Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bookviews - February 2013


By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

For most of the history of the nation, Muslims played virtually no role in its politics or culture, but journalist Paul L. Williams examines the phenomenal rise of Islam in the United States in Crescent Moon Rising: The Islamic Transformation of America ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) that reviews Islam’s beginnings in the nation; initially as the rise and influence of the Nation of Islam among African Americans. In 1965, the Hart-Celler Act abolished national origin quotes and led to successive waves of Muslim immigrants who entered the nation from Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq, Southeast Asia, Africa, Turkey and other parts of the world. Given the attack on 9/11, a wake up call for most Americans, Williams addresses a number of disturbing concerns about the Muslim presence such as the proselytizing and recruitment among convicts and ties to terrorist organizations. Drawing on a large body of statistics and other data, Williams predicts that Islam will be a major religion in America in a matter of decade. Given the resurgence of al Qaeda in the recent attacks in Algeria and Mali, and the spread of the religion worldwide, this is a book that is well worth reading.


If you think that U.S. borders, particularly in the southwest, are adequately protected against drug smuggling and illegal immigration, pick up a copy of Homeland Insecurity: Failed Politics, Policies, and a Nation at Risk ($19.95, BookLogix, softcover) by Brett Braaten. The author’s career spans 29 years with the original Customs agency that, after 9/11, was integrated into the 2002 Department of Homeland Security. Braaten offers a unique and extremely well informed look behind the myths that surround Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as the new law enforcement agency is now called. He warns that politics, no matter which administration, past and present, cripples the ability of special agents to do their job in many cases, not the least of which is deporting illegal aliens. The rivalries between the FBI, the IRS, the ATF and other agencies continue to this day, further degrading the effectiveness of ICE. Add in political correctness and you have a situation where potential terrorists are handled with kid gloves while wheelchair-bound senior citizens are manhandled by the Transportation Safety Administration agents. Braaten takes the reader behind the scenes, including the few notable cases where terrorists were thwarted—always by alert passengers and no thanks to the system that is supposed to track them and stop them. He offers some good suggestions as to what can and should be done to correct the current lack of real protection and one that has the nation playing host to several million illegal aliens, and to increasingly emboldened drug cartel gangs.

Late last year I received a fascinating essay by Don Fredrick titled “Can It All Be a Coincidence?” Fredrick looked at President Obama’s many friends and associates, indicating the inter-relationship between them and surrounding him. Many are unsavory in a variety of ways; close friends, the Ayers, were former domestic terrorists. The preacher of the church he attended for over two decades was famed for his anti-American sermons. Suffice to say it is a long list that raises many question. Fredrick has gathered together that article with more than a hundred others in a book, Can It All Be a Coincidence? ($15.99, via Amazon, $3.99 Kindle) that runs almost 600 pages that those who are not fans of Obama will find of great interest. The author maintains a website at http://www.theobamatimeline.com.

If you are among the many millions who depend on talk radio to get news and opinion from a conservative point of view, than you will enjoy Fred V/ Lucas’ new book, The Right Frequency: The Story of Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment ($18.95, History Publishing Company, softcover). L. Brent Bozell III president of the Media Research Center, says, “Author Fred Lucas chronicles conservative talk-radio stars over the decades, reminding us how they kept the American idea alive. Lucas travels back to the early days of talk radio history, describing, for example how Fulton Lewis predicted to Mike Wallace in the 1950s that the Republican Party could be a majority party if they would only let the conservatives run it, instead of wishy-washy, me-too moderates.” That was quite prescient given the way the recent reelection of President Obama is widely attributed to a weak candidate and failure to wage a more aggressive campaign. The Republicans have had a succession of presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon to Reagan and the two Bush presidencies. It took until 1994 to gain control of Congress during the Clinton administration, but political power kept slipping away and today’s talk radio stars, led by Rush Limbaugh, will have plenty to rail against for the next four years. As history, this is an excellent book, well worth reading.

