Friday, October 28, 2011

Bookviews - November 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding member of the National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

With the headlines filled with news about the financial crisis in Europe, Dr. Johan Van Overtveldt has written The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union ($24.95, Agate Publishing, Evanston, IL). It is a timely analysis and, while international economics and business may not seem the most exciting topic, the Belgium-based economic journalist has made it one with a highly readable history of how and why the European Union came into being as a response to World War Two and the threat of Soviet domination. The euro’s fate is tied to the dysfunctional economies of Greece, Portugal, and Spain, and dependent on the decisions that Germany makes in the days and weeks ahead. The author makes a convincing case that Germany may well opt out of its support for the euro which, in turn, will impact the entire European monetary union. His examination of previous failures to unify Europe’s monetary systems suggests he may be right. In a way, the book is a testament to the value of national sovereignty and the need for nations to act responsibly to avoid deficit spending, particularly on socialist programs that redistribute wealth by heavily taxing their populations, retarding growth, punishing the middle class, and taking on too much debt. Since every nation is connected in some fashion to all the others, the fate of the EU is worth learning about.

With a global population of seven billion, issues involving food and disease are going to take on greater importance in the event millions begin to starve—they already are in North Korea—or if an epidemic threatens. In Three Famines: Starvation and Politics ($27.99, Public Affairs) Thomas Keneally takes a look at famine, not just natural causes such as crop failure and drought, but by man-made famines based on bad ideologies and attitudes. Looking at three devastating food shortages in modern history in Ireland and India, both ruled by England at the time, and in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, Keneally provides a portrait of famines that resulted in massive losses of life when a more sensible, compassionate, and moral response could have been taken. Those in administrative positions had the power to stop the suffering, but did not. This book is a reminder that administrative neglect and incompetence have been more lethal than the crop failures. Jonathan Bloom is on a crusade to get Americans to stop throwing out food which he calculates at 197 pounds of food a year. American Wasteland ($18.50, Lifelong Books, an imprint of Da Capo Press, softcover) is one of those tiresome books that blames Americans for enjoying a lifestyle of abundance and generally ignores the enormous export of grains, poultry, and meat we ship to other nations as an important element of our economy. Any time there’s a natural disaster somewhere, Americans send food and aid. Instead Bloom instructs not to keep our refrigerators full, why we should not buy food in bulk-sizes, and why we should monitor our eating habits. If all the fat people I see every day are evidence of waste, apparently a lot of food is being consumed as opposed to being thrown out. The great scourge of mankind has been malaria, the mosquito-born disease that kills some 800,000 every year in Africa, 38,000 in the Middle East, and 36,000 in Asia. Alex Perry has written Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time ($25.99, Public Affairs) in which he take the reader to some of the most malaria infested towns in the world. It is an often surprising portrait of modern Africa and the efforts being made to stamp out malaria, those in the past and present aid programs that are making breakthroughs. If we could go to the Moon, we can surely rid the world of malaria. All it requires is killing its agent, the mosquitoes, and we know how to do that.

I enjoy reading history and I am very fond of big, fat books. When you combine the two as Matthew White does in The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities ($35.00, W.W. Norton), you get a compelling look at history that reveals how it is defined as much by its horrors as by achievements. As history, the author makes clear that “destruction and creation are intimately intertwined. The fall of the Roman Empire cleared the way for medieval Europe.” Tying it all together are the mega-deaths whether they were the Crusades or the partition of India in the late 1940s, but the book includes conflicts we may not learn about in school or college, but which had a significant impact. We tend to know something of our own Civil War which was a bloodbath for both sides and how, in the last century, the destruction of human life was perfected from the First World War to the Second. Though its title aptly calls it a horror story, it is an impressive work of scholarship regarding the ways civilizations expanded or were conquered and disappeared. It is well worth reading. Another great big book is The Space Shuttle: Celebrating Thirty Years of NASA’s First Space Plane by Piers Bizony ($40.00, Zenith Press). It is a classic coffee table book, 10.5 x 11.25, 300 pages and filled with 900 color photos. In short, the perfect Christmas gift for someone who is an enthusiast for life and travel in outer space. In the 1980s, on assignment, I had the opportunity to visit the John F. Kennedy Space Center and tour the site where rockets and space shuttles were launched. I saw a shuttle up close and that is to say I saw a vehicle that was the size of a small building and marveled that it could be lifted beyond Earth’s gravity to circle the planet. One can only marvel at the courage of the crews that went aloft and the scientific and technological mastery that made it possible. This book is a keeper!

