Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bookviews - April 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

At some point Americans will begin to focus on China, a nation that currently is propping up our national spending spree by buying our Treasury notes. (Japan also does this.) It is going to be very important to know the real facts about China. Under Chairman Mao, China was a scary place, but mostly for the Chinese, millions of whom died from his crazed and stupid communist-based economic theories. When he died, important new leaders such as Deng Xiaoping emerged and, for the past thirty years, they have literally turned around a nation of more than a billion people, learning from the West to create a more open society and an economy that will rival all other nations. There is quite simply no better time and no better book to learn the truth than China’s Megatrends by John and Doris Naisbitt ($27.99, Harper Business/HarperCollins). John Naisbitt’s groundbreaking 1983 analysis of economic, political, social and cultural transitions in the United States, “Megatrends”, was on The New York Times bestseller list for two years and became a worldwide sensation. You will be surprised to learn it sold more than 20 million copies in China! If you want to understand what the future holds for China, you must read his latest book, written with his wife. China is an ancient society and, in many respects, a very different culture from the West. Expecting it to adopt our forms of democracy is unrealistic, but that does not mean it is not opening opportunities for its people to play a far greater role in the economic and social development of the nation. It has literally reinvented itself. The eight core principles of its new society are the subject of this “must read” book.

The debate that has raged over granting U.S. Constitutional rights to enemy combatants, jihadists seeking to kill thousands of Americans as they did on 9/11, continues. It began with the election of President Obama who promised to close Guantanamo where many are detained and culminated in the proposal to try the planner of 9/11 in New York City. Marc A. Thiessen has written Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept American Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack ($29.95, Regnery Publishing) and it is an exhaustive look at the issues, the actions of the Obama administration, and why the U.S. has not been attacked since 9/11, thanks to the work of the CIA over the past nine years. Despite the success of the interrogation program, within 48 hours of taking office, President Obama launched an attack on it, dismantling it and threatening those conducting the interrogations with possible criminal indictment. Thiessen was President Bush’s chief speechwriter and, as a result, gained extensive knowledge of what the CIA was doing to protect the nation. Anyone interested in national security will want to read this extensively documented look at the issues.

One of the most important books published thus far this year is barely 151 pages long, including notes and an index. It can fit in your pocket or purse and takes very little time to read, but it should be read by every taxpayer and citizen. It is Ken Hoagland’s The Fair Tax Solution: Financial Justice for All Americans ($19.95, Sentinel, Penguin Group USA). It concisely explains the harm done to the nation by the income tax which is based on what people earn, not what they spend. As a result, million of Americans have their earnings confiscated in payroll and withholding taxes before they receive their paycheck. The tax code now exceeds 2.1 million words! It is impenetrable and billions are spent annually for tax preparation. A Fair Tax would replace it with a 23% tax on what consumers spend as opposed to the current 30% tax on what they earn. It would generate as much money for the federal government, but eliminate the need for the Internal Revenue Service, a virtually army of bureaucrats. Payment would be at the point of sale as opposed to penalizing people for saving money or for capital gains from their investment in the economy. This is an idea whose time has come.

Ever since the revelations in November 2009 that the claims made by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were based on purposefully falsified data provided by a handful of scientists and following the farce in Copenhagen in December 2009 when delegates from a hundred nations gathered to discuss an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (which do not cause climate change), the public in America and increasingly around the world have cooled (no pun intended) on “global warming.” To understand how this huge hoax was put together and foisted on people, read Climatism! Science, Common Sense, and the 21st Century’s Hottest Topic by Steve Goreham ($32.95, New Lenox Books). This fraud still threatens America’s economic recovery in the form of a Cap-and-Trade bill that would impose the largest tax on energy use based on the greenhouse gas claims. The book demonstrates that such change is not caused by human activity and, if you ever thought that trying to “control” the climate was idiotic, this book will provide you all the information you need to confirm your suspicions. Over the years I have read many books on “global warming” and this one surely ranks among the best.

