Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bookviews - October 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month


In November, the midterm elections will determine whether Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will remain Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position that puts her just two heartbeats away from being President. Current polls all indicate that her popularity and approval are in the low digits, making her a polarizing political figure, but one who nonetheless has exercised tremendous power, pushing through some of the most unpopular legislative initiates of the Obama administration. She’s the Boss: The Disturbing Truth About Nancy Pelosi by Rochelle Schweizer ($25.95, Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Group) was published just days before this month’s report and, for anyone who follows politics, it is must reading. No doubt Democrats will not like it much for its portrait of a woman who has proven ruthless in her pursuit of a political agenda out of sync with much of the electorate, but independents and conservatives will find it a revelation because they are not accustomed to thinking of any woman as utterly ruthless. She may well be remembered for her comment on Obamacare when she told the press, “We will find out what is in it after we pass the bill.” This is a very frightening, very timely look at a person who learned politics from her father, a political boss for four decades in Maryland.

Nazi Oaks by R. Mark Musser ($12.75, Advantage Books, via Amazon.com) is one of those important books that is unlikely to get the kind of mainstream media coverage it deserves because it draws on history to reveal how the Nazi regime in Germany during the 1930s was “the greenest regime on the planet”, driven by the same Green agenda that foisted the greatest fraud in the modern era, the global warming hoax. Musser is a pastor, a 1998 graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. In 1994 he received a Master of Divinity and spent seven years as a missionary in Belarus and the Ukraine. His book documents the way the Nazi regime exploited a “return to nature” myth to capture the imagination of the Germans of that day and since the oak was a symbol of nationalism, Hitler ordered that thousands be planted all over the Reich. The practice was dubbed by Nazi environmentalists as “concordant with the spirit of the Fuhrer.” Hitler was an animal rights advocate, an environmentalist, and a vegetarian. He joined the ranks of the world’s greatest mass murderers guided by these views. What is most frightening are the parallels between the Nazi regime and the practices and views expressed by today’s environmentalists, many of whom share a contempt for humanity seeking a huge reduction in the world’s population as the key to “saving the planet.”

It’s a rare event when I know both authors of a book I’m reviewing, but that is the case with Peter C. Glover, a British writer and journalist specializing in political, media, and energy analysis, and Michael J. Economides, a professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston. He is internationally known for his expertise on energy. Economides is one of the editors of EnergyTribune.com and Glover is a frequent contributor. They have teamed to write Energy and Climate Wars ($24.95, Continuum, London and New York) and I cannot think of a more timely topic other than the economy. Indeed, energy plays an essential role in the economy of all nations and the authors note that those nations that use the most energy are also the wealthiest and most productive. You cannot have one without the other. In a meticulously researched book, the authors spell out what is at stake in a world where a huge hoax called global warming has impacted many policy decisions and wasted billions in the process. The social engineering agenda behind it is spelled out. Likewise, the push to replace established sources of energy such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear with solar and wind power is also examined and revealed to be utter nonsense. If these headline topics remain a bit of a mystery to you, then I can surely recommend this book to reveal the real forces at work regarding the energy and climate wars.

Have you ever wanted to disappear? Well, Frank M. Ahearn with Eileen C. Horan has written How to Disappear ($16.95, Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press) providing all the ways one should delete your social media accounts, rid yourself of discount cards that track spending, never make calls from home, work or cell phones, delete all possible data known about you, and research your destination to the fullest. These are just a few items are the result of years being a “skip tracer”, a person who tracks people down and uncovers private information about them. The usual targets are jailbirds, deadbeats, subpoenaed witnesses, and anyone else who wants to hide. It was Ahearn who, in 1997, was hired to find who it was President Clinton was having a dalliance with, the now famous Monica Lewinsky. He pinpointed the principle in the caper when Oscar statuettes were stolen in Beverly Hills. This is one of those offbeat books that I always find especially interesting.

Longtime readers of Bookviews know I tend to steer clear of books about vampires, Satchquatch, and other mythical creatures, but the third edition of The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead ($29.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) is a massive 944 pages, 500 essays, and more than 200 photos about everyone from Vlad the Impaler to Barnabas Collins to Edward Cullen to Dracula and Lestat. Edited by J. Gordon Melton, PhD, it is an alphabetical tour of the psychosexual, macabre world of the blood-sucking undead. Without doubt, the vampire myth inspires continued fascination and is currently all the rage with television programs and films devoted to the topic. The new edition is completely update and no doubt is the most comprehensive collection of vampire low available.