In 2007 I reviewed Jim Camp’s NO, The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home ($23.00, Crown Business) and it went on to become a bestseller. Camp is an internationally recognized negotiation coach. Now, Nightingale Conant, the leading producer of motivational and educational audiobooks, has published The Power of No: Negotiating Secrets the Pros Don’t Want You to Know ($99.00) in which the author shares his contrarian and results-oriented program that teaches how to avoid making deals based on being needy and emotional. There is no aspect of life in which we are not negotiating something and this audiobook will unlock the secrets of successful negotiation that will transform your life. It is the very essence of arriving at agreements that are an improvement over those first offers you receive or the dreaded “maybe” answer. In my view, whether you are a corporate executive, work in a governmental position, have responsibility for an organization of any kind, or just want to navigate successfully through life, this audiobook is a terrific investment. You can visit the website of the Camp Negotiation Institute to purchase it and, while there, learn how you can become a certified negotiation expert.

Regular visitors to Bookviews know that books of unique specificity also interest me. One such is My City, My New York: Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places by Jeryl Brunner ($12.95, Globe Pequot Press, softcover) in which more than 300 folks of varying degrees of fame, actors, literary types, the very rich, et cetera, explain why they could not live anywhere else. Mercifully the book is small or short enough not to exhaust the topic as their views are mostly one paragraph long. If you have a New Yorker in your life, this would make a great holiday gift. If they happen to love the Giants then you can also give them 100 Things Giants Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Dave Buscema ($13.95, Triumph Books, softcover). I ignore virtually all sports so all I can say is that this book appears to be the sum total of all useful and interesting information about the Giants. In the interest of fairness (and fun) Jets fans will enjoy Jets Underground by Jeff Freier ($14.95, Triumph Books, softcover) that is a far cry from the usual boring statistics. Instead, Freier treats the reader to a collection of the maddest and baddest of everything related to the NFL’s most colorful franchise. It is subtitled “Wahoo, Joe Willie, and the Swingin’, Swaggerin’ World of Gang Green.” It is very entertaining reading.

Tolstoy called The Iliad by Homer a miracle. Goethe said that it always thrust him into a state of astonishment. Homer’s epic poem is widely regarded as an essential element of an individual’s education though it has not been a part of most curriculums for a long time. Part of the problem have been previous translations, but Stephen Mitchell has remedies that with his translation of The Iliad ($35.00, Free Press) that brings to life its heroes, Achilles and Patroclus, Hector and Priam. Despite having been authored 2,700 years ago, this translation reminds us that war and all the human characteristics we regard as modern phenomenon existed long ago in ancient Greece. Mitchell has been widely hailed for his masterful translations and this one, I think, will be regarded as the capstone of his reputation. Simply stated, it is a marvelous story, filled with excitement, strong characters, and a plot that, despite its length, keeps one reading to its profoundly moving end.

Getting to Know Your Brain

By coincidence, a number of books regarding the workings of one’s brain have been published. In no particular order, let’s begin with What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). The former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a contributor to science journals, DiSalvo asks why do we routinely choose options that don’t meet our short-term needs and undermine our long-term goals? Why do we insist that we’re right when evidence contradicts us? Why do we yield to temptations that undermine our need to overcome addictions? His conclusion is that what our brains want is frequently not what your brain needs. This book is an excellent way to get to know how your brain (and everyone else’s) works and how to turn that awareness into the kind of action that yields a better life and better decisions about that life.

