Monday, November 5, 2012

Bookviews - November 2012


By Alan Caruba
 
My Picks of the Month

For a look at the obscene wealth of the Saudi Royal family and the way it is spent when some Saudi princesses and a huge entourage that accompanied them on a seven week visit to Los Angeles, they I recommend you read Jayne Amelia Larson’s entertaining book, Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses ($25.00, Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster). Like many aspiring actresses, Larson, who has a degree from Cornell University and Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre Institute, would moonlight as a chauffeur to make ends meet. A seven-week visit by a Saudi princess, her family, and an army of people to tend to her every whim gave Larson the unique opportunity to see the royals up close and the picture that emerged was of obscene wealth and a lifestyle of excess that she reveals in her entertaining and disturbing book. She was the only woman driver among a small army of chauffeurs and her women passengers were not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia, nor travel anywhere without a male relative. It is a velvet cage.

Mexico is on our southern border, but it might was well be on the other side of the globe except for the many Americans of Mexican descent and those here illegally. A good trading partner, Mexico nonetheless poses a great problem for the U.S. as the conduit for massive amounts of illegal drugs which find a ready market here. It poses a problem internally as well because, since 2006, more than 50,000 people have died there as the infamous drug cartels battle one another. In The Fire Next Door” Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America ($24.95, Cato Institute) Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policies studies, has written a thoroughly documented look at what threatens to become a failed state as the result of the corruption and violence seeping across the border into the U.S. Carpenter reveals how the current U.S.-backed policies have been a disaster. Changes are necessary and Carpenter spells them out, as opposed to the band-aide approach that has failed. It is a true horror story and not one that current and future administrations can ignore.
 
Fast Food Vindication by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD, a registered dietician, ($11.98, J, Murray Press, softcover) dispels the widespread belief that Americans are getting fat because of the fast-food outlets throughout the nation. In a clear, easy-to-understand text she offers the reasons why there is an epidemic of obesity in America and, indeed, in many other nations. People are just eating too much, not getting enough exercise, and snack too often. She notes that sit-down restaurants, more often than not, offer too much food on the plate and fill up the bread tray, thus providing more food than you need to eat at a sitting, as opposed to fast-food outlets that now commonly offer alternatives to a juicy, delicious hamburger or other food choice. And it comes down to choices and moderation. One thing is for sure, it is not the government’s job to intervene in what your child eats in school or what you eat. That’s your job. How people arrive at their beliefs in all manner of things, true or not, is the subject of Second That Emotion: How Decisions, Trends, and Movements are Shaped by Jeremy D. Holden ($25.00, Prometheus Books) an advertising and communications professional knows a lot about how to influence people’s opinions and he has written a lively, interesting book about the way people form those opinions. Contrary to the view that we arrive at our opinions via slick Madison Avenue and other “spin”, Holden shows that while advertising and propaganda can provide a spark and social media can provide the kindling, individuals create consumer, political, and cultural trends based, more often than not, on thought processes that they know logically are flawed. This is a book about the decision-making process and how our passion for an idea, a politician, or a brand is often emotion-based and fuels our support for movements of all kinds. For writers who take their work seriously, Constance Hall has written Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooth: Let Verbs Power Your Writing ($26.95, W.W. Norton) and it will greatly enhance anything you write as she takes the reader through contemporary and classic examples to demonstrate how to overcome some of the “rules” we carry around in our head about what works and what doesn’t.

People who read books, fiction and non-fiction, are so much more fortunate than those who do not. The very act of reading imprints ideas on the mind while expanding one’s intellectual parameters. Lately a number of books about the joy of reading have been published. The Books They Gave Me by Jen Adams ($19.99, Free Press) is a collection of nearly 200 poignant, funny, and provocative stories that comprise a love letter to literature and the pleasure of a physical book. It is a delightful read. Joe Queenan is one of the most successful freelance writers on the scene today. He writes a column for The Wall Street Journal, but his credits include many of the leading magazines and newspapers around. In One for the Books ($24.95, Viking) he tells of how powerful books were in facilitating his escape from a bleak and dysfunctional childhood. An ironic beginning for someone noted for his wit. This book is a look at the entire culture of reading and what books mean in people’s lives. “The confraternity of book lovers are united by a conviction that literature is an endless series of expeditions.” I agree.