I have a friend who loves dogs. He’s always had one or two since I have known him and together we have mourned the death of more than one beloved old dog he has outlived by virtue of the dog’s age or an illness. Not long ago after one companion dog had passed on, he found a new one and then a friend asked him to take care of a Jack Russell terrier. The two dogs discovered a great new friendship with each other. In Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odyssey ($22.95, Lyons Press) John Zeaman shares a thought-provoking and always entertaining series of observations about what he has learned from dogs and dog walking. It is the story of Pete, a poodle, who becomes Zeaman’s partner as they explore exotic places like the New Jersey Meadowlands. He brings a journalist’s eye to what some would regard as a prosaic aspect of owning a dog and turns it into a far more meaningful experience. Anyone who has ever owned a dog will treasure this wonderful book.

I get requests to review poetry, but my policy has been to only review anthologies rather than individual poets. I like poetry and was pleased to receive Not a Muse: The Inner Lives of Women ($23.00, Haven Books, softcover) with 516 pages of poetry by more than a hundred poets from 24 countries, edited by Kate Rogers and Viki Holmes who have group the poems by topics voicing woman as lover, keeper of secrets, family, explorer, and aging, to name a few. Among the better known are Margaret Atwood, Sharen Olds, and Erica Jong, but there are many more who bring their own talent and magic to the art of poetry and prove endlessly entertaining and insightful as one makes their way through the book. This is, simply said, a wonderful collection of female poets, guaranteed to provide hours of reading pleasure.

The Lives of Real People

Welcoming a group of scholars to the White House, John F. Kennedy observed that the room contained more wisdom and knowledge “than when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” America was especially blessed to have this authentic genius, along with others, at its birth. The national bestseller, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, by Fawn M. Brodie ($18.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) is now available in paperback. The author was the first to explore the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a slave and the mother of his mixed-race children. In her effort “to get inside his head”, Brodie begins in the Virginia Piedmont and Tidewater where Jefferson was born and educated. The emphasis is on his family relationships, school friends, and others.

One of the most respected and widely read authors of her time, George Eliot, was a woman who used the pen-name to hide the fact. Born Mary Anne Evans, she was the third of five children in a middle class English family. As the author of “Adam Bede”, “Daniel Deronda”, and “Middlemarch”, she was one of the most celebrated novelists in history and a bestselling author in her day and long after. She was also a truly ugly woman who experienced much heartache and rejections, but found love with a married man with whom she lived for many years until his death. She broke many of the stict social mores of her time, scandalizing London society. George Elliot in Love by Brenda Maddox will prove thoroughly enjoyable to those who have read her novels and open the door to new readers with this deeply personal biography of a woman who lived on her own terms and altered the literary landscape in the process. Another woman made a name for herself but for all the wrong reasons. In Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford author Leslie Brody ($28.00, Counterpoint Press) tells the story of “the communist” in the Mitford family, one of Britain’s most famous aristocratic families. Jessica however cut her ties with what would have been a life of privilege as a teen and eventually moved to the United States, devoting herself to working for civil rights and to muckraking journalism, defined by her belief in the ultimate triumph of communist. After arriving in the U.S. in 1939m, she became one of the New Deal’s most notorious bureaucrats. A thoroughly dreadful person, even her friends regarded her as subversive and a mischief maker. She was, nonetheless, an influential journalist in her day.

The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and his City by Stephen Dando-Collins ($25.00, Da Capo Press) should have been a lot more interesting and it’s not because the author didn’t jam every known fact about the event in 64AD or one of the more famous emperors who allegedly “fiddled with Rome burned.” He didn’t, but that’s not the point of this book about everyone who ever had anything to do with the man or Nero himself. The author has written a number of much acclaimed books, but this one will appeal only to people who are deeply interested in the subject and the times related. This reviewer found it very slow reading for the reason cited. It is not that the book isn’t heavily researched. It is that every single bit of research finds its way into what would otherwise be expected to be a fairly riveting story of a major historical event. The result is a story bogged down in minutia.

Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine by John T. Spike ($27.95, The Vendome Press) is “a vivid portrait of the artist’s first 33 years” according to Everett Fahy, the chairman of the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The author, an art historian, gained praise previously for his biography of Caravaggio. This biography explores the thinking, evolution, and desires of a young man who was well aware of his exceptional talent. Competitive, he strove to outshine prior and contemporary artists. The result is a vivid picture of the Italian Renaissance in which he thrived. History and personality is combined in this excellent biography. A lot of people find Nostradamus and his predictions fascinating and, even if I have doubts about them, a new book by Peter Lemesurier, Nostradamus, Bibliomancer: The Man, the Myth, the Truth ($18.99, New Page Books, softcover) will prove of interest to those who want to learn more about the 16th century figure who denied that he was a prophet. Instead, he used the process of bibliomancy, the random sampling of extracts from the Bible, and then claiming “divine inspiration.” The book comes with a CD that contains facsimiles of the three original editions of the “Propheties” on which his reputation is based. Amidst the many biographers of Nostradamus, Lemesurier remains the calm center of conscientious and accurate research while presenting valuable insights into the medieval world in which he lived.

The American justice system being one created and run by humans is subject to human error and failure. Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him ($26.00, Free Press) by Laura Caldwell is the story of Jovan Mosley who spent nearly six years in a holding cell for a murder he did not commit, the victim of a forced and false confession. The author is one of two lawyers who got his case dismissed after Jovan, in 199, was a 19-year-old living on the south side of Chicago in a gang-infested neighborhood. Jovan, though, was determined to avoid the common fate of others, had managed to stay out of trouble, and had even been accepted to Ohio State with the dream of becoming a lawyer. He would stay in jail awaiting trial for five long years and this story will astound and appall you. The author has published thrillers and suspense stories since 2002 and is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola Law School. Football fans, especially fans of the New York Jets, will recall Don Maynard, the wide receiver who caught Joe Nameth’s most famous pass in 1967 for a Super Bowl win. In You Can’t Catch Sunshine ($24.95, Triumph Books) Maynard tells the story of his love of football and his life in the sport, including rejection by NFL scouts who didn’t see much in him. Instead, in the AFL he would gain 10,000 yards, be a four-time Pro Bowl selection, an All-Time AFL Team member, and Hall of Fame member. Maynard let his playing do all the talking, but he has at last put his memories and life on paper for fans to share. He accomplished his dreams by not quitting or allowing himself to be defined by lesser men. This book is just fun to read.

What would we do without music in our lives? You might not recognize the name Charles Fox, but you will likely recognize “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, the great Roberta Flack hit song. Fox worked with many of the greats in the entertainment world, Jim Croce, Barry Manilow, Lena Horne, and Fred Estaire. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Composters & Lyricists, Fox has written a memoir of a life devoted to music, Killing Me Softly: My Life in Music, from the influence of Nadia Boulanger, a renowned music composition teacher through a life that has earned him nominations for the Academy Award and two Emmys. Fox has composed the music for more than a hundred motion pictures and television films, including the themes for Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and the Love Boat. It’s been a very interesting life and one we’re glad he has shared with all of us. Fans of Led Zeppelin would go gaga over Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin by Jon Bream ($19.99, Voyageur Press, large format softcover). They are rock’n roll royalty, the band that Rolling Stone once called “the heaviest band of all time.” They have sold over 300 million albums worldwide and had the honor of being the only band to have all of their albums reach the U.S. Billboard Top 10. They are as popular today as ever and this 288 page book is filled with photos and illustrations along with an excellent and exhaustive text that traces their history from its founding in 1968 through its breakup in 1980.

The Topic is Health

Ever since the passage of Obamacare, the massive “reform” of Medicare, the backlash against the bill has been growing, but aside from the fact that the program was insolvent, the costs of healthcare have been a major concern of Americans and there are a number of books out that address it.

