Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bookviews by Alan Caruba

December 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year!

My Picks of the Month

It’s the time of year we think about gifts for loved ones, friends, and colleagues. I have always thought of books as ideal, particularly if you know the particular interests of the person to receive one.

For the man in your life, The Immortals: History’s Fighting Elites by Nigel Cawthorne ($30.00, Zenith Press) is a large format book with 130 color photos, artwork and photos that reviews the history of warfare and the men who composed the force from which the book draws its title, the Persian Immortals, as well as the Spartans, the Roman Praetorian Guard, as well as famed elite fighting forces such as Japan’s ninjas, the Mongol hordes, the Prussian Guard, and the Stonewall Brigade, right up to the Green Berets and U.S. Navy Seals. The book spans centuries to shine a light on the most skilled, deadly, and respected warriors throughout history. With a great text and great illustrations on every page, this is sure to please the warrior spirit in any man. For those of you who, like myself, wonder why the U.S. has not decisively won a war since World War Two, despite having arguably the best fighting machine in the history of warfare, I recommend you read The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Stephen L. Melton ($30.00, Zenith Press). Following more than twenty years of active duty as an army officer, the author is a member of the faculty at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. His book won’t win him any popularity contests at the Pentagon, but it is a brilliant, history-based analysis of why we only managed a stalemate in Korea in the 1950s, lost the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, and have found ourselves mired in the Middle East in this decade. In essence, the knowledge and experience that led to victories in the past has been jettisoned by the military in favor of a love affair with the writings of a Prussian general from Napoleon’s time. We have an entire cadre of officers right up to the top ranks who have no memory or knowledge of how the U.S. formerly waged and won wars. They need to read this book which is written for them as opposed to the layman, but it will prove just as interesting to those outside the military for its review of the American fighting machine and its current inability to address the necessity of governance following swift military victory. We did this well in the past, but no longer.

President Obama’s Asian tour focused attention once again on China and my friend, Michael J. Economides, along with Xina Xie, has just published Energy: China’s Choke Point ($29.99, Energy Tribune Publishing, Houston, TX), a book that should be required reading for every member of Congress, the White House, and the entire corps of journalists because it not only provides an excellent, brief history of China that adopted Mao Zedong’s communism, suffering the loss of millions in the wake of its failures, but then cast it aside to become America’s rival and partner as both nations take different approaches to energy, the master resource that determines success or failure, prosperity or poverty. Economides is one of the world’s leading authorities on energy and this book will prove a revelation concerning China’s quest for it as it strives to make up for lost time and the creation of jobs and a better life for its 1.3 billion citizens. Another book worth reading on this critical subject is Who Turned Out the Lights? Authors Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson offer a “guided tour to the energy crisis” America is facing as the result of decades of refusing access to its own vast reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. Bittle is executive editor of PublicAgenda.org and Johnson is a co-founder. Their book is filled with good, solid information on the options facing Americans for whom securing abundant, affordable energy will require some tough, realistic decisions to be made. At this point, American has lost decades, failing to build a single new oil refinery or any new nuclear plants since the 1970s. At the same time, access to offshore oil remains under a de facto ban and the present administration is waging a war on coal. That makes the title particular apt given the fact that fifty percent of all the electricity generated in America comes from burning coal.

I know that The Law of Forgiveness works because I have applied it to my own life for a long time. The author, Connie Domino, MPH, RN ($12.00, Berkley, softcover) reveals the transformative power of forgiveness that includes not just others, but oneself as well. Regrets and anger over lost opportunities, hardened emotions over relationships with loved ones, friends, or workplace colleagues, all serve to hold one back because that’s what you’re doing, looking back instead of forward. The author provides clearly written guidelines and simple affirmation-based techniques that will free you up to move on with your life. Do you want to tackle The Big Questions? That’s the title of Steven E. Landsburg’s intriguing new book, subtitled, “Tackling the Programs of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics” ($26.00, Free Press). This economist has already made a name for himself with “The Armchair Economist” and “More Sex is Safer Sex.” Anyone who enjoys the mental exercise of philosophical questions will enjoy this virtual gymnasium of questions about moral choices and other conundrums. Perhaps the best part is the way he sets your mind to working in language and style that does not intimidate the reader.

