Friday, September 30, 2011

Bookviews - October 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding member of the National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

If you want to understand why there is so much unemployment in America these days or why Red China has the ability to destroy our financial system, you need to read Peter Navarro’s and Greg Autry’s Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action ($25.99, Prentice Hall). No single book that I have read in recent years so clearly describes how Red China has set upon a strategy to dominate manufacturing through currency manipulation and the willful refusal to abide by World Trade Organization rules. Allowed to get away with this by the U.S. and other nations, it is acting in a criminal fashion on so many levels that it boggles the mind. The great service this book performs is to reveal what it is actually doing as opposed to the myth that its 1.3 billion population represents a great new market for the U.S. and others. Quite the contrary, most are so poor they cannot afford the products we export. How bad is it?

“In terms of absolute size, America imports almost $1 billion a day more than it exports from China every business day of the year.” That’s a massive outflow of our money and it is often for products that are lethal, ranging from adulterating vitamins and pharmaceuticals, food produced under unsanitary polluted conditions, and products that can burst into flame. This book should be read by every member of Congress, in the White House, and what is left of America’s industrial base. We must disengage from China before there is only a hollowed out America with millions of unemployed citizens.

If you find Pakistan a confusing, unpredictable place, then I recommend you read John R. Schmidt’s book, The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad ($27.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Schmid had a thirty-year career in the U.S. diplomatic service and spent several years stationed in Islamabad. For most Americans, trying to figure out if Pakistan is an ally or not depends on what day of the week it is. Internally, Pakistan is a feudal nation with patronage being the primary relationship between a handful of landed, wealthy families and the rest of the population. Political power is sought in order to be able to dole out favors. The overall welfare of the nation takes a distant second place to that. Moreover, the various governments used the Taliban as a proxy to control its neighbor Afghanistan, only to have them threaten its own government. An obsessive fear of India has dictated most of its foreign policy since it was founded in 1947 and the army is about the only stable factor the nation can depend upon. This book will give you more insight to Pakistan than you could ever get trying to parse the daily headlines.

Grand Theft Auto: How Entrepreneurs Fought for the American Dream ($26.95, New Year Publishing, Danville, CA) by Alan and Alison Spitzer provides more insight into the way two auto manufacturers and the present administration in Washington, D.C. that bailed them out attempted to deprive their franchised dealerships of their businesses and lost. It is the story of how those dealerships, many of which had been passed down from grandparent to parent to children, all involving the investment of huge amounts of money to maintain, all independent businesses who are the actual purchasers of cars and trucks, were arbitrarily told they were terminated. The insanity of the bailout and subsequent bankruptcy proceedings was that the administration’s Auto Task Force was that the dealerships were the lifeblood of the manufacturers, their market. People purchase cars from dealership, not direct from the manufacturers. As the book reveals, there never was a rationale for terminating a business relationship that the states had long recognized as binding. Rather than lose everything into which their family, from father to son, had poured their lives, Alan Spitzer fought back, along with other dealers whom they organized in a grassroots effort, they achieved a miracle; a bipartisan piece of legislation passed by the Congress to restore their rights. The book is a chilling look at the arrogance of Chrysler and General Motors, combined with a task force of bureaucrats with no experience in the auto industry. It is an inspiring look at what can be done when Americans band together and demand justice for themselves, their thousands of employees, and ultimately their customers.

Economics is often called the dismal science and we have seen over the decades since the days of Roosevelt and other presidents that the advice they received from economic advisors was flawed and often very wrong. The U.S. is now the greatest debtor nation on earth, thanks in part from the advice the present occupant of the Oval Office has received. That’s why Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics ($28.95, W.W. Norton) is a very worthy book to read. It tells the story of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrick Hayek, two economists whose views of the role government should play in a nation’s economy sharply differed. Keynes favored government intervention to alleviate problems such as unemployment. Hayek favored less government, believing that the free market would solve the occasional recessions that occurred from the over-enthusiasm generally called “bubbles” and all bubbles burst. Keynes was 16 years the senior of Hayek and world famous, but Hayek, late in life, would receive a Nobel Prize for his theories. The failure of the communist Soviet Union proved Hayek correct, just as the rise of totalitarian governments following World War One would as well. Keynes’ legacy is Social Security and Medicare, two giant government programs sucking enormous amounts of money out of the private sector to be maintained. This book is well worth reading to understand our present dilemma and the crisis facing European nations as well.