Your Brain on Childhood: The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan by Gabrielle Principe ($17.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) takes a look at the way, for most of humanity’s existence, childhood was spent in natural environments, out-of-doors, exploring the world. How different modern existence is with its artificial environments intended to make life easier and more secure for children, strapped into bouncy seats, sitting in front of a television set, playing with battery-operated toys, or interacting with computers. The perfect metaphor is the film 2001 where two astronauts had to deal with the computer HAL that tries to kill them. In basic terms, real childhood development comes from face-to-face communication and freewheeling pretend play. The strict regimen of school—which seem to begin a younger and younger ages is really designed for a society intent on developing a new generation of drones as opposed to freeing young minds to learn at their own pace. For today’s parents, this book is well worth reading. The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain by Thomas Armstrong, PhD ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) aims at eliminating negative terms and labels that put millions of people into categories of mental illness, often reducing their opportunity to make the most of one’s brain despite being said to have attention deficit problems (common to anyone bored to tears) or depression (which may be a perfectly rational response to tragedy or other challenges). In effect, the author redefines what are considered mental disorders, explaining why may of the world’s greatest thinkers from Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Ludwig van Beethoven, if they were alive today, would be labeled in this fashion. The book is filled with practical tips for employers, parents, and teachers to make the most of one’s neurodiverse brain. While acknowledging that the medical model has been helpful for people with serious mental disorders, his model is more flexible and more encouraging when it comes to understanding how the brain works.

Pieces Missing: A family’s journey of recovery from traumatic brain injury by Larry C. Kerpelmann, PhD ($16.00, Two Harbors Press, softcover) tells the story of the author’s wife, Joanie, who was out jogging when a freak fall caused her to sustain a traumatic brain injury. Their tranquil life became one of emergency room visits, two hospitalizations, one brain surgery, and months of rehabilitation. It is the story, too, of her determination to recover the pieces missing from her memory, speech, confidence, and joy of life. For those encountering such injuries and their families, it is a memoir of love, hope, family, healing and recovery. A similar memoir is that of Martin Magoun in Russian Roulette ($17.76, Wharfratbooks.com, softcover) who suffered from depression with insights to the way depressed people view the world, medical studies of depression, and its crippling affect on people. It is testimony that one can recover from a disorder that is fraught with ignorance and misunderstanding.

William Ian Miller has written Losing It whose entire title goes on to say “In which an aging professor laments his shrinking brain, which he flatters himself formerly did him noble service. A pliant, tragic-comical, historical, vengeful, sometimes satirical and thankful in six parts, if his memory does yet serve” ($27.00, Yale University Press.) I confess I requested it thinking it was about the affects of aging on the brain from a scientific point of view, but I found instead an intellectual examination of how old age was regarded in ancient civilizations, its pleasures and its indignities as youth gives way to natural decay, and how we cope with it these days. There are moments of pure delight in this book, but one needs to have an inclination for digressions and discussions of Icelandic sagas, references to Beowulf, Vikings, Hebraic, and many other elements of literature. If you are prepared to take a leisurely walk through questions regarding aging, then this book will provide much to illuminate one’s mind, so long, of course, you’re not losing it.

The most devastating definition of “losing it” is Alzheimer’s disease and the affect on the family can be as hard, if not more so, than its victim. Kerry Luksic grew up in a family of fifteen, her mother and father, and twelve siblings. Throughout it all, her mother was the source of calm, of wisdom, of support, operating, as Kerry says with the efficiency of an engineer in Life Lessons from a Baker’s Dozen: 1 Mother, 13 Children, and Their Journey to Peace with Alzheimer’s ($17.99, plus shipping, purchase direct from www.kerryluksic.com, softcover) It is also available from Amazon.com. This is the story of Bobbie Lonergan who like too many really wonderful people fell victim to Alzheimer’s and, in time, did not know the names of her children, losing the memory of her own life. Kerry takes us on that amazing, sometimes heartbreaking, journey that led ultimately to her mother’s most powerful life lesson. She includes a very useful resource section for anyone whose life is affected by the disease. I am happy to heartily recommend this book about family relationships, motherhood, and eldercare.

