Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bookviews - April 2011

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

For anyone struggling to understand the actions of the present administration with its 32 “czars” advising the President, but free of congressional oversight as they shape policies and regulations, it is essential to school oneself in the rise of Communism and its lesser evil, Socialism. Suffice to say, neither economic system has every worked successfully and the former has historically been accompanied by murder on a scale that defies comprehension. This is why I recommend reading Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century by Dr. Paul Kengor ($29.95, ISI Books, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Wilmington, DE), It is a hefty tome, running past 600 pages, but the good news is that the writing is lively, depicting how many intellectuals of the last century were completely duped by those behind the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia and how it created the Communist Party USA for the sole purpose of imposing communism on America by any means, deception at all levels being the primary instrument. What unfolded was, for one example, turning the American educational system into the means of preaching the “collective” rather than individual merit. It so debased education that past and present generations of students move through the system achieving ever lower scholastic levels while those in other nations far outstrip them. Politically, the “progressives” have given America its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, imposing entitlement programs that have bankrupted States and the Federal government alike. As former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, famously said, “Sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” The history of America’s duped intellectual elites and those they went onto profoundly influence is great reading and essential if you are to understand our present crisis.

Our attention always is directed to nations experiencing wars or internal conflicts of one kind or another. One nation that lies at the heart of the Middle East, however, has proved to be a largely baffling enigma to the West. Pakistan was stuck from India when it declared its independence from Great Britain in the years following the end of World War II. Gandhi had hoped to have a united India, but many Muslims wanted a Muslim nation for themselves. The initial effort apportioned Pakistan in two pieces, the latter which ultimately became Bangladesh. Pakistan, A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven ($35.00, Public Affairs) is a hefty tome that examines the history, the culture, the military, and multifaceted other aspects of Pakistan. It is a nuclear nation and maintains a 500,000-strong military, as much a response to its fear of India as any other reason. The two have fought short, largely inconclusive wars over the years. Pakistan is held together by its military and is primarily threatened by militant Islam in the form of the Taliban and whatever is left of al Qaeda. Many Afghanis have sought refuge there. Lieven, a British journalist, has lived there and returned for long trips. His book is based on hundreds of interviews with Pakistanis from prime ministers to landless laborers. He warns against taking Pakistan lightly and provides a vivid portrait of the nation that is well worth reading.

Many myths surround China these days and Troy Parfitt has sent most of them packing in his book, Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas ($20.95, Western Hemisphere Press, New Brunswick, Canada, softcover). A Canadian, Parfitt has spent years in both Korea and Taiwan, and is fluent in Chinese. He decided to take three months to visit all the provinces of China and, in doing so, he produced an entertaining travelogue and a devastating dismissal of the media-driven myths that China is a nation on the rise when, in fact, it is both Communist and tied to an ancient culture that is unsuited to the demands of modern times. While it has adapted new technology, Parfitt notes China has been doing that for a century without really changing its way of thinking. “Politically, culturally, socially, and historically, China has practically nothing to offer the Western world…or any other non-Confucian country or culture.” Its economy is highly dependent on the West. “China’s economic advances are certainly impressive, although it’s important to remember that foreign companies are responsible for roughly 60 percent of all Chinese exports and 85 percent of all high-tech exports.” My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counterrevolutionary ($26.00, Prometheus Books) by Baiqiano Tang with Damon DiMarco describes China from inside, a China in which its people are being imprisoned by their own government for the “crime” of wanting a more democratic republic instead of the communist regime that controls their lives. The dissidents include student leaders, journalists, bloggers, human rights activities and Buddhist monks. The book was written by one such political prisoner whose name became known during the Tiananmen Square massacre. Over the past 21 years he has remained on the front lines of pro-democracy movements. Now living in exile in New York, Tang is just one of many Chinese whose stories must be read if real change is ever to come to one of the world’s largest prison states.