A very unusual, but intriguing book is From the Forest by Sara Maitland ($28.00, Counterpoint Press) who examines the origins of fairy tales, the first stories most of us hear or read. They are our earliest experience with culture and forests are our most ancient landscapes. So many fairy tales are set in forests, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretal, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood come to mind. Ms. Maitland explores how nature itself informs our imaginations. You will never think of a fairy tale in the same way again. For anyone who has always wanted to read the classics they ignored earlier in life, Thunder Bay Press has released the Word Cloud Classic series, all for under $15. They make great gifts too. They run the gamut from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables to Anna Karenina. Check out the series at www.thunderbaybooks.com.

Memoirs, Biographies, Life Stories
 
No doubt, the many fans of Bruce Springsteen will welcome news of the first biography in 25 years to be written with the full cooperation of Springsteen. Peter Ames Carlin has written Bruce ($28.00, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) and was granted unprecedented access to the artists, his family, friends, and bandmates, past and present, including Clarence Clemons’ final interview before his passing. It does justice to his more than four decades of a remarkable career that has yielded twenty Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award along with more than 120 million albums sold. It is a revealing account of an American music icon who overcame an unhappy childhood that included a mentally ill father who suffered from depression. It’s all here in a hefty book that is just short of 500 pages. Carlin has authored other such biographies including the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney. 

Who doesn’t like an inspiring biography, particularly in these times when “success” is considered a dirty word by some people. American Phoenix by Sarah S. Kilborne ($27.00, Free Press) is the story of William Skinner who moved from the slums of London to the United States in 1845, arriving penniless, a teenager, with a job offer and an unparalleled knowledge of silk dyeing. Over the next three decades he became a titan of the silk industry, the epitome of the self-made man, until it took a flood a mere fifteen minutes to destroy his life’s work in 1874. It was the worst industrial disaster of the era. He was the great-great grandfather of the author and she tells of his effort to rebuild his life after losing everything. It is a story of resilience, character, and the ability to recognize failure as opportunity.

The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, a Search for Family ($25.99, Free Press) by Joe Mozingo, a journalist who was always curious about where his father’s family was from until a college professor told him his name came from Africa. That sent Joe, a blue-eyed white man on a journey to find the truth of his family’s roots. He discovered he was descended from a slave brought to the Jamestown colony in 1644. He sued for his freedom, becoming a tobacco farmer on the bank of a creek called Pantico Run in Northern Virginia, and married a white woman from a landowning family, fathering one of the nation’s first mixed race family lines. To research the story the author traveled around the US meeting other Mozingo’s and to the rainforest of Cameroon. It is an astonishing, gripping story.

The Spin Doctor by Kirk Mitchell ($24.95, New Horizon Press) is about a man who may have killed his wife, but has eluded justice. When police arrived at Kurt Sonnenfeld’s house, they found his wife fatally shot in the head. Kurt claimed she shot herself because she was depressed and unhappy in their marriage. Most women would just file for divorce and police were suspicious of his behavior and signs that pointed to murder. Though arrested, he never stood trial. Instead, he fled to Argentina and has avoided extradition. For anyone who loves a real-life murder mystery, this book will more than fit the bill.

Col. Scott F. Paradis, U.S. Army (Ret) has written Warriors, Diplomats, Why America’s Army Succeeds: Lessons for Business and Life ($24.95/$17.95, Cornerstone Achievements Publishing, hard and softcover editions) after more than thirty years of service that took him to the Middle East, Europe, and various stateside stations. He has an impressive educational background and his military awards include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star, among others. It is not surprising that he has written about the lives of military heroes who were leaders, thinkers, and the kind of men who showed courage and selfless service to the nation, going back to its earliest days. The book is a tutorial on leadership and success. And a great book for a young man or woman who would benefit from its lessons.

