Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bookviews - February 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Sense of the Financial Mess

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

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

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

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

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice on Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids, Teens, Young Adult Books

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

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

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

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

Novels, Novels, Novels!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bookviews - January 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Something quite unusual occurred in December. After some fifty years of reviewing, I have long been accustomed to receiving three to five books a day, but last month there were often days that passed without a single new book arriving. It well could be that the economy has convinced publishers that sending review copies is a financial burden that required some reductions. I hope that is not so because I am looking forward to the seasonal springtime publication of new books. For this month, however, there are fewer books in the hopper for consideration.

It’s a bit of a tradition here at Bookviews, but I always welcome the opportunity to recommend readers pick up a copy of the new edition of The World Almanac® and Book of Facts whose 2010 edition is now available (12.99, softcover). In the era of Google, it might seem an anachronism to recommend this compendium of facts, but there is perhaps no better way to find the most essential information you need than in this annual book that contains so much information on national and international topics. Its statistics, concise data, and maps put it at your fingertips and for any student, writer, or just someone wanting to know more about what is occurring around the world, the Almanac is a quick, easy and informative source. I’m biased, but I think it should be in everyone’s home or office.

Americans have been taking to the town halls and the streets of Washington to protest changes to Medicare that would give the government control over one sixth of the nation’s economy. For even longer, they have resented being taxed and, indeed, the American Revolution was based on “taxation without representation.” Today’s Americans have very little idea how the government conspires to take away their income (as often as not to give it to others who do not work for it.) Bankrupting Joe the Taxpayer With No One to Bail Him Out by D. J. Golio ($24.95/$16.95, Authorhouse, hard and softcover) is a book I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone and everyone because, even if you think you’re making too little to pay income taxes, you are being taxed in countless other ways. Just check your telephone or utility bills and you will discover the truth of this. My December monthly telephone bill included $14.00 in federal excise and other taxes, as well as a state tax! Every time you fill up your car’s tank, you are paying taxes. The proposed Healthcare “reform” ignores the fact that no one by federal law can be denied medical care at any hospital. Many younger, healthier Americans do not want to purchase health care insurance. Many real reforms such as tort reform to avoid billions in court judgments are ignored. The costs of illegal aliens in America are huge and astonishing. And the appalling waste of many federal and state government programs, in addition to huge pension payouts, must be curbed. The author is a Certified Public Accountant who has an undergraduate degree in accounting and a MBA in taxation. He has been an adjunct assistant professor in the Pace University Department of Accounting and Finance for a decade. He has written a brilliant, easily understood book on why you are being bankrupted by government at every level and with every purchase.

I am frank to say I was unaware of the problem, but Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire ($24.95, Amacom) should inspire a nationwide discussion of a trend that must be reversed. The author documents how, at every grade level, in communities of every income level from Tennessee to Alaska, boys are falling behind girls in schools. He asks and answers how this happened and what the long-term economic, social and personal implications are. Importantly, he spells out what parents, teachers, principals, and policymakers must do to change what appears to be a dire situation. At the heart of the problem, says Whitmire, is a tougher curriculum that pushes boys to rise to literary challenges before they are ready. “The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t.” Moreover, men are fast becoming the minority in America’s colleges and universities. It is well known that the American educational system has been failing both genders, but this book which focuses on boys portends some very bad trends and outcomes unless this process is reversed.

I doubt that enough people will read Joris Luyendijk’s book, People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East, ($14.95, Soft Skull Press, an imprint of Counterpoint Press, softcover). That's a shame because it does an excellent job of exposing why we in the West can never get an accurate picture of what is occurring in the Middle East because (a) they are all dictatorships with the exception of Turkey and Israel, and (b) because it is virtually impossible for foreign correspondents to get anything other than what the dictatorships say or report anything other than what western news agencies filter for their readers and viewers. The truth swiftly gets lost under such circumstances. After spending a year as a student of Arabic at Cairo University, the young Dutchman was offered a job as a correspondent for a Dutch news agency. He had no experience as a journalist, but what he would experience between 1998 and 2003 was an education in itself and one he shares in a book that reveals how impossible it is for news reporters or news consumers to ever know the truth about the Middle East. No one comes away with clean hands, but the reader comes away with a far better understanding of the complete oppression that those who live there must endure and survive.