Last year I reviewed “New Deal or Raw Deal?” by Burton Folsom, Jr. It was and, in my view, still is the best book I have read on this period in the nation’s history that spanned the Great Depression years of the 1930s. Michael Hiltzick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has written The New Deal: A Modern History ($30.00, Free Press) of the same period 80 years ago and come to some very different conclusions. Indeed, his take on that period and especially on Franklin D. Roosevelt are quite different from Folsom’s. In many ways it is an apologia for FDR, a rewrite of the many other books that examined this period that generally assert that FDR’s administrations actually extended and worsened the Depression with its hodge-podge of programs and its taxation policies. Astonishingly, Hiltzick asserts that FDR was in fact a conservative as were his remedies. Hiltzick has labored hard and produced a large book that is the reverse mirror image of the way most others perceived the Depression.

For those who seek new knowledge and new insights, to challenge their intellect, two such books will surely do so. There is probably no single threat to the future of America than the “global” efforts to bring it and all other nations under the control of organizations like the United Nations, the EU and the International Criminal Court. John Fonte poses the question Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? ($25.95, Encounter Books) A PhD in world history and director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Common Culture, Fonte examines the way “globalists”, including America’s leading progressive elites, are working to establish a “global rule of law.” We are seeing efforts to re-interpret the U.S. Constitution and impose so-called global law in its place and the result can only be a day on which Americans awake to discover that all the protections they have taken for granted have vanished. In many examples drawn from around the world, this book issues a warning that must be heeded. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John R. Bolton, says “John Fonte’s comprehensive dissection of the global governance impulse should be required reading for anyone interested in preserving America’s constitutional freedoms.” The other intellectual challenge is found in Five Foundations of Human Development by Errol Gibbs and Philip Gray ($25.95, Author House, softcover). It is the result of eleven years of research and writing, and the combined travel experiences to 36 countries. It explores the question of whether our materially driven lives undermines the spiritual purpose of our existence. The authors, both Christians, examine five foundations, spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical that define our existence. Together they have spelled out a blueprint for the survival of humanity. Christians will find much to enjoy in this book as they are its intended readers.

Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World by Maria Armoudian ($25.00, Prometheus Books) explores a question of great importance insofar as print and broadcast media have played a role in three deadly conflicts, Nazi Germany, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. The author documents how the media were used to spread hate that resulted in the Holocaust and the genocides in the latter two nations. Then she discusses how the media acted constructively, citing its role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, rebuilding democracy in Chile, and bridging ethnic divides in South Africa. This is an interesting exploration of how the media interact with psychological and cultural forces.

Offbeat, Interesting Books

I have never been in a fight in my life, but I have come close. For most of us, the prospect is slim unless we live in places where fights are common. For those people, I recommend How to Win a Fight: A Guide to Surviving Violence by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder ($17.00, Gotham Books, softcover) both of whom are veteran martial arts instructors. The lessons the book offers begin with knowing how to avoid violence. In the military, it’s called situational awareness, spotting trouble. Other lessons include how to stave off violence ranging from non-lethal to lethal force. There are self-defense tips and seven mistakes to avoid in a fight. I would recommend this book to everyone for its advice and the peace of mind that comes with it.