Reading History
 
It is absolutely essential to read history if you are to understand the present and have some idea of what may occur in the near future. One of the great contributions to that was Larry Schweikart’s and Michael Allen’s “A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror” published in 2004. I am pleased to report that Schweikart has teamed with Dave Dougherty to write A Patriot’s History of the Modern World: From America’s Exceptional Ascent to the Atomic Bomb – 1889-1945 ($29.95, Sentinel/Penguin Group) and, despite its hefty 475+ pages, it reads like an exciting adventure story because it is the period of America’s ascendency why it came to be as the result of fundamental conservative values and the free enterprise system. It was also a period in which two world wars were fought and modern warfare led to carnage beyond the imaginations of those who initiated them. Why do they call their books “A Patriot’s History”? Because the tone and purpose of these two books is to take pride in America, not in a jingoistic fashion, but to recognize and celebrate that America was and is an exceptional nation among all others. Sometimes it’s called a “can do” spirit, but from the beginning it was a nation that demonstrated a deep devotion to God while practicing a level of tolerance for other faiths unknown anywhere else. It attracted and assimilated millions yearning to enjoy freedom that was (and is) a scarce commodity in most other nations, bounded by caste systems, ruled by kings, czars, and despots. No, America was not perfect, but its ideals were. I heartily recommend you read both, but in particular the new book for the way it explains how we arrived at 1945, having fought and won WWII in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

One of the great battles of WWII was the Battle of the Bulge and No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle for Bastogne by Leo Barron and Don Cygan ($26.95, NAL Caliber) captures the drama of Hitler’s armies as they attempted to deal a death blow to the American army and, failing, sounded the death knell for the Third Reich. The triumph of the battle occurred during the last Christmas of WWII against outnumbered and undersupplied American troops in freezing weather. The book is an exciting chronicle of the one day that changed the course of the war and the world. It is based on some extraordinary research and extensive interviews. Dog Company by Patrick K. O’Donnell ($26.00, Da Capo Press) tells the story of “the boys of Pointe du Hoc”, rangers who accomplished D-Day’s toughest mission and then went on to lead the way across Europe. On June 6, 1944, the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s D Company, landed on the beaches of Normandy to assault a sheer cliff under enemy gunfire. The story of the heroism of the men defies the imagination, but it is real and told well by a distinguished military historian. Anyone who loves military history will want to read these books and add them to their personal library

Life’s Learning Lessons

One of the genres of books that has plenty of new ones vying for attention are advice and self-help books. The subject is life’s many problems and challenges. For those passing through them they can be a lifeline providing insight and information.
 
For the mother of a son or sons, I recommend What a Difference a Mom Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Mom Leaves on Her Son’s Life ($17.99, Revell) by Dr. Kevin Leman. I can certainly attest to that because my Mom imparted the values that have guided my life. A lot of men who left their mark on history such the WWII leaders, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Gen. McArthur, all had mothers who paid close attention to their upbringing, often well into their adult years. The author, a psychologist, provides the kind of advice that is particularly useful to a new mother. He makes a lot of sense.

Jennifer Grim and Sarah Bradley have teamed up to write Heartbreaks and Cupcakes: Living, Laughing and Moving on After Infidelity ($11.95, softcover) that takes a look at infidelity by sharing their experiences regarding their spouse’s extramarital affairs. They address how to get over the shock and betrayal, put the pain behind them, hit the reset button, and gain strength physically and emotionally. Never Letting Go: Heal Grief with Help from the Other Side by Mark Anthony ($15.95, Llewellyn Publications, softcover) requires a belief in the afterlife and psychic mediums. An Oxford-educated attorney, his life as a medium marks him as an unusual man. He maintains that departed loved ones are still connected and watching out for those they leave behind. Anthony says that both his mother and father were clairvoyants as well and that this gift enables them to help those grieving a loss.

Having an endorsement from TV personality, Paula Zahn, is a pretty good indicator that Dear Dr. V by Dr. Marilyn Varadi ($14.95, softcover) has written a lively book, a collection of her popular advice column as a psychologist, educator, and columnist who is a cofounder of the Varadi Ovarian Initiative for Cancer Education. Suffice to say her book is filled with good advice that covers many familiar situations and challenges in life. It is fun to read. Teenage girls will benefit from reading Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman ($12.99, Revell, softcover). It is based in faith in a higher power and addresses the way girls are told be nice, make good grades, don’t complain, and, in general, to be a good girl. This book gets behind the image that girls fashion for themselves as the author recommends the role of spirituality that is more than merely following the rules, fashioning a reputation, and developing a sense of oneself.