The Healthcare Survival Guide: Cost-Saving Options for the Suddenly Unemployed and Anyone Else Who Wants to Save Money is one of those titles that relieves a reviewer from having to say anything more! Written by Martin B. Rosen and Abbie Liebowitz, MD, cofounders of Health Advocate, Inc ($6.95, Health Advocate Publishing, softcover) and can be downloaded for FREE from www.HealthcareSurvivalGuide.com. The book is the winner of the 2010 Independent Book Publisher’s Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award for the best first non-fiction book. It is a go-to source that provides quick access to information about affordable healthcare insurance and medical services. It’s filled with little-known secrets such as simply asking your doctor for a discount, keeping an eye on pharmaceutical websites for free trial offers for medications, checking out a university dental clinic and how to read a hospital bill to avoid being over-charged. And you will easy your anxiety, too, with Medical Bill Survival Guide: Easy, Effective Strategies for People Experiencing Financial Hardship by Nicholas Newsad ($11.95, Westminster Cambridge Conglomerate, softcover). Bills from insurance companies seem to be written to ensure that, like the policy, they are undecipherable. Thus, if you disagree with the billing you and thousands of others are at a distinct disadvantage. The author has remedied that with a straight-forward guide to help anyone quickly make it through the maze of dealing with medical bills with easy, effective strategies as it reveals the written and unwritten rules of patient billing and collections. For a fairly slim volume, there is a ton of useful information to be had and for the price this book is a real bargain. 101 Ways to Save Money on Health Care by Cynthia J. Koelker, MD ($13.00, Plume, softcover) points out that the average American spends over $5,000 on healthcare every year—more than any other country in the world! Even so, America has high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, and other illnesses. The Ohio-based family physician for more than twenty years provides a wealth of information from a doctor’s perspective on how to save on health expenses from medication to long-term care and everything in between. The book is well organized and not intimidating as many others are. Well worth the price for sure!

Treat Me, Not My Age by Dr. Mark Lachs, MD, ($27.95, Viking) addresses a problem that extends throughout the entire health system that treats or fails to treat older Americans based solely on their age. Physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, and nursing homes are a measure of guilt. As a result the author has provided a guide to navigating one’s way through the system as one gets older in order to avoid the medical pitfalls. Dr. Lachs is a geriatrician, a physician who specializes in the health problems of old age and one who spent two decades devoted to this specialty that often involves difficult healthcare decisions. This book will allow Boomers and older Americans to make informed decision, starting with selecting a physician and being pro-active regarding protecting and preserving one’s health. The result can be spending as little time as necessary in a system that treats people by pigeon-holing them with little regard to their specific needs. In “Gone With the Wind” one character says “I’d don’t know nothing about birthin’ babies” and that probably describes most people. Kalena Cook and Margaret Christensen, MD, have collaborated on Birthing a Better Way: 12 Secrets for Natural Childbirth ($24.95/$14.95, University of North Texas Press, hard and softcover). Ms. Cook has experienced natural childbirth and Dr. Christensen, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, have teamed to provide a book for expectant mothers and their caregivers with the knowledge they require for this birthing option. The alternatives in this modern world include Pitocin, inductions, epidurals, and c-sections. For the health-conscious person, there is a lot of information and insight in this book you might not find in others.

There are few fears for women that rival breast cancer. Now in its fifth edition, fully updated and revised, there’s Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book ($22.00, Da Capo Press, Lifelong Books, 736 pages, softcover). Written with Karen Lindsay, this is the bible on the topic and Dr. Love notes that there has been a revolution in the understanding of breast cancer since the first edition. There are new discoveries from basic science that call into question the concept of early detection, and the one-size-fits-all treatment that has been replaced with the idea of more aggressive treatment is more effective. The new understanding is that all breast cancers are not all the same. The sheer size of the book attests to the body of new knowledge that exists regarding prevention, diagnostic tools, and treatment options. The new edition is just out this month. I confess I am wary of diet books, but it happens that also being published is The Pink Ribbon Diet by Mary Flynn PhD, RD and Nancy Verde Barr ($16.95, Da Capo Press, Lifelong Books, softcover) that addresses the fact that breast cancer is the second most common form women encounter. Moreover, according to the American Cancer Society, a study found that maintaining one’s weight can reduce their risk. Those who gain 55 pounds or more after the age of 18 are said to be 50% more at risk. At various points in life, weight gain is seen as harmful and this book offers recommendations plus 150 recipes that provide high levels of essential nutrients without compromising taste. You would be surprised how many really tasty things are also really good for you!