For film lovers, the publication of Leonard Maltin’s 2012 Movie Guide ($20.00, Plume, softcover) is an annual treat, filled with information of the many new films that have debuted in the previous year and tons of news about virtually every film including the older classics. The 2012 edition has nearly 17,000 entries that include more than 300 new ones, plus listings of more than 12,000 DVD and 12,000 videos. The guide includes an updated index of leading performers and directors, along with Maltin’s all-new theatrical recommendations. This book is virtually indispensable for anyone who loves films, old and new. Hollywood, the military, even criminals along withother aspects of our culture have gifted us with all manner of phrases that have been incorporated into our daily conversations. Alan Axelrod has gathered them together in The Cheaper the Crook, the Gaudier the Patter: Forgotten Hipster Lines, Tough Guy Talk, and Jive Gems ($12.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover) that is great fun if you’re a language buff. Terms like “drugstore cowboy”, “button man”, “Glad rags”, and many more can be found in its pages, gathered from World Wars One and Two, the Depression, prohibition, and the Jazz Age.

With the kids back in school, parents often find themselves being asked questions about subjects they have long forgotten from their school days. Two books have some fun with this. I Used to Know That: Geography – Stuff Your Forgot from School by Will Williams and Caroline Taggart ($14.95, Reader’s Digest) covers a wide range of geography-related topics in easy, short takes that are an entire education that can be easily read and enjoyed to the point where your kids and others will think you’re some kind of genius. This makes learning fun! Why Read Moby-Dick? By Nathaniel Philbrick ($25.00, Viking) answers a question that even grownups ask. Indisputably one of the great American novels, the length and its esoteric subject matter are daunting. Philbrick loves the novel and he skillfully navigates Melville’s world, providing insight to the book’s humor and unforgettable characters, finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our present time. Who knows? You may actually read the novel!

Biographies, Etc

My friend, Dr. Alma Bond, was a psychoanalyst for 37 years. While she still has a limited practice, based on the Freudian theories, she has in more recent years devoted herself to writing books that are quite distinctive and which demonstrate her powerful imagination. Her latest will no doubt fascinate fans of the late Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy who became an icon of the 1960s when her husband Jack was President until his assassination. The public could not get enough of her. She was beautiful, intelligent, the mother of two, married into the already famed Kennedy clan.. The assassination changed much. She married the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis and when that marriage failed, her companion became a stout, adoring Wall Streeter, Maurice Templeton. She took a position as a book editor and, at the age of 63, non-Hodgkins lymphoma took her life. Throughout her life she protected her privacy, but now Dr. Bond has written a unique “autobiography” for her, Jackie O On the Couch, ($21.99, Bancroft Press) that she never wrote herself, bringing the events and personalities in her life to the reader in her voice. This is an audacious literary project, based on fact, but a work of fiction and Dr. Bond pulls it off. Anyone who lived through those years and was a fan of Jackie will greatly enjoy this book.

Lovers of rock and roll and fans of the Eagles are going to want to find Eagles: Taking it to the Limit by Ben Fong-Torres in their Christmas stocking. ($30.00, Running Press). Just out this month, it’s a large format, coffee table book to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation. It’s been a long trip from the bar of the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1971 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The author is renowned for his many books on the music scene and the book is handsomely and extensively illustrated with many photos from the past four decades, along with an excellent text. Responsible for many classics, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, Desperado”, “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town”, the band spent ten years together living the rock and roll dream, but in addition to the constant touring, there were the usual tensions and fights that go with that lifestyle. It’s a great story, captured between two covers.

Coming in November is Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen by Robert J. Wiersema ($16.95, Graystone Books) that is a rock journey through twenty years of the author’s life set to the Springstein’s music. The author is emblematic of Springstein’s fans, seeing him as the paragon of all that is cool in the world of rock and roll. He brings good credentials to the book having authored two novels, been a reviewer and independent bookseller. Immersed in Springstein’s music, he is the reason the word “fan” is rooted in the word “fanatic.” This is an autobiographical tale of someone who, like others, marked the highs and lows of his life with Springstein’s music. It is the story of his coming of age along with many others, celebrating the music of his favorite performer.