 Soul Songs: Reflections of Joy in Everyday Life by Heidi Levin ($15.00, Langdon Street Press, softcover) is one of those books written to help the reader cope with life by finding ageless paths to peace of mind. It is written for those who are caught up in the demands and obligations of work, home, family and the social pressure to stay busy all the time. Levin recommends we smile more, laugh more, dream more, love more, and appreciate the daily opportunities of just being alive. She does this in a very appealing way. Dog owners and lovers will enjoy Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth by Kim Kavin ($22.99, Barron’s). When a journalist decided to adopt a puppy, she had no idea that she was rescuing Blue from being put down. Though Blue was a happy, friendly brindle puppy, his manner indicated he had endured some hard times. Kavin began to trace his history and discovered a shocking reality that prevails in many of America’s taxpayer-funded shelters. She also discovered a grassroots canine rescue network of dedicated animal lovers seeking to save countless dogs from an unwarranted death. The upside was the great happiness that Blue has given his adopter.

Defining Moments: Breaking Through Tough Times by Dorothea S. McArthur, PhD, ($24.95/$19.95, Cove Press, hard and softcover editions) is a book for people whose lives have been battered by events beyond their control such as natural disasters or the economy. These people often cannot afford psychotherapy, but they can afford this book by a clinical psychologist with 33 years of private practice who cites many examples while emphasizing integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior as the means of building the depth of character and self-esteem that can withstand and overcome adversity. Issues of anger, anxiety, or depression are examined and solutions are offered. A lot of people worry about growing older and, frankly, at 75 I don’t know what the fuss is about. Both my parents lived well into their 90s and never seemed to be concerned, accepting age as a normal process. In a youth-obsessed society, however, I suppose it’s to be expected. The 17 Day Plan to Stop Aging by Dr. Mike Moreno ($26.00, Free Press), the author of “The 17-Day Diet” is pretty much more of the same as he offers his advice on avoiding “inflammation, oxidative stress, glycation, methylation, and immune impairment.” Big words, eh? Scary, too. I suspect I have seen too many diet books to take them seriously and this one is just one more talking about the merits of shellfish, meat, leafy vegetables, salmon, walnuts, ad infinitum. My guess is that, if you’re not drinking booze straight from the bottle or just eating too damned much, you will likely live as long as your genes permit.

Now We’re Cooking

Not that many cookbooks this month, although there may yet be for December. For those concerned with their salt intake there’s You Won’t Believe It’s Salt-Free! ($17.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) Robyn Webb, a nutritionist and the online food editor for Diabetes Forecast magazine, has collected 125 “healthy, low-sodium, and no-sodium recipes using flavorful spice blends.” She knows that people don’t want to eat bland food is a turn-off. Her book will surprise and delight who will learn how to prepare meals to please the palate.
Get Cooking! A Jewish American Family Cookbook ($19.95, Behrman House) is proof that you don’t have to be Jewish to eat like one. What we call Jewish food is imported in large part from Eastern Europe, but includes dishes from around the world. The book arrives in time for holidays from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah/Christmas and, of course, Super Bowl Sunday! The book comes with a “Rockin’ Mama Doni Celebration” CD, filled with music by Doni Zasloff Thomas (Mama Doni), entertainer and a co-author of the book with Rachel Harkham, a noted food writer. It is written to include the participation of children, filled with pictures of them helping prepare meals and the delicious items with their recipes. It’s just plain fun.

As Bookviews readers know, my Mother was an international famed authority on wine and “haute cuisine”. I grew up eating all the traditional foods including meat, chicken and fish, but there are many who choose a vegan diet and, for them, there’s Terry Hope Romero’s new book, Vegan Eats World: 300 International Recipes for Savoring the Planet ($35.00, Da Capo Press) that really delivers the goods, offering recipes from a variety of cultures from Greek, Vietnamese, Spanish, and many other homelands. There are popular foods like lasagna, pad thai, wonton soup, and a whole range of flavorful delights. Humans were and are meat-eaters, but if one chooses to eschew such things, this book will surely please those who prefer vegetables and other food choices.