Americans are increasingly concerned about the value of higher education and what it produces in terms of graduates that were often ill-prepared to attend and are ill-prepared when they leave. If it wasn’t so entertainingly written, with lively prose and a beguiling humor, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic by Professor X ($25.95, Viking) would be less fun as it offers further evidence for concern regarding “higher” education. That appellation seems to apply more to the cost than the value. There are 18.2 million college students and 66% of those graduating four-year colleges will leave with debt that averages $20,000 or more. Some 73% of these students are taught by adjuncts or graduate students rather than fulltime professors. The author calls today’s colleges “America’s most expensive Ponzi scheme.” The author has penned a partial memoir of an over-educated, under-employed and downwardly mobile father of three who became a college English teacher as a way to bring in more money with a second job. He paints an ugly picture of higher education as a business enterprise more interested in the bottom line than the well being of students. Walter Olsen paints a portrait of what the nation’s law schools are turning out in Schools for Misrule: Legal Academic and an Overlawyered America ($25.95, Encounter Books). The most renowned, Yale, Harvard and Chicago, are hotbeds of liberalism and have generated a number of U.S. presidents. They have created a society that is far too litigious, promoting class action suits and the right to sue anybody for any reason. Law schools have generated the movement for slavery reparations, court takeovers of school funding, and a multitude of really bad ideas with sense of moral superiority and the use of the courts to impose requirements on society that are widely rejected by most Americans. Both books are real eye-openers and well worth reading.

There are many ways in which American have been duped. Only now, after thirty years of deception regarding “global warming” has that hoax been revealed to have been based on manipulated “computer model” outcomes that did not and could relate to the actual science or climate data. The Cholesterol Delusion by Dr. Ernest N. Curtis, MD ($13.99, Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, softcover) is not only affordable, but it can save your life if any of the anti-cholesterol drugs are prescribed on the basis of a finding you have too high a level of cholesterol. As the author demonstrates in clear, lucid language, “Cholesterol is one of the most vital and important biochemical compounds in nature. It is a major component in every cell in the body. All cells are enclosed by a membrane that keeps the contents of the cell intact and regulates everything that enters or leaves the cell.” From birth to death, cholesterol protects the cells and these include the brain and nerve tissue that contain the highest proportion of cholesterol in the body. Why would anyone want to reduce this life enhancing element of health? What Dr. Curtis demonstrates is that physicians and the public alike have been sold a myth about cholesterol and its alleged role in causing heart disease. The pharmaceutical companies have grown wealthy maintaining this myth and, yet, as far back as 1978 it was known that the research behind this was far more political, than scientific. Indeed, most of the studies ultimately demonstrated no connection. Simply put, it does not matter what you eat. There is no connection between diet and heart disease. A whole host of other factors are involved including a family history that includes a genetic predisposition to heart disease.

I don’t know how long I have heard that coffee is bad for you, but you can be sure I always ignored it. So do millions of others who enjoy it. Indeed, I order CafĂ© du Monde, a special blend with chicory from New Orleans because it is my favorite. So, naturally, I enjoyed Coffee Talk by Morton Satin ($21.95, Prometheus Books), billed as “the stimulating story of the world’s most popular brew.” Even in places like China and even in India where tea has been the tradition brew of choice, coffee is making inroads because it is just so good. As Satin points out, in the intellectual capitols of the world, coffee houses have been the place where philosophy, the arts, and even sciences are discussed. The author traces the intriguing history of coffee, showing how coffee consumption evolved to fit the social and economic needs of different times. For any “foodie”, this book will prove a special treat. Another treat is The Handy Science Answer Book compiled by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, now in its fourth edition ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover). In a world where so many issues and events involve matters of science, it is just so great to be able to reach for this book that explains them in plain English. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, climate and weather, ecology, plants and animals, health and medicine, energy and so many answers to so many questions can be found between its covers to quickly explain the complex in terms anyone can understand. For example, in the wake of Japan’s problems with its nuclear plants, the brief chapter on nuclear energy will make you the smartest person in the room. Indeed, brief is the key to this book’s value, because the many topic areas it covers are “handy” in the way that a quick, authoritative explanation always is.

Some books are special because they fill a gap and that is the case of At Ease, Soldier! How to Leave the War Downrange and Feel at Home Again ($19.95, http://www.soldiersathome.com/, softcover). Written by Gayle S. Rozantine, PhD, it addresses the needs and problems of soldiers who have been deployed at least once and maybe more into war zones and are having trouble readjusting to life at home. War presents physical and psychological effects that must be dealt with when the battlefield has been left behind. The warrior has to learn to manage their stress, anger, and deal with sleep problems, among a myriad of comparable problems. The author has over fifteen years of dealing with soldiers and their families and has great admiration for them. If you or someone you know has returned to civilian life or stateside duty and think this book would be helpful, you’re right.

Play ball! If you’re a Yankee fan or know one, you will enjoy The Ultimate Yankees Record Book ($14.95, Triumph Books, softcover) by David Fischer along with Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly by Mike Shalin ($24.95, Triumph Books). The former is as complete a collection of records and statistics you will find anywhere and the latter is a worthy tribute to the 14 seasons Mattingly played to become one of the most beloved and popular players in the history of the team.