Also from the world of entertainment, for fans of Lucille Ball there’s I Love Lucy: A Celebration of All Things Lucy by Elizabeth Edwards ($30.00, Running Press), a big coffee-table book out this month for the 60th anniversary of her television show and what would have been Lucy’s 100th birthday. It is filled with everything one could imagine or hope for regarding the show and its star, photos, character bios, music lyrics, and even recipes featured on the show. Many of the unforgettable episodes are presented in thumb-nail sketches. The author has worked with the Arnaz family since 1992 and this is the culmination of two previous Lucy-related books. For those of a certain age who look back fondly on this television icon and the laugh-filled show that is still in re-runs today, there’s a lot to enjoy.

The name Leonardo Da Vinci is so well known that we give it little thought beyond the fact that he was a remarkable figure in history. Indeed, we may not even know what his contributions were! Stefan Klein has corrected that with Leonardo’s Legacy: How Da Vinci Reimagined the World, now in paperback ($16.00, Da Capo Press). A painter, sculptor, scientists, inventor, and writer, his discoveries changed history. With each chapter, another invention and another facet of Da Vinci’s endless imagination are explored. Klein is a leading European science writer and anyone with a love of history and science will quickly find themselves drawn into a distant time in which this giant intellect and talent transformed the world in ways we still experience today. As noted last month, Paul Johnson has written Socrates: A Man for Our Times ($25.95, Viking), now officially on sale. Johnson is a noted historian and he brings the Greek philosopher and the times in which he lived to life. It’s a visit to the fifth century B.C. and the life of a man whose thoughts helped shape our actions and our understanding of the body and soul. The author has taken an ancient, iconic figure and made of him a living, breathing individual, albeit and intellectual giant. All of Western civilization is indebted to him.

A very different and thoroughly delightful memoir is found in Zelda, the Queen of Paris: The True Story of the Luckiest Dog in the World by Paul Chutkow ($22.95, Globe Pequot Press). A journalist, Chutkow was working in India when Indira Gandhi was in charge. Zelda adopted Chutkow and became a steadfast companion to the author, his wife, and newborn son because of her “boundless courage, humor and high spirits.” The Hindus believe in reincarnation and Zelda may have been someone with the same traits. She came along when the family was reassigned to Paris where, at first, Parisians considered Zelda a ragamuffin, but she developed a taste for Camembert cheese, warm croissants, and homemade borscht. When Zelda helped police apprehend a burglar, she became the “Queen of Paris” and “very picture of European refinement. In time, she journeyed to America as well. This is a story anyone who has ever loved a dog will love.

Getting Down to Business

Once past Labor Day people get serious about doing business, hoping to gin up profits before the end of the year. There are, of course, always books ready to offer all manner of advice.

Building A Winning Business by Tom Salonek is useful for its pragmatic approach ($9.95, softcover, as it focuses on 70 “takeaways” that will improve anyone’s management skills. Based on his own experience and his father’s advice on how to work with people, the author shares how he grew his own company from $2 million in annual revenue to more than $10 million, despite the burst of the technology bubble and the worst recession of our time. He offers succinct, good advice on the fundamentals of hiring and managing employees, identifying top talent, and weeding out those with poor performance. I have seen a lot of books filled with management advice, often twice or three times as thick as this one, but this book delivers the goods. Joe Banda asks whether you are a leader and then answers with his book, You are a Leader ($14.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover). A slim volume, the book uses historical and political examples of why anyone can become an effective leader by tapping qualities they have, believing in themselves, and taking charge. It is a conventional book of unconventional wisdom that explores ten intangible qualities that exist in everyone.

Creating the right environment for work starts with the office and Smart Office Organizing: Simple Strategies for Bringing Order to Your Workspace by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims ($13.99, Revell, softcover) will prove very helpful to those whose offices are a mess with piles of paper, files that need organizing, and represent the pressures of time and project management. It is filled with advice on how to use organizational tools, taking advantage of electronic advances, and to maintain control. If you or someone you know has this problem, this book is the answer. It seems obvious, but Michelle Tillis Lederman has written The 11 Laws of Likeability ($16.95, Amacom, softcover) that takes a look at the fact that online job boards and LinkedIn still do not substitute for face to face actual conversations and are the key to finding and keeping a job. An expert on effective business and interpersonal communications, the author shows how networking can be easy, enjoyable, and beneficial to job goals. Citing a survey that said 41% of more than 59,000 new employees credited personal networking as a critical job-hunting method. Her book is full of advice on how to develop the skills necessary. I have a friend who has built a business on such personal contact and it works.