Christopher W. DiCarlo has written How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) that examines one’s own and other’s answers to questions such as what can I know? What am I? Why am I here? How should I behave? And what is to become of me? How you answer such questions, says the author, reveals a lot about yourself and the same applies when you ask other. The book provides the tools that allow you to question beliefs and assumptions held by those who claim to know what they’re talking about. These include politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, clergy, and just about everyone else. The book teaches how to analyze your own thoughts, ideas and beliefs, and to understand why you act on them, as well as understanding others who might hold opposing views. In this regard, it can open doors to your mind that are extremely helpful. Stephen F. Kaufman wants you to question some of your fundamental beliefs, but particularly those that do not want you to question faith as a belief system. Faith, Kaufman asserts, covers up the failure to have confidence in our own intellect. In two softcover books, Self-Revealization Acceptance and Practicing Self-Revealization Acceptance ($14.95 and $18.95, Hanshi Warrior Press, New York) takes the reader on a journey in which one defines themselves in ways that enhances their potential for independence, and the ability to be the person they want to be and become. If you have doubts about the faith-based system into which you were born or accepted, these books will prove of interest.

Memoirs, Biographies & Autobiographies

From those in ancient times to today, the urge to write of their lives never ends and, in many cases, that is a good thing as we get to know ourselves better as a result.

Caesars’ Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire by Annelise Freisenbruch ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) is a study of some of most powerful women in early Western civilization. Not only is it excellent scholarship, it is a fascinating chronicle and narrative of the women behind the men who created and maintained the Roman Empire for five centuries. The wives, mistresses, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Caesars have been the basis for novels and dramas, but who were they really? The author provides the answer amidst some of the most intense intrigue imaginable.

Then and now populations were on the move and Towards A Better Life: America’s New Immigrants in Their Own Words—from Ellis Island to the Present by Peter Morton Caon (26.00, Prometheus Books) is an excellent way to understand why immigration has played such an essential role in American history. Today, immigrants comprise nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, a larger proportion than at any time since World War II. Ten percent are here illegally, but when you read this book you will understand why America has been such a magnet for people willing to leave their homes behind and launch themselves into a new life. The answer is freedom and America offers more than any other nation and backs it up with the oldest living Constitution. As the grandson of immigrants and one who loves history, I greatly enjoyed this book and you will too. A very different story is told in A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deceptions, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres ($26.00, Free Press) the story of the largest mass suicide in modern times when, on November 18, 1978, the followers of Jim Jones either voluntarily or were forced to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. It was really more a mass murder than a suicide thirty-five years ago, but it shocked people worldwide. It is a terrifying story, but one that testifies to the utter evil of Jones and his lieutenants.

I do not know how many books have been written by survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust that took the lives of six million Jews and another five million Christians, gypsies, homosexuals, and assorted “enemies” of the Nazi state. David Karmi has written a memoir, Survivor’s Game, ($20.00, Arborhouse, softcover) about his life as a teenager in the death camps. We need to read such books to fully grasp the horror of the deliberate genocide of Europe’s Jews and the fate that others shared as well. The author survived almost by pure instinct and after being liberated by the allies made his way to what was then the Palestinian mandate administered by the British until a Jewish state was proclaimed in 1948. Later he moved to the U.S. and had a thriving career in construction in New York City. This is history as lived during a nightmare and one with a happy ending. Another nightmare is recounted in a memoir by Bonnie E. Virag in The Stovepipe ($17.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover). The author was just age four, living on her family’s farm in rural Canada with her parents and four sisters until they were taken away by force and put into the Children’s Aid Society, spending the next 14 years being pulled apart and struggling to reconnect. Some nights the only warmth they had came from a stovepipe in an attic. It is a heart wrenching memoir but a testimony to the human spirit and the resilience of four young girls. Every region of the nation has its legendary outlaws and Larry Wood has written Desperadoes of the Ozarks ($15.95, Pelican Publishing, softcover) that is a collection of stories from the era of bootlegging, highway robbery, and vigilante courts. From the cow-town of Baxter Springs, Kansas to the mining camp of Granby, Missouri, the Ozarks were a magnet for lawlessness. Whether you live there or not, this is very entertaining reading. These days the former bootleggers are into selling “meth” and other drugs so not all that much has changed except the names on the wanted posters.