I have a special fondness for large “coffee table” books on any subject and their counterpart, smaller, compact books that offer tons of information and/or entertainment. Bubble Gum and Hula Hoops: The Origins of Objects in Our Everyday Lives by Harry Oliver ($12.95, Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Books, softcover) falls into the latter category. This history wrapped in humor and lots of fascinating facts. Its twelve chapters address topics such as leisure and fun, objects around the home, food and drink, medicine, and others that make for some surprises and an appreciation for those things we tend to take for granted. For those who have a twisted sense of humor (and you know who you are!) Grimmer Tales: A Wicked Collection of Happily Never After Stories by Erik Bergstrom (16.00, Plume) offers a different take on favorite children’s fairy tales but this time things go terribly wrong. The illustrations are the key and I guarantee you will never think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the same again after you see how they end up. It will be a fun gift for certain friends and relatives. Fans of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” will enjoy Decoding The Lost Symbol by Simon Cox ($14.99, Touchstone, softcover) that provides an A-to-Z guide to the real people, organizations, and themes featured in Brown’s latest novel. It is a most unusual guide to Washington, DC’s monuments and other related places.

There is no end to cookbooks, but occasionally an unusual one comes along that deserves more attention than the standard fare. In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen by Allison Hooper celebrates “25 years of artisanal cheesemaking and cooking from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company ($19.95, The Countryman Press, softcover). Allison, along with Bob Reese, founded the company based on her passion for cheese and butter made from milk of the highest quality. She learned her trade on a family farm in France before bringing it to Vermont. Artisanal refers to a particularly European way of making cheese. Their business has enjoyed great success, bootstrapping from a small one into one tapping the milk of twenty local farms and dairies. Anyone who loves cheeses will find this book of particular interest as it discusses all manner of them and offers some tempting recipes that feature them.

I am trying to lose weight. It’s not easy. I have friends who are diabetic and I can just imagine what they must go through to live a normal life. The good news is a new book, The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes by Frederic J. Vagini, M.D., FACS, and Lawrence D. Chilnick ($21.95, Fair Winds Press, softcover). Published in October, I suspect word of mouth will turn this book into a bestseller for the more than 1.6 million new cases of diabetes that are diagnoses, adding to the 57 million people faced with pre-diabetes and its complications. This book teaches how to remove all of the metabolic roadblocks that diabetes creates and provides specific recommendations for overcoming weight loss problems and managing diabetes based on a patient’s medical history and risk factors. The plan features a combination of low-glycemic foods, reduced carbohydrates, and a modified Mediterranean diet. There are lists of menus and meal options, plus recommendations for vitamins and supplements. This book is really good! And how about a really swell hallucinogenic drink called “Ayahuasca”? Okay, I am not recommending it, but I am suggesting a very interesting, albeit offbeat book by Stephan B. Beyer, Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon ($45.00, University of New Mexico Press). By almost any standard, from its price to its subject, this is clearly a very unique book. Its author went from being an attorney, a corporate litigator, to becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on sacred plant medicine and, in the process, provides a fascinating first-hand account of life among the Mestizos, Spanish-speaking descendents of Hispanic colonizers and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon jungle. Ayahuasca has been gaining fame thanks to various entertainers, artists, and even a tourism business that has developed around it. If your interest has been piqued about shamanism, this book will satisfy it.

Since readers often harbor a desire to be writers or already are, Now Write Nonfiction! edited by Sherry Ellis ($14.95, Tarcher/Penguin softcover) offers a quick course from some of the most famed writers around such as Gay Talese Madeleine Blaise, and Tilar Mazzeo, and other top ranked memoirists, journalists, and teachers of creative non-fiction. The book is filled with the kind of advice you would pay big bucks for if you were attending college, a summer’s writer’s clinic, or just spending time learning through experience. Learn how to organize information, why you recall certain things and not others, and how a simple highlighter can tell you whether you are driving the story along successfully or just telling it in a prosaic fashion. This one is worth many times more than its price.