In these times lots of people are paying close attention to their personal finances and to help them Paul A. Tucci has written The Handy Personal Finance Answer Book ($19.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover). His book avoids jargon while providing some good, fundamental advice anyone can apply. Combining recent data and findings, the book features financial information suitable for a wide range of ages and is particularly useful to the neophyte, perhaps just out of college or starting a new career or business. These are things rarely taught in school at any level. How do you balance your check book? What are the most common mistakes investors make? What should one consider before investing? And much, much more. To get real control over your financial life and your future, this is an excellent book. A useful book for those who have over-used their credit cards is Harvey Z. Warren’s Drop Debt: Surviving Credit Card Hell Without Bankruptcy ($14.95, Greenleaf Book Group Press, softcover). Warren, a debt relief expert has helped thousands of families find relief from debt and has written a book that will help the reader negotiate with creditors, explains why minimum payments on your credit card debt can hurt your credit rating, how to use a debt-settlement company, and much more. This is the kind of critical information that those in debt need when they are feeling the pressure and often desperate to find a way out. Instead of making more bad decisions, the book steers the reader in the right direction.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally by Alice Feiring ($24.00, Da Capo Press) reminded me of my Mother, an international authority on wines and the way she would tell her students that wine naturally throws off all impurities during the fermentation process and why it offers so many benefits to health. The author, a food and wine journalist, tells of a growing movement to champion natural wines that avoid any additives. She’s no fan of many California and other wines she regards as “over-ripe, over-manipulated, and over-blown.” She worries that wine has become “an industry”, but the fact is that there has long been a growing global demand for wine and the insistence on “organic” wine and food ignores the obvious fact that food is organic and combined to enhance its taste. That’s why, for example, we love sauces. When it comes to wine, quality and taste always comes down to the grapes and the soil in which they are grown. In the end, the author comes off as a wine and food snob.

For those vegetarians and vegans out there, Brandan Brazier has written Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health ($20.00, Da Capo Press, softcover). It is also fairly idiotic in that he is so environmentally correct, the author discusses what foods use the least amount of natural resources to produce, require little “of our dwindling water supply, and cause a minimal amount of pollution.” Does any really care about such things when putting together the evening meal? Does it matter to anyone that farmers are probably more concerned about such things than you? They are not in the business of running up the water bill if Mother Nature will provide some rain. They are not in the business of polluting the food crops on which they depend. That said, there are some 200 recipes in this book, but you’d probably enjoy even tastier ones if you bought another cookbook. That brings me to Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook ($18.95, Kensington Publishing Corp). Fluke is best known for her mysteries featuring Minnesota bake shop owner Hannah Swensen. The cookbook is a compilation of recipes from mysteries and some vignettes involving the fictional Lake Eden characters. Fluke’s novels have names like “Cherry Cheesecake Murder” and “Key Lime Pie Murder.” All very entertaining for sure, particularly for fans of her novels, but the recipes are mouth-wateringly good and are mostly traditional favorites of every description cookies, cakes and pies. This one’s a keeper.

War! War! War!

War has generated books going back to the earliest accounts of such conflicts. In our era, the most epic war was World War II and it has spawned accounts at all levels from generals to privates.

