington, D.C., softcover). Normally, reading anything dealing with economics makes my eyes glaze over, but Fletcher provides a lively look at the realities of why the U.S. is in such a terrible place economically. Primarily, we are not manufacturing goods as we once did and, when we do the work is often outsourced to nations like China and India, for assembling here. The result is fewer jobs for Americans, less tax revenue for the nation, and a trade deficit. Any time trade is discussed in terms of protecting U.S. industries, some people cry “protectionism”, but the fact is that other nations practice it all the time. Free trade is a misnomer. Letting your global competitors beat your brains out is a very bad idea. I recommend this excellent analysis. I only hope those in power and executives responsible for making decisions for American companies will read this excellent book. The place to go is http://www.freetradedoesntwork.com.

Financial Serial Killers: Inside the World of Wall Street Money Hustlers, Swindlers, and Con Men seems ripped from today’s headlines and it is surely interesting reading ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing). Tom Ajamie and Bruce Kelly note that, in the fiscal year 2009, the FBI saw a 105% increase in new high-yield investment fraud investigations compared to 2008; 314 such cases versus 154. Many involved losses exceeding $100 million. The authors identify the warning signs and strategies that perpetrators of fraud use to scam average Americans out of their life savings. Ajamie is an attorney who has recovered hundreds of millions from fraudulent individuals, corporations, and organized crime organizations. Kelly is the news editor for Investment News and provides true stories of people who have been scammed, explaining how they could have avoided their losses. The problem is, like Bernie Madoff, some con artists can have good reputations. The book is full of good advice to save you from financial fraud. You’re not too young or too old to read this book. Another book for people trying to figure out survival in these hard times is If I’m So Smart…Where Did All My Money Go? Balancing Your Financial Objectives for Lasting Wealth by Doug Warshauer ($24.95, CFMB Books, Morton Grove, IL). The author looks, for example, at why so many people bought homes they couldn’t afford with mortgages they couldn’t pay? Also, why people with good salaries can’t seem to put money aside at the end of the month in savings or an investment account? The book is about financial stability for families, individuals, and senior citizens. Using a fictional financial seminar, he explains his recommendations through the stories of ten people attending it. If this is a problem with which you are grappling, this book will prove helpful.

Anyone hiring the “linkster generation”, born after 1995, knows they are quite different from their predecessors such as Generation Y, born 1981 to 1995, and earlier ones such as Generation X and, of course, the Baby Boomers. All require special handling and skills. Happily, Meagan Johnson and her dad, Larry Johnson, have written Generations, Inc. ($16.95, Amacom, softcover) to provide the key to understanding the different comfort levels and expectation of these very different generations. The book addresses the need to create cross-generational alliances, reconcile disparate values, and different work styles. Today’s manager may find themselves managing great talent from five or more generations and each has different approaches to the workplace. When I started in the workplace there were no cell phones, ipods, or computers. This old dog had to learn new skills and use new technology. I am in the “traditional generation”, but many of the Baby Boomer generation, 1946-1964, intend to stay on past retirement age and they work well with others, but are experiencing age discrimination. Those in Generation Y cannot even imagine being that old! A lot of folks are trying to navigate through the new world of “social media” in order to use it more effectively to grow their business. Sherrie A. Madia, PhD and Paul Borgese have written The Social Media Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business Exponentially with Social Media ($24.95, Full Court Press, an imprint of Base Communications, Voorhees, NJ). Here’s the lowdown on what Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is all about. The authors offer advice on the best practices, pitfalls to avoid, and step-by-step strategies for creating smart social media campaigns. This is an excellent guide to the confusing new world of interactive websites, blogs, podcasts, social network sites, image and video-sharing e-communities, and so much more that is available to the savvy marketer. It no longer matters if you are a mom-and-pop operation or a big corporation. Knowing what choices to make and how to maximize social media to sell one’s product or service is still the bottom line. Little wonder that the one job category that is growing these days is that of social media manager!

Better Make It Real: Creating Authenticity in an Increasingly Fake World by Jill J. Morin, ($32.95, Praeger) addresses the increasing demand for trust and transparency from corporations in addition to the quality of their products and services. The headlines are testimony to that, but how does a company achieve that? Ms. Morin provides a guide that focuses on organizational authenticity as a company strives to assure its many stakeholders from employees to customers, vendors and other business partners. It’s not a destination. It’s a journey. She provides a roadmap stressing perception, people, products and services, and place. The Corporate Storyteller: A Writing Manual Style Guide for the Brave New Business Leader by Elaine Stirling ($13.95, Rising Star, softcover) takes a look at the way texting, emails, Facebook and Twitter has changed the way people communicate. Ms. Stirling says formal letters, thank you notes, and snail mail correspondence are all disappearing. Too often, however, hitting the send button before proofing and editing one’s message are frequent communication pitfalls. Too many business folk are fearful these days and this book will help eliminate that.