Auto enthusiasts will enjoy The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic ($26.00. Hill and Wang) P.J. O’Rourke said it best. “Creating the Yugo required dozens of corporations, thousands of Yugoslavians, international diplomacy, a cold war, marketing genius, consumer idiocy, and major screw-ups from not just one political ideology, but all of them. Any knucklehead with a lawn mower engine and a monkey wrench can build a bad car. It took communism, socialism, and capitalism to build a Yugo.” The Yugo was the combination of many factors that came together in a perfect storm of astonishingly bad decisions by all involved. The author has put it all together in an instructive and entertaining history. I love books that both entertain and inform, and that’s true of Birdology by Sy Montgomery ($25.00, Free Press) in which you will learn how these fascinating creatures evolved (they used to be dinosaurs!), why they may have bird brains, but not be bird brains, and a host of stories of real-life encounters, some of which include stories of bonding between birds and humans. You will come away with a whole new appreciation for birds of all species and what better time to do so when they are migrating to your neighborhood?

My late Mother was the author of several cookbooks and taught thousands the art of haute cuisine over three decades. While there are many new cookbooks every year, I am always watchful for those that do not tread familiar paths. Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mike Ono ($19.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) takes note of the way many Americans are looking for healthier ways of living and eating. They offer more than 150 delicious recipes while providing an overview of traditional Chinese medicine, herbs, and food therapy, including 100 Asian ingredients and lists of where they can be found. The recipes address concerns such as fatigue, high cholesterol, weight control, and diabetes. You will never look at walnuts, ginger, garlic or cinnamon again in the same way and you will be healthier for it! Meanwhile, Americans live in a litigious society where people tend to sue to resolve their grievances. There are laws that affect everything we do, starting with the Constitution and our treasured Bill of Rights. For anyone who wants to know more about coping with our court system, credit and bankruptcy law, employment law, family law, or personal injury law, The Handy Law Answer Book by David L. Hudson, Jr. has written an excellent guide ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) that I highly recommend. Written in a way that is easy to understand, it will arm any reader with the knowledge of what to do in a wide variety of situations and what to expect.

One of my favorite freelancer writers is Burt Prelutsky who has had a long and lively career as a writer on televisions shows such as Dragnet, Bob Newhart, MASH and many others, as well as a humor columnist for the L.A. Times, and writer whose work has appeared in leading magazines from Modern Maturity to Sports Illustrated. He has also been one of Hollywood’s small band of conservatives. His commentaries grace some of today’s leading news and opinion Internet sites. His latest book, Liberals: America’s Termites ($15.00, plus $5 S&H, Scorched Earth Press, 16604 Dearborn St., North Hills, CA 91343-3604) will arrive autographed and I promise you will be laughing from the first page unless you are a liberal. In a foreword by Bernard Goldberg, a regular on the Bill O’Reilly show, Goldberg says, “No one should be this good, this often, and make it look like he isn’t even breaking a sweat.” All of today’s hot topics are addressed in ways that will both make you laugh and make you think. As for myself, after a few early years in jobs ranging from journalist to university publications director, I struck out on my own as a public relations counselor and have essentially been self-employed for five decades. So, naturally, The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed caught my attention ($15.00, Three Rivers Press, softcover). The authors, Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan, note that today more than thirty percent of America’s workforce is independently employed and that number is expected to rise as technology makes it easier to telecommute and the recession continues to reduce the traditional workforce. Both authors have experienced the worst of what the economy has done (particularly to writers!), finding themselves virtually homeless, without a car, and sleeping in their friend’s tiny garage apartment. They needed a financial solution, but as freelancers they lacked the safety net traditional jobs provide. The result is an excellent, must-read handbook for those of us who live assignment to assignment. Too many have no plan for either sickness or retirement. If you fall into the categories mentioned, buy this book!

I love American history and I thought I knew a lot about it until I read Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein ($24.95, Quirk Books) that is filled with stories about Texlahoma, Transylvania, and other states that never made it on the U.S. map. Turns out there were many attempts to create new states that failed for a variety of reasons. There were even attempts in places far away from our continent to become states. At one point Italy’s island of Sicily wanted to be one in the wake of WWII. Even cities like New York and Chicago wanted to be recognized as states. The debate over Puerto Rico has been going on for decades, but if it became a state it could no longer enter the Miss Universe pageant and it has won three times! Even though Alaska and Hawaii joined in the last century, we tend to think the map has been fixed for a long time. The story of those areas that didn’t make it to statehood is just flat-out wonderful reading. I have lost count of how many books by Dennis M. Powers I have read—he’s written ten. His topic is the lore of sailing and his latest book, Tales of the Seven Seas ($22.95, Taylor Trade Publishing) is about a Pacific Northwest folk hero, Captain Dynamite Johnny O’Brien who sailed the seven seas for more than sixty years. Starting in the late 1860s in India and ending in the early 1930s on the U.S. west coast, he sailed every type of ship imaginable. The result is a story about an era captured in the actual journals of Captain O’Brien, recording stories of tough times and courageous men in distant places from the Hawaiian Islands to the Bering Sea.

Frequent visitors to Bookviews know that I only rarely take note of a book that I find wanting in some respect. In February I criticized “The American Revolution: A Grand Mistake” as an idiotic intellectual exercise to re-write history to suggest the colonies should not have resisted the King of England and a parliament more interested in taxing them to pay for wars. In a similar fashion, I suggest you save your money and take a pass on The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty by an English social anthropologist, Dr. Tristram Riley-Smith ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing). It is an intellectual elephant that has given birth to a mouse. Pretentious is the first word that springs to mind; the result of “a whirlwind examination of America” by the author who spent several years in Washington, D.C. in the UK embassy; hardly the best vantage point because D.C. is a hothouse company town unlike the rest of the nation. This book is an exercise in piling on endless anecdotes and trying to make sense of them. The Brits have devolved into just another European socialist state; one that is being taken over by its growing Muslim population. Don’t look to see that happen here and don’t waste time on this book.

Marriage and Children

A number of interesting and useful books about the lead-up to marriage, marriage, and child-rearing have arrived so let’s take a look at them.

She’s Crazy, He’s a Liar: Now What? A Single Girl’s Guide to Understanding the Sexes by Cecily Knobler ($14.95, Robert Kennedy Publishing, softcover) is an entertaining journey through the process of dating. The author is a radio host, film critic, and stand-up comic. In her book she provides a witty, quick read that offers rules for dating, kissing, foreplay and even sex. The effort is to explain what both sexes are thinking during all this. It comes down to the way men think all women are crazy and all women think all men are liars. I cannot speak to the wisdom imparted because I am too old and the times have changed the way the opposite sexes related to one another, but I can attest to finding the book very amusing. You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn ($24.00, Crown Publishers), a married couple who, after thirteen years of marriage, say that they’ve discovered “We’re just not that into us.” In truth they have an intense, loving marriage and the book relates an unsentimental account of the medical odyssey they took when their infant son was diagnosed with a rare disorder. Gurwitch is an actress and writer, best known for cohosting “Dinner and a Movie” on TBS. Her husband, Jeff, won an Emmy Award for writing on “The Ben Stiller Show” and, as an actor, has appeared in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin and “Tropic Thunder”, as well as the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, among his credits. Suffice to say that it is a very funny, often moving, read.

Everybody Marries the Wrong Person: Turning Flawed into Fulfilling Relationships by Christine Meinecke, PhD ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) will not officially come off the press until July, but if you have questions about your marriage this book will prove very helpful. The author discusses conventional viewpoints on relationships and how to move from the initial infatuation that leads to marriage toward creating a mature, lasting love. It is filled with good advice on how to manage personal expectations and reactions to various common situations, how to focus on one’s partner’s strengths, and how to choose to be both loving and loveable. She identifies faulty marital expectations and how to practice marriage enhancing behaviors that lead to mutual fulfillment. Considering that 50% of married couples in the U.S. end up divorced, what are the elements of a good marriage? The Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage by Lois Techetter Hjelmstad ($18.95, Mulberry Hill Press, softcover) is just off the press and shares the kind of advice that newlyweds and those into the early years of their marriage can benefit from. She stresses the importance of preserving in tough times, ways to nurture the relationship, creating a post-parenthood marriage, and keeping the laughter, the love, and physical relationship going over the long term. Marriage and Other Acts of Charity is a memoir by Kate Braestrup who reads her book on audio ($29,.98, Hachette Audio, 5 CDs). It is devoted to love and commitment. A minister who regularly performs weddings, she has been married twice and widowed once. Her subject is about truly sharing your life with someone, for better or for worse, as the vows say. For those of a religious inclination, there is a lot of wisdom and comfort in her book.

With marriage often comes babies and Your Baby’s First Year is now in its third edition as Glade B. Curtis, MD, and Judith Schuler, MA, ($l6.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) take the reader, week by week, through that first year on a week to week basis. Revised and updated, it is filled with information on every aspect from common medical problems, feeding, bonding with your baby, sleeping habits, vaccination guidelines, and baby gear among many other topics. This is an invaluable guide for new parents and those expecting their first child. The Smart Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) has just been published and, as the title suggests, it is a thorough guide to help parents make the right decisions on finding the right doctor, tips for the perfect office visit, how to prevent medical mistakes in a doctor’s office or hospital, and much more. The author has credentials to spare and this book has much to recommend it.

How to Be a Lady

It is no secret that men think women are nuts. As the role of women in American society has changed since the latter half of the last century and into this one, it has created a wide range of challenges that earlier generations did not encounter, though they were hardly passive if one recalls the suffragette movement to secure the vote. Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female ($22.95, Running Press) by Tania Kindersley and Sara Vine features 15 subject-driven chapters relevant to women of all ages. It is a smart and frank investigation to what it’s really like to be a woman today from the “big” issues to the smaller stuff. From feminism to face cream, motherhood to money, politics to perfection, there is much to be gleaned from wise observations and advice of its authors. This is not a how-to book and it doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but it is an excellent look at the trials and triumphs of being a woman these days. From the same publisher comes A Touch of Grace: How to be a Princess the Grace Kelly Way by Cindy De La Hoz ($17.95, Running Press). An entire generation has been born since Grace Kelly appeared in film classics such as “Dial M for Murder”, “To Catch a Thief”, and “Rear Window.” She was a stunning beauty, but not in the overly sexual way many Hollywood actresses were and are. She left Hollywood behind to become a real-life princess when she married the Prince of Monaco. The author is a film historian and has captured her life and the lessons to be learned from it.

In a culture that is obsessed with being thin, many women have had to struggle with weight loss, constant diets, and the demand to look their best. Have I got a book for them! Pretty Plus: How to Look Sexy, Sensational and Successful No Matter What Your Weight ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover), just out this month. Babe Hope, its author, provides step-by-step guidance that shows how plus-size women can be stunning and raise their self-esteem at the same time. This is a real go-to source filled with tips on shopping, choosing the right attire, and accessorizing for career, leisure, and romance. This is the book full-figured women have been waiting for. The author holds bachelor’s, Master’s and law degrees, as well as a Doctorate, so this is not some airhead bunch of bubbly nonsense. It’s the real thing.

Biographies and Memoirs

This month’s biographies and memoirs are mostly devoted to show business folks, but it will be good news for some that William F. Buckley Jr’s memoir, Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater is now available in softcover ($15.00, Basic Books). The late Buckley found himself at the center of the conservative revolution in America as the publisher and editor of the National Review that began in the late 1950s. When they needed a presidential candidate around whom to consolidate, they turned to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 as the perfect choice. Even his opponents regarded Goldwater as honest, possessed of deep integrity, and a natural sense of decency. He lost a landslide defeat to Lyndon B. Johnson who, in