It is a problem as old as mankind and is recorded in the Old Testament as the story of Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry. It often impacts on people’s lives well past childhood. Mom Loves You Best: Forgiving and Forging Sibling Relationships is the subject of a book by Cathy Jo Cress, MSW, and her daughter Kali Cress Peterson, MS, MPA ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover), due out officially in December. This book is not just for the garden variety hurts, real and imagined, between siblings, but for truly damaged relationships where both parties would benefit from repair them. The authors use a ten-step roadmap with specific methods for dealing with past conflicts. It also addresses the role of parents in sibling’s interactions and how reconciled siblings can better cooperate to care for aging parents. For those with emotional wounds, here’s a chance to repair them.

Now We’re Cooking!

Here are a couple of new cookbooks with which to tease and please the palate A tasty twosome, both by Rick Rogers are Coffee and Cake and Tea and Cookies ($21.99, William Morrow & Company) The former begins with advice on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee, discussing the various ways from automatic drip filter to electric espresso machines. It even includes my choice, the manual drip filter by Chemex. From there it moves on to descriptions of spiced mocha, café brulot, Irish coffee and more. After that, it offers some mouthwatering recipes for all manner of coffee cakes and cup cakes. Who could resist a spice layer cake with a praline frosting? Not me! The book devoted to tea and cookies follows a similar format with advice on brewing and pouring the perfect cup of tea and recipes for cookies that had my blood sugar level rising as I read them.

Todd Wilbur is back with Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 ($16.00, Plume, softcover) which shows the reader how to reproduce your favorite restaurant dishes at home. Wilbur is a frequent guest on Good Morning America and The Today Show. This new edition has more than a hundred recipe clones from restaurants that include Chili’s®, Applebee’s®, the Cheesecake Factory®, and the fine dining chains like Spago® and Joe’s Stone Crab®, among others. He’s sold more than four million of his books so he must be doing something right! The recipes are detailed and, as a result, easy to prepare.

Kim O’Donnel had vegetarians in mind when she wrote The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook ($18.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). I am definitely not a vegetarian, but I can spot a good cookbook and this one provides more than 95 meatless recipes for once-a-week (Meatless Mondays) or full time vegetarians, including dishes ranging from gluten-free to vegan and dairy-optional fare that is not only healthy, but tasty and filling. So, falafel “burgers”, chickpea “crab cakes”, and even a pot pie with a cheddar biscuity crust can be found in this book by a trained chef and frequent contributor to the Washington Post, Real Simple, and the Huffington Post.

All War All the Time

It is sometimes said in jest that peace is just the interval while nations take time to rearm and, if history is any guide, there's sufficient proof of that. Wars also generate lots of books. A premier publisher of books devoted to America’s conflicts is Zenith Press, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group.

It happens that I was recently watching a television documentary about Gen. George S. Patton, Jr of World War Two fame and shortly after Patton’s Third Army in World War II: An Illustrated History ($50.00) arrived. Patton’s fame was such that Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commanding general of Allied Forces, used him as a decoy to keep the German’s pinned down, anticipating an invasion at Calais, when the real invasion was to be at Normandy. Seven weeks after D-Day, Patton was put in charge of the Third Army and together they began a ten-month rampage across France, driving through Germany and deep into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria. In a turning point for the war, it was the Third Army’s famed turning movement during the Battle of the Bulge that ended Nazi hopes for victory. This large format book by Michael Green and James D. Brown, filled with more than 300 photos and an excellent text recounts that story of the battles fought by the Third Army, led by one of the greatest generals in U.S. history. Meanwhile, back home other Americans were serving the cause and The American Aircraft Factory in WWII by Bill Yenne ($24.90, large format, softcover) tells the story of an industrial phenomenon as peacetime production switched to wartime production from 1939 to 1945. Illustrated with 175 photos, its 192 pages remind us that wars are won as much at home as on the battlefield. This was America’s shining hour. Last among the recent Zenith titles is Naked in Da Nang by Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel ($17.99), a Vietnam War memoir that is one of best I’ve read in a while. It is a compelling picture of the hopes, fears, and motivations of the average American GI. It redefines the usual stories about that war that talk about drugs, booze and insanity. That never was the norm and the heroism of those that fought that war finally gets the presentation it deserves. Check out this publisher at www.zenithpress.com.

Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse ($29.95, Basic Books) is an excellent history of what it was like to live in Berlin during the course of World War II. It was, of course, the epicenter of the Third Reich and a prime target for the air war, subjected to more raids, more aircraft, and more tonnage than any other German city. Historian Moorhouse draws on diaries, letters, archives and other sources to capture the mood of the city’s inhabitants from 1939 to 1945. It spans the short era from the extravagant celebrating of Hitler’s 50th birthday in April 1939 to the rigors of the Soviet invasion six years later. Berliners felt the effects of the war immediately as rationing began before it broke out. Blackouts followed. In a sinister reflection of the barbarity of the Nazis, the “S-Bahn Murderer” stalked the city for months, killing and raping at will before he was caught. Ordinary Germans did not all accept the Nazi Party and they found ways to express their opposition. In the end, the majority of Berliners simply sought to survive. Thousands committed suicide than live under Soviet rule. Still more thousands of its Jewish population were removed to be killed.It is a look at the effort of people trying to go about their lives in the midst of a city when madness, brutality and retribution reined.

Vietnam is the subject of Life and Death in the Central Highlands: An American Sergeant in theVietnam War, 1968-70 by James T. Gillam ($27.95, University of North Texas Press). It is a story of the author’s transformation from a poorly focused college student at Ohio University who was dismissed and then drafted into the Army, becoming a member of the First Battalion, 22nd Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Division. It only took a month for him to transition from avoiding conflict to an aggressive soldier. By January 1970 he had earned a Combat Infantry Badge and been promoted. Then his battalion took on search-and-destroy missions along the border of Cambodia, often involving intense firefights and close combat. He left the Army in June 1970 and within two weeks was back in college and destined to become a university professor. This is a gripping account of war as seen through the author’s eyes.

Books for Tots and Teens

For a clever twist on familiar fairy tales, two books for early readers by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Scott Nash, serve up lots of laughs in Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsey Red Hoodie ($8.99 and $16.99, HarperCollins Childrens Books, softcover and hardcover). Any kid who has heard the original version will find the new ones hilarious. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has written Hide! ($17.99, Beaufort Books), a literary version illustrated by Steve Bjorkman that invites the reader to join in the game by finding hidden items in its artwork. For those age 4 and up, there’s high adventure to be found in Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue by Molly Cox with some great photos by Oliver Toppin to illustrate the story ($16.95, BraveMouse Books, distributed by Independent Publishers Group). Benjamin is a fuzzy mouse and Bumper is a larger elephant doll. This is very much in the tradition of Winnie the Pooh and the story is filled with humorous situations as the two set out to save Benjamin’s mother since Sir Pouncelot, a cat, is known to be around. It will intrigue any youngster following along and enjoying the great artwork. This one’s a keeper.

For youngsters who already have mastered reading skills by the fourth grade, the fun continues with Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Michael Wadnelmaier ($17.95, Kids Can Press) that will appear to their adventurous spirit and curiosity as it lays out a variety of issues involving archeology, anthropology, glaciology, and more to encourage future scientists to explore their world and ask questions. The legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendricks lives on through his recordings and now Gary Golio tells the story of his youth in Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow—A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix ($16.99, Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin). He grew up in Seattle and his father’s love and encouragement led to a life in music. The author does not shy away from Jimi’s substance abuse and provides a list of books and websites where kids, parents, and caregivers can learn about drug and alcohol abuse. Lila & Ecco’s Do-It-Yourself Comics Club by Willow Dawson ($16.95, Kids Can Press) is an introduction to being a comic book writer that provides a world of excellent advice to any kid obsessed with this art and story form.

This is an era in which television and movies are heavily devoted to stories of dragons, vampires, and other magical, mythical creatures. Here are a few books that cater to this interest. Hellfire: Plague of Dragons ($19.95, Running Press) illustrated by Tom Wood and written by Robert Weinberg has some of the best artwork I have seen of late, plus a compelling story about Thomas the Dragon Slayer and a loyal, brave band of soldiers. Its large format and story offer hours of fun reading. A companion “for true dragon fans only” is A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic ($12.95, Wizards of the Coast) allegedly by Sindri Suncatcher and it is filled with all kinds of “lessons” that anyone wishing to have their own dragon needs to know! Also from Wizards of the Coast there’s a Young Wizards Handbook How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire by A.R. Rotruck ($12.95) that will intrigue any young reader age 10 and up with its advice. For my part, I want nothing to do with zombies and vampires, but kids will love this one, too. Those in their early teens will enjoy Aldwyns Academy by Nathan Meyer ($9.95, Wizards of the Coast) for any Harry Potter fan who wants more from this genre and imagines what it must be like to be a fledgling wizard like Dorian Ravensmith.

