By Alan Caruba
My Picks of the Month
I have known Brian Sussman from the years when he and I would get together on the radio in his hometown of San Francisco on KFSO to discuss the events of the day. A television journalist turned meteorologist, Sussman used his knowledge to debunk the global warming hoax and, when a cache of emails between its leading perpetrators was leaked to the Internet, he wrote “Climategate”, a book still worth reading, but his latest book, Eco-Tyranny: How the Left’s Green Agenda Will Dismantle America ($25.95, WND Books) should be “must” reading for anyone who has begun to suspect something very dangerous about the activities of the leading environmental organizations, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the Environmental Protection Agency, all of whom are engaged in an attack on private property, the keystone of capitalism and foundation of the U.S. economy. Step by step, Sussman demonstrates how environmentalism hides its deep roots in communism and its contempt for humanity. Even as the global warming hoax fell apart, the Greens are engaged in a new version in the name of “sustainability”, claiming the Earth cannot sustain its population and the use of its bounty, particularly in the area of energy, is destroying the Earth. Communism is responsible for at least 110 million deaths since it was introduced in Russia in 1917 and later in China and elsewhere. It is the enemy of freedom and its latest reincarnation as environmentalism is as well. This is a chilling examination of the way Americans are being denied access to the nation's treasure trove of oil, natural gas, and coal. It is a look at the way more and more of the landmass of the nation is being put off-limits to development by the government. If you read no other book this year, this would be the one I would recommend for your sake, for your family’s and the nation’s future.
Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban by Douglas A. Wissing ($25.00, Prometheus Books) is one of those books that the mainstream press doesn’t want you to know about. The author was recently interviewed on C-Span as he related the way that the government, over two administrations, has mismanaged billions of development and logistics dollars, bolstered the drug trade, and literally dumped untold millions into Taliban hands. It is a scathing critique of the war in Afghanistan. The troops in the field are well aware that the war is lost and of the way the corrupt Karzai government and the Taliban has gamed all the “development” money spent there to enrich his cronies as well as the Taliban we’re told we are fighting. The result is that Americans have been funding both sides of the war. While Americans have a general awareness of the menace that Islam poses for the nation and the world, one can gain a far more thorough understanding by reading Ali Sina’s new book, Understanding Muhamad and Muslims ($18.95, Felibri.com, an imprint of Freedom Bulwark Publication). As an occasional contributor to Sina’s website, FaithFreedom.org, I have come to know Sina through his books and writings. Born in a Muslim family in Iran, educated in Italy, and now living in Canada, Sina has established himself as a leading critic of Islam and has helped thousands to leave Islam and secure a life free of this cult built around the life of Muhamad. Passing himself off as a prophet, Muhamad fashioned a religion to impose his will on gullible followers. Sina has put together a psychological portrait of a man for whom the ends always justified the means. The violence associated with Islam was an early element of the emerging cult and is, of course, practiced today by suicide bombers and those who perpetrated 9/11. I highly recommend this book.
Do you ever get the feeling that we live in a society that encourages immaturity through escapism, various distractions, and an emphasis on youth? Do you suspect you have not fully matured in your own life? If so, an interesting book, Dare to Grow Up: Learn to Become Who You are Meant to Be by Paul Dunion ($16.95, Bartleby Press, Savage, MD, softcover) is a soulful new guide to personal accountability and emotional maturity. This book is about a self-examined life, offering counsel on how to develop self-loyalty, avoiding self-betrayal, and developing a solid foundation for emotionally intimate relationships. In short, it is about integrity and when you have that, your life is vastly improved. I normally am wary of self-help books, but this one is well worth reading.