Memoirs, Autobiographies and Biographies

When Rolling Stone magazine published an article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal in which some critical views of his subordinates were published, the General felt compelled to submit his resignation to the President. It was accepted and a long, distinguished military career by a West Point graduate, son of a West Point graduate and a father her revered came to an ended. Gen. McChrystal has had his memoir published, My Share of the Task, ($29.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin) and for anyone interested in our military and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it says a lot about the way our modern army trains its leaders and how they accept that responsibility. In 2009 Gen. McChrystal was appointed the Commander of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan to lead 100,000 troops from 46 allied nations. He has had a distinguished career and it is unfortunate he was sabotaged by a journalist more interested in gossip and accomplishments. His memoir is an instructive look at the way our military is producing a unique blend of soldiers and scholars, but it is also an insight regarding the values that instruct the way they live lives devoted to the defense of the nation in what has always been a politicized military directed, as the Constitution requires, by civilians in office. An expert in counter-terrorism, Gen. McChrystal is an example of the meritocracy that our military represents. His memoir is close to 400 pages, not counting footnotes that document it. It is highly detailed and it reveals the values he learned at West Point and over the course of his career. As such it offers a useful look at the men who put their lives on the line for a nation they love.

Jane Austen has become a cottage industry, generating movies based on her novels, and still widely read today for such classics as “Pride and Prejudice” that will celebrate its two hundredth anniversary of publication this month. Paula Byrne has written The Real Jane Austin: A Life in Small Things ($15.95, Harper) in which the acclaimed writer of biographies focuses on the key moments, scenes and objects which helped determine the course of Austen’s life and then reappear, transposed, in her novels. Instead of just piling fact on fact as in the case of the usual biography, this book offers a portrayal of her life that lends further insight to the power of her novels, as well as the major influences such as her father’s religious faith and her mother’s aristocratic pedigree. She was determined to become a published author and it was her father’s support that led to the publication of her first book, an effort that took several years. Anyone who is a fan of her novels will greatly enjoy this biography.

People who have passed through major trials in their lives often examine them in the form of a memoir. This is the case of Jennie Morton who has written Standing Strong ($17.95) who fought a long battle to regain custody of her children after losing them to her ex-husband. Now the founder of the Children’s Justice Foundation, Morton says “It’s a widespread and very damaging myth that mothers always get custody.” Her memoir recounts how her two former husband teamed up with their friends in the local courts to systematically strip her of her rights and deny her access to two of her children. She lost her job and her savings due to the cost of litigation, but she also discovered an inner strength she never knew she had. She would eventually graduate summa cum laude with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science degree and was accepted into South Texas College of Law in 2003. For women encountering this problem, the book will be an inspiration.

Another memoir provides an insight to life in Uganda during the 1960s as the physician-author tells the story of a turbulent political time when Uganda transitioned to self-rule. Dr. Negesh Tajani is currently Professor Emiritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the New York Medical College and a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. This is the story of her 42-year marriage to a Ugandan colleague and her move to Kampala where they spent eleven years. I Hear a Song in My Head: A Memoir in Stories of Love, Fear, Doctoring, and Flight ($26.00, New Academia Publishing, softcover) is a love story on one level and of the practice of medicine on another.

Relationships, Making Them and Saving Them

An interesting approach to finding love can be found in Much Ado About Loving by Jack Murnighan and Maura Kelly ($14.00, Free Press, softcover) that is subtitled “What our favorite novels can teach you about data expectation, not so-great Gatsbys, and love in the time of internet personals.”  Finding love these days isn’t easy in an era of online dating and open relationships, even if they have increased our choices. As a result, people turn to advice about modern-day courtship, but much of it, the authors note, can be found in classic novels by authors ranging from Jane Austin to William Faulkner. This is a lively exploration of common dating issues such as the worst kinds of people to date, how we handicap ourselves when it comes to finding good relationships, and, in the process we discover how classic literature is still relevant today.