The Topic is Health & Happiness

Are you wondering how the new health care law will affect your life, your family, or your business? It’s not light reading, but Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law by Michael D. Tanner ($10, Cato Institute) is just over 50 pages of tightly written, well researched, and carefully footnoted bad news. It’s more a booklet than a book, but why quibble when you discover that Obamacare, as promised, does not achieve universal coverage, will cost more than $2.7 trillion over ten years of full implementation, will increase the cost of coverage for younger, healthier workers, and will increase taxes by more than $669 billion between now and 2019. My experience with Cato publications is that they are so well prepared that they are bulletproof to any charge of partisanship. Little wonder than surveys show that well over 65% of Americans want Obamacare repealed.

Judging from the news reports and ads on television, diabetes is on the rise. The disease is largely controlled with pharmaceutical insulin, but there was a time when that did not exist and many died as a result. Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle ($24.99, St Martins Press) by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg is set to officially be published in September so mark your calendar if you find reading medical history of interest. This book tells how, in 1918, Elizabeth Hughes, the daughter of Charles Evans Hughes, who would become a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was suffering from juvenile diabetes mellitus. At the time it was a virtual death sentence. However, in Toronto, a surgeon and his assistant had successfully purified insulin from animal pancreases and a little-known pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, would make insulin available. Elizabeth became one of the first to receive insulin injections. The whole story is fraught with drama due to scientific jealousies that nearly derailed the discovery along with intense business competition. I heartily recommend this book.

The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies—from Birth through the Toddler Years and Beyond is one of those titles that pretty much says it all as regards its contents ($16.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) and, for parents of premature babies it is “must” reading. Authored by Dr. Jennifer Gunter, MD, it reflects the fact that approximately five hundred thousands babies are born prematurely every year in the United States. Dr. Gunter provides a comprehensive resource that covers everything from delivery and hospitalization to issues involving preemie development. Virtually every aspect is covered in the book. In a similar fashion, Life Over Cancer by Dr. Keith I. Block, MD, is written by an author who, as medical director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Evanston, Illinois, has treated thousands of patients who have gone onto to live full lives beyond their original prognosis. Now he has distilled almost thirty years of experience into the first book that gives patients a systematic, research-based plan for developing the physical and emotional vitality they need to meet the demands of treatment and recovery. For anyone encountering cancer in their lives, this too is “must” reading. Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters by Jesse A. Saperstein ($14.95, Perigee, softcover) is an account of living with Asperger’s syndrome, the mildest form of autism. I frankly was totally unaware of this syndrome, largely because it has been stigmatized for so many years that little has been written or spoken of it. This memoir demystifies a condition that is characterized by repetitive routines or rituals, peculiarities in speech and language, and difficulties with empathy that lead to socially inappropriate behavior. Until 1994, it was not even recognized as a separate disorder. Those afflicted suffer from being teased or bullied because of their inability to fit in. The book is itself a triumph over the disorder and is worth reading just for its story. Indeed, you may recognize its symptoms in someone you know.

Seth David Chernoff faced death as a two-time cancer survivor and, as a result, he learned to experience the fullness of life. He shares that knowledge in A Manual for Living: Reality, a User’s Guide to the Meaning of Life ($15.95, Spirit Scope Publishing, softcover). With nearly fifty years of reviewing under my belt, I tend to steer clear of such books because, frankly, they come out every year in one form or another, but this one pulls no punches as Chernoff writes about the hard subjects of death, illness, fear, finding balance, a toxic environment, and our perception of what is real, our finances, and our need to accumulate things. He asks and answers questions we often ask about why are we always in a hurry? Are our physical ailments caused by frustration, anxiety or stress? And why is it such a challenge to maintain inner peace? Since life comes with no guarantees except an expiration date, it’s probably a good idea to learn how to find a measure of real happiness. I suspect the increase in books about how to live life fully has something to do with the horrid economic times that are imposing hardships on so many. Finding the Zone: A Whole New Way to Maximize Mental Potential by Gordon D. Lawrence ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) discusses the mental attitude we feel when we excel at work or play. He suggests that our minds are actually wired from birth to achieve the zone, though we often do not experience it enough. Based on research on the mind, attitudes, and motivation, he offers advice on how to find your own zone. Not due out officially under November, Tapping the Source by a trio of authors ($17.95, Sterling) this book asserts that success in life results not just from random choice, predetermined fate, good connections, or even hard work. Many comparable books encourage people to overcome negative attitudes and habitual thoughts, but say the authors, they often create more frustration than fulfillment. This book teaches a pragmatic daily practice that offers a seven-step process to quiet one’s mind and tap into one’s inner strength. I do not know if it will work, but I suspect it will be of great help to those seeking peace of mind and a more meaningful life.

