Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bookviews - July 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

I have written about energy issues for decades and yet The Fracking Truth by Chris Faulkner ($21.95, Platform Press) was so filled with hard data and informed opinion that I found myself being educated all over again on what is likely the most important factor of life in America and around the world, the provision of affordable energy. What I have known prior to reading this book is that “fracking”, the short term for hydraulic fracturing, has widespread opposition by some environmental groups and others who have bought into the lies being told about a technology that is over a half century in use and which has unlocked America’s vast reserves of natural gas and oil to transform our prospects for being energy independent as well as a major exporter, generating needed revenue for a nation $17 trillion in debt. The author is the founder, president and CEO of Breitling Energy Corporation and become over the years a trusted source of information for Washington lawmakers, journalists, and policy analysts from respected think tanks. America is home to people who simply do not like “fossil fuels”, but have no idea how dependent we are upon them, nor that they represent a better life, a stronger economy, and benefits we take for granted, not the least of which is the electricity on which we all depend. This is one of the best books on energy I have read in a while and I recommend you read it too. Learn more by visiting http://www.thefrackingtruthbook.com.

June marked the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. Many Americans, both black and white, felt that the nation had moved on passed the ills of the past and that a bright future of opportunity for Afro-Americans existed. For a relatively small part of the black population that was true, but for too many, it was not. Jason L. Riley, a black member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, has written Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed ($23.99, Encounter Books) and I cannot recommend it highly enough because the statistical data on which it is based clearly demonstrates that, rather than external restrictions as existed prior to 1964, it is black culture combined with government programs that undermine the family structure and diminish the desire to work hard that have proven to be the cause of why so many blacks remain not just unemployed, but unemployable due to a widespread indifference to education and other factors that such as violence that leads to crimes, mostly against other blacks, and extraordinary high rates of incarceration. As is too frequently the case, when one turns to government to solve problems, it fails because only individuals and private groups can effectively address what is happening in the streets and neighborhoods of America.

If often seems that politicians invent issues around which to create laws. Thomas E. Hall, a professor of economics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, takes a look at “the unintended consequences of public policies” in his book Aftermath ($24.95/12.99, Cato Institute, hardcover and digital). What emerges is a look at the way ideas that seemed necessary at the time turned out to impact life in America, as often as not for the worse. The result has been the creation of a vast welfare state, organized crime, and a scarcity of jobs for teenagers and the working poor. The creation of the income tax provided a source of money to grow government because politicians cannot wait to spend it. Hall takes a look at the creation of federal income taxes, taxes on cigarettes that generate criminal activity, the minimum wage that increases unemployment for teens, and what occurred as the result of Prohibition which took a constitutional amendment to repeal. The history of the economic impact of these programs is a graphic example of unintended consequences.

The scandal at the Veterans Administration puts the lie to all the talk we hear from politicians about the value they put on the lives of those who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. The VA management problems have been known for years and the current administration is only one among others who have not addressed them. When a government agency gets too big, it is the individual veteran that too often pays the price. That’s why, in part, Mark Lee Greenblatt’s Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front ($22.95/$11.99, Rowman & Littlefield, hardcover and ebook) is so timely and so needed at a time the Middle East is in turmoil to remind us of those who volunteered to serve their nation. This book takes you to the battlefield as seen through the eyes of individual soldiers, sailors, and Marines as they faced fearful decisions and overcame enormous odds. They all heroes and we duly honored, but unknown to the public. America has always been blessed with men of this stature and courage. It’s good to read about them.

Those who love to read often enjoy exploring the historical aspects of literature and Truth’s Ragged Edge; The Rise of the American Novel by Philip D. Gura ($16.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, softcover) looks at a portion of literary history in America largely overlooked and unknown, but interesting in its own right. A cultural historian, Gura reveals that the American novel has its roots in “the fundamental religiosity of American Life”, an aspect of our history that many try to ignore in the secular present. From the time of the nation’s first novel, The Power of Sympathy in 1789 to the start of the Civil War in 1860, writers were more interested in serving up tales about morality while nurturing broad cultural shifts from broader social concerns to individualism and from faith in a distant God to faith in oneself. In doing so we are taken back to the worlds of Hawthorne and Melville, along with others who have faded into history.