General George S. Patton, Jr. was one of WWII’s greatest generals and one in whom the Germans took a great interest. Fighting Patton: George S. Patton, Jr. Through the Eyes of His Enemies by Harry Yeide ($30.00, Zenith Press) is a thick history and biography of a man who Hollywood immortalized in film. His real life equaled and surpassed that drama. At the age of five he told his parents he intended to be “a great general” and he did. He studied war like others study music or architecture. It was his passion. This book is the first to examine the legendary general through the eyes of his opposing generals, the Germans who devoted time and effort to know as much as possible about him and, during the conflict, where he was and where he was headed. They had good reason because he was instrumental in their defeat. This book is a wonderful piece of history on many levels by an author who understands the story of the mechanized cavalry—tanks—and the men who drove them into historic battles. Patton’s armored division was a key player in one of those battles that turned the tide for the allies in WWII was the Battle of the Bulge. Michael Collins and Martin King have written Voices of the Bulge ($28.00, Zenith Press) that is told through numerous first-person accounts of American officers and enlisted personnel who successfully repelled the German attack that was intended to shift the momentum of a fading war back in German hands. Almost a million men eventually took part in the conflict that generated unfathomable casualties. The book comes with a DVD that, together, is a fitting tribute to the men who made the ultimate sacrifice and the veterans who lived to tell their story.

In the Pacific theatre of World War II, the untold story of B-24s is told in Finish Forty and Home by Phil Scearce ($24.95, University of North Texas Press). In the early years of WWII in the Pacific, against overwhelming odds, young American airmen flew the longest and most perilous bombing missions of the war, often facing Japanese fighters without fighter escort, relentless anti-aircraft fire, and all while covering thousands of miles over water with no alternative landing sites. Scearce tells the true story of the men and missions of the 11th Bombardment Group as it fought alone and unheralded in the South Central Pacific. It is an homage to his father, Sgt. Herman Scearce who, at age 16, lied about his age to join the Army Air Corps. This book takes you back to a time when Americans were more engaged in the war in Europe, before the island campaigns that brought our Pacific force closer to Japan and the ultimate end of the war. The bombardment of Wake Island, Tarawa, and finally Iwo Jima made that possible. It took great courage and the 42nd Squadron lost nearly half its men through 1943. Another chapter in the Pacific is told by Joseph A. Springer in Inferno: The Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II (19.95, Zenith Press, softcover). On March 19, 1945, off the coast of Japan, the USS Franklin had just launched its aircraft for an attack on the shipping industry in Kobe Harbor. A single enemy aircraft came out of the cloud cover and, in a matter of second, its bomb would strike the Franklin, setting off a chain reaction of exploding ordnance and aviation fuel. More than a thousand died or were wounded. Listing heavily to starboard, it seemed the great ship was doomed, but the remaining crew of Big Ben, officers and enlisted men, volunteers to remain on board to save the ship as the USS Santa Fe came along side to rescue the wounded and nonessential personnel. The ship made an arduous journey from Okinawa to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in a great story of endurance and seamanship for a great chapter in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Children’s Books

Children’s stories have been part of the cultural heritage of all nations. A Norse tale, Sister Bear ($17.99, Marshall Cavendish Children) as retold by Jane Yolen and beautifully illustrated by Linda Graves is the story of Halva who finds a bear cub alone in the woods and brings her home to raise. Sister Bear becomes part of the family and saves Halva from some terrible trolls at one point. Ideal for ages 5 through 8. For a slightly young set, there’s Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters ($14.99, Candlewick Press) about two like human kids go to school, play outside, take a bath, and finally settle down to sleep. It’s a cute and clever way to debunk fears. For the same ages comes The Cave Monster by Thomas and Peter Weck ($15.95, Lima Bear Press) When Joe Bean, Lima Bear’s cousin, has been captured by the Cave Monster, Lima must rescue him from the Black Cave. It has a happy ending and a lesson about facing up to one’s fears.

Goosebottom Books has an excellent series on famous and infamous women from history. It’s called “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames” and the books are devoted to six women who wielded great power. The series includes Cleopatra, Agrippina, Mary Tudor, Catherine de’ Medici, Marie Antoinette, and Cixi, the last empress of China. Aimed at ages 9-13, well written by different authors and illustrated by Peter Malone, they are priced at $18.95 each. There is a world of history in each and, even though the women featured were wicked in their own way, there are many lessons to take from this series. Caldecott Medalist and bestselling illustrator Ed Young has created a poignant and powerful memoir of his childhood home in China and the house his father built. The House Babe Built ($17.95, Little Brown). As war clouds gathered over Shanghai, Baba’s home provided a place for the Young family, cousins, friends, and refugees, a place indeed of refuge. It is not just Young’s youth, but a history lesson that is beautifully told and a feast for the eyes of youngsters ages six to ten, as well as youngsters of all ages.