Memoirs, Biographies, Autobiographies
I confess that over the decades I have seen so many books written by survivors of the Holocaust—the Nazi program to kill all the Jews of Europe—that I have sometimes thought that every one of them has written a book about it. I think they have written these memoirs as a warning to future generations not to forget what occurred in the mid-20th century. Three softcover books representative of this genre have arrived and each one of them is worth reading. Noike: A Memoir of Leon Ginsburg ($15.00, Avenger Books) by his daughter Suzanne Ginsburg. Leon Ginsburg has been the subject of several books on World War II. Known as a child by his Hebrew name, Noike, Leon was the only child survivor from Maciejow, a shtetl of 5,000 in Eastern Poland (now part of the Ukraine). Leon was interviewed by Peter Jennings for his seminal book, The Century and by Jane Marks for her book, Hidden Children of the Holocaust. It is an extraordinary story of survival by a ten-year-old child who eluded death many times. Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri ($8.95, Tanglewood) was written for younger readers, age 12 and up, but older readers will find its story of twins who arrived in Auschwitz at age ten and, while their parents were swiftly killed in its gas chambers, were turned over to Dr. Josef Mengele who performed sadistic “medical” experiments. Many sets of twins died as a result. It is the story of extraordinary evil and, yes, of survival. Lastly, there’s Bitter Freedom: Memoir of a Holocaust Survivor by Jafa Wallach ($18.95, Gihon River Press), the personal account of a Polish Jew who survived a Nazi sweep of Southern Poland. After sending her 4-year-old to safety, she with her husband spent twenty-two agonizingly long months in a grave-like space hidden by a brave Pole, the town’s mechanic, who provided food and water. The hole was located less than twenty feet from a Gestapo headquarters in the small town of Lesko. Ultimately the family made their way to America in May 1947.
Religion is at the heart of an interesting memoir by Mary Johnson, An Unquenchable Thirst, ($32.95, Bond Street Books, an imprint of Random House Canada). At age 17 Mary Johnson saw a picture of Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaires of Charity, and was so moved by it that she entered a convent in the South Bronx to begin her training. From a typical Texas teenager she was transformed by her quest for meaning in her life, for an identity. She became Sister Donata and rose through the ranks of the order to find herself working with Mother Teresa. All along the way, however, she had to wrestle with her own desire for love and a deeper personal connection to a life with faith. In 1997 she left the order after twenty years and has become a respected teacher and public speaker.
A life spent around madness is the subject of Riding Fury Home: A Memoir by Chana Wilson ($17.00, Seal Press, softcover). In 1958, when she was age of seven, her mother held a rifle to her head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and she was taken away for the first of many visits to a mental hospital. Other suicide attempts would follow and the author chronicles forty years of her relationship with her mother and the way it was affected by the changes in the social landscape of their time. She was the sole caretaker of her mother and it was not until she left for college in Iowa that she was able to break the dysfunctional bonds and find her own space which included her own lesbianism. The author has been a psychotherapist for twenty-five years and this book must surely have been cathartic.
A more traditional biography is found in Gordon Bowker’s James Joyce ($35.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) due out in June. Fans of this author will find this an absorbing account of his life and work. Bowker deftly connects all the dots between his writing and his life such as how his years in Trieste influenced the shaping of “Ulysses” and the way he dealt with friends, poverty, and ill health. The miracle is how he was able to write epic novels celebrating the lives of ordinary people. He was an extremely complex man and hard even on his friends. Joyce is an acquired taste and regarded as a literary giant. This may well be the best biography to have been written about him.
Finally, Ron Reagan, the former President’s son, authored a memoir of their lives together that is now in softcover, My Father at 100, ($16.00, Plume). For fans of Ronald Reagan, this is a privileged portrait by someone who knew him as a father, a mentor, and a moral compass. A century after Reagan’s birth, even his son had to undertake a journey to learn about his youth. It is an interesting story.
In March a Financial Times article was titled “Bleak Outlook for U.S. Newspapers” and called them “America’s fastest-shrinking industry.” Advertising revenues are half what they were in 2005 and now at 1984’s levels. Part of the challenge has come from the growth of the Internet as the go-to source for news, but part can be attributed to the loss of confidence in the objectivity and accuracy of what newspapers, with exceptions, report as news or fail to report entirely. For those like myself who began his career as a reporter and editor, that is sad news, but Christopher B. Daly, a veteran journalist and historian, has just had a splendid book published, Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism ($49.95, University of Massachusetts Press) that will please its readers on many levels. Daly remains optimistic, noting that American journalism has always been challenged, going through deep change in the 1830s and again in the 1920s. Daly provides a lively, interesting review of journalism’s many personalities, events and trends. It is an excellent work of history concerning the profession and business of journalism, filled with anecdotes and intriguing facts. It surely belongs on the shelves everywhere journalism is celebrated.
An excellent look at The Elizabethans by A.N. Wilson ($30.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is out this month. It is worth reading because this period in England’s history set in motion so much that followed. It was a time of exceptional creativity, wealth creation, and political expansion and was filled with colorful and dynamic characters, not the least of which was Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Drake not only defeated the Spanish Armada, but circumnavigated the world. Shakespeare wrote his plays in this period. Declaring its independence from the Church, England laid the foundations for the explosion of the British Empire. This extraordinary era is captured in a single volume that anyone interested in history will want to read and add to their personal library.