 As Leil Lowndes, the author of How to Create Chemistry with Anyone: 75 Ways to Spark It Fast…and Make It Last ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) reminds us, love is one of the most fundamental human needs, but the chemistry of love and attraction is fickle. It can be mutual or painfully one-sided. It fades when the “spark” fades. Lowndes, who has written a number of bestselling books on communications techniques returns with an examination of the chemistry of love, drawing on the latest research in cognitive sciences, she makes it understandable and applicable for anyone looking for long-term love. Marriage Rescue: Overcoming Ten Deadly Sins in Failing Relationships by Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) will officially be published in April explores for unhappy spouses why their marriages are unsatisfying, dysfunctional, and deteriorating with a look at ten ways spouses can cause marital strife, learn how to identify what they are doing wrong, and provides strategies to mend and revitalize their unions. It is his belief that the divorce rate of fifty percent can be avoided by identifying the behaviors and attitudes that every struggling couple must address. If this describes your marriage of that of someone you know, this book will prove very helpful. Also from the same publisher it is well known that, while the arrival of a new baby brings couples much happiness, after the birth many women feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, fear and despair. During the postpartum period, it is estimated that 85% of women experience some mood disturbance. Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold, a psychologist, has written Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) and provides proven techniques for overcoming unhappiness during postpartum. It doesn’t have to be a frightening, overwhelming time. Her book dispels misconceptions and myths about postpartum depression. Utilizing her vast experience, Feingold guides women on how to prepare for or recover from stressful times, frightening systems, and conflicting problems in relationships, complex maternity issues, and the feelings of anxiety that often follow a birth, getting themselves off to a good start.

Some of our habits contribute to bad relationships and, while Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We don’t, and How to Make Any Changes Stick by Jeremy Dean ($26.00, Da Capo Press) isn’t strictly about relationships, it is about those habits we embrace and often have difficulty breaking. Dean explores the anatomy of habit-forming behavior, offers tips and solutions for those who have tried and tried again to alter bad behavior or institute good behavior, only to give up after the first week. This is serious psychology and an often fascinating look at the way habits are formed, reinforced, and strengthened throughout our lives. Not all habits are bad, but the ones that are can often take weeks and months to eliminate from our lives. The vices, smoking, drinking, and comparable bad behaviors can be changed and this book can help anyone seeking to make that change.

On Writers, Writing, and Selling Books

If there is one thing that reviewers these days are aware of it is that many people are not only writing books, but they now have the capability of publishing them on their own. Though writing is a literary endeavor, it is also for some like myself a business and, in fact, has always been whether the topic is fiction or non-fiction. That is why The Business of Writing: Professional Advice on Proposals, Publishers, Contracts, and More for the Aspiring Writer ($19.95, Allworth Press), edited by Jennifer Lyons, is a good investment who has gathered together thirty industry professionals to share their perspectives on the nuts and bolts of publishing. One could spend years learning what this one book imparts. Similarly, Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method ($16.00, Perigee, softcover) by Stuart Horwitz is less about the business of writing as about the techniques involved in transforming first drafts into something that would gain publication. Here again, aspiring writers would benefit. Finally, once one has published their own book or been published, it usually falls to the author to do the bulk of the promotion unless one has a publisher with a budget to advertise and publicize the book. Phillip Lopate is a preeminent writer of the personal essay and has written a guide to for anyone who wants to pursue this genre. To Show and Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) will help a writer navigate between fiction and nonfiction while discussing the state of writing, publishing and creative nonfiction today. If you want to read some of his work, Portrait Inside My Head ($26.00, Free Press) is also out this month as a collection of essays that paints a vivid, personal portrait of a major literary figure’s lifetime in New York. If you haven’t read his work, this is a good introduction and, if you have, his guide may inspire you to try your hand at it.