Two unique children’s books address the issue involving illness. The Princess and the Peanut ($15.95, Wild Indigo Publishing) deals with life-threatening peanut allergies. It helps the reader with food allergies understand they are not alone and that their lives to do not have to be defined by their condition. In a similar fashion, Even Superheroes Get Diabetes has the same theme. Written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and illustrated by Micah Chambers-Goldberg, they will prove especially helpful to parents with children who have medical problems.

Nicole Haas has been writing poetry since she was a young girl and now she’s the mother of Wyatt and Cody. For the very young, she’s written a clever, rhymed tale, Freedom Bee, a Hive Story ($8.99, Tate Publishing, Mustang, OK) about a hive whose queen bee begins to demand all the pollen for herself, resulting in the worker bees losing interest in gathering it. The old hive collapses, a new one is built, and the queen learns her lesson. Along with its eye-catching illustrations, it’s a way to teach a useful lesson about individual freedom. In addition to the paper version, one can download a free audio version. Also for the pre-school set, Kathy M. Miller has authored and photographed a sequel to her first book about Chippy Chipmunk which garnered 15 national book awards. The new title is Babies in the Garden ($19.95, Celtic Sunrise) that is filled with more than 80 photos of the first days of chipmunks out of the burrow. Children 4 and older will enjoy this story of four chipmunks as they encounter birds, butterflies, rabbits, and even the resident cat!

Novels, Novels, Novels

Humans seem to have a need to tell stories. I receive far more novels than I could ever take notice of in this monthly report. The best I can hope for is to share word of some of the best that arrive daily.

The cliché is “ripped from the headlines”, but it fits Amil Imani’s new novel, written with Cyrus Azad, Operation Persian Gulf, ($16.99,, softcover) because the reader learns more about Iran, its “mad mullahs”, and its quest to acquire nuclear weapons, than one might otherwise learn by reading various newspaper headlines. The novel is about a small team of Iranian-Americans whose deep love for their former homeland drives them to fulfill a daring scheme to disable Iran’s newly activated nuclear facility at Bushehr in order to delay the weaponizing of its waste product. In that regard it is an old-fashioned thriller, filled with assassination teams, and other mayhem, but this novel is endorsed by one of the foremost authorities and authors on Islam, Robert Spencer, and Pamela Geller, a noted commentator on current events. The novel is so up-to-date it includes references to the Stuxnet virus that was planted in Iranian facilities’ computers for the same objective, to slow its relentless effort to secure nuclear weapons. That would be a major game-changer. This novel is a highly entertaining way to learn why Iran’s people live as hostages to their dictatorial mullahs and why a potential Armageddon must be avoided.

Black as Snow by Nick Nolan is his third novel ($13.95, Amazon Encore, softcover). It is a modern-day deconstruction of Snow White and one, to repeat a cliché, “ripped from the headlines.” The novel’s main character leads a religious cult and, unfortunately for him, he finds himself mixed up with fanatics who are anticipating his demise and the end of the world. Sebastian Black is blessed with good looks, loads of charm, and a talent for telepathy. His mother is a prophetess, Kitty Black, and together they have forged a spiritual movement that warns of mass extinction. Suffice to say this novel has more twists and turns than a corkscrew and you will turn the pages as fast as you can to find out what happens next. A very different story is told in Tom’s Wife by Alana Cash ($12.95, Hacienda Press, softcover). Set during the Great Depression, it is the story of a very unhappy wife, a dirt-poor family, and Annie who is married to Tom, a coal miner who leaves her to tend to his farm with all the chores that involves. Despite visits from her friend Twila, life is bleak and lonely until a peddler named Jake Stern shows up to sell “notions.” After that, everything on the farm belongs to Tom except Annie’s heart. This novel rings true on many levels and women will especially grasp its message.