On a lighter side, there’s Ultimate Catholic Trivia: 1001 Fun and Fascinating Facts by Scott Paul Frush, ($9.95, Marshall Rand Publishing, Royal Oak, MI, softcover) a history buff whose “Ultimate Italian Trivia” caught my attention because I am descended on my father’s side from Italians who had the good sense to get on the boat and come to America. Frush does not treat the subject in a trivial fashion. Instead he provides more insight into the history, traditions, and belief system of the Church than far more scholarly tomes. Catholics will thoroughly enjoy this book (the author is Catholic with a Masters degree from Notre Dame University) and even non-Catholics will find it both interesting and entertaining. It is filled with facts about Jesus, the Bible, saints, popes, the Vatican, the Mass, sacraments, organizations and clergy. For the believers in nothing at all there’s You Don’t Have to be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts of Naught by Joan Konner ($17.00, Prometheus Books) the author of “The Atheist’s Bible.” If there is such a thing as a happy atheist, I have yet to have met one, but it is amazing how many diverse people from ancient times to the present that have expressed themselves on the subject of nothing. Philosophers, mystics, artists, musicians, poets, geniuses and jokers have opined on nothingness and it must be said this collection of quotes is genuinely interesting. Page after page will tickle your brain. From the Free Press come two books, combined in one, suited to whatever your outlook on life may be, The Pessimist’s Handbook: A Companion to Despair and, between the same covers, The Optimist’s Handbook: A Companion to Hope ($9.99, softcover), both are identified as humor and well they should be because, read front to back or vice versa, it will have you laughing from beginning to end. I loved it! One of my favorite quotes is by Ben Hecht, a playwright and screen writer, who said, “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.”

Milefi Kete Asante is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University and has authored 65 books. One of them, Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation has been revised and expanded ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) and for anyone for whom this is a concern, this book offers some provocative ideas, not the least of which is his belief that America cannot continue as a cohesive society so long as racial injustice, in less obvious ways, continues. I am not in agreement with much of his thesis because African-Americans have had four decades since then to remedy cultural and other problems within their own community. There has been progress, but not enough. Simple, Not Easy: Reflections on Community, Social Responsibility, and Tolerance by Terrence Roberts ($24.95, Parkhurst Brothers Inc., Little Rock, AR) offers the viewpoint of one of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School some forty years ago. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to protect them. Roberts grew up to be a psychologist and brings a unique perspective to events since then. His book will be released next month and for anyone interested in the American Civil Rights movement, as well as themes that include education, leadership, integration, race and racism, this book is well worth reading. If you want to see what racism was like in its worst possible way, read Dominique Lapierre’s A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa ($26.00, Da Capo Press). It is one of the most profoundly disturbing books I’ve seen in a long time. The sheer horror of apartheid, the brutal and deliberate effort to separate and subjugate native Africans and colored races from the descendents of the white Dutch colonizers was a nightmare. When it gave way to the movement to reclaim South Africa, the world felt better about itself, but under new, native leadership that nation is encountering its own problems.

Given the revelations that prominent climate scientists, members of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, engaged in rigging the data to support bogus global warming claims, two books stand out as the most idiotic of the year. I start with James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming ($20.00, Greystone Books). Written with Richard Littlemore, the author is the co-founder of DeSmogBlog.com and a public relations practitioner by trade. Among those providing a blurb for its back cover is actor Leonard DiCaprio who, unknown to us, apparently knows more about meteorology than real meteorologists. Suffice it to say, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle since 1998 and that cycle is likely to last for several decades. Writing a book castigating the “deniers” of global warming is truly ironic in the wake of the IPCC revelations. The book neglects to mention that the computer models put forth as “proof” have now been demonstrated to have been found not just flawed but, in some cases, deliberately false. Only the “true believers” of the Green religion will take comfort in this book, but those wise enough to ignore it will be paying far more attention to the nation’s economy in the 2010 midterm elections. Joining in the sillyness is Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate by Stephen H. Schneider ($28.00, National Geographic Books). The author argues the usual end-of-the-world global warming scenarios, but does so at a time when all the “facts” put forth by people like Al Gore and others simply do not reflect what the general public has begun to understand; the Earth has been cooling since 1998. This is classic “junk science” and it comes at a time when a UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, December 7 to 18, will try to foist a treaty that few will want to sign. Global warming will be remembered as the greatest fraud of the modern era. It will damage the public faith in scientists for some time to come.