Money, Money, Money

Income inequality has become a political theme among Democrats; yet another way to divide Americans, but the fact is that there has always been income inequality and the best way to address it is by encouraging entrepreneurism, creating more jobs, and keeping the economy growing. Money Sucks: A Memoir on Why Too Much or Too Little Can Ruin You by Michael Baughman ($16.95, Skyhorse Publishing) The author has enjoyed and experienced both wealth and poverty. His book offers words of advice for his college bound grandson as he tries to instill an informed attitude about money and, specifically, the value of money and the way Americans pursue it with vigor. He asks the question, how much is enough?  Happily, it is not filled with boring graphs. Instead it is, as its title says, a memoir in which the author draws on his life and time spent with his grandson to share what he has learned about the pursuit and, ultimately, the value of money as we make our way through our lives. As such, it is a good read for anyone at any stage of life.

Did the Government Write Your Will? By Eric Gullotta ($14.99, Gullotta Law Group, softcover) addresses a surprising situation. Half of all Americans with children do not have wills indicating where their money and possessions should go after they die. This allows the government to come in and control it by tying it up in years of legal red tape, and determine what it goes to the point where the deceased’s family might never get what is rightfully theirs. As the author, and attorney and CPA, notes, “When you die without a will or trust, that’s called dying intestate” and that puts the state in which you die in charge of your assets—not you. A California attorney, he focuses on that state’s laws, but the advice put forth in his book applies elsewhere as well. He has written a short book whose advice will ensure that your loved ones and others will receive what you have worked hard to accumulate, not the state in which you die.

Coping, Coping, Coping

We spend most of our lives coping with changes, some good, some not.

Jennifer K. Crittenden, the author of “The Discreet Guide for Executive Women”, which I reviewed and liked, has written You, Not I: Exceptional Presence—Through the Eyes of Others, ($12.95, Whistling Rabbit Press, San Diego, CA, softcover). This book is written for women as well and it asks if you’re feeling stuck at work, if you suspect you don’t come across well, but don’t know why, and need to modify your behavior to manage others’ perceptions. Once you gain insight to who you are, how others perceive you, how to successfully fit into various situations, and how to stand out to further your career, you will discover how true the advice the author provides. Best of all, she does not just hand out broad generalizations, getting down to specifics in topics like “Some Really Good Ways to Irritate People”  and “The Magic of Common Courtesy.” What Ms. Crittenden knows is that many grow up and go out in the work world without having acquired the most basic skills for successful interaction with others. Her book provides what you may have missed along the way. I rate this one as excellent.

According to The Cancer Journal, the divorce rate for cancer-stricken wives is approximately 21% as compared to 3% when husbands get ill. When Fiona Finn was five months into her long battle with stage III colon cancer, her husband left her on Father’s Day; leaving her and her three children penniless. What ever happened to the “in sickness and in health” part of the marital vows, eh? She tells her story in Raw: One Woman’s Journey Through Love, Loss, and Cancer ($15.00, Mind Trip Productions, softcover). She is blessed, not only with a strong character, but also a strong sense of humor, and her aim is to save others from the sense of hopelessness that she endured and conquered. She does not hide the fact that she made some bad decisions along the way, including two failed marriages, but hers is the story of a survivor and one that will help others who encounter cancer. A very helpful book and a challenging one as well.


Some books don’t fit into neat categories, so here are a few that deserve attention for just that reason.