Motivation, Inspiration, and Good Advice

These are times in which we could all use a bit of motivation and inspiration. Some good advice of any kind is always welcome. Here some books that offer advice.
The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change by Jon Gordon ($16.95, John Wiley and Sons) that points out that many successful people and businesses have grown to prominence during even the worst recessions and economic downturns. Gordon has fashioned a fable about a goldfish who has always been fed and a nice shark who teaches him to find food. Do not dismiss this book because of its approach to the subject of surviving hard times because it has a very good message to share. In a similar fashion What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life by James Hollis, PhD ($16.00, Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin, softcover) suggest that you must first ask yourself “What truly matters most?” when you make those New Years resolutions. In short, what are the values, relationships, and beliefs that, when fully embraced, make us the most content? The book provides advice on how to begin an internal exploration of self and how one can uncover a personal path to fulfillment. A lot of people have, for one reason or another, made this inner journey and this book will provide a map.

In these uncertain times, along comes Larry Myler’s Indispensable by Monday ($24.95, John Wiley & Sons) which is, in fact, not officially published until next month, but can be pre-ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. Based on decades of consulting and business ownership, this book answers critical question such as “How do I protect me job” and “If the company goes under, how will I find a new job?” And it’s not just about jobs. It’s filled with priceless, nitty-gritty recommendations on how to get and keep customers and much more. I have seen many business books and can spot a winner. This is one. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) is now out in paperback for the first time and it is testimony to the fact that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Learn the hidden rules of persuasion and get more out of life. Whether you’re a salesperson, an educator, manager, parent or any other category of life, this book can and will put you on the path to being more persuasive. Have I convinced you? Then go get it!

For those contemplating marriage or a “committed relationship” that’s a bit shaky, there’s A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door by Hannah Seligson ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). The author takes a look at a major trend in dating these days, the long-term unmarried relationship. She provides the context for why young people are delaying marriage. A quarter of unmarried Americans, an estimated 23 million adults, say they are in committed romantic relationships. This is a kind of modern day marriage advice manual, but without interpreting marriage in purely legal terms and it is full of very good advice. Another book that will prove helpful is Michelle LaRowe’s A Mom’s Ultimate Book of Lists ($13.99, Revell, softcover). Honored as Nanny of the Year in 2004 and by the White House, the author who is now also a mom in her own right has compiled 112 of the most practical lists for moms to live by, sorting through the most reliable sources and tried-and-true recommendations for raising healthy and happy children. Organized in an easy-to-find format, it covers preparing for baby, the first year, the toddler years, pre-school, family life, health and safety information, and saving time, money and sanity. It will prove a terrific gift for the mother-to-be and for moms seeking solid gold advice.

Murder and Sex Crimes

There are a number of books devoted to murder, a crime that never ceases to cause a frisson of fear to run through our bodies.

I spent many years in Florida as a young man and while Florida is known for its beautiful beaches, warm weather, retirement communities and such, it is also been a breeding ground for some of the most savage criminals in the nation. Among its serial killers have been Bobbie Joe Long, Gerard Schaefer, and was the final killing round for murderers Ted Bundy, Aileen Wournos, and Andrew Cunanan. You can read all about it in Sun Struck: 16 Infamous Murders in the Sunshine State by Robert A. Waters and John T. Waters, Jr. ($ 24.95, New Horizon Press). Among them are the victim’s names that have entered into the nation’s cultural history such as Adam Walsh, Carlie Brucia, Jessica Lunsford, and Caylee Marie Anthony, all of which garnered national attention. The authors discuss the factors which make Florida more vulnerable to killers, not the least of which is the way much of the population are transients. The author’s empathy for the victims is evident, but the book is also a vivid reminder that there are some seriously evil people in the world.

Stacy Dittrich has written Murder Behind the Badge: True Stories of Cops Who Kill ($25.00, Prometheus Books) and it is an interesting look at the toll the job takes on some police officers, most of whom join with a wish to serve their community. This true crime narrative tells the stories of eighteen cops who killed in ways that range from the brutal to the bizarre, the senseless to the extreme, but all men and women who took a life and, with one exception, are paying the consequences. Some killed for love, others for money, and others for what appear to be trivial personality conflicts. The author is a veteran police officer with 17 years of experience so she brings to the text insights that others would not have. She is also the author of the CeeCee Gallagher thriller series about a female detective.

