Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bookviews - September 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding member of the National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

Five Stars! If you want to learn how the U.S. got into the financial mess we’re in, I recommend you pick up a copy of Lost Decades: The Making of America’s Debt Crisis and the Long Recovery by Menzie D. Chinn and Jeffrey A. Frieden ($26.95, W.W. Norton). It is singularly one of the best books on the subject I have read as the authors present an interesting history of what is shaping up to be the Great Depression 2.0. Not only does the reader learn of the history of the Great Depression and the measures that emerged that turned what should have been a relatively short recession cascaded into a period between 1929, through the 1930s, and ending with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the nation into World War Two. While we speak of globalization these days, the 1920s was a period in which the developed nations were closely linked financially with considerable lending and investment back and forth across the Atlantic. When the U.S. slid into the Depression, Europe followed soon after. A very nearly comparable scenario is playing out now. Then, as now, the remedies the political class put forth failed as we have seen more recently with the “stimulus” programs and other programs that have not stemmed increasing unemployment, foreclosures, and the misery that characterizes such crises. The book provides a clear, concise, and impartial explanation of how we got here.

Four Stars! The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival by Hirsh Goodman ($26.99, Public Affairs) looks at the conditions threatening Israel’s future, offering his view that it is demography, the growing Arab population within and beyond Israel that is the greatest challenge and one that requires the acceptance of a Palestinian state. There is a parity between Israel’s Arab and Jewish populations, but in a decade this will shift to the Arabs. This is one of the best books you will ever read on the history of Israel’s struggle to survive and the threats that exist today. Goodman is a longtime journalist who now holds a senior research position at the Institute for National Security Studies at the University of Tel Aviv. All around the Middle East nations are in upheaval and everyone awaits the outcome of the turmoil in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere. Achieving peace with the Palestinians may be difficult, he argues, but holds the key to the future. Anyone concerned with the welfare and future of Israel will find his analysis of great interest. The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge ($15.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) by Hooman Majd provides valuable insights to Iranian politics, controlled by a small group of fanatical Islamists intent on achieving Middle East hegemony and, of course, nuclear weapons parity while opening threatening Israel with annihilation. Majd, a former Iranian, a journalist, spells out what has occurred since the ayatollahs took control of Iran in 1979 and how they use draconian methods to stay in power. While our concerns have turned inward toward our own economic survival, we need to remain alert to external threats and both Iran and China are at the top of the list these days.

Four Stars! A second revolution of sorts occurred in the 1950’s and 60’s when the Civil Rights movement was instrumental in ending segregation and the Jim Crow oppression of Blacks in the South. It was so successful that, by 2008, Americans elected their first Black President. Even so, the Black population in America has been outpaced by every other minority and suffers from a pathology that has destroyed its family structure and rendered much of its youth ignorant and unskilled with a large portion of its men incarcerated. Dr. Seth A. Forman, a social scientist who teaches government and public policy at Stony Brook University, has just had American Obsession: Race and Conflict in the Age of Obama published ($17.95, Booklocker.com, softcover). I heartily recommend it for the manner in which the author links facts, history, and sociology together to render a portrait of what the Black community is doing to itself, how it is influencing the politics and social policies of our times, and how Whites, who made great strides in erasing the ills of the past, are reacting at both the local and national level. Its examination of President Obama’s racial identification and adoption of black liberation theology and politics is masterful. Those interested in politics will enjoy his examination of the 2008 election. In many ways this is a courageous book for the truths it addresses that hinder Black assimilation into the larger society and its values. It comes as America’s first Black President begins a campaign to be reelected. His polling numbers are all plummeting. The 2012 election is likely to be a massive rejection of Obama and the Democratic Party.