Patricia Fry has written Talk Up Your Book; How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences, and More ($19.95, Allworth Press, softcover). If writing a book is hard work, promoting it is as well. One has to be prepared to travel, speak, and create an audience and market for it. This book is filled with excellent advice on how to find speaking opportunities, handle yourself in front of an audience, organize and present workshops, and generate publicity for your presentations. Years ago such books did not exist, but in this era of the Internet, mass media, and other opportunity to call attention to one’s book, it is essential to master these skills. I am always surprised to be contacted by self-published authors who have no idea how to make a presentation, even briefly in an email or who just cold-call. It would be wise to invest some time in learning the ropes and these books will prove helpful.

Getting Down to Business Books

Get Rich Click! The Ultimate Guide to Making Money on the Internet by Marc Ostrofsky ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) whose initial, self-published book on the subject became a New York Times bestseller and topped other comparable lists. That book is now available in paperback. Ostrofsky is an online pioneer and internet entrepreneur whose various enterprises earn $75 million annually, so the man knows whereof he writes. The Internet is arguably the most powerful business tool in history and you too can make your own fortune on it, but it would be a good idea to read his book first.

Building Winning Enterprises Through Productivity by Isaac Johnson ($13.95, Mill City Press, Minneapolis, softcover) comes at a time when many businesses are concentrating on short-term fixes to improve the bottom line; lay-offs, budget cuts, and product development short cuts. Johnson’s slim guidebook walks the reader through a five-step process that takes a longer view by taking steps to improve productivity and thus maintaining one’s business with a blend of consistency, adaptation, adaptation, and an unwavering focus.

There’s no doubt the economic climate is battering American businesses and one way to help is to “buy American.” My Company ‘Tis of Thee: 50 Patriotic American Companies American Consumers Should Know About by Roger Simmermaker ($12.95, www.howtobuyAmerican.com) features companies that deserve consumer support for their products that, in turns, aids the economy. This is a passion of the author who has written four books on the subject since 1996 and been a guest on many news programs and featured in newspapers and magazines as a result. Whether it is products for the home and office, food and beverages, toys and other items one routinely uses, you will find a U.S. company that provides them in this book.

Books for Younger Readers

I am a great believer in getting children reading early, often by reading to them in their pre-school years, perhaps before they go to sleep. Later they can be given books appropriate to their age to encourage the habit of reading. I know that ebooks are the future, but nothing can replace the feel of a real book being held in one’s hands, pages turning, and the magical communication between the author and reader. Books for the very young are enhanced by artwork and photos. All of it engages and enriches their minds.

Many children’s books author want to impart good values and what better one than Peace which just happens to be the title and subject of Wendy Anderson Halperin’s new book ($16.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing). Given the conflicts that have been raging around the world, Ms. Halperin has gathered a collection of inspiring quotes on the question of how to bring and spread peace worldwide. Buddha said “Friendship is the only cure for hatred, the only guarantee of peace. The poet Walt Whitman who witnessed the Civil War said, “Peace is always beautiful.” The book is beautifully illustrated by the author and ideal for children aged 4 to 8. Elaina Redmond has a mission. She wants to teach and inspire young readers, ages 6 to 12, to appreciate The Power of the Penny, the title of her book, subtitled “Abraham Lincoln Inspires a Nation” ($18.09, available via Internet outlets and via www.thepowerofthepenny.com). It is handsomely illustrated by Scott Stewart and has won a Benjamin Franklin Award and a Mom’s Choice award. The book teaches children the value of civic duty, philanthropy, and financial literacy, fancy terms for learning the value of saving for the future, participating in the life of one’s community and nation, and to appreciate the value of something as small as a penny. She integrates the life of Lincoln, who appears on the penny, into the book as an example of the personal values one should strive to attain. By any measure, this is a book one would want any child to read.