Books for Kids and Teens

This is the time for a trip to the beach and, for the pre-school and early readers, Sunny Bunnies by Margie Blumberg and illustrated beautifully by June Goulding ($15.95, MB Publishing) tells in rhyme the story of a family trip that is charming and a good way to prepare any youngster for his or her first trip. As the world continues to shrink thanks to the ease of communications and travel, children need to grasp not only how big it is, but also how modernization is making nations more alike in many ways. I See the Sun in China, written by Dedie King with illustrations by Judith Inglese, has both English and Mandarin Chinese text that is aimed at children 5 years and older ($12.95, Satya House Publicans, Hardwick, MA, softcover) as it relates a trip by a Chinese girl who, along with her family, visits her aunt in Shanghai, a gleaming city of commerce, the equal of any such city in the world. It is officially due for publican in October along with I See the Sun in Nepal. For the young reader, it is like spending a day in either place. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so will the younger set.

It’s written for ages 8-10 or thereabouts, any early reader, and it is hilarious. Clementine – Monkey Princess by Adam Knight and illustrated b y Nora Kay Golay ($11.95, Monkey Monkey Media, 552 12th St., Suite 101, Elko, NV 89801) Clementine is a very bright young girl who loves to climb things. Her dad nicknames her a Monkey Princess and the word got around. In fact, it reached a far off jungle where a group of monkeys decided they should have a Monkey Princess. A team of monkey commandos were dispatched to kidnap her! They immediately fell in love with her. Back home her parents were hot on her trail to the land of Flim. Much adventure ensues until she and her family return home. If you have a little monkey of your own at home, this book will keep him or her in stitches.

The Jewish new year celebration, Rosh Hashanah, arrives in September and Margie Blumberg, the author of the “Sunny Bunnies” series, teamed with illustrator, Laurie McGaw, to publish Avram’s Gift ($10.00, MB Publishing). It is the story of a young Jewish boy, Mark, growing up in America. A picture on the wall of his home; that of his great-great-grandfather, Avram, portrays a stern-looking man. When the family gathers to celebrate, he learns the story of this man as his grandfather answers his questions. He learns of the shofar, a ram’s horn, a gift passed from generation to the other and how each is linked to the past and to the ancient heritage of Judaism. Suffice to say, this is a story for a young Jew, but it is also every immigrant family’s story. As the High Holy days approach, it would make an ideal gift. For teen Christian girls, there’s a series from Revell called “His Princess” by Sheri Rose Shepherd intended to provide biblical insights regarding some of the questions that arise in a young girl’s life today. His Princess: Girl Talk with God ($14.99, Revell) contains devotional reading that serve as a guide to those in these age group.

From Heaven to Hell as in Hellfire: Plague of Dragons will satisfy the demand for fantasy stories, resplendent with excellent artwork. Written by Robert Weinberg from a story and artwork by Tom Wood ($19.95, Running Press) this thriller based on the period of the Black Death in Europe, is the story of a lost manuscript and art by a 14th century French wine merchant who was a confidant of popes and kings, Robertus of Avignon, who along with his brother Thomas and a loyal, brave band of soldiers, must deal with a pack of dragons. Wood’s work has sold millions of products since 2005. Weinberg, a prolific author, is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, along with others. Though presumably aimed at teens, it would intrigue older readers as well. Elminster Must Die is a fantasy genre novel written by Ed Greenwood ($25.95, Wizards of the Coast). The book is part of The Saga of Shadowdale series and focuses on Elminster’s shattered world after the goddess of magic’s murder. Once the most powerful wizard in the world and the bane of villainy, Elminister is now a tired old man with a lot of enemies. Though the wizard is immortal, the author uses the story to explore what it means to grow old and nearly powerless. Any lover of fantasy of any age will thoroughly enjoy this story that debuts this month. It’s back to school next month and that’s the theme of Tianna Logan and the Salem Academy for Witchcraft Written by Timothy Craig Everhart ($22.00, American Book Publishing, softcover) it tells of how, after her parents are killed, Tainna is left in the care of her grandmother and enrolled in the Salem Academy for Witchcraft where adventure exists around every turn. She soon learns about the night her parents died and a book is discovered after being hidden in the academy and, surprise, it belongs to her. The story is filled with wonderful twists and turns that are sure to delight any young person who has read through all the Harry Potter novels and is yearning for more spooky stuff.