Betrayal, Murder and Greed: The True Story of a Bounty Hunter and a Bail Bond Agent by Pam Phree and Mike ‘Darkside’ Beakley ($24.95, New Horizon Press) is the story of their twenty-year partnership in the bail bond industry. It is a story of brutal hired hit men, vicious gang murders, terrifying shoot outs, dangerous drug deals, and even corrupt bail enforcement agents. It is also, of course, the story of how one catches a criminal and in addition to patience and smarts, it requires nerves of steel. This is a candid look at the dark underbelly of society and the book is an exciting, pulse-pounding journey. Phree is a bail bond agent and Beakley a bounty hunter who has spent twenty years tracking criminals in an industry that hovers between crime and justice. Over the past decade, bounty hunters have apprehended about 25,000 fugitives in the United States every year. They return to custody some 99% of the criminal defendants who skip bail.

It both repels and fascinates; the sex crime. Robin Sax is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney who specialized in prosecuting sex crimes against children and she has written It Happens Every Day: Inside the World of a Sex Crimes DA ($26.00, Prometheus Books). According to crime statistics from the Department of Justice, 67% of sexual assault victims in 2008 were juveniles and an astonishing 93% of these victims knew they attackers. Her book reveals what happens when law enforcement decides to prosecute a child sexual assault case and it does so in terms you will not read or hear about in the news. She discusses the strengths and weaknesses of our current judicial system, dividing her book into two parts, the investigation and the court process. Anyone interested in how the law deals with these most detested of crimes will find this book excellent reading.

Even a casual reading of history reveals that the past 5,000 years of human “civilization” have been filled with the most horrific cruelty and The World’s Bloodiest History by Joseph Cummins ($19.99, Fair Winds, Quayside Publishing Group, softcover) is testimony to that. Suffice it to say this is not light reading, but it does address questions such as why mobs become killing machines, the Nazis could craft a deliberate genocide, political ideologies become killing grounds, and all the worst aspects of human behavior, zealotry, prejudices, and animosities fuel the never-ending scars on civilization as it progresses from one event to another.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

As a non-fiction writer my whole life, I have always admired how others can write either short stories or an entire novel out of their imagination.

Elliot Pattison received raves for his last novel, “Bone Rattler” and he returns this month with Eye of the Raven ($26.00, Counterpoint Press), a sequel in which Duncan McCallum has begun to heal from the massacre of his Highland clan by the British with the aid of the Native American shaman, Conawago. The year is 1790 and tragedy stalks him when he and Conawago discover a dying Virginian officer nailed to an Indian shrine tree. To his horror, authorities arrest Conawago and schedule his hanging. McCallum begins a desperate search for the truth and finds himself in a maelstrom of deception and violence. This book will particularly please those familiar with early American history, but its pacing will keep any reader turning the pages as colonial Philadelphia comes alive with its mix of Quakers, Christian Indians, and a scientist obsessed with the electrical experiments of Benjamin Franklin. From the same publisher come the selected stories of the late Janet Frame in Prizes ($26.00, Counterpoint Press). This New Zealand novelist is perhaps best known for her memoir, “An Angel at My Table” that was adapted into a film. This is a comprehensive collection of her stories, chosen from four different volumes during her lifetime plus five more not published in her lifetime. They are an exploration of madness, isolation, and identity.