Getting Down to Business Books

New books about business arrive every week. Among the latest is The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line by David Horsager ($25.99, Free Press). As he notes, trust has become an elusive asset with the dawn of the new century and a recent Gallup Poll shows that America’s confidence in nearly every major societal institution is in decline. The Obama administration eroded trust in many ways and then blamed everyone and everything from banks to corporations as the source of the nation’s problems. Horsager is a business strategist who has learned how the world’s most successful people gain and keep the trust of their customers and colleagues. He shared that knowledge in his book. It is not only a necessity, but a competitive advantage. Going Social by Jeremy Goldman ($19.95, Amacom, softcover) examines how the social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms have provided a means to promote products and services, but as the author notes, it’s not something that can be mastered in six easy steps or ten immutable laws. It continues to evolve and expand. His book offers a range of advice that can be of value based on having managed e-commerce and social media engagement for major brands for nearly a decade. It is a very useful book.

Nowhere is the question and issue of trust more essential that the trust of citizens in any nation in the value of their currency. The Impending Monetary Revolution, The Dollar and Gold by Edmund Contoski ($19.95, American Liberty Publishers, Minneapolis, MN, softcover) provides the reader with an historic review of how money, currency, developed over the centuries, from trading furs and tools to today’s paper money. He also provides an easily comprehensible explanation of the ways governments debase their currency while, in past decades, spending too much—mostly on social programs—and relying on the national and international cartels of national banks or, in our case, the Federal Reserve (not part of the federal government, but granted the ability to simply print money without any actual value except trust. It is a very scary book. “As of June 2008, the notional amounts (face value) of financial derivatives, according to the Bank for International settlements, totaled $673 trillion—over 12 times the world’s nominal gross domestic product!” He warns that no nation has ever been able to spend its way to prosperity and, it must be said, that is exactly what the U.S. has tried to do with the failed “stimulus” program and other comparable efforts. If you want to understand what is happening in the U.S. and worldwide, this is the one book you absolutely need to read.

Michael R. Powers has authored Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance ($49.95, Columbia Business School) that looks at the private insurance industry and government’s role as both market regulator and potential “insurer of last resort.”  We saw this most recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as billions in government funding flowed into the states that experienced devastation to varying degrees. The author begins by looking at how risks from natural disasters impact our lives, health, and possessions. From there he moves onto a discussion of statistical techniques necessary for analyzing the uncertainties of hurricane, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters. This is not a book for the general reader, but surely will be welcomed by those who must anticipate and grapple with such events.
 
 

No More Pointless Meetings by Martin Murphy (17.95, Amacom, softcover) takes a harsh, but accurate view of the way so many meetings fail to accomplish their goal of effective and productive collaboration. It doesn’t have to be that way says the author who presents an alternative he calls workflow management—how to get more done in less time and with much less grumbling for participants. Over the years I have seen any number of books on this topic and Murphy’s book offers a very comprehensive guide for managers to identify information gaps and use workflow sessions to create value for the entire organization. Murphy is the founder and president of Quantum Meetings, a management education consultancy whose clients includes some of biggest corporate names as well as nonprofits. If this is a problem within your organization, you should get a copy of this book.

An interesting book by a retired Army Colonel, Scott F. Paradis, is Success 101: How Life Works ($24.95/$17.98, Cornerstone Achievements, hard and softcover editions). As an Army officer he spent the last three decades working national security issues in the Middle East, Europe, and various stations in the U.S. He was a National Security Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a Congressional Fellow with the U.S. Senate. In retirement, he has turned his attention to the ways anyone can achieve success and lays out a few simple, but important rules. “Once you know the rules you can play to win. It’s the way life works,” says Paradis and if you are seeking to learn how life works and how to achieve success in your own life, this book will open doors for you.

Books for Younger Readers

I am a great advocate for getting kids reading at an early age and I believe that there’s something special for a child to hold a book in their hands, read, turn the pages, and, in the case of the very young, enjoy the wonderful illustrations in books especially for them.
 

Here are some new books for kids age 4 through 7 years. In no particular order, there’s Steve Light’s Zephyr Takes Flight, a picture book about an airplane-loving little girl that teaches important lessons about imagination, friendship and family ($16.99, Candlewick). Zephyr wants to fly and she has a secret door in her room that leads to a place full of flying machines where she a little pig named Rumbus share all kinds of adventures. The author has written and illustrated many children’s books. Nightime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, is mostly one of artwork by Ed Young, a Caldecott Medalist, ($16.99, Little Brown and Company) in which a pint-size ninja climbs and clambers around the house taking thevery young to hot springs, salt flats, oil ponds and other extreme
 environments. More fanciful adventure can be found in Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen and wonderfully illustrated by Derek Anderson ($16.99, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) in which dragons do all the things that humans do when they wake up and get ready to go to school. It is a feast for the eye.