Mary America: First Girl President of the United States by Carole Marsh ($6.99, Gallipade International, softcover, available from Amazon.com) is the story of a smart orphan, age 12, who is the leader of the free world and commander-in-chief! It is a clever way to teach a young reader about how the U.S. government functions. You can learn more by visit www.maryamerica.com.

For the mid-teenager, girls and boys, there are three novels from Kane-Miller that cannot fail to provide entertainment. They are When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M Wood, Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch, and Roll Up the Streets by John Bladek ($15.99 each). To learn more about these individual stories, visit www.kanemiller.com. These novels, all very well written for this age group, will prove to be stepping stones to novels for when they are older.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Try to imagine receiving twenty or more novels a month. And those are from large, medium and small publishers. Add in self-published and print-on-demand novels and you have a deluge of fiction that requires some serious triage.

John Le Carre, the pseudonym of David Cornwell, gained famed with “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” when it became a worldwide bestseller. He has written twenty-one novels including “The Constant Gardener”, “The Russia House” and “The Little Drummer Girl”, all of which demonstrated his considerable talent. When the Cold War ended a number of his subsequent novels did less well, but I suspect that his new novel, Our Kind of Traitor, ($27.95, Viking) will enhance his reputation as he demonstrates his insight regarding the shadow world where power really lies. Le Carre is a natural-born storyteller with an eye for detail that constructs a reality into which the reader can slip with ease. It is a very timely look at the financial collapse of investment houses and the way nations like England had to response to potential ruin. It is told through the lives of a young English couple who take a tennis vacation in Antigua and meet a Russian who is a major money-launderer. Dima wants a game of tennis, but back in London the British Secret Service that has been keeping tabs on him interrogate the couple and then recruit them. Their acquiescence takes them on a perilous journey that reveals the unholy alliances between the Russian mafia, the city of London, the government, and even competing factions of the British Secret Service. This is hardly a dry analysis, but instead a fascinating look behind the curtain when the only liquid money available to banks was often from the drug trade and organized crime!

Lior Samson is no where near as famous as John Le Carre, but he has written a suspenseful and timely novel, The Dome ($17.95, Gesher Press, Rowley, MA, softcover) about a plot to set off a “dirty” bomb using cesium-137 in Jerusalem and the desperate efforts of the Mossad to find the perpetrators before they do. It is a fast-paced novel filled with the way computers, programming, and other technical black magic combine to pose a major threat and are used as well to spot and neutralize it. The title refers to Al Aqsa, the mosque built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site holy to the three monotheistic religions. This novel takes you behind the scenes of modern spycraft and terrorism. One gets a sense of what life is like in Israel these days as a cast of characters, some family, some linked by a fallen hero, some master spies, must neutralize a terrifying deadly scheme. I cannot say enough good things about this novel and recommend that you check it out and purchase it at www.liorsamson.com.

A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss ($25.95, Unbridled Books) also takes the reader behind the scenes and, in this case, it’s Washington, D.C. The novel is a duel story about a cartographer searching government archives for the truth about his deceased father’s diplomatic career and about an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who is devastated to learn that he supplied incorrect coordinates that led to a missile strike on a school in Afghanistan instead of a safe house for the Taliban. The author has two previous novels that were deemed Notable Books by the New York Times. Washington is his hometown and he knows it as a place filled with secrets and which knows a great deal about everyone’s life. It is a particularly timely story as the nation struggles to deal with dark forces far from our shores.