If you are a lawyer or just enjoy reading about the legal system, you will surely enjoy Law and Disorder: Absurdly Funny Moments from the Courts by Charles M. Sevilla ($14.95, W.W. Norton, softcover). While courtrooms are generally places where all manner of unhappy events or disagreements get sorted out in a serious fashion, they are, as this delightful book relates, places where there are humorous moments. Sevilla is, as you might have guessed, a lawyer and one who is perennially named to the “Best Lawyers in America” list. His friends helped with the book by sending transcripts of those unexpected moments. This book would make a great gift for any lawyer in your life or just to keep handy for a quick laugh.

Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship and Mating Tell Us about Human Relationships by Jennifer L. Verdolin ($18.95/$11.99, Prometheus Books, softcover and ebook) is a reminder that we too are animals like a lot of other species. The author takes a look at a variety of species and provides some interesting connections between the way ours selects mates and the fact that others often demonstrate similar characteristics. Or is it the other way around? Verdolin is an expert in animal behavior and currently a research scientist affiliated with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at Duke University. In ten chapters she covers topics such as first impressions and the role they play for us and other species. She writes about the role that size and strength has for the selection of mates in other species as well as our own. Indeed from beginning to end, you will find yourself being both entertained and surprised by the many ways we display behavior that resembles many of the other species with whom we share this planet. From the same publisher comes William E. Burrows’ book about The Asteroid Threat: Defending Our Planet from Deadly Near-Earth Objects ($19.95, Prometheus Books). This kind of thing is often the theme of science fiction, but the threat is very real and the explosion of a large meteor over Chelybinsk, Siberia, in February 2013 is just the latest reminder of the Earth’s vulnerability in a galaxy that is filled with asteroids and other objects flying around with us. Burrows, a veteran aerospace writer, explains what we can do in the future to avoid serious impact from “near-Earth objects” as they are called in the planetary defense community. The good news is that a powerful space surveillance system is capable of spotting a threat at least 25 years in advance and, if they existed, a space craft “nudge” could throw an asteroid off course.

If history is an interest of yours, you will likely enjoy Andrew Young’s The Lost Book of Alexander The Great ($26.00, Westholme Publishing). “Alexander the Great is well known as one of the first great empire builders of the ancient world. Among those fellow Macedonian officers who accompanied Alexander in his epic conquests from Greece to India was Ptolemy Lagides. Ptolemy served alongside Alexander from the Persian defeat at the Battle of Issus in modern-day Turkey and the journey to find the oracle that proclaimed Alexander to be Zeus incarnate, to the Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC that opened India to the West. Following Alexander's death, Ptolemy gained control of Egypt where he founded the dynasty in his name, created the great library of Alexandria, and was patron of the mathematician Euclid. Sometime during his rule in Egypt, Ptolemy wrote a history of Alexander's conquests. Although it is probable that Ptolemy enhanced his own importance, sources indicate that it was regarded as an accurate and even-handed account of the campaigns of Alexander. However, Ptolemy's book was lost—perhaps with the destruction of the library he founded—and not even an original fragment has survived. His book, however, was acknowledged as a primary source of information for later Roman historians.” The Roman Search for Wisdom by Michael K. Kellogg ($28.95, Prometheus Books) provides a look at the Roman Empire that is not the usual accounts of its wars, conquests, and decline. Kellogg disputes the notion that it the Romans were just a weak comparison with the Greeks. There were in fact many Roman poets, historians, and philosophers that included Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Tacitus, Plutarch and others. I read and enjoyed Kellogg’s previous “The Greek Search for Wisdom” and this book is a worthy sequel.