People, People, People

It sometimes seemed to me that the comedian George Carlin had been around forever. His life and mine were lived in parallel tracks, so as he appeared on the Merv Griffin Show in the 1960s, I saw him there. As he progressed to the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw him there, and over the decades we shared, Carlin evolved into one of the most remarkable observers of life in America that his later HBO specials reflected his unique and very funny take, one that was often quite brash and occasionally profane. He was a very funny man and his fans will enjoy Last Words by George Carlin, written with his longtime friend, Tony Hendra ($26.99, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). This is Carlin’s autobiography from growing up on the multicultural streets of New York to a stint in the Air Force, his discovery of radio as a DJ, his transition to stand-up comic, marriage, his addictions, the whole ball of wax as they say. I’d say that I miss him, but Carlin left such a body of work behind, including books, that it is really hard to think of him as dead. Happily, Leslie Caron is very much alive and has written a delightful memoir of her life as a movie star and thereafter. Thank Heaven ($25.95, Viking) tells what it was like to costar with some of the greatest dancers captured on film, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, but she also paired with Cary Grant and, off-screen, dated Warren Beatty. From “An American in Paris”, “Gigi”, and “Lili” to “The L-Shaped Room”, she demonstrated the talent that gained her a permanent place in Hollywood’s firmament of stars. She is honest about the painful insecurity with which she coped much of her life and about her triumphs and heartbreaks; married three times, mother of two, she lives in Paris. Her fans will love this memoir.

In a celebrity-obsessed society, I have no doubt that The Michael Jackson Tapes by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach ($25.95, Vanguard Press) will do quite well. In 2000-2001, Jackson sat down with his close friend and spiritual guide to record what the publisher says is the most intimate and revealing conversations of his life. He was, we’re told, his wish to bare his soul and unburden himself to a public that he knew was deeply suspicious of him (and with good reason). The result are revelations about his profound loneliness, his longing to be loved, and the emptiness of fame. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the book is how he bonded with a rabbi. From that same celebrity world comes the memoir of Mary Forsberg Weiland, a model and groupie of the Stone Temple Pilots and how she met Scott Weiland, then an aspiring musician, when he showed up to drive her to and from modeling gigs for $8 an hour. Falling to Pieces is subtitled “A Memoir of Drugs, Rock’n Roll, and Mental Illness” ($25.99, William Morrow) and it is a tale of extreme highs and lows that says a lot about drug and alcohol addictions that could have killed her, as well as her bipolar personality disorder. She now lives with her two children in Los Angeles where she is studying to secure certification as a drug and alcohol counselor.

I am betting you never heard of Frank Julian Sprague (1857-1934), but don’t feel bad, only a few probably have. Sprague, however, played a role in transforming urban transportation in America and, as such, deserves a biography, Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer ($39.95, Indiana University Press) by William D. Middleton and William D. Middleton III, with a foreword by John O. Sprague has just been published. It was Sprague who invented a system for distributing electricity to streetcars from overhead wires. While we see photos and films of the era when electric streetcars changed the way Americans got around cities, replacing horse drawn vehicles, the inventor remained largely unknown. For modern Americans, it is impossible to imagine the tons of horse droppings (and the smell) that were a part of early urban life. His invention helped cities to grow, transforming the landscape of the 20th century. Anyone interested in American history, urban affairs, and related topics will find this book very interesting. Glen Scott Allen has penned a very entertaining book, Master Mechanics & Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist as Hero and Villain from Colonial Times to the Present ($29.95, University of Massachusetts Press, softcover). From the fame of Benjamin Franklin to today’s films and other media that reprocess the mad scientist theme, there is a consistent thread that runs from early novels to Dr. Strangelove. We still do celebrate scientists in America, but not as in former times when Thomas Edison was revered. This is an insight-filled look at a part of our cultural history.