Also in the area of policy, I recommend David H. Brown’s Full Body Scam: The Naked View of Current Airport Security ($14.95, Authorhouse, softcover). What Brown doesn’t know about aviation and air travel is probably not worth knowing. As far back as the late 1960s, Brown was the press officer for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Task Force on the Deterrence of Air Piracy. He was a response to a spate of airline skyjackings to Cuba. After 9/11 an understandable panic set in because three airliners were used to perpetrate it. The problem was the response in the form of the Transportation Safety Administration and its insane practice of treating 100% of all travelers, including babies and elderly invalids, as potential terrorists. Brown has written books on this topic heretofore and has combined two of them into this new look that raises serious questions about the erosion of Constitution rights to privacy Americans used to take for granted. I am happy to recommend this book to anyone with an interest or concern about the way the TSA has turned air travel into a very unpleasant experience for everyone without once having actually found a terrorist waiting for a pat down or a body scan.

It’s no secret that I love reading history and occasionally a book comes along that provides an unusual insight beyond the standard telling of a given event. Signing Their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the United States Constitution ($19.95, Quirk Books) is the work of Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese who previously introduced us to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and their fates. Now they have turned their attention to the 39 men who met in the summer of 1787 to create the Constitution and to sign their names to it. Though rarely taught in our schools, the Constitution, written behind closed doors in Philadelphia, was a response, eleven years after the Revolution, to save the new nation from the chaos of the former Articles of Confederation. The nation was facing political collapse, citizens feared a strong central government, banks were issuing their own currencies, and out of that came the oldest living constitution in the world! The book chronicles how these men put aside their personal gain for the greater good of the nation, arrived at compromises, and combined the knowledge of legal scholars, those who had served in war, and were just as quirky and flawed as elected officials today. It is a truly fascinating story that puts their achievement in perspective.

Does it say something about a society in which a creature called a “metrosexual” has emerged? Most certainly, Hollywood keeps churning out films with cartoon super heroes that make men look puny by comparison. An entertaining and useful new book, Manskills: How to Avoid Embarrassing Yourself and Impress Everyone Else by Chris Peterson ($15.99, Creative Publishing International, distributed by Quayside Publishing Group softcover) provides short, page to page instructions on things like how to catch a fish without a rod and reel, iron a dress shirt, and be a great host. In truth, this would be a great gift for young men in high school or college, as well as older men who never learned fundamental skills from jumping a dead battery to selecting the best steak. Indeed, for the “foodies” among us (and I most certainly am one) there’s a delightful book by Albert Jack, What Caesar Did For My Salad: The Curious Stories Behind Our Favorite Foods ($18.00, Perigee, Berkley Publishing Group). You will be the hit of any dinner party as you explain that the word “salary” comes from the practice of paying Roman soldiers in salt. It is also why we often say someone is worth his salt. Black pepper has been in use for seven thousand years. I have a cousin who loves Cob Salad, but I bet he doesn’t know it was invented by Robert H. Cobb, founder of the famed Brown Derby restaurant chains in Los Angeles. He made it from whatever he found in the refrigerator for Sidney Grauman, owner of the Chinese Theatre, who loved it and began ordering it to a point where it caught on and became part of the menu. The book is filled with the history of foods and makes for great reading.

It is no secret that the nation’s educational system has been so dumbed down since around the 1960s that the kids passing through are being fed a diet of diversity, sex education, and distorted history, among other ills. Ron Clark was named America’s teacher of the year by Disney and deemed phenomenal by Oprah. His Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta has been visited by more than 10,000 teachers from around the world to learn how to improve education. He’s written The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck ($23.00, Touchstone, a division of Simon and Schuster) offering real solutions for parents and teachers in which he spells out his recommendations for parents who want to instill the right attitudes and skills in their children from an early age and for teachers who need strategies to help every students achieve success in school. He also has advice for communities as to what they can do. This is a man on a mission and I recommend this book to one and all. It’s clear to anyone who was educated long ago when mastery of the English language was an essential part of learning that entire generations are deficient.