The winner of the Le Prix Concourt in 2008, The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi has been translated into English and has an introduction bo Khaled Hosseini ($16.95, Other Press LLC). You may likely learn more about life in Afghanistan from this heart-wrenching novel than all the scholarly studies, though the country is not specifically named. A man lies in a bed, brain-dead from a bullet in his neck. His wife sits beside him while outside the streets are filled with rival factions clashing and soldiers are looting and killing. The woman speaks of her life, of her fury at him for not resisting the call to arms, for sacrificing their marriage and their family to war. She speaks of how he ignored her desires for years and of a place where women are treated like animals. In Persian folklore, Sang-e Saboor is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone that absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. This is the fate of women under Islam.
Another translation takes us into the world of strange, haunting tales as deep as the Danish winter night. Come Raw by Lars Rasmussen is a collection of twenty haunting tales by a Danish bookseller who has also written about South African jazz, golf, and other topics, among his several books ($10.00, Serving House Books, softcover). They will prove an entertaining way to pass a commute or an afternoon.

Closer to home, there’s further proof that the American South has gifted our nation’s body of literature with many excellent works by native authors. One such author is Nicole Seitz whose Saving Cicadas ($14.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover) is a story of redemption that is filled with unforgettable characters and is part road trip, part mystery, and thoroughly charming. When her mother learns she’s having another child, eight-year-old Janie and Rainey Dae, her seventeen-year-old sister with special needs are packed into the back seat of the family car on what seems the last vacation they will ever take with Poppy and Grandma Mona. The trip seems aimless, but Janie realizes that they are searching for the father who left them years before. When they cannot find him, they head for Forest Pines, the South Carolina home her mother hasn’t visited in years. It becomes a mixed blessing of hope, buried secrets, and family ghosts. The story is an awakening from innocence into the hard realities of life and the sometimes impossible decisions people are forced to make. Old-fashioned romance is well served in Jenna’s Cowboy by Sharon Gillenwater’s new novel. Set in West Texas where she grew up and where she created the Callahans of Texas series. In this story, Jenna Callahan notices that Nate Langley is back, the first guy she ever noticed and the one her father sent away many years earlier. After two tours of duty in the armed forces, Nate has some healing to do and with the help of friends, his strong faith, and a loving family, he will become the man Jenna deserves.

In The Brightest Star in the Sky, author Marian Keyes ($26.95, Viking) delivers a wry and life-affirming story involving a disparate group of neighbors who are forced by unusual circumstance to depend on each other in order to transform their lives. They are the occupants of 66 Star Street that have attracted the undivided attention of a sharp-witted and intuitive otherworldly spirit. They include newlyweds, a public relations manager for a struggling music label, an update on Bridget Jones, just turned 40, a snarky female taxi driver and two Polish roommates who alternately fear and lust after her. This book will be most appreciated by female readers and is a delightful page-turner. In sharp contrast is Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste ($24.95, W.W. Norton) that is set in Ethiopia, an ancient land and during its 1974 revolution. Taking place in Addis Ababa, it tells the epic and heartbreaking story of one family’s struggle to remain united in the face of stark upheaval. The main character is a prominent, but unassuming physician, his wife who is dying of heart failure, and their two sons. This is the face and reality of revolution. The author was born in Addis Ababa and was four years old when her family fled to eventually settle in America. It is a powerful story about the lengths ordinary people will go to in pursuit of freedom and the price many pay during a revolution.

For some listening pleasure, Hachette Audio has released another James Patterson thriller, Witch & Wizard ($22.98, 5 CDs) about a brother and sister thrown into prison and being accused by being a witch and a wizard by a ruling regime that will stop at nothing to suppress life and liberty, music, art and books, and just being a normal teenager. If this reminds you have some of awful things happening today, you will gain a better understanding of the forces of evil in the world. Nicholas Sparks, famed romance writer, is available with Dear John ($17.98, 8 CDs) in which a couple are torn apart by the events of 9.11. John, who has joined the Army, must choose between love and country. When he returns to North Carolina after a tour of duty, he discovers how love can transform us in ways we could never imagine. From the world of non-fiction comes Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julia Powell, ($29.98, 9 CDs) the author of “Julie & Julia”, now a film that generated raves. Her latest book is a story of camaraderie from a butcher shop in the Catskills to a world tour that reveals an international brotherhood of butchers. This is a lot of fun!

That’s it for January 2010! Don’t forget to tell your friends about Bookviews. The coming spring holds the usual avalanche of new fiction and non-fiction, so you will want to stick around to get the inside track on many excellent books you may not read about anywhere else.