Managing Your Finances, Business

As the economy worsens a lot of people are looking for answers to managing their business better and planning for retirement. There are always books on these subjects worth reading. Then, as always, it’s a matter of applying your own best judgment.

For those with retirement in mind, there’s Fasten Your Financial Seatbelt: What Surviving an Airline Crash Taught Me about Retirement Planning by Thomas C. Scott ($14.95, Platform Press). An investment advisor and Forbes.com contributor, the author survived the world’s first crash of a Boeing 747 in Nairobi, Kenya some 35 years ago as a crew member. He’s made a career out of rescuing people from financial disasters and his short, readable book in which he says that “money is the root of all anxiety when it could be the root of all happiness.” He describes the ten most common mistakes people make, the high cost of procrastination, and, interestingly, why successful people often fail when it comes to money management. When I’m 64: Planning for the Best of Your Life by Marvin Tolkin and Howard Massey ($14.95, Tributary Press, softcover) starts with the fact that at precisely January 1, 2010, America’s first baby boomer will turn 64 with some eighty million more to follow. Sixty-four used to be considered “old” but boomers can expect to live at least another two decades, a full quarter of their lives. The book’s central theme is that most boomers will need to engage in a least a little bit of planning or face the prospect of outliving their money. Both books emphasize planning your life, setting goals so you can control your destiny in retirement. Filled with stories and an outside-the-box investment plan, anyone approaching retirement in ten or fifteen years should surely read one or both of these books.

For those looking for a job these days, 201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions by Linda Matias ($13.95, Amacom, softcover) provides lots of good advice beginning with not expecting broad, open-ended questions because today’s employers aren’t interest in hearing job candidates describe themselves in general terms. They are looking to hire people with competence who can demonstrate their strengths and whatever achievements they have in the workplace. You don’t have to be great, just good at what you do. This book provides good preparation for that all-important interview. It is estimated that half of U.S. employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. Business strategist, Vaughan Evans has written Backing U! A Business-Oriented Guide to Backing Your Passion and Achieving Career Success ($14.95, Business and Careers Press, softcover) that offers a systematic approach to finding and landing your dream job. It’s an easy read that tells you how to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and to identify where you want to go and how to get there. It’s the kind of pep talk we all need and frequently don’t get.

Running any kind of business these days is a real challenge. Creating Demand: Generate Cool, Custom Marketing Ideas by Geraldo V. Tabio and Sally Beamer ($19.00, Prometheus Books) is based on forty years of combined marketing experience that will teach you a solid marketing strategy with which to develop innovative ideas targeted to both large corporations and small, locally owned businesses. As one professor of mine once said, everything begins when one person sells something to someone else. Instead of spending years mastering marketing skills, why not read a book by two experts who share their knowledge with you? The Janus Principle: Focusing Your Company on Selling to Small Business ($14.95, Brick Tower Press, softcover) by Joann Mills Laing and Don Mazzella takes note of the fact that there are an estimated 27.2 million small businesses in the United States and if you are interested in reaching this market, there are things you have to know in order to effectively sell to the small business buyer. The authors have thirty years of combined experience, so you’re being offered a lot of insight and information that would otherwise take a long time to acquire.

When it was first published, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun became a managerial cult classic. Authored by Dr. Wess Roberts, PhD, its 20th anniversary is being celebrated with an audio edition from Hachette Audio ($19.98) in an unabridged edition on three CDs for a total playing time of about three hours. Forget about the stereotypes about Attila and learn how he conquered a big chunk of the ancient world and held it all together with some remarkable negotiating skills.