Those of my generation grew up enjoying Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a syndicated newspaper column that was filled with oddities. The Ripley’s empire has recently published Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Strikingly True ($28.95, Ripley Publishing), a collection of incredible and bizarre facts, stories, interviews, lists, and features that adds up to hours of entertaining reading. Begun in 2004, this annual reference has a million copies worldwide in circulation and, in 2010, made it to The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. It is just page after page, lavishly illustrated, that provide the kind of diversion that only a book can. Keep it handy at bedside or in the bathroom to pass the time.

Lastly, this month marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and it is to be expected that some publisher would put out a book to do so. Lyons Press has published 9/11: The World Speaks ($24.95) offering a selection of the cards expressing the thoughts of some of the two million people who visited the World Trade Center Visitor Center. Regrettably, they are mostly rather banal and predictable. I wish I could say it was inspiring, but it is not.

Memoirs, Biographies, Real People

Five Stars! Do you know someone who is a huge fan of Judy Garland? A big coffee table book, Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke ($30.00, Running Press) will be a birthday or holiday gift that will dazzle them. This year marks the 75th anniversary of her film debut, as well as other achievements that made her a superstar for the generations that flocked to her films and live performances. Fricke is the preeminent Garland historian and tells her story in unprecedented detail, augmented by more than 500 photos and illustrations. This has got to be the ultimate Garland book for all the information it contains. From 1936 to 1963, she provided memorable performances, singing, dancing and acting. Her life and career left an indelible imprint on her era. She was a great entertainer and now she has a book that matches her talents.

Before there was Martin Luther King Jr., there was Martin Luther King Sr., a driving force for civil rights in Atlanta from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Murray A. Silver, an attorney, has written Daddy King and Me: Memories of the Forgotten Father of the Civil Rights Movement ($29/95, Continental Shelf Publishing, Savannah, GA), a slim memoir that encompasses the author’s experience at the heart of the civil rights movement, aiding not just King Jr., but all the key players in that great struggle of the 1950s and 60s. Especially close to King Sr., he was an eye witness to the events and personalities. His memoir is especially useful for anyone interested in that period of U.S. history. It is a warm, fact-filled selection of the highlights of that period and one that takes the reader behind the veil of history into the homes of his family and Dr. King Sr’s. Since his wife and Coretta Scott King shared a birthday, they celebrated together, but this book is particularly interesting for the depth of emotional attachment it reveals that kept the various participants strong in periods of shared tragedy. The power of Daddy King’s faith and his capacity for love was the platform from which his son led a revolution.

Coming in October is Paul Johnson’s short biography of Socrates ($25.95, Viking) taking the reader back to the fifth century B.C. in Athens, demonstrating how his thoughts still shape our actions, our understanding of body and soul, and providing a portrait of a middle class citizen of that nation-state whose philosophy shaped the thoughts of generations that followed. Mary Bowman-Kruhm has written a biography of anthropologist, Margaret Mead ($17.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) who came to prominence when her book “Coming of Age in Samoa” was published in 1928, swiftly becoming a bestseller. For the next five decades, she became the public face of anthropology in the U.S., generating both acclaim and controversy. She had a career at the American Museum of Natural History, three marriages, and at one time came to the aid of the American Anthropological Association when it was in financial straits. She encouraged a whole generation of anthropologists. The author has written more than thirty books for children and young adults, but the book will serve the interest of older readers. Just out this month is Einstein On the Road by Josef Eisinger ($25.00, Prometheus Books) that tells the story of how Albert Einstein, at the height of his fame traveled around the world between 1922 and 1933. At that point, the Nazi takeover of Germany caused him to leave for sanctuary in Princeton, NJ, where he became an American citizen as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study. Einstein kept notes of his observations as he traveled to places such as Japan, Spain, the British mandate of Palestine that would become the state of Israel, and to America, meeting with royalty, presidents, movie stars, and the greatest scientists and physicists of his era. Einstein was interested the advances, the arts and the culture of his day. Anyone interested in Einstein and the history of his times will find this a very enjoyable read.