Novels geared to the younger set provide some fun summer reading, particularly for the girls. John Belushi Is Dead by Kathy Charles ($14.00, Gallery/MTV Books), a debut novel, offers an offbeat and unexpectedly moving story of two teenagers whose obsession with celebrity death begins to interfere with their lives. It follows pink-haired Hilda and her long friend, Benji, as they haunt the places where celebrities have died and, while their adventures begin as fun and games, neither can escape the danger and sadness inherent in their unusual hobby.

Teens have loved the debut series from Stephanie Morrill as have the identified with high school student, Skylar Hoyt and her struggle to discover who she is. So Over It ($ll.95, Revell) is the final book of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. Eager to get away at the end of her senior year, she jumps at the change to spend the summer with her grandparents in Hawaii. Revell is a leading Christian book publisher and the story has a religious theme to it, but is essentially a coming-of-age story. Also from Revell, Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck ($9.99) is about the countdown to the prom for Daisy Crispin in which she has 196 days to find the right date, but she has a problem. Her parents won’t let her data or even talk to a guy on the phone! She wears lame homemade clothes and possesses few social skills, so she has more than one problem. Can she turn her parents around? Can she enjoy one of the great rituals of teen life? You will have to read the book.
Novels, Novels, Novels!

There are so many novels being published these days that it takes a superhuman effort to keep up with them all. Here are just a few that have arrived at Bookviews.

Following up his debut with 8 in the Box, Raffi Yessayan is back with a terrific cop thriller, 2 in the Hat ($25.00, Ballantine Books). The author knows the Boston crime scene having formerly been the chief prosecutor of the elite Gang Unit in Boston’s Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Now he is practicing criminal defense law and writing novels that portray a stark gripping portrait of law enforcement professionals on the job and under the gun. The title comes from cop lingo for “two shots to the head.” The novel focuses on a major spike in gang homicides that has the city on edge. When a pair of students is bizarrely slain, homicide detective Angel Alves suspects there’s a serial killer on the loose. His partner agrees, noting similarities to the work of the Prom Night Killer whose unsolved crimes are a decade old. This is the kind of book you cannot put down once you begin to read it.

James King tells a very different story in Bill Warrington’s Last Chance ($24.95, Viking) about the main character’s desire to make things right with his long-estranged children before a recently diagnosed disease takes its toll. His children, however, have their own issues. One is trying to raise her headstrong teenage daughter on her own while another is unable to move on with his life after his wife’s death. A third’s self-absorbed philandering threats his career and family. To get their attention, he kidnaps his 15-year-old granddaughter, April, who is a willing accomplice, eager to escape her mother. This is a compelling multigenerational saga told with humor, compassion, and considerable insight to a wounded family’s dynamics.

I love history and when a novel incorporates it well it makes an entertaining read. This is the case of Tiberius Julius Alexander by Daniel M. Friedenberg ($22.00, Prometheus Books) that reconstructs the conflicted life of a figure from ancient Jewish history. Mentioned by Flavius Josephus, a historian in the days when Rome ultimately tired of Jewish resistance and destroyed Jerusalem, Tiberius was a real person, the son of a pious Jew living in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. He, however, was not interested in his heritage and became an apostate, joining the ranks of the Roman army, devoting himself to a career as a soldier in military and civil service. Friedenberg uses what is known of Tiberius’s real life and times to serve up a fictional memoir that brings to life Roman society in the Near East of the first century with all its luxurious refinements, brutal realities, competing religious cults, and social unrest.