Marriage and Parenting Skills

The other day I had to ask a young person what was the device she was holding. It was an iPod and she looked at me like I was very old and she was right. The technologies with which younger grow up are having a profound effect on how they relate to each other, their parents, and the world. They impact the process of parenting. More books on parenting reflect this, along with timeless tips. Let’s look at a few.

Racing to Keep Up by Doug Fodemen and Marje Monroe ($14.95, Dog Ear Publishing, softcover) say that the Internet is nothing to LOL (laugh out loud) about. For parents who have no clue what acronyms like IPN, BEG, WTOP, and LMIRL mean, it’s time to play catch up. The authors believe that the rise of the Internet and its communication offshoots, Instant Messaging, File Sharing, Spam, Phishing, and the like have upped the anti when it comes to protecting your child. Their book offers strategies for parents to talk to their kids about technology and ways to keep the home computer safe. In a world where children are exposed to fraudulent advertising, scams, and sexual invitations, it is increasingly necessary to know the fundamentals. Fortunately, this book doesn’t bog you down with a lot of technical jargon. Instead if offers options to apply in a world where kids are increasingly targeted to generate sales and by far worst predators. Enjoy the Ride by Suzy Martyn ($12.95, Mother’s Friend Publishing, softcover) offers “tools, tips, and inspiration for the most common parenting challenges.” The author has three children of her own, plus a Masters in education and lots of other credentials. It’s a handy guide to the common problems such as sleep issues, feeding questions, potty training, handling anger, providing quick answers and practical advice. Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently by Dr. Kyle Pruett, MD, and Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett, PhD, ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) say that all parents want to raise happy and healthy children, but that all parents have opinions on the best way to do so. What happens when two parents have opposing views? As fathers play an increasingly active role in child-rearing, it is clear that the opposite sexes often have different views and this shows up early when dad is expected to take on half the parenting duties that earlier generations ceded to mom. How to recognize and work out the differences is the subject of this book.

Two other Da Capo Press books examine child-rearing questions. Making Friends: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Friendships by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer ($13.00, softcover) is filled with advice such as not to be alarmed during the back-to-school months if your child is bad-tempered or exhausted because he or she is facing heightened anxieties about friendships and social acceptance. Dozens of questions from what to do if you don’t like one of your child’s friends or how to deal with bullying and taunting are addressed. Schools are a hothouse of social problems, not to mention boredom. This is a very helpful book that is worth reading. The We Generations: Raising Socially Responsible Kids by Michael Ungar, PhD ($15.95, softcover) is about “nurturing the compassion and community interest that could next generation of adults” and, frankly, I think the author “over thinks” these questions with too much emphasis on indoctrination (they get enough of that in school) and too little thought to teaching good attitudes through one’s own actions and communication. The center of a young person’s universe is and should be his family. After that, he or she will learn, for good or ill, what the rest of the world is like from television and other inputs. Training a little world citizen is far less important than teaching the reality that other cultures do, in fact, differ and not always for the best.

The traditional stereotype is the wicked stepmother, but for real stepmothers, the process can be a difficult one. Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin, PhD, ($15.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) takes a look at the fact that one in two women in America will marry or live with a man with children if the projections of those who study divorce and remarriage are correct. The author says it is harder for women to be a stepparent than for men. This is an empowering, original, and realistic book that provides a completely new way of look at women in such relationships. It is a difficult road to navigate no matter the age of the children, whether five or fifty-five. Many women enter marriage with the notion to change the man, not realizing that it can lead to a lot of friction and unhappiness. So, a book like Have a New Husband by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman ($17.99, Revell), is fraught with potholes or even sinkholes for those who aren’t willing to change themselves as well. In fairness to the author, a psychologist, he is making an effort to help frustrated, disappointed wives by showing them a better way to achieve the change they want, as opposed to nagging, complaining, and demands. Dr. Leman says such men really want to please their wives, but do not know how. This is also a book about how wives can transition to a smoother, happier marriage. I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage by Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke ($14.99, Revell, softcover) reflects the fact that half the marriages in America fail. The authors propose ways that couples can reclaim their marriage with a plan that has been used for the past twenty years to counsel hundreds of couples. It is a week-to-week plan comprised of clear steps and detailed, attainable goals. Divorce Sucks by Mary Jo Eustace ($19.95, Adams Media) who was married to Dean McDermott for thirteen years who divorced her after meeting actress Tori Spelling! He left Mary Jo with their newly adopted infant baby girl and a young son. This is not a self-help book like those above, but a voyeuristic glimpse into one of Hollywood’s most notorious divorces. For those who follow the tabloids and celebrity scene, this will prove diverting and shows that there is life after divorce.