Gang life is too often romanticized by Hollywood, but Luis J. Rodriguez tells the true story in It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (24.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). It is a compelling autobiographical account of growing up as a Latino gang member in the mean streets of Watts and East Los Angeles. His previous memoir, Always Running, became a huge bestseller and this one too is likely to do the same as it recounts the challenges facing urban youth and the perils of gang life.

Usually, such illness is covered up in the interest of career, but Sorbo has written an interesting memoir in True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved My life ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Actor Kevin Sorbo was on top of the world in late 1997, playing the role of a popular television show, Hercules. He had just become engaged to the woman of his dreams, but one morning while doing bicep curls, a searing pain show down his left arm. A visit to a chiropractor found a “soft but moveable” lump near his shoulder. He was advised to see an internist right away. The drive home became a nightmare as his brain “went haywire.” He had suffered a stroke. The story of what followed will be of interest to his fans and others.

Cook It, Bake It, Enjoy It

I love anything that is roasted. It brings out the flavor. One of the best books on the topic, All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art, ($35.00, W.W. Norton) doubles as a great holiday gift for anyone who loves preparing delicious meals. This large format, coffee table book, features 150 mouthwatering recipes by Molly Stevens, accompanied by gorgeous color photos in a book that is just over 370 pages in length. She is already a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and the Bon Appetit Cooking Teacher of the Year. The book will teach you how to choose the best cuts of meat, chicken and fish, basis roasting methods, roasting times and doneness tests, and everything else you need to know to master roasting. I have seen many cookbooks, but this one is in a class of its own.

Kathleen Flinn has written The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, ($26.95, Viking) whose sub-title is “How a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks.” It’s an entertaining story of how Kathleen looked into their cabinets and refrigerators, sampled their cooking, and taught them basic booking skills. Instead of loading up on processed foods, she teaches how to opt for fresher alternatives and to create easy meals. This basic knowledge is not necessary being passed along these days as many women work and preparing meals often takes second place to having time for other pursuits. Nothing beats a real home-cooked meal or replaces sitting down together to enjoy it. As one’s self-confidence in the kitchen grows, it affects all aspects of one’s life. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese ($24.00, Free Press) takes a similar approach as she tells often funny stories surrounding her learning curve, asking questions such as is homemade better, how much time is involved, and a host of similar questions those new to the kitchen ask. To help the reader, she provides more than 120 recipes. Take my word for it, nothing beats home-baked bread, warm from the oven, and other dishes prepared with love.

My late Mother, Rebecca Caruba, taught gourmet cooking and baking for three decades and authored cookbooks. She loved French cuisine and we all loved their desserts. Now you can learn their secrets in Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride ($18.00, Running Press). The macaron is a meringue-based sweet with two colorful almond-flour cookies sandwiching a creamy, fruit-based or chocolaty filling. They can often be expensive to buy, if you can find a story that offers them. The authors provide information on, not only the French, but the Italian and Swiss meringue methods. Feeding friends and family these incredibly delicious treats will make you a legend among those fortunate enough to enjoy them. Even vegetarians enjoy a treat and Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have teamed up to write Vegan Pie in the Sky ($17.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) with 75 recipes that include tasty pie crusts, fruit, creamy and chocolate pies. Vegans will enjoy its delicate tars, crumbly cobblers, and other delicious desserts.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

There is no lack of books to teach you how to be a successful entrepreneur, how to manage people, how to plan, et cetera. For anyone who has not spent four years in business school, they are a handy shortcut and they have the benefit of adapting to changing and challenging condition.

It’s Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss by Susan Wilson Solovic ($22.95, Amacom) is a perfect example. At a time when many people are thinking about starting their own businesses because of the bleak job market, the problem is that, in good times or bad, more than half of such enterprises fail. Some of today’s largest companies began as start-ups in down times. The transition from a W-2 employee to being their own boss is not easy and especially for those who do not know what really makes a small business work. The author has learned from experience after four decades of being “a serial entrepreneur.” If you or someone you know is contemplating going out on their own, I strongly recommend they read this book for its pragmatic advice. I liked Plan B: How to Hatch a Second Plan That’s Always Better Than Your First ($26.00, Free Press) for the same reason. David Kord Murray asks and answers why some companies have stayed flexible enough to survive even after a stumble or two? It’s one thing to have a Plan A with which to begin an enterprise or expand one’s business, but one needs a Plan B and that involves knowing how and when to make changes to your business model. Murray argues that too many strategic plans aren’t flexible enough to change with a changing business environment. Product life cycles once measured in decades are now being measured in years, even months. Making the necessary transitions depends on being able to confronting existing problems, responding to market conditions and the moves of your competition; companies that did this are still around and thriving. Those that didn’t are gone.