Some books are just extraordinary because of the care taken to create them; their text, their illustrations and artwork, their overall merit as they add to the body of knowledge in a particular area. This is the case for Guns of the Civil War by Dennis Adler ($40.00, Zenith Press) that is obviously a labor of love, but also a unique contribution to knowledge of that tremendous battle between the Northern and Southern States that took so many lives it dwarfs our nation’s other wars. Page after page is filled with full color photos of rifles and pistols of the first modern war. Anyone interested in this chapter of the nation’s history and, in particular, the weapons with which it was fought, will find this book a treasure.

Advice, Advice, Advice

Everything I learned about personal conduct, self-esteem, hard work, and respect for others, I learned from my parents and beyond them, my grandparents. These are generally grouped together as “values” needed to function well in life and to get along with others.

I have long wondered if this is the case today because, as a reviewer, I see an awful lot of books offering the kind of advice one used to receive in the course of growing up. Here then, are some books intended to teach you what you probably should have learned by now, but didn’t.

How to Be the One ($14.95, Centre Publishing, Bath, England, softcover) has crossed the Big Pond to offer commonplace advice on such things as “your emotional core” and “attitude.” If you are so bereft of a source of advice, you could do just as well to read this book to improve yourself, spread happiness and sunshine, and stop being a pain to everyone around you. Happy Crap: 8 Tools to Choose Your Thoughts for Prosperity, Productivity and Peace by Erika Oliver ($14.95, Affirmative Publishing, Portage, MI, softcover) has an amusing, cynical title by a “positive approach coach” and “recovering pessimists.” There are so many red flags about this book it is hard to know where to start. The title is “cute” and anyone can call themselves a “positive approach coach”, particularly if they have few other criteria to offer. Despite this, there is a lot of common sense advice in the book , especially if you walk around all day with a brain full of negativity and unhappiness. We tend to manufacture our own problems in this fashion and the book might just jolt you into a new frame of mind. Parenthetically, it appears to be directed more to women than men. Roy Sheppard bills himself as “a relationships specialist”, another one of those occupations that used to be served by family, friends, or member of the clergy.

I like advice books by people who have first lived out the advice they give and that describes Alissa Finerman, an MBA from the Wharton School, who left the gold-plated halls of Wall Street, having worked in some of its most prestigious firms, to follow a new path. She also plays a mean game of tennis having been an All-American at the University of California, Berkeley, and ranked #1 in the USTA National Women’s 40 Doubles in 2008 and 2009. So, as a life coach, when she sat down to write Living in Your Top 1%: Nine Essential Rituals to Achieve Your Ultimate Life Goals ($10.80, Amazon.com), she knew what she was talking about and the book reflects it. The book has garnered a lot of praise from other authors including Michael Milken, Chairman of The Milken Institute. It combines research with compelling stories to provide a very motivating, satisfying book worth reading. Want to be a winner? Learn from one!

The Lost Art of Happiness by Arthur Dobrin ($17.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) has the benefit of having a real publishing house behind it. Dobrin is billed as an “ethicist” and he argues—surprise—that one’s pervasive and gnawing sense of dissatisfaction is mainly self-inflicted. In short, it’s your fault. This is actually a rather serious book on the subject and the author concludes that we improve ourselves and our lives by developing and employing a large sense of compassion. The book is a meditation on how to be a good person. You can become one and, if you want to know how, then perhaps you should read this book. One of the problems that come with age is the loss of loved ones and friends. Sunie Levin has experienced this. She has written a book for boomers and seniors who, if they are to have friends late in life, must often start from scratch with new ones. Make New Friends…Live Longer ($13.95, plus $4.00 shipping, http://www.makenewfriendslivelonger.com/) offers a variety of recommendations in a breezy, warmhearted guide to developing meaningful friendships whether one is active or home bound. There are plenty of studies that demonstrate that a lack of friends and family in one’s older years can sap the life out of anyone. The author of four other easy to read self-help books, she’s come up with a good one to rejuvenate one’s life.

Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Yourself in Someone Else by Nancy L. Johnston, a licensed psychotherapist with three decades of clinical experience ($15.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover) at least has the blessing of being authored by someone with some training and experience to help people in difficult family, divorce, or matrimonial law disputes. The book is not how to win the case, but rather how to win one’s life back in a positive, non-adversarial way. It is a solution-oriented guide for people seeking to find emotional freedom within their relationships with an intimate partner, the parent-child relationship, other family, friends, or even in the workplace. It is a guide to creating some “emotional space”, a component of regaining a sense of one’s own worth. All things considered, this is a very useful book if it describes your condition or that of someone you know. In a lighter vein, Janice Holly Booth has written Only Pack What You Can Carry: My Path to Inner Strength, Confidence, and True Self-Knowledge ($24.00, National Geographic) in which she explores the joys and challenges of traveling solo, facing one's fears, and most of all, of being alone. It is a metaphor in many ways for the fact that we all, ultimately, travel alone even when surrounded by others. The book is relentlessly upbeat and that is actually a treat.

From Revell, a publisher specializing in themes based on Christian values, comes Coach Wooden by Pat Williams ($17.99) that discusses the seven principles that shaped the life of the renowned basketball coach who passed away in 2010. The author is a senior vice president of the Orlando Magic team. Wooden led the UCLA to ten NCAA national championships over twelve years, including seven in a row. He knew basketball, but he taught the values that made him and his teams champions. He taught that one must be true to themselves, help others, work at being a good friend, read the Bible and other great books, pray and give thanks for one’s blessings. It’s hard to find fault with values that made him a great coach, a winner, and a great man in his own right. In sharp contrast, if you want to read a case history of a thorough screw-up, by all means read I Know I Am, But What Are You? The author is Samantha Bee whose main credential is being a “senior correspondent on The Daily Show” starring Jon Stewart. She is known for being unpleasant to those who agree to be interviewed by her and this is what passes for comedy these days. I would suggest you pass on her book.

Here’s to the Ladies

Sisters of Fortune by Jehanne Wake ($27.00, Touchstone, Div. of Simon and Schuster) is subtitled “America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad” and is devoted to Marianne, Bess, Louisa, and Emily Caton, all of whom enthralled English Regency society and were, as they say, the talk of the town, in this case, London. Descendents of the first settlers of Maryland, they were brought up by their wealthy grandfather, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. As often happened among the wealthy, the girls were well educated as opposed to being expected to merely marry into wealth. As a result, they became unusually independent, fascinated by politics, clever with money, and romantically inclined. After arriving in England, they became part of the Duke of Wellington’s circle. The Duke wanted to marry Marianne, but she shocked everyone by marrying his brother instead. Louisa became the Duchess of Leeds and a member of Queen Victoria’s court. Emily married a Scots-Canadian and stayed home in Maryland while Bess made a fortune speculating in the stock market. Intrigued? You will be when you read this delightful biography.

It is quite an achievement to change the way a government is elected and two ladies did just that by championing suffrage, the right of women to vote. Though written for the younger set, I would recommend Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman ($18.99, Henry Holt, due out in May). It tells the story of their meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1851. Together, against fierce opposition, they challenged entrenched beliefs that only men should have the vote. In 2005 I reviewed an extraordinary book, “Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement” by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr. (American Graphic Press, Santa Cruz, CA) a large format book for history buffs that I would recommend again and again. It would take 70 years to achieve the women’s right to vote with the passage of an amendment in 1920.

You may not have heard of her, but Mary Chesnut’s Diary by Mary Boykin Chestnut ($15.00, Penguin Classics Original, softcover) is considered one of the best accounts of the Civil War from the Southern perspective. Written between 1861 and 1865, she narrates the war from her vantage point in Charleston, S.C. Because she was married to a politically prominent husband, she was able to witness some of the significant sites of the war such as Montgomery, Alabama, and Richmond, Virginia where the Provisional Congress of the Confederate State of America convened. Her husband served as an aide to Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. The result is a one of the most cited memoirs of the war and still one of the most compelling to this day. A very different story of war is told in A Long Silence: Memoirs of a German Refugee Child, 1941-1958 by Sabina de Werth Neu ($19.00 Prometheus Books) insofar as there have been many Holocaust survivor memoirs, but few by the other victims of Germany’s Nazi regime, the children who came of age amidst the destruction of their homeland with little understanding of what was happening around them and often suffering severe trauma and physical abuse. Born in 1941 as the war raged around her, the author, her two sisters and mother, were often on the run and homeless. All were raped and beaten by marauding Russian soldiers. The American soldiers were a welcome sight, the U.S. Marshall Plan offered hope, critical to her and her nation’s survival in the wake of the totalitarian regime.

Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets by Carole Lieberman, M.D. ($16.95, Cogito Media Group, softcover), a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and host of the popular TV show, “Carole’s Couch”. This book is a follow-up to “Bad Boys” and it explores how these bad girls entice otherwise smart, savvy, successful men to fall in love with them and then break their hearts. Along the way they indulge in sex, drugs and spending other people’s money. The author says there are things that good girls can learn from them while avoiding their unsavory behavior and attitudes.

Getting Down to Business Books

I have a friend who built up a business over twenty-five years and one day fired his staff and returned it to the apartment in which he started it. It is now entirely virtual and hardly a day goes by without his telling me how relieved he is not to have to manage a bunch of people for whom the job was just a paycheck. He came to mind when I received a copy of You Can’t Fire Everyone and Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager by Hank Gilman, a deputy management editor for Fortune magazine ($25.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Books). “In my business, we find bosses by taking talented writers, waving a wand and saying, ‘Hey, congratulations, you’re now supervising a dozen people. And, by the way, good luck.’ Gilman takes note of the fact that lots of managers start out that way, never asking, expecting or having been trained to be responsible for other people and the work they produce. He shares what he has learned through trial and error over two decades in what he calls one of the craziest businesses on the planet. It’s filled with unconventional advice that will surely resonate with anyone smart enough to read it. Personality Plus at Work by Florence Littauer and Rose Sweet ($13.99, Revell, softcover) is intended to help one manage employees or get along with co-workers. It’s objective is to help the reader understand the kind of people with whom they must deal daily, categorizing them for easy identification. Nothing here is new, but if you’re in a situation where you need such guidance, this book will provide it.

The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence by Terry R. Bacon ($27.95, Amacom) is one of those questions that people in the business world and other occupations that require it always wonder about. The author sheds light on eleven different sourses of power that contribute to a powerful person’s impact on a company, a movement, history, or individual lives. Drawing on wide ranging research as well as the authors original studies, this book will provide a lot of insight to the dynamics of leadership and why knowledge is the bedrock and the ability to communicate is the ladder. There is much to be said for character, reputation, and networking too. Also from the same publisher comes an Army of Entrepreneurs by Jennifer Prosek, ($23.00, Amacom), subtitled “Create an engaged and empowered workforce for exceptional business growth.” This is the author’s system to make entrepreneurial behavior business-as-usual throughout the ranks of her public relations and financial communications firm. She grew her company from one office and around $2 million in 1995 to three offices and $10 million today, so she’s obviously onto something. As she says, “The AOE model is not commonplace. To try it requires a leap. It asks you to be willing to think of your company, your employees, and your own job in new and different ways.” There’s a lot of good advice to be found in this book.

John Bradberry has penned 6 Secrets to Startup Success ($21.95, Amacom) and in these times when so many are being laid off quite a few are thinking of starting their own business. Indeed, according to the Small Business Association, six million Americans take a shot at it, but the bad news is that half of them fail after a few years and those that survive find themselves working longer hours, earning up to 35% less, and experiencing a lot of stress. Bradberry’s book is intended to help entrepreneurs avoid that fate, identifying the steps that should be taken to avoid the typical pitfalls involved. It’s good, solid advice. There are precious few books that teach teens the ins-and-outs of creating a business of their own to generate cash outside of an allowance and after-school jobs. Start It Up: The Complete Teen Business Guide to Turning Your Passions into Pay ($14.95, Zest Books, softcover) shows that it is never too early to learn the basics of business with information about establishing a support system, creating a business plan, making the business official, hiring and management, promotion and customer service, as well as financial protection measures. Kenra Ranklin lays it all out in easy to understand fashion. You can check out a lot of really good books for teens at www.zestbooks.net.

Business Fraud: From TrustBetrayal—How to Protect Your Business in 7 Easy Steps  by Jack Hayes ($19.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover) is one of those books that everyone should read if you are involved in corporate management. Hayes is one of the nation’s experts on business crime and his book takes a look at the mistakes management makes that invite fraud, why relying soley on auditors to keep the workplace free from fraud is a big mistake, the factors that create the opportunity for fraud. It is jammed packed with advice on how to spot the fraudsters, how to spot your company’s vulnerabilities, and how to combat fraud.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

For anyone who loves history and great fiction, they are in for a treat with Margaret George’s Elizabeth I ($30.00, Viking). She formerly scored a bestseller with “The Autobiography of Henry VIII.” Set to debut this month, the novel brings a fresh perspective to one of the most remarkable women in British history. It opens in 1588 when Elizabeth faces her reign’s greatest challenge, the Spanish Armada. As queen it fell to her to steer her nation through some of the most challenging times in its history that included a famine and further onslaughts, as well as an uprising in Ireland. There were, in addition, the machinations of her court. It was a time when William Shakespeare flourished and explorers like Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake sought fame and fortune in the name of their queen. All this is caught up in this thick volume that reflects the life and times of the Virgin Queen who held sway over her subjects and triumphed.