Did your mom tell you to eat your vegetables? Sure she did and now you can enjoy them by reading Salad Samurai by Terry Hope Romero ($19.99, Da Capo Press, softcover), a collection of 100 “cutting edge, ultra-hearty, easy-to-make salads.”  From the classic Caesar salad to exotic ones like avocado amaranth bhel puri chaat, this book will have you eager to sample a world of salads you never knew existed, but which look very delicious. People have all manner of hobbies and crafts provide a lot of fun for them. Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects by Sophie Maletsky ($16.99, Zest Books, softcover) is devoted to making items from duct tape. It offers detailed instructions and, happily, lots of photos so anyone can develop their skills with more than 70 projects from cell phone holders to room dividers, backpacks, jewelry, bags, wallets and lots more. How popular is this? It’s the rare prom that does not feature a couple wearing clothes made entirely from duct tape. What has made this possible are the many new colors and designs in which duct tape is available these days. This book will appeal to the young, age 12 and up, but once into it, it’s a craft that is likely to be pursued for a long time.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Summer is traditionally a time for enjoying a good book while at the beach or anywhere else we choose to relax and escape into the worlds of fiction. This summer is no exception, given a large number of novels whose various themes will provide hours of diversion for everyone.

Brad Thor’s name dominates the cover of his newest novel, Act of War, ($27.99, Atria Books) because it is his thirteenth thriller featuring Navy SEAL turned covert counterterrorism operati8ve, Scot Harvath. The first dozen were bestsellers and this one will be too. Thor is known for his trademark “faction” in which he blends both fact and fiction in action-packed thrillers and this new novel will keep readers turning the pages as it looks at an enemy of America who knows it cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but, using unconventional devious attacks, could be. I guarantee you will be hooked within the first five pages. When a CIA agent mysteriously dies overseas, his top asset surfaces with a startling claim, but no one knows if she can be trusted. Then a succession of events occur that suggest something more than chance is at work. Six exchange students go missing, two airplane passengers trade places, and a political-asylum seeker is arrested. Facing an imminent and devastating attack, the nation’s new president turns to Harvath to undertake two top secret operations, either of which, if discovered would be an act of war, but are vital to thwarting the covert war being waged against America.

From Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books, comes two novels for those who love a good mystery. In Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour ($15.95, softcover) a Chicago sociology professor, Amelia Emmet, is a researcher whose topic is violence. It gets very real when a student she’d never met shows up and shoots her and then shoots himself. After surgery, she returns to campus with a growing problem with painkillers and the question, why? She wants to return to a normal life, but now hobbles with a cane. Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago’s violent history. Assigned as Amelia’s teaching assistant, he takes on the investigative legwork Amelia cannot. Together and occasionally at cross-purposes, they stumble toward a truth about the attack and which takes them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

In No Stone Unturned ($15.95, softcover), James W. Ziskin introduces Ellie Stone, a 24-year-old journalist for a small local daily in upstate New York. On Thanksgiving 1990, a girl is found dead in the woods. There are three oil spots on the dirt road and a Dr. Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave found by a local hunter. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene and the story may rescue her drowning career. All leads though lead nowhere until she takes a daring change that unleashes unintended chaos as she strives to unravel a dangle of small town secrets.

Two books from Quirk Books offer a serving, one of suspense and second a bit of fun. I enjoyed Ben H. Winters’ 2012 novel, “The Last Policeman”, a pre-apocalyptic story set six months before a massive asteroid is expected to collide with Earth. It is the first of a trilogy and part two was “Countdown City.” The third is World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III out this monthly ($14.95, softcover). Suffice to say that the first received an Edgar Award and was translated into six languages and the second has been nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award and named an NPR Best Book of 2013, so you can be sure this one will prove as enjoyable. It is just 14 days before the asteroid is expected to make contact and America is in chaos. Detective Hank Palace has found a peaceful farm to live out his last days, but there is one last case for him to solve and this time it is personal. He goes in search of his sister, Nico, and finds himself at a deserted police station in Ohio where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. He is determined to solve the puzzle before times runs out for everyone.
A very different change of pace is offered in Ian Doescher’s parody of Star Wars in William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return ($14.95, softcover) the third in a trilogy in which Luke Skywalker and his rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. This is a hilarious way to enjoy the original story as told by a very funny parodist.