The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration—and Get the Most from Your Employees ($25.95, Amacom) is one of those titles that tells the whole story. In this book Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, leaders of the Hay Group’s employee researcher division, share their insights regarding why some employees become frustrated, examining the sources of their aggravation. For example, depending on the industry, between 32% and 48% of employees report work conditions that prevent them from being as productive as they could be. One-third of employees report that they do not have the resources to do their jobs well. Another third say they lack sufficient authority to carry out their job responsibilities effectively. The key to happier employees is enabling them to do their jobs, inhibiting their opportunity to shine. The authors contend that, as often as not, it is the workplace, not the worker that is the problem. This is a book managers at all levels need to read. The Diversity Index by Susan E. Reed ($27.95, Amacom) is subtitled “The alarming truth about diversity in corporate American…and what can be done about it.” I am old enough to remember when women stayed home and raised children, when blacks and other minorities had limited opportunities in the corporate world, Suffice to say it is a very different world today and has been since, fifty years ago, the first affirmative action policy was created by executive order by John F. Kennedy. What Ms. Reed discovered after studying the leadership structure of Fortune 100 companies from 1995 to 2009, that white women have made remarkable gains in climbing the corporate ladder, but that there appears to be significant barriers against native-born men and woman of color. In 2009, more than 40% of the Fortune 100 had no minorities among their executive officers. More than half of the Hispanic and Asian executive officers were born outside the United States. Like JFK famously said, life is unfair.

For women aspiring to positions of leadership, Christine K. Jahnke has written The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best ($19.00, Prometheus Books). Jahnke is a renowned speech coach who has been teaching women what works and what doesn’t when it comes to delivering a speech or presentation. Whether it’s the PTA or the boardroom, this ability is often deemed among the most important to master. This holds true for both sexes, but this book will prove especially helpful to women with its strategic advice on everything from messaging to hair and hemlines that give one the edge.

Lastly, in times when housing prices are low and real estate opportunities exist for the bold, Dr. David Schumacher, PhD, with Steve Dexter have written Buy and Hold Forever: How to Build Wealth for the 21st Century ($21.95, Schumacher Enterprise, softcover). Schumacher is a multimillionaire property owner. Dexter is the president of National Capital Funding and both have authored award-winning books describing their strategies. If, like me, what you know about real estate investing could fit in a bug’s ear, this book holds the potential to make you into an expert like the authors as they explain how to select properties with real profit potential, choose the locations that will become tomorrow’s hottest neighborhoods, and to negotiate lucrative real estate deals. If have always found it unique that successful people like these two would share the “secrets” of their success with anyone who wants to become successful too, but in America we have a philosophy that wealth is a good thing and derives from hard work.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Based on the daily requests for reviews of novels, it sometimes seems to me that everyone is writing one. It is impossible to review them all, let alone read them all, so here’s a selection of a few that made it past the gate.

Erin Brockovich made a name for herself exposing toxic waste sites and became the subject of an Oscar-winning movie that bears her name. She has joined with CJ Lyons, a medical suspense author, to author Hot Water ($25.99, Vanguard Press), a novel about an environmental activist who is drawn into an investigation of a nuclear facility in South Carolina designed to create medical isotopes with the potential to save millions of lives. The plant, however, has been plagued with mishaps that have defied previous investigations and drawn the attention of anti-nuclear groups. This is an old-fashioned thriller. Another thriller is based on the very real prospect of the massive volcano that exists beneath Yellowstone Park. It’s the reason the park’s geysers are such an attraction, but if it every erupted, the impact would be unimaginable. Well, that is until Mike Mullin imagined what would happen in Ashfall ($16.95, Tanglewood, Terre Haute, IN). Given the increase in volcanic activity worldwide, this is a very timely novel and I think you will enjoy a story about a teenager whose life is turned upside down when the Yellowstone caldera erupts and his harrowing search for his family and friends begins. With a fellow teen, they must fund the strength and skills to survive an epic disaster.