If you love a historical mystery, you will enjoy Midnight in Peking, subtitled “How the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of old China” by Paul French ($26.00, Penguin original). It is a true crime story about the murder of a British school girl, Pamala Werner, found at the base of the Fox Tower. With the Japanese already in Manchuria and encircling Peking, an investigation by a former Scotland Yard officer takes him deep into Peking’s seedy underworld of crime, drugs, and prostitution. Her father’s life is consumed with his own investigation. The author provides the resolution and transforms a front page murder into an absorbing and emotional expose.
History was on Tim Wendel’s mind when he wrote Summer of 68: The Season that Changed Baseball and America Forever ($25.00, Da Capo Press). For those too young to recall and those old enough to do so, 1968 was a tumultuous year, filled with political turbulence, civil unrest, and violence. There were riots in a hundred cities and the year saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. 1968 was also “the year of the pitcher” with men like Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians, Denny McClain of the Detroit Tigers, and Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. Wendel captures the spirit of the time and weaves together the stories of the year’s events, the teams and players in a thoroughly entertaining fashion; particularly for anyone who loves the game. This book demonstrates the deep connection between the nation and its national game. For Yankees fans, there's The New York Times Story of the Yankees ($29.95, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers). Edited by Dave Anderson, it is a compendium of 382 articles, profiles, and essays from 1903 to the present. This book will bring joy and hours of great reading for any fan of this legendary team, Anderson is one of the leading sportswriters of our era and has done a great job selecting and organizing the book that is also filled with memorable photos.
We are getting deeper into the election year activities that will dominate the latter part of the year. For anyone who loves history and all the electioneering paraphernalia, there is a unique book, Presidential Campaign Posters, from the Library of Congress that includes 100 ready-to-frame posters ($40.00, Quirk Books). Each poster is accompanied by a short text about the particular election, starting in 1828 with Andrew Johnson’s campaign. This is a great way to learn about the campaigns that have shaped our nation. Not surprisingly, candidates have pretty much campaigned on the same issues.
There is a constant stream of books about doing business. Anyone who is engaged in management, sales or entrepreneurial endeavors can benefit from them. A lot about success has to do with one’s personal attributes. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling ($28.00, Free Press) have teamed up to address the issue of execution because, as they say, MBA programs focus heavily on strategy, but virtually no training in execution—actually getting things done. The authors work for the FranklinCovey firm, a company with operations in 141 nations worldwide, providing guidance to corporations and organizations on getting the best results by training people to be their best and to thus achieve their goals. The book addresses strategic organizational changes that improve performance. Anyone in a managerial position will greatly benefit from reading this book.
Parenting and Women’s Issues
To most men, women remain a mystery. Being either sex poses its unique challenges and there are books with advice. Susanna Foth Aughtmon has written I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, and the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes ($12.99, Revell, softcover), a humorous and encouraging book that explores “our deep need to be in control.” It blends Scripture (Revell is a Christian publishing house) with insight and the view that there is “a unique path laid out for each of us.” In contrast, Orna Gadish addresses the fact that 47% of young adults have never been married, 51% are living without a spouse, and choosing to be single is now a worldwide phenomenon. Don’t Say I Do! Why Women Should Stay Single ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) officially due off the press in July. Our society has afforded women the freedom to hold jobs that give them a freedom that did not exist for earlier generations. The author focuses on the “inadequacies and dissatisfaction with traditional marriage” encouraging women to think for themselves and stay single. Clearly this is transforming the male-female relationship that has been the keystone for society and has significant implications for the future. I am old fashioned enough to think that marriage has worked well enough for generations and single women raising children have a raft of problems that need to be addressed. Some women, however, will find comfort in this book.