The human side of the practice of medicine is revealed in The Man Who Lived in an Eggcup: A Memoir of Triumph and Self-Destruction by Dr. John Camel, MD ($14.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover). The publisher describes it, saying, “In the corridors of every hospital lurk tales of triumph and tragedy, lives won and lost to the world of medicine. But the complexity of the human psyche cannot be stripped down to mere science. Indeed, it’s in this environment—where people remain at their most vulnerable—that the human condition manifests itself the strongest.” This is a look behind the scenes in hospitals where life can hang in the balance and when diagnosis, success and failure, includes the human component of emotions brought on by tragedy. Tragedy involving a mentally ill mother is the theme of The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) “Even now, when the phone rings late at night, I think it’s her. I stumble out of bed ready for the worst. The last time my mother called it was in 1990. I was thirty-one and living in Chicago. She said if I didn’t come home right away she’d kill herself.” Norma Bartok was a piano prodigy in her youth, but a severe case of schizophrenia created a hellish upbringing for Mira and her sister. To survive, the decided to stay away and, for 17 years, her contact was through letters to a post office box so her mother could not find her. The author of 28 books for children, this memoir will interest anyone who has a family member suffering from this mental illness. It debuted to an avalanche of much deserved praise.

In 1946, Tomas Castellano, age 17, set sail from Franco’s fascist rule in Spain. Without telling them of his plans, he had to leave his family behind, but his desire for freedom was so great that he stole a sailboat and set sail across the Atlantic for America. The story is told in Journey ($13.40, Authorhouse.com, softcover) by his son, Stephen Mateo. It took 90 days to make the journey and a lifetime for the story to unfold. It is filled with many interesting people who helped Tomas fulfill his dream and who became a part of his life. It was not until 1955 that he was able to return to Spain and visit with the family he had left behind. In America he would marry and raise a family in freedom. It’s too easy for a story like this to slip by unnoted, but this one deserves a wide readership.

Life upon the ocean waves and the search for the treasure of sunken ships below is the subject of Capt. Syd Jones’ account, Atocha Treasure Adventures: Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon: A True Story ($25.00, autographed copy, order from www.atochatreasureadventures.com, softcover). It presents three individual story lines that eventually come together as it tells the story of Treasure Salvors, Inc’s occasionally desperate and often self-destructive search for shipwrecked Spanish treasure galleon riches. The story is told through the experiences of the actual people and events, some reaching back four hundred years ago, in such a way the reader gets to experience the thrills and disappointments of today’s real treasure hunters with all the human elements of adventure, romance, tragedy, betrayal, greed, and uncommon optimism involved in finding the richest treasure galleons ever, as told by one of its participants.

I knew nothing of the Boyce-Sneed feud until I read Vengeance is Mine: The Scandalous Love Triangle that Triggered the Boyce-Sneed Feud by Bill Neal ($24.95, University of North Texas Press). It became a legend in West Texas when it erupted in bloodshed in 1912. Almost a half century later, the author has pieced together the elements of the story that featured Lena Snyder Sneed, a high spirited, headstrong wife; Al Boyce, Jr., Lena’s reckless, romantic lover; and John Beal Sneed, Lena’s arrogant and vindictive husband who responded to her plea for a divorce by having her locked up in an insane asylum. When Al rescued Lena from the asylum, the chase was on as the lovers fled to Canada. Sneed would assassinate Al’s father and later Boyce. He was twice acquitted of murder. It was a crime of passion and trials that were dramatic for the tactics used. It is great social history.

Marriage, Parenting Skills

Marriage is the greatest leap of faith anyone can make and it behooves those who plan to get married to know how to avoid one that will turn out badly. Psychotherapist Isabelle Fox, PhD, and attorney Robert M. Fox, have written The Prospective Spouse Checklist: Evaluating Your Potential Partner ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) that is officially due out in October. The authors provide a rational approach to evaluating the person in order to avoid emotion-driven and unwise marriages. This is a good idea given the high rate of divorce in America and the too-frequent emotional and other damage involved. The book provides 35 keys to evaluate including ten red-flag warning signs. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone contemplating marriage.