For those in the first years of school, The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh with extraordinary paintings by Layne Johnson ($16.95, Calkins Creek Books) tells the story of Moina Belle Michael who devoted more than 25 years to establish the red poppy as a universal tribute to U.S. war veterans in the wake of World War I. She was already in her 40s when the war began and the book is an excellent, short history of that horrific conflict. These days veterans in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day and Veterans Day distribute paper poppies to raise money for other veterans and their families. If there’s a veteran in your family, this is a good book with which to share their story of heroism and sacrifice. A very different book is Rangoli: An Indian Art Activity Book by Suma O’Farrell ($19.95, Mazaa LLC,www.mazaallc.com ) and is a good antidote to today’s reliance on electric gadgets that often mesmerize both children and adults. Written for those age 9 through 12, it is filled with creative activities for boys and girls. Rangoli is a popular art form in India that is usually drawn on the ground with rice flour, colored powders, or chalk near the entrance to a home as a warm welcome to visitors. The book offers step-by-step examples and provides a variety of designs with easy-to-follow instructions.

For older young readers, ages 12 through 18, there’s Four Secrets by Margaret Willey ($$17.95 hardcover and $12.95 ebook, Carolrhoda Lab, a division of Lerner Publishing Group) that tells the story of Katy, Nate, and Renata, three teens who decide to rescue Renata from being bullied every day by a group of older boys and, in particular, the school’s biggest bully. Things go awry and they end up in juvenile detention and the question is whether they will keep their secrets and whether a social worker will discover the truth behind their silences. For any young person experiencing bullying or wanting to intercede for a friend, this will prove a very compelling story. A young adult novel, Refuge by Carole Rummage ($16.00, Sweetwater Books) tells the story of Laney whose parents and young brother have been killed in a car accident. She has accept the invitation of her aunt and uncle to move across the country and live with them in North Carolina next to a wildlife refuge. She meets and is attracted to a Gabe, a handsome artist with a mysterious disease and even more mysterious family. When she makes a shocking discover, she must face the dark truth about Gabe’s past.

Some time ago I reviewed Dr. Rick Niece’s book “Side-Yard Superhero” and gave it high marks. He’s back with The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore ($15.95, Five Star Publications, softcover). It is an autobiography of sorts as the author visits his childhood growing up in DeGraff, Ohio, population 900, and tells the story of the legacy of his father, Lewis Niece who for years was the director of the DeGraff High School’s marching band, teaching not just music, but lasting lessons of character. Rick D. Niece, PhD, has been a lifelong educator and, since 1997, he and his wife, Sheree have served as president and first lady of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksdale, Arkansas. It is a celebration of America’s heartland, of friendship, community, built around the story of an encore performance by “Lewie’s Alumni Band.” I heartily recommend it.

Novels, Novels, Novels

What would Christmas be without a good murder mystery? Kudos to Kensington Books for providing two entertaining holiday stories. Elvis and the Blue Christmas Corpse by Peggy Webb ($23.00, hardcover) continues her Southern Cousins series about the Valentine family plus Elvis the basset hound. When Uncle Charlie is pressed into service as Santa at a weekend charity event at Tupelo, Mississippi mall, the whole gang gets into the holiday mood, setting up a booth to raise money for a charity. A killer, however, has decided to ruin the holiday and the family must set a trap to capture him. Mistletoe, Merriment, and Murder by Sara Rosett ($7.99, softcover) continues the holiday theme with Ellie Avery—mother, military wife, professional organizer, and sleuth—to find a killer in her small Georgia town, using her white elephant swap gift as a murder weapon! This is the seventh book in a series about Ellie and a great read.