The unrest between Islamism and the rest of the world is the backdrop of Hotamah! by Jay J. Schlickman ($27.25, available at Amazon.com) that is based on the Koranic verse 104, a prophesy of nuclear conflagration. It opens in 1982 Tehran and projects forward to an imagined 2045 alliance between prominent Islamic leaders to achieve world domination. Carefully researched, the novel examines Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most of all the danger that religious fanaticism represents to the entire world. The author says that the book is intended to educate readers to a better understanding of Middle Eastern dynamics, the current crisis as the fortunes of nations in the region shift and change, and what a holy war would produce if steps are not taken to retard its progress.

The author, John Barth, has established himself among top-ranked writers and his fans will enjoy Every Third Thought ($24.00, Counterpoint Press) in which an elderly American writer/professor experiences the destruction of his home due to a tornado. He notes that it occurs on the 77th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, a detail that would be insignificant were it not for several subsequent events. As he and his wife depart on a European vacation, he suffers a fall on his 77th birthday, and he begins to experience five serial visions, each appearing to him on the first day of the ensuring seasons and each illuminating the successive stages of his life and career. It is a story of uncanny coincidences and one that will keep you turning the pages. Another novel that explores how chance can turn one’s life upside down is The Gentlemen’s Sport & Social Club by Joe Petterle, ($19.95, Langdon Street Press) in which a one-dimensional life is upended when a recluse from his former corporate life meets a beautiful and engaging woman who invites him to join her exclusive club. It is part metaphysical adventure and part mysterious romance. Incarnation and past lives are the basis of My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris ($10.77, softcover, also available on Kindle, Amazon.com) when a gifted musician experiences an injury to stop playing, she meets a healer, liar, fraud who may be her future incarnation or just a psychological figment. It is a multilayered story of souls on a conjoined journey in real time and across the centuries. Not my cup of tea, but sure to be of interest to those who find such themes intriguing.

Those of a certain age who can recall growing up before, during or after World War II are in for a treat from two non-fiction novels based on the life of E.E. Smith. Boardinghouse Stew and Times Like These ($24.95 each, Phoenix International) capture an earlier, simpler time from the perspective of six decades later. In the first novel, we encounter an 11-year-old girl, happy to have found work as a maid and cook in a down-at-the-heels Sacramento guest house in 1943 and the second is a sequel set in 1945 when she has relocated to a small town in Nevada, both of which evoke the way patriotism and mutually experienced hard times brought people closer together. Older readers will recognize many aspects of those days and young readers will benefit from learning about them. The author takes you in, sets a place at the table for you, and recreates the life of a young girl in a totally engaging way. Finally, World War II has generated many novels because it was a great traumatic drama. In Hitler’s Silver Box ($16.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover), Dr. Allen Malnack has created a thriller in which a physician, the chief emergency room resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has his attention diverted from his practice by the mysterious death of his uncle Max, a Holocaust survivor. He discovers a journal of his ordeal at Theresienstadt concentration camp that sheds light on his death and sets him on a quest to find a document written by Nazi leaders and hidden in a silver box. Dr. Malnack’s father came to the US from Lithuania at age 16. All the men, women and children of that family were sent to the death camps and exterminated by the Nazis. There is a quality of authenticity that mixes with the story and gives ian immediacy to the events described.

That’s it for November!

Wow, 2011 is almost over. More than 800 fiction and non-fiction books have been the subject so far of Bookviews and we have December yet to go. Please do tell your friends, family and co-workers to visit Bookviews and discover a world of publishing that is generally overlooked in the mainstream media these days due to the end of book sections or even a page or two devoted to new books that used to exist. And come back in December for some great gift books to give for the holidays.

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