Books for Kids and Teens

The books being created for the youngest readers these days are often just miracles of artwork and technology. An example can be found in Silver Dolphin Books, an imprint of Advantage Publishers Group of San Diego. California. With Christmas around the corner, visit www.silverdolphinbooks.com and consider, for example, Bugs & Spiders from their series, The Wonders Inside (19.95). I start off with that title because I know the first instinct is to say “eeeuuuu”, but kids are fascinated by such creatures and this book has extraordinary artwork and an informative text that brings to life the world of butterflies and moths, dragonflies, bees, ants and other insect species. This is just a knock-your-socks-off delight and a wonderful introduction to the science of entomology. In a similar fashion, their Sounds of the Wild series includes Safari by Maurice Pledger ($16.95) and, as the reader turns the pages, there are pop-ups and, amazingly, the actual sounds of the creatures of Africa from the Masai Mara to the Ngorongoro Crate to the Serengeti. It is a gorgeous book filled with animal pictures and one that is sure to delight the pre-schooler being read to and the early reader discovering African wildlife. This one is an amazing gift. For the youngster who likes putting things together, from the Action Files series comes Gladiators ($15.95) that includes a fact book, a foldout poster, stickers, a 3-D helmet, and info cards with their own box, plus a story book! This is just plain hands-on fun.

Also for the early reader, age 7 and up, there’s a basketball enthusiast’s story, Larry Bird: The Boy from French Lick ($17.95, Blue Martin Publications), written by Francine Poppo Rich and illustrated by Robert Casilla. This book focuses on his early years before he became the star of the Boston Celtics and emphasizes how practices, persistence, and a belief in himself led to his success in the game. For the older set called Young Adults, age 14 and up, there’s an award winning story, Rebound, by Bob Krech ($6.95, Marshal Cavendish Corp., softcover), lauded by the American Library Association, about Ray, a white boy with a passion for basketball, at Franklin High School where it is an unwritten rule that black kids play basketball and white kids wrestle. When Ray makes the basketball team, no one is happy for him and tensions build. This is a frank discussion of racial issues today. The sport of boxing is the background to The Ring by Bobbie Pryon ($15.95, WestSide Books, Lodi, NJ, softcover) in which it is a girl who reclaims her life as the lessons she learns at a girl’s boxing club in a nearby gym begin to be applied to school and at home. There’s plenty of action is this intriguing story of self-discovery and fulfillment. Though billed as being for boys and girls, I think the latter will like Ballerina Detective and the Missing Jeweled Tiara by Karen Rita Rautenberg ($9.95, DNA Press, softcover) for ages 8 to 13. When Amber’s tiara is stolen, 12-year-old Kayla and her friend Vicky decide to solve the mystery. It’s a hoot as she decides whether to take toe-dancing lessons to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina while also developing a crush on Jason, and engaging in a variety of adventures typical of a contemporary American girl. Filled with humor, this will provide plenty of entertainment for a young reader.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

Lawyers offer an abundance of literary opportunities and John Grisham, a lawyer himself, is proof of that, but now comes David Schmahmann’s Nibble & Kuhn ($24.95, Academy Chicago Publishers), also a practicing lawyer and also an accomplished writer of fiction. For pure entertainment, this novel tells the story of an unraveling law firm, an unwinnable case, and an unworkable love. At the center is Derek Dover who is up for partner at Nibble & Kuhn at precisely the time the Boston law firm decides to “rebrand” itself for the Google era. The partners, pompous and arbitrary, hand him a high visibility case just weeks before trial and, Derek, who has fallen hard for Maria Parma, a new associate, must work with her and the handicap that she’s engaged to someone else. Therein are all the elements of disaster and the fun is watching everything unravel.