Another city is at the heart of a novel. Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass ($24.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the backdrop to a story based on the lives of The Browns, made up of the Brown siblings, Maxine, Bonnie and Jim Ed who once stood at the top of the American country music scene. Johnny Cash dated Maxine, Elvis Presley was engaged to Bonnie and they represented the “new Nashville sound”, a blend of country, blues and pop music. The novel jumps from their promising past and to their lonely present, particularly Maxine who is left ailing, alone and hungry for human connection. The novel is a look at an era in American music and the complexities that come with fame as this family lives in and out of the spotlight. In a City in Shadow ($27.95, Severn House) the backdrop is “hidden Manhattan” as Evan Marshall spins a tale of mystery. This is the fourth in a series that has won him a faithful following. When a frightened woman leaves a note on the street outside the apartment of sanitation supervisor, Anna Winthrop, she is spotted briefly by Winthrop who is unable to catch up with her. At the same time, a journalist, Nettie Clouchet, is tracking a human-trafficking ring. As their lives mesh a sinister apartment tower is discovered to harbor a secret that lies at the heart of the story. In a City of Tranquil Light a very different story is told by Bo Caldwell ($25.00, Henry Holt and Company). Set in the 1920s in China when Mao’s communists would drive out Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists, the era was also one that boded ill for missionaries who would also be driven out. Using the lives of her grandparents as source material for her second novel, the author tells of a period of turmoil that included famines, earthquakes, civil war, encounters with bandits, and winters that were “five coats cold.” It is also a love story between a man and woman, two Mennonite missionaries who have journeyed to China because they feel they are called by God to serve Him among the poor and to spread the Good News. It is a portrait of a marriage set against a radically shifting nation plunging into revolution. This is a mix of history, spirituality, and harsh reality that will keep the reader turning the pages.

In a debut novel, Safe from the Sea, author Peter Geye (24.95, Unbridled Books) tells the story of a father-son relationship set in Duluth, Michigan, when a man returns home to help is ailing father. They have been estranged for many years that began when is father survived the sinking of his Great Lakes ore boat during the son’s youth. When Noah, the son, arrives it is evident that his father is not just ill, but dying. Noah has found solace with his wife, Natalie, who decides to leave Boston and join him. This is a character-driven story and one that demonstrates the power of memory and the bonds of blood, a story of love and hope. A very different story is found in Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman ($25.95, Vanguard Press) when 13-year-old Lainey Emerson, a middle child in a home that local police are already familiar with. When she fails to return home from a night with friends her disappearance is dismissed by the Coral Springs PD as just another runaway child, but Special Agent Bobby Dees of the department’s Crimes Against Children squad thinks otherwise. He has a knack for finding lost children and his search reveals a secret Internet relationship. Dees suspects an online predator is at large and determines to find what turns out to be a prolific killer. Substitute Me, a novel by Lori L. Tharps ($15,99 Atria Books, softcover) explores the hidden world of intimate relationships in a story about an African-American 30-year-old college dropout returns to her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan and is pressured by her upper-middle-class parents to do something useful with her life. She moves to New York and takes a job with a white professional couple of the same age, Kate and Brad Carter, to look after their young son, Oliver. Intent on merely making rent money, she soon becomes attached to Oliver becoming a true substitute for the boy’s mother and a part of the household in ways she would never have imagined.

Other nations and other worlds are the backdrop for two softcover novels. In the Blue Nude award-winning novelist, Elizabeth Rosner, ($15.00, Gallery Books) examines the complex and haunting relationship between an artist born in the shadow of postwar Germany and his muse, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Once a prominent painter, Danzig now teaches at San Francisco’s Art Institute. When he meets Merav, a beautiful Israeli who models for his class, he senses she may be the spark to reignite his artistic passion and skills. Merav has moved to California to escape the violence in the Middle East, but Danzig’s former home evokes her fears of the past. Together, they must examine their own and shared histories. Swedish crime fiction is the genre at which Ake Edwardson excells. In The Shadow Woman ($15.00, Penguin Books) he provides a highly anticipated second installment of his Inspector Erik Winter series. It is, as you might imagine, filled with suspense, told in a satisfying blend of Nordic ambience and cosmopolitan style. Winter is in his waning bachelor days when he must cut short a vacation when a woman is found murdered with no means of identification. A cryptic blood-red symbol at the crime scene identifies the murder as the mark of an enigmatic killer. All this is set against a world of Swedish biker gangs and a massive war between them that ripped through Scandinavia in the mid-nineties. It is a gripping story.

That’s it for October! Be sure to tell all your book-loving friends and family members about Bookviews, a monthly report on the best in fiction and non-fiction. And come back in November for even more great reading.

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