Most of the novels noted here are softcover, but Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin ($17.95, Tanglewood) is a hardcover and the second in the “Ashfall Trilogy” that began with Mullin’s novel about the eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano. The sequel has Alex and Darla staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world where life and death battles for food and power between the remaining communities test the strength of the survivors. The volcano is the largest in the U.S. and could, indeed, erupt. When it does, it will wreak havoc and this novel reflects that. Another hardcover Lawyer-turned-novelist, James Sheehan, has penned a courtroom thriller in The Lawyer’s Lawyer ($22.99, Center Street) that is due out in January. He has two previous novels to his credit and this will add to his fan base. It is the story of Jack Tobin, a legend in Miami courtroom circles, who has regrets having freed a serial killer by ruining the prosecution’s weak case against him and is now desperate to hunt him down before he kills again. In the midst of his search, he finds himself falsely accused of murder. He must hire a lawyer to defend him and build a bullet-proof defense together. This is an outstanding example of this genre. For those who love a big, fat novel—nearly 700 pages—for those who like some heft to their books is The Day the World Trembled by Lee Levin ($16.95, Royal Heritage Press, softcover) whose previous novel “The Messiah of Septimania” was reviewed here. A historical novel, it tells the story of the most important few days when the Carthaginian Hannibal had invaded Italy and crushed every army the Romans had hurled against him despite being heavily outnumbered. His brother Hasdrubal joined him bringing the Gauls into the invasion with him. Thus, two mighty Punic armies were poised to destroy Rome. The fate of Western civilization hung in the balance and was decided by the outcome. Anyone who loves history will enjoy this excellent novel.

A number of softcover novels offer a variety of reading pleasure. Double Blind by Brandilyn Collins ($14.99, B&H Publishing) reflects the fact that some 20 million Americans suffer from depression and many hope for a magic cure. The novel is about an experimental brain chip. When 29-year-old Lisa Newberry, nearly immobilized by depression becomes a candidate for a medical trial for the chip, her illness is cured, but it is replaced with horrific visions that threaten to drive her mad. Millions of dollars are at stake and Lisa must make some major decisions and one wrong move could cost the lives of those who might elect to have the chip. Many Americans are facing foreclosure and Cadaver Blues by J.E. Fishman ($12.97. Stonegate Ink) tells the story of smoking hot Mindy Eider who walks into the office with a foreclosure notice aimed at her elderly Uncle Gunner, the cynical debt man, Phuoc Goldberg, just sees her as another month’s rent, but Mindy can’t find her uncle and suspicious characters lurk everywhere. A sleazy bank has designs on the old man’s little house. Phuoc gets sucked into playing detective and soon finds himself looking for cadavers instead of cash. The author has a number of novels to his credit and this one will add to his reputation as a story teller.
In the Keyhole Factory by William Gillespie ($16.95, Soft Skull Press) we find a poetic and experimental look at the world we know turned on its head. Set in an alternative present, it is filled with the interwoven destinies of disparate characters up to and beyond the world-as-we-know-it that begins at an academic poetry conference that links a poet-as-astronaut in deep space with a microbiologist, a sports-car-driving sociopath who murders utopian commune dwellers, and a lone pirate rate disc jockey who believes she is the last person left alive broadcasting her story to nobody. This involves science fiction and a dispensation of belief, but is likely to appeal to readers with its look at the near future. A novel based on today’s world of Islamic terrorism, The Ragnarok Conspiracy by Erec Stebbins ($15.95, Seventh Street Books) involves an American bin Laden, an FBI agent who now confront each other over acts of vengeance that bring the world to the brink of war. It is a classic thriller that spans the world in an ever-widening arc of intrigue, violence, and personal conflict. It is a real page-turner and, set against the real events occurring, will keep you reading to the last page. To end on a lighter note, there’s Rick Klass’s laugh-out-loud comedy, Excuse Me for Living ($14.95, Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing) which is headed for a movie house near year. In this debut novel, Klass tells a story of Daniel Topler who is grabbed from a suicide attempt based on his drug addiction woes and put in the care of an elderly psychiatrist to avoid a jail term. He falls for the psychiatrist’s daughter and must come to terms with his wasted life and restore his life to sanity. This may sound a bit dark—and it is—but it is told with a deft feel for romantic comedy.

That’s it for November! We are nearing the end of another year of great fiction and non-fiction is behind us and we will discover lots of great reading in 2013. Come back in December and remember to tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com for news of the many books that do not leap to the bestseller lists, but provide hours of entertaining and knowledge.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

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