After marriage (and sometimes without) come children. Annie Murphy Paul has written Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our lives ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). Childbearing has long been the subject of various myths and advice. The author sorts it out in ways that make this book an absolute must-read for expectant mothers and those who care about them. The mysteries of pre-natal development are explored in ways that make the experience less stressful and can lead to a successful, healthy birth. The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal by Les and Leslie Parrott. Psychologists, with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna ($15.99, Tyndale House, softcover) particularly resonated with me because, in my family, the evening dinner always began at 5 PM and, since my Mother was a teacher of gourmet cooking, it was always a special treat. More importantly, it was an opportunity for my older brother, myself and my parents to exchange information that was useful to them and to us. It created a strong bond, built on good food, camaraderie, and love. If dinner hour at your home is a scattershot affair, you need to read this book and benefit from it. Keeping Your Child in Mind by Dr. Claudia M. Gold, MD, ($15.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) focuses more on “what to be” as a parent, as opposed to “what to do” with children. A pediatric physician, the author bring a lot of experience and knowledge that helps the reader understand the world from the child’s perspective so that various behavior problems can quickly and effectively be addressed while controlling one’s own strong emotions. The book looks at various ages and stages of development, imparting excellent advice that will make the job of parenting much easier.

Bullying has become a major problem at schools and this particularly affects teenagers. Every parent wants to help their bullied teenager and Hey, Back Off: Tips for Stopping Teen Harassment by Jennie Withers with Phyllis Hendrickson, M.Ed. ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) is filled with advice that provides tens and parents the proven tools, tips and strategies to stop bullying as well as ways to prevent them from becoming bullies. In an age of cell phones, texting, and social networks like Facebook, there has been a rise in this behavior and it behooves all concerned parents to learn what to do.

Kid’s Books

How was it that early pioneers on isolated farms or in towns where one school taught all ages were able to teach an entire generation or two of children how to read and do their sums when today’s schools often pass them through, totally illiterate, to graduation? And what role do parent’s play in encouraging youngsters to acquire a love of reading? Given the vast quantity of new and existing books for younger readers, including pre-schoolers, there is no excuse for this.

One of my favorite publishing houses for younger readers is American Girl and it is, of course, directed at girls and their particular interests. They have a number of excellent new books for the autumn. Among them are Stand Up for Yourself Journal ($9.95) that offers quizzes and questions to help girls stand strong against bullying. Feeling Great: A Girl’s Guide to Fitness, Friends & Fun ($8.95) discusses various strength exercises, yoga poses, and games for girls to explore for a healthier lifestyle. These girls, ages 7 to 10, will also enjoy A Crafty Girl’s Planner ($9.95) that is filled with ideas of things to make and do that are far more fun than just staring at the television. In a similar fashion Just Grandma and Me ($10,95) offers lots of ideas that girls can do with their grandmothers to create a bond and memories that will last a lifetime. The reader age 8 to 11 will enjoy the Innerstar University series that includes A Surprise Find and Dive Right In ($8.95 each) that explore sharing and how to accept someone more talented or skilled into your life. Growing up is filled with questions and challenges and A Smart Girl’s Guide to Knowing What to Say: Finding the Words to Fit Any Situation ($9.95) is a great way to prepare a girl to deal with all kinds of situations from asking a teacher for help to standing up to a bully.

Another favorite children’s book house I like is Kids Can Press. They, too, have a raft of new books for kids. Reaching by Judy Ann Sadler and illustrated by Susan Mitchell ($16.95) uses rhyming verse to describe a sunny afternoon with the family as a baby experiences new things and is helped in many ways. A young child with a new baby in the family would benefit greatly from having this read or, as a early reader, reading it on their own. Just for fun, there’s Binky Under Pressure by Ashley Spires ($16.95), part of a popular series about a cat. Told largely through cartoons, it follows his adventures adjusting to another cat in the house and is very funny. Another cartoon book is Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget by the prolific and talented Bill Slavin ($16.95) who writes and illustrates his books. Otto has a good memory and cannot stop thinking about his long lost friend, Georgie, a chimp, snatched from the jungle. With his parrot pal, Crackers, they set off for America to find him and thus begins a hilarious story for the younger reader, Cartoons are also the format for Luz Sees the Light by Claudia Davila ($16.95) that explores when a blackout occurs and her mother experiences financial difficulties, introducing Luz and the reader to a future with less of everything. Finally, there’s Space Tourism for the Machines of the Future series. Written by Peter McMahon and illustrated by Andy Mora, it not only discusses future space flight, but offers some fun projects to demonstrate things like gravity and propulsion for those ages 8 to 12.