Parenting has long been a topic for authors and these days are no different. The loss of parental control to schools and government agencies is beginning to percolate into a major issue. Honeycomb Kids: Big Picture Parenting by Anna M. Campbell, the mother of three ($17.95, Chelsea Green Publishing, softcover) has a strong environmental focus. Unfortunately the way environmentalists have been terrorizing children with doomsday scenario needs to be addressed, but this book, despite its otherwise useful advice, contributes to this problem. I don’t recommend it. One reason for concern is the way schools have been turned into indoctrination centers for environmentalism and increasingly for teaching socialism as superior to capitalism. Your Teacher Said What? Trying to Raise a Fifth Grade Capitalist in Obama’s America by Joe and Blake Kernan ($15.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover) recounts the challenges of teaching the value of free market capitalism to a child in the grip of the nation’s educational system and a popular culture that attacks capitalism in the name of the redistribution of wealth, communism’s promise. Prior to his anchoring duties, Joe Kernen was CNBC’s on-air stock editor, after having joined the Financial News Network. Previously he had been a stock broker. If this is your concern too, I recommend you read this book. A growing trend over the years has been homeschooling and it is well known that such children score better and do better than their contemporaries in schools that often resemble minimum security prisons. More than 1.5 million Americans have chosen this for their children. Homeschooling: Why and How by Gail Nagasako ($15.95, Two Harbors Press, softcover) provides a wealth of information on how parents can provide their children with an excellent education and positive socialization.
Parents will love Don’t Sit on the Baby! The Ultimate Guide to Sane, Skilled, and Safe Babysitting by Halley Bondy ($12.99, Zest Books, softcover). Due out in June, babysitting is a popular part-time job for teens and this book is written for parents to their babysitters to impart everything they need to know from dealing with diaper rash to CPR. It is filled with advice on what to expect from infants to those age ten and provides strategies for communicating with parents. If you are the parent of a teenager contemplating this as a way to earn a few dollars, I would heartily recommend you give them this book.
Books for Kids and Young Readers
There are so many books for kids and younger readers that it is a bounty of entertainment and knowledge.
A Pirate Girl’s Treasure: An Origami Adventure by Peyton and Hilary Leung ($18.95, Kids Can Press) that uses the Japanese art of folded paper sculptures combined with a story about a girl whose pirate grandfather sends her a treasure map. This, too, is for the pre-schooler or very early reader, aged four and up. Parents of twins will welcome Take Two! A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by Sophie Blackall ($16.95, Candlewick) may have something to do with the fact that Lewis is a twin. It is filled with facts about all things “twin”, fraternal, identical, and record-setting, all told with poetry. Daisy’s Perfect Word by Sandra V. Feder and illustrated by Susan Mitchell is a great introduction to independent reading and the joys of playing with language. As a longtime writer, I am biased, but the gift of reading and writing is one of the best a parent can pass along to any youngster.
For readers age eight and older, a number of books will provide hours of great reading. Robert Jae Sky has written To Dream the Impossible ($9.95, Create Space, Charleston, SC, available from Amazon.com). This father of three and grandfather of five was inspired by Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers and has written a lovely story of Rippy, a rabbit who wants to ski despite being told by everyone that rabbits do not ski. Not one to take no for an answer, Rippi perseveres and young readers will learn a value lesson while being highly entertained by this story. Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit and Kari Trogen ($15.95, Kids Can Press) It is a classic story of an orphanage, a wicked woman who runs it, how Margaret defeats her and learns the power of making friends to find happiness in life. Alexander, Spy Catcher by Diane Stormer ($10.95, iUniverse, softcover) is about Alexander and his brother Ben who enjoy the usual things while coping with learning algebra, sports tryouts, and talking with girls. Then they discover that their Uncle Charlie may be in danger because of a secret government project he is working on. When they tell him of the strange things they have noticed, he disappears without a trace! They have to help their family discover what has happened to him and therein lies a gripping story. Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers by Chris Grabenstein ($16.99, Harpercollins Childrens) is a title that instantly appealed to me. Written by a former improv comedian and president of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, it introduces seventh-grade mastermind, Riley and his pals, the “Gnat Pack”, as they fight the town bully and his crooked cop of a father. They liberate dogs held captive in a puppy mill and thwart a bank robbery! This one is a real page turner that is sure to please.
Finally and especially for girls, American Girl has a number of new books with clever twists such as its “Innerstar University” series that include The New Girl and Behind the Scenes, ($8.95 each) books that have twenty different ends starring the reader. These are interactive and take place on the Innerstar University campus where girls can discover how their decisions can change the outcome of the story. Clever idea. Another useful book is A Smart Girl’s Guide to Liking Yourself—Even on Bad Days ($9.95) that teaches how to overcome low self-esteem and develop confidence; always a good thing for any youngster. A series of mysteries featuring young girls in different time periods of America’s history includes The Crystal Ball, The Hidden Cloud and The Cameo Necklace at an affordable $6.95 each. In each a girl experiences an adventure that will keep any reader turning the pages.