Lincoln plays a major role in another book, Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty ($24.95, Abrams Books for Young Readers) by Tonya Bolden, the author of a number of award-winning books. This is a book for readers about ten and older, but it also serves an adult reader quite well  The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln 150 years ago and for the generations since then, it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the estimated eleven million slaves. The issue was divisive enough to spark a Civil War. For the South, it was an issue of state’s rights and the financial future of the slave-owners. This is an excellent book of the history of those times, an examination of how the Constitution dealt with slavery prior to the war, the various laws passed to preserve slavery or avoid its spread. The book is extensively illustrated with artwork and photos from that era. Lincoln joined the ranks of liberty’s greatest heroes when he issued the Proclamation, but it would take a century more before African-Americans gain their full rights as American citizens.

Girls in their teen years are especially fortunate insofar as there are publishers who pay attention to their interests and needs. Zest Books is one of them, publishing books for young men as well, but two of its latest are A Girl’s Guide to Fitness by Erin Whitehead and Jennipher Walters ($12.99) and The Prom Book by Lauren Metz ($16.99). Both are officially due off the press in April. The fitness books offers good advice on how to fit physical activity in their busy lives and addresses a lot of issues such as eating disorders, why trying to be perfect is boring, avoiding over-training, and much more that any girl should know as part of their pursuit of health. The prom is a major social event in a girl’s life and the book will help the reader plan for it in every way necessary. This is some serious, no-nonsense advice that will go far to make the special evening memorable. Another of my favorite publishers is American Girl.
Its magazine of the same name is celebrating its 20th anniversary with its January/February issue. The magazine has enriched the lives of girls age 8 and up. There’s a year-long birthday celebrating that includes a contest for girls who want to appear on its cover with entries to be postmarked no later than February 28. The magazine has a circulation of 441,000 with the average age being 10.5 years. It’s wholesome and worth giving any girl a subscription in contrast to much of the trash vying for their attention.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Between the major and smaller publishers, as well as the increase in self-published novels, the numbers keep growing. Here’s a look at some of the latest.

J.A. Jance has more than 22 million books in print and returns with Deadly Stakes ($25.99, Simon and Schuster). After suffering heartbreak at the hands of a cyber-sociopath, Lynn Martinson believes she has finally found happiness with her new boyfriend, Chip Ralston. However, when his gold-digging ex-wife is found murdered and abandoned in Arizona’s Camp Verde desert, the couple find themselves in jail with a rapidly expiring plea deal designed to make them testify against one another. This is the kind of heart-pounding action that has amassed a huge audience of fans for her novels. James Sheehan is the master of the legal thriller and he is back with The Lawyer’s Lawyer ($22.99, Center Street, imprint of Hachette Book Group). After agreeing to represent a convicted serial killer whom he believes was framed, Jack Tobin has enraged the system, but he relentlessly searches for the truth where it is often spoken of, but is often not found. He’s in the fight for his life and the outcome is in doubt right up to the last page. It is, as they say, a real page-turner. Make sure you have the time to read it through as you will have a hard time putting it down.

A bevy of softcover novels represent the many genres of fiction. Aric Davis’s new novel, Rough Men ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer) is about a father who must confront the demons of his past and risk the promise of a better future to avenge the killing of his son. This is an edgy crime fiction and solid crime thriller that begins when a detective shows up one cold night with the news that his son is dead, killed under dubious circumstances after taking part in an armed robbery. He enlists his brother and others to track down the killers as it explores the bonds of family. Also from the same publisher is Rules of Crime by L. J. Sellers ($ 14.95) whose bestselling Detective Jackson series has earned many fans. In this novel, he takes on the case of the kidnapping of his ex-wife. At first he suspects his alcoholic former wife, Renee, has hidden herself away, but the truth is far worse as becomes evident when the kidnappers demand a ransom from her wealthy fiancé. Meanwhile, his protégée, Lara Evans, is working on a troubling case of her own, the savage beating of a University of Oregon coed who may have been involved in a secret sorority. The action never stops as the solution to these parallel crimes run their course. Camilla Lackberg is the top selling female author in Europe, having sold more than ten million copies of her books worldwide with four million sold in her native Sweden. Americans were introduced to her in 2010 when this crime sensation’s “The Ice Princess” was published. The third segment of her chilling series is The Stonecutter ($15.99, Free Press) has just been published and continues the story of local detective Patrik Hedstrom and his girlfriend, Erica Falck, a crime-solving duo whose first child has just been born. The suspicious drowning that claims the life of the young daughter of close friends and, as they investigate, it threatens to tear apart the rural fishing village where a secret lurks that spans generations.