From Tanglewood Books comes Ashlee Fletcher’s first book for children, My Dog, My Cat ($13.95) that’s perfect for the earliest readers, preschoolers or those just learning their ABCs and words as it explores the pet lovers’ views of whether dogs or cats are their preferred pet. It is very simple and direct with illustrations by the author that any child will enjoy. From Reader’s Digest came two books for youngsters, Write (Or Is That ‘Right’?) Every Time by Lottie Stride ($9.95) and My Grammar and I…Or Should That Be Me? How to Speak and Write It Right by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines ($14.95) that take the mystery out of writing and speaking correctly and well. Perhaps no other two skills separate winners from losers in this society and these two books would be a terrific help to so many students passing through elementary and high schools these days without grasping the importance of the many elements of the language to determine sentence structure and of grammar, the proper way of speaking and writing.

Love jazz? Want to pass that love along to your children? Then pick up a copy of Anna Harwell Celenza’s wonderful book, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite ($19.95, Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA), illustrated by Don Tate and it includes a CD recording! Together with his friend, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington composed, orchestrated, and recorded some of the greatest jazz classics. When offered a recording contract and told he could do anything he wanted, Strayhorn, a classically trained musician, playfully suggested he do a version of the Nutcracker Suite and soon enough the Sugar Plum Fairy became the Sugar Rum Cherry! This one is a keeper!

Novels, Novels, Novels

Though it may be hard to believe, I receive one or two emails daily from authors who have published their own books. This trend has been increasing over the years and, in particular, for novels. It is understandable that many do not wish to put themselves through the meat grinder process involved. Unspoken in this rush to self-publish, however, is the fact that most will not likely sell any copies, even if they turn them into e-books. The market place is over-saturated and one good way to know if a novel has any merit whatever is whether a mainstream publisher, large or small, has published it.

The popularity of the new film version of Planet of the Apes may well be reflected in J.E. Fishman’s new novel, Primacy ($24.95, Verbitrage). The novel takes readers from New York’s Central Park to the jungles of the Congo River where researcher Liane Vinson discovers that her bonobo Bea has begun to communicate to other bonobos in a decipherable language. She is a monkey Liane had once performed chemical and genetic testing, but Bea knows secrets that must never see the light of day. Major ethical questions arise. Does she have a memory? Can she decipher human language? The author raises questions about the experimentation on animals, vertebrates, but the reader needs to also know that major medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs have resulted from such science. Suffice to say that animal rights advocates will love this book and there’s enough suspenseful action to please the general reader. A very different story is told in Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side ($24.95, Viking) just out this month. The narrator is 81-year-old Lilly Bere. As a teenager Lilly and her fiancĂ©, Tadg Bere, were forced to flee Ireland under threat of death from the IRA. They came to America where they settle in Chicago where Tadg is brutally murdered. Lilly moves to Cleveland where she marries, finds happiness, enduring the Depression and World War II. Becoming pregnant at 43, her husband mysteriously disappears and Lilly moves to Washington, DC where she finds work as a cook for a wealthy family and raises her son. This novel is just one tragedy upon another as Lilly strives to survive against the odds.