History is the backdrop for an excellent novel by Talia Carner, Jerusalem Maiden, ($14.99, Harper paperback original) official due out in June. It is the story of Esther Kaminsky and the time is early 20th century Jerusalem, a time in which a woman is expected to marry and bear many sons. This is especially the case for a woman raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish household during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Esther, however, believes she has more to offer than the role laid out for her. Encouraged by her French teacher she yearns for more, but when a sudden tragedy strikes her family, she believes God is expressing displeasure with her ambitions and untraditional attitude. She commits herself to being an obedient Jerusalem maiden until, in the years that follow, a surprising opportunity forces her to contemplate to whom she must be true, to God or to herself. This is a gripping piece of fiction that many women will find has reverberations in modern times as well.

History plays a role in My Wife’s Affair by Nancy Woodruff ($15.00, Berkeley, softcover) reflecting the true life 18th century actress, Dara Jordan, paired with her fictional modern day counterpart, Georgie Connolly. It is told through the eyes of Georgie’s husband Peter, as their marriage spirals downward in the wake of her affair. While Peter was a failed novelist, he was a successful businessman who took his family from the suburbs of New Jersey to London. Georgie, meanwhile, regretting she gave up a life on the stage, lands a one-woman show and an irresistible attraction to the show’s playwright in an affair that will alter her life and marriage. The real life Dara Jordan had thirteen illegitimate children, ten by the future King of England! In Faking It, Elisa Lorello ($13.95, Amazon Encore, softcover) tells a story of a thirty-something writing professor whose personal life is in flux after she breaks off her engagement and moves home to Long Island and a new teaching position at Brooklyn University. Everything is going just fine until she meets Devin, a male escort whose client list seems to include a least half of the accomplished women she knows! They strike a deal. He will teach her to be a better lover and she will teach him to be a writer. Both discover they have, in effect, been faking their lives in what is, surprisingly, a romantic comedy with a dash of drama.

If you’re looking for a bit of sleuthing, there’s Gayle Trent’s Murder Takes the Cake ($15.00, Gallery Books, softcover) starring cake decorator and amateur sleuth, Daphne Martin, whose routine cake delivery turns into a murder scene when she discovers a dead body. In the little town in southern Virginia where she’s been trying to get her business going, the murder of Yodel Watson gets all the tongue’s wagging and it seems like just about everyone had a reason to want to poison the town gossip. Daphne recruits her old flame, Ben Jacobs and they soon unearth a hidden family scandal that might hold the key to the killing. As a bonus, this novel comes with recipes for cakes, cupcakes, and frosting. Yum! Girls will enjoy Declaring Spinsterhood by Jamie Lynn Braziel ($13.95, Amazon Encore, softcover) in which Emma Bailey must confront the problems of nagging parents and relatives wanting to know when she will marry. She has a job she loves, running a children’s bookstore, and finally decides to get everyone off her back by declaring spinsterhood as her chosen lifestyle despite dating and dating and dating. This is a very entertaining, funny novel about life after thirty, about independence, about friendship, and—yes—about love.

For the men, there is a terrific novel by Tom Seligson, King of Hearts, ($14.00, Saugatuck Books, softcover, also on Kindle). The author is an Emmy Award winning television producer, journalist, and novelist. This novel asks what happened to Saddam Hussein’s more feared associates, two of whom remain at large despite a $1 million reward for each of them, one was the King of Hearts in the U.S. military’s “most wanted” deck of cards. Also, what happened to the $1.5 billion stolen from the Iraq Central Bank at the beginning of the war? These questions surface after the book begins with the murder of a mother while she is jogging and Ric Hill, a former New York City cop and veteran of the Iraq War, is called in to investigate. What begins on a quiet suburban street will lead back to the streets of Baghdad as well as the back rooms of the U.S. Capitol. On another level, the novel explores the impact the war had on those who fought it and the issue of post traumatic stress disorder. What emerges is a well-paced thriller that keeps one turning the pages.

That’s it for April! “Bookmark” Bookviews and come back next month for more news of the best in new fiction and non-fiction. Tell your book-loving friends and family. Spread the word!

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