Novels, Novels, Novels
Day after day I receive emails promoting new novels. They come from established publishing firms and from self-published novelists. They are so frequent I have an automatic email reply message wish them well, but noting that the volume of new novels makes it impossible to accept their request.
Unbridled Books. The Lola Quartet by ($24.95) begins with a photograph. Eilo Sasaki takes a picture of a young girl she meets while handling a home foreclosure in Florida. The child bears a striking resemblance of her brother Gavin and is approximately ten years old. Her last name is Montgomery and, ten years earlier, Gavin’s girlfriend, Anna Montgomery, disappeared amidst rumors that she was pregnant. When Gavin is shown the photo, he begins to ask questions about the past. This is her third novel and Mendel is making a name for herself in literary circles and with a growing fan base. If you read this novel, you know why.
Bethany Frankel is a three-time bestselling author, a popular TV reality star, successful businesswoman and devoted mom. She makes her fiction debut with Skinnydipping ($25.00, Simon and Schuster), a sexy and hilarious story of Faith Brightstone, an iconic aspiring actress just out of college who wants to conquer Hollywood and have all the perks of fame. Like so many others, her plans do not pan out as she gains a behind-the-scenes experience, suffers heartbreak, and abandons La La Land for New York. The resemblance to Frankel’s real life is unmistakeable. Faith is discovered at a fancy food show after establishing a business, becomes a reality TV star, and wins a contest for her own show. Frankel’s fans will jump at the chance to read this thinly disguised autobiographical novel. A unique look at life in Israel is provided by Sayed Kashua, an Arab who has enjoyed success there, having written two previous novels and as the creator of a groundbreaking Israeli sitcom, “Arab Labor”. He straddles two cultures and his novel, Second Person Singular, ($25.00, Grove Press) is about an Arab criminal attorney in Jerusalem who has a thriving practice in the Jewish part of Jerusalem. By chance, in a bookstore he picks up a book by Tolstoy that has a love letter in his wife’s handwriting. He is immediately consumed by suspicion and jealousy, and determined to find the book’s previous owner. This is a powerful novel of love and betrayal, a complex psychological mystery, and a searing dissection of individuals who live in a divided society.
Some softcover novels offer entertainment and insight. The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore ($16.00, Simon and Shuster) is now in softcover. It is a complex and compelling story that spans four decades in the lives of its characters, set in Tuscany and on the coast of Devon, England that begins when a young girl spies on a beautiful palazzo from beyond its iron gate. Abandoned by her mother and left in poverty by her alcoholic father, ten year old Floriana finds La Magdalena a perfect place to escape into daydreams. One day she is spotted by Dante, the son of the villa’s wealthy owner. He invites her inside and shows her the villa’s enchanting Mermaid Garden. They become friends and Floriana becomes convinced that her destiny in that garden with him. The story moves to a charming old hotel by the sea that has fallen on hard times. When a charming, handsome Argentine artist, the lives of the owner and her family. Another story takes you to Japan. The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami traces the story of Tsukiko who happens to meet a former high school sensei (teacher) in a local bar. Their relationship develops from a perfunctory acknowledgement of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar into an enjoyable sense of companionship, and finally into a deeply sentimental love affair. Memoirs of a Porcupine by UCLA professor Alain Mabanckou is set in Africa ($15.95, Soft Skull Press) and is an example of magical realism based on an African legend that says all human beings have an animal double! Some are benign while others are wicked. When Kibandi at age ten is initiated into this world, he fuses with an animal and, from then on, he and his porcupine double become accomplices in nefarious adventures.
Last, but hardly least, is a delightful collection of 88 “short-short” stories found in Flush Fiction ($16.95, softcover) “you can read in a single sitting.” Published by Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader (Ashland, Oregon), it was compiled by the editors of the Bathroom Reader’s Institute. They are all shorter than a thousand words and run the gamut of various genre from humor to mystery, romance to adventure, et cetera. You can check it out at http://www.bathroomreader.com/ and for folks who love to read no matter where they are, it is a real treat.
That’s it for May. Be sure to tell all your book-loving friends, family, and coworkers about Bookviews.com so they too can learn about the many fiction and non-fiction books that stand out from the deluge and deserve to be read. Then come back in June for more!