Stephen Dau’s haunting debut novel, The Book of Jonas, ($16.00, Plume) is about war, memory, guilt, and atonement as the author, a former international aid worker turned writer, takes the reader deep inside the human cost of military intervention, exploring war’s rippling repercussions and soul-searing wounds. It focuses on the refugee of a Middle East war who is taken into the family in the U.S. after an American soldier saves him the night he flees his village. There are many interesting twists and turns in this novel that will appeal to those who oppose war and its shared tragedies. On a far happier note, Gerrett Mathews takes the reader back to 1965 in Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater ($25.00, www.pluggerpublishing.com). It an underdog story of a 14-year-old boy, puny and shy, living in a little town in Virginia’s mountains where it is decided that he can be helped by playing second-string quarterback on the school’s jayvee team. Written by a retired journalist who has eight other books to his credit, this will appeal to anyone who grew up in those years and who love sports as much as he does. It will remind any male reader of the aspirations of those teen years, but it is in many ways a timeless, entertaining story that will remind you why you first fell in love with sports.

There is a genre of books intended to appeal to women readers. The Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper clubs by Dana Bate ($14.95, Hyperion) whose debut novel chronicles irrepressible Hannah Sugerman’s rebellion from her academic parents and wonky career path in the nation’s capital as she explores the underground supper-club business. His power-broker family don’t like the match with her boyfriend and, when that relationship falls apart, she continues to explore life as it takes many unexpected changes. Disasters and political careers collide while friendships and love affairs thrive. This author knows Washington. D.C. in ways that do not make it into the newspapers as power, policy, and real life combine for a delightful first novel.

Mary Ellen Taylor’s The Union Street Bakery ($15.00, Penguin) tells the story of Daisy McCraes’ life. She has lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and been reduced to living in the attic about her family’s store, a bakery, while learning the business. When a long-standing elderly customer passes away, he bequeaths Daisy a journal dating back to the 1850s, written by a slave girl named Susie. When she reads it, she learns more about her family and her own heritage than she ever dreamed. What she finds are the answers she has longed for her entire life and a chance to begin again with the courage and desire she thought she had lost.

Three novels have a spiritual theme. Karen Kingsbury’s The Chance ($22.90. Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster) a hardcover due out in March; One Sunday by Carrie Gerlach Cecil ($14,99, Howard Books); and My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short ($16.00, Plume), a debut novel. The “Alaska” book brims with Midwestern 1950s nostalgia and is devoted to the importance of fulfilling one’s dreams as Will Lane and his ambitious older sister, Donna, shake off the strictures of their small industrial Ohio town and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. In “One Sunday” Alice Ferguson’s career as the assistant editor of a Hollywood tabloid gets turned upside down when a charming Southern doctor not only gets her pregnant, but dares to fall in love with her. When she moves to Tennessee, she is befriended by her African-American neighbors, Pastor Tim and his wife. Alice learns the power of forgiveness and lets real love into her life. “The Chance” is hard to describe except to say it has an intricate plot that will capture your imagination as a chance meeting with singer Rod Stewart has a powerful impact on Karen Kingsbury’s life.

That’s it for February! Remember to come back in March and to tell your book-loving friends about Bookviews.com.

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