Wunderkind by Nikolai Grozni ($24.00, Free Press) is drawn from the author’s life as a piano prodigy growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Sofia, Bulgaria. As a teenager he wins a competition that gives him the opportunity to stay with a welcoming Italian host-family during which he becomes fully aware of the oppression under a communist government’s social and psychic dictatorship. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the author left for the United States where he studied jazz and composition. For a look at life under communism, this book provides many insights, enough to make the reader value the freedoms we take for granted in America. World War Two is the background for Klara by Joseph Leary ($14.95, Dog Ear Publishing, softcover). Set in the 1970s America, it is a look at the thousands of Polish, Ukrainian and other residents of Chicago’s ethnic enclaves, many of whom escaped the horrors in their homelands during World War Two. A seemingly kind Ukrainian carpenter, a single parent raising his young daughter, comes under suspicion of having been a truck driver who transported children to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. Klara’s memories of her escape are beginning to invade her dreams. The novel looks at the way decent, hard-working people who had experienced unfathomable horrors tried to forget a past that confronts them years later and how a local parish becomes the center for that past. It is a powerful story.

Heaps of softcover novels stack up each month. Here is a selection from among them.

Winner of the prestigious Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger ($15.00, Touchstone-Simon and Schuster) marks the author’s American debut novel. Based on the real lives of famed traveler, Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, the novel takes the reader on a journey from the high society of Victorian England to the uncharted far reaches of Egypt’s Nile Valley. A bout of tuberculosis causes the move to a drier climate. In Cairo, she and her maid, Sally Naldrett, are joined by Omar as a servant and guide as they travel to Luxor. Lady Duff goes native, begins language lessons, and throws herself into weekly salons with local community leaders. Sally finds romance and, when she asks for more freedom than her status permits, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing. This is a great read. The Price of Guilt by Patrick M. Garry ($17.50, Kenric Books) marks the sixth or seventh novel this author has written. It is a modern morality tale with a suspenseful plot that explores the destructiveness of misguided guilt. It is told as a flashback as Thomas Walsh sits in a jail cell. An accident that occurred when he was age 12, one that left a classmate blind and orphaned has plagued Walsh. Years later as a prominent lawyer, though reeling from a recent political scandal and mired in marital problems, Walsh seeks out his childhood friend only to become drawn into events that leave him wondering who was really the blind one. I previously reviewed Garry’s “A Bomb Shelter Romance”, and he continues to demonstrate he is one of America’s best unknown novelists!

The British seem to have a special gene in the DNA when it comes to novels, both serious and fanciful. Helen Smith is testimony to this with her new novel, Alison Wonderland ($13.99, Amazon Encore) which is set in today’s London. After discovering her husband has been unfaithful, 20-something Alison divorces him and joins an all-female detective agency. Though exciting and fulfilling at first, Alison grows bored by the routine of catching cheating spouses. It convinces her not to wait around for “Mr. Wonderful.” Then she is put on an odd case involving genetic testing and animal mistreatment. Suffice to say it is filled with memorable characters as Alison and her friend Taron become involved with some scary folks, their evil projects, and the prospect of new romance. Two Amazon Encore novels take the reader to places in America rarely visited. The Dummy Line by Bobby Cole ($13.95) is a white-knuckle ride into the backwoods of Alabama where a man must either kill or watch his only daughter be killed. What should have been a spring evening spent shooting pool with his tomboyish, clever daughter turns into a life and death nightmare in which Jake Crosby must put his hunter’s and backwoods skills to work in a cat-and-mouse thriller. In Johnny Shaw’s Dove Season($13.95) Jimmy Veecher heads home to the Imperial Valley, a hotbed for Mexican border crossings to visit his ailing father Big Jake one last time. When asked to locate a Mexican prostitute, Yolanda, he is joined by his friend Bobby Maves, to fulfill his father’s request to bring her to him. Mission performed, he wakes up days later with a huge hangover to discover that Yolanda’s body has been found floating at the bottom of a cistern. It gets very busy for Jimmy after that and I will not spoil the fun with more details.

That’s it for September! Tell your book loving friends and family members about Bookviews.com and come back in October for more news about the latest in non-fiction and fiction books hot off the presses.

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