A good mystery is a great way to pass the time and Brad Parks serves up Faces of the Gone ($24.99, Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin Press.) I admit to being a tad biased because the novel is set in Newark, NJ where I once worked and near where I still live in a suburb. Then, too, its main character is an investigative reporter and I began my several careers long ago as a reporter. Parks was a staff writer for the Washington Post before joining the Newark Star-Ledger in 1998 where he would cover major sports events in America. In 2004 he switched to writing news, covering everything from Hurricane Katrina to small-town pizza wars. The novel revolves around a multiple homicide that leaves even jaded Newarkers shaken. Carter and the police want to find out who killed four alleged drug dealers and that means he must tread the city’s gang turf and take risks to earn their trust, and avoid becoming a victim himself as the killer catches wind of his pursuit. This is a very entertaining story and one that will prove hard to put down until you reach the last page.

Catholics in particular and anyone who finds the role of spirituality in one’s life will find Stealing Fatima ($15.95, Counterpoint Press) a real treat. Frank X. Gaspar has won many literary prizes and this intriguing novel is proof of his skills as he tells the story of Father Manuel Furtado, a Cape Cod pastor, whose nightly ritual includes gin, pills, and prayer, followed by hours writing in his journal. On one night, however, he hears a crash in the church, causing him to leave the rectory of Our Lady of Fatima. He finds a man who was a childhood friend whom he has not seen in decades who tells him of recurring visits from the Virgin Mary and, although he has doubts, Father Furtado takes him in, thereby setting off a series of events that challenge the faith of the fishing village, the parish, and his own.

I confess I find a new series based on the classic Jane Austin novels such as Pride and Prejudice, an enigma. More to the point, it is bizarre. The first in the series was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Though she died in 1817, Jane Austin is listed as a co-author, but it is Ben H. Winters who has incorporated the original novel into that one and now Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters ($12.95, Quirk, softcover). For those who love fantasy stories, this one begins as the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. Suffice it to say that the first Jane Austin knock-off was an enormous success and has been optioned to become a motion picture. No doubt this one will as well.

For those who enjoy short stories, you’re in for a treat with The Mammoth Book of the World’s Best Crime Stories, edited by Maxim Jakubowski ($13.95, Running Press, softcover) that includes 36 stories by authors from around the world, translations from Cuba, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, India, and other nations whose authors have been brought together in a fact collection that will provide hours of reading pleasure. Crime is the subject of two excellent audio books by top-notch authors, Joseph Wambaugh and James Patterson. In Hollywood Moon ($39.98, Hachette Audio, 10 CDs, approximately 12 hours listening time) Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles Police Department detective sergeant, puts the reader in the Hollywood Station where a full moon brings out the beast in the precinct’s hustlers, drug pushers, and troubled folk. A prowler has been violently attacking women and the team of Nate Weiss and Dana Vaughn are in hot pursuit. The author is in top form. James Patterson serves up I, Alex Cross ($24.98, Hachette Audio, 4 CDs, approximately 5 hours listening time) in which the detective is pulled from a family celebration and given the news that a beloved relative has been found brutally murdered. He vows to find her killer and soon learns she was mixed up in one of Washington’s wildest scenes and that she was not the killer’s only victim. I don’t want to give away too much except to say the story takes one into the world of very powerful people and delivers the kind of suspense that Patterson is famous for.

That’s it for December 2009!

Do tell all your book-loving friends and colleagues to come visit Bookviews to learn about some of the best, if sometimes overlooked, non-fiction and fiction. Bookmark Bookviews to ensure you get the inside track for 2010!