Some novels take a long time to gestate and this is true of First the Torch by Richard Baker ($22.00, Well before the U.S. got involved in Vietnam, it was the French colonial forces that were facing the Viet Minh. The story, however, begins far from Vietnam in South Dakota where Bix is a young man who wants some adventure before he settles on the family farm. He meets French-educated Chau, a Vietnamese girl who has been victimized by the racism that could be found in early 1950s American culture. They become friends and Bix decides he should join the French Foreign Legion to help save Chau’s homeland from the communists. His best friend, Steve, joins him and both end up in Dien Bien Phu. Meanwhile Chau has changed side and joined the Viet Minh. The two friends discover how quickly life can change. The author served in Viet Nam where he was twice wounded. On his return home he held many jobs and earned a master’s degree in fiction writing, earning the Ernest Hemingway Award. He currently works as an editor of Vietnam Cultural Window in Hanoi. This is a “big novel” for the themes it tackles and the story it tells. The French lost the six month siege of Dien Bien Phu. The U.S. stepped in and, as they say, the rest is history.

For those who enjoy fantasy, K.V. Johansen has penned Black Dog ($17.00, PYR, an imprint of Prometheus Books, softcover). It is filled with necromancy, treachery, massacres, rebellions, and gods dead or lost or mad. A caravan guard, Holla-Sayan, escaping the bloody conquest of a lakeside town in a land where gods walk the hills and goddesses rise from the river, stops to help an abandoned child and a dying dog. The girl is the incarnation of Attalissa, goddess of Lissavakail, and the dog is a shape-changing guardian spirit. To read this book is to enter another land, one of fantasy, of danger, and page-turning adventure. Just out this month is Trespass by Rose Tremain ($14.95, W.W. Norton, softcover). It is a gothic tale by an award-winning novelist. It is a darkly drawn tale of sibling love, family hate, and of revenge, set against the backdrop of a crumbling stone farm in Southern France. The characters are flawed as a younger sister, Audrun, longs for the day when the farm and its home will be hers. Other characters add to the general madness that runs through the macabre story.

Women are at the core of two softcover novels that offer plenty of entertainment. Angela Sloan by James Whorton, Jr., ($14.00, Free Press) is a trip back to the 1970s with a winning 14-year-old heroine, the daughter of a former CIA agent who confronts a crazy cast of characters while maintaining her undercover identity. It is a rollicking story of a straight-faced innocent who is somehow both “wised up and clueless.” When her father goes underground she is left with few answers after she receives the keys to a Plymouth Scamp and a few sequentially numbered hundred-dollar bills. Despite trying to stay under the radar, strangers keep popping up. Trying to unravel what has happened to her father and the story is told as her account of what happened while she waited for get some answers. The novel is very funny and an homage to classic espionage tropes and insider lingo. A very different story is told in The Glass Harmonica-A Sensualist’s Tale by Dorothee E. Kocks ($16.00, Rosa Mira Books) that is set largely in New England in the heady period after the founding of America. Turns out that our Puritan predecessors weren’t always as virtuous as we’ve been led to believe. Indeed, about one in three brides in the 1700s showed up pregnant on their wedding day. The story follows an immigrant from Corsia, Chjara Valle, who scandalizes her American audiences with her playing of a glass harmonica, a musical instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin; in its day it as a sensation for its ethereal sound. Not only is Chjara pregnant when she marries, her husband runs a clandestine business in erotic books and goods. This is a novel about America’s first sexual revolution when half the population was under twenty years old and the ideas of freedom filled the air. It’s definitely not for the prudish.

That’s it for October! Come back in November as we look at some great books for Christmas giving and hours of pleasurable reading. Tell your book-loving friends and family about and bookmark it for news of books you may not learn about in the mainstream media.


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