Let’s take a stroll through the stacks of softcover novels. It’s likely the theme of one or more of these books will catch your interest. One that leaps off the stack is The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell ($15.00, Penguin Books). A debut novel, it is the story of the curmudgeonly Feliks Zhokovski, Polish by birth, Communist at heart, who at age 61 finds that everything on which his life is based is crumbling. It is 1991 and the Berlin Wall as fallen and Communism has collapsed. What unfolds includes a reunion with a brother in Ohio he hasn’t seen in fifty years and much more to fill the empty vessel that his life had become. Also set in foreign shores is The Debba by Avner Mandelman ($14.95, Other Press). In Middle East lore, the Debba is a mythical Arab hyena that can turn into a man who lures Jewish children away from their families to teach them the language of beasts. It is also the name of a play by the main character’s father that was staged just once in Haifa in 1946, causing a riot. The year is 1977 and David Starkman, his son, has renounced his Israeli citizenship and is living in Canada when he learns of his father’s gruesome murder. He returns to Israel to settle his father’s affairs only to learn his father’s will demands the play be staged within 45 days of his death. What unfolds is filled with dark forces as the novel barrels toward its shocking climax.

Murder and mayhem are major themes of novels. Here are a few that tap into them.

Murder in the Hamptons by Danita Carter ($15.00, Atria Books, division of Simon and Schuster) brings the worlds of music, money, and murder together when a rapper and his unruly crew move into an elite community in the Hamptons where Coco Beach is a private enclave of black society snobs are incensed when a rapper moves in. When the sister of TuSmArt is founding floating face down in the bay, the police deem her death a suicide, but he knows better and vows to find her killer. Dead in the Dregs by Peter Lewis ($14.95, Counterpoint) is set in northern California’s wine country where renowned wine critic, Richard Wilson, makes a living elevating and destroying winemaker’s reputation with the stroke of a pen. When he disappears after a Napa Valley wine tasting it is not long before his body is founding floating in a vat at Norton’s Winery. What a way to go! His sister enlists the help of her ex-husband to hunt for the killer and, while the police work to quickly clear the case, the trail begins to fade. The trail leads all the way to Burgundy, France. My late Mother, an international authority on wine would have loved this novel. Cadger’s Curse by Diane Gilbert Madsen ($14.95, Midnight Ink Books) is a debut novel with an interesting back story. Hired by a software giant in Chicago to vet some new trainees who need top security clearance, freelance insurance investigator, DD McGil arrives at headquarters to find her brother-in-law is dead. Her investigation reveals the trainees’ strange connections, industrial espionage, and a counterfeiting operation that threatens the world economy. At the same time, her Scottish aunts arrives for the holidays with what might be a long-lost, unpublished Robert Burns manuscript. It is authentic? Meanwhile, the murders pile up!

Stephen J. Harper’s novel, The Partnership, (Borealis Books) reminds us of why we love John Grisham novels involving lawyers. This one is a legal thriller that involves the behind-the-scenes of a large law firm with elements of a power struggle, some insider trading, with a dash of twisted romance and a friendship that turns horribly sour. The author draws on his own three decades as a lawyer. Having joined the firm as law student associates and clawed their way to the top, the two attorneys have become arch rivals and any trace of idealism they might have had is long gone as they compete for the premier position on the executive committee and the affections of a beautiful woman. Mystery and thriller readers will get their money’s worth with this novel. An entirely different story can be found in Sweetwater Burning by Heather Sharfeddin ($15.00, Bantam Books) that is set in the small Idaho town of Sweetwater. It is there that Chas McPherson tends his sheep and keeps to himself. Honoring his familial ties, he hires a home-care nurse to help care for his elderly father in his last days. Mattie Holden arrives and makes her place in the home just as trouble ensues when the home of the town’s lone Muslim family is burned on Christmas Eve and the town begins to point a finger at Chas. It is up to Sheriff Edelson, new to Sweetwater, to untangle the strange stories about the McPherson men and, in particular, Chas’ father, Franklin, a long time minister believed to be able to look into people’s souls. This is definitely not your standard novel, but it is a compelling story.

Finally, there's a coming-of-age novel Ticket To Ride by Philip Scott Wikel ($8.95, Julian Day Design, available via Amazon,com). Set in the 1970s, it is filled with allusions to literary and rock’n roll classics as Morgan and Livy move from being innocent 17-year-olds to becoming fully realized adults. This is an interesting look at an era that included the Vietnam War, the “sexual revolution”, and a wide distrust of politicians, the government, organized religion, and anything considered part of the “establishment.”

That’s it for August! Tell all your book-loving friends and family about Bookviews. You can even sign up to be a “Follower” of this monthly report on the best in non-fiction and fiction. It’s back to school time next month and Labor Day signals a new business cycle after the summer months. Lots of great new books on the way (some mentioned in this month’s report).

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