Confessions of a Self-Help Writer: A Journal of Michael Enzo by Benjamin W. Dehaven ($22.95, Lagniappe Publishing), is strictly for grownups, as much a comedy as a tragedy, as it tells the story of Enzo, a ghostwriter for the rich and famous, and the author of successful self-help books in his own right who faces having to write another to pay his debts. He may be able to tell others how to cope, but his own life has been filled with all manner of misdeeds that include depravity, substance abuse, and emotional complexity. This is a difficult book to describe because it seems so real, but it is never boring.  A very different story is told by Rich Marcello in The Big Wide Calm ($15.99, Langdon Street Press, softcover). Paige Plant has dreams of being becoming a rock star, saving the world and inspire revolutions with her songs. She sets out to do this with a perfect album. She has talent, ambition, and mega-musical skills. All she needs is a big break. Enter John Bustin, a mysterious former singer/songwriter who offers Paige one year of free room and board at his recording studio. With her help, he confronts the dark secrets of his past that rock the foundation of their relationship. It is a story of trust and the complexities of love seen through the eyes of the young and old. For anyone who is looking for a good romantic story, this is one to read.

Historical fiction is well served in Amy Belding Brown’s Flight of the Sparrow ($15.00, New American Library, softcover). It is, in fact, based on the amazing true story of Mary Rowlandson’s capture in 1675 and depicts a monumental moment in our nation’s history. After a long-feared Native American attack, Mary is sold to a female tribal leader who puts her to work but allows her a generous and surprising amount of freedom. She becomes conflicted as she develops an uncomfortable attraction toward an English-speaking Native American, James Printer who seemingly straddles both worlds, becoming her friend and protector. When she is eventually ransomed and returns to her surviving family, she finds re-entry into the restrictive Puritan culture a challenge. The author’s knowledge of this lesser known time in our history makes for interesting reading. In Cynthia Lang’s novel, Preservation ($14.95, Mill City Press, softcover) the year is 1987 and, after the sudden disappearance of her husband, Lee Baldwin resolves to escape Manhattan by moving to Limmington Mills, a town described as one where no one goes and nothing ever happens. She wants solitude but soon discovers that life has other plans for her. Narrated by Lee, the novel tells the story of the lost past she cherishes and the changes that happen for her and the town as she finds herself caught up in the dramas of others around her. For those who recall simpler times before the instant communications of our times, this story will prove especially interesting.
Lauren Grodstein, the author of The Explanation of Everything ($14.95, Algonquin Books, softcover), bases her novel on the premise that most of us want an explanation for life on earth and a clear account of our role in the grand scheme of things. It is a story, said Family Circle of “wayward souls search for forgiveness, healing, and personal truth.” It is a deeply felt story of love, loss, hope, and the healing powers of forgiveness that takes on the contentious debate over the origins of life as biologist Andy Waite struggles to make sense of his life. He’s about to make tenure, beginning to understand his daughters, and finally overcome the loss of his wife. When a young, tenacious student shows up at his office, he gradually loses sight of his personal and professional boundaries, as well as his moral grounding, but there is also the possibility of faith. This is a complex, demanding story that will draw the reader in as it explores the salvation that love can offer.

Lastly, there’s a novella by Jerome O. Brown, Calves in the Mud Room ($6.74, available from Amazon.com, softcover). Colorado teenager Wade Summers wants nothing more than to go on his date tonight with high school hottie Glory Schoonover, but a fierce February blizzard has blown in and a couple of first-time heifers and calving early. He’s never delivered a calf on his own but has been shown how to do it by his grandfather. He is a very conflicted teenager who must confront the abuse of his shady stepfather and a betrayal by his somewhat disengaged mother. The novella captures the pains and pleasures of teen romance and escaping his dysfunctional parents while growing up in an agricultural community. Well worth reading.

That’s it for July! Tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com where new fiction and non-fiction that may not get the attention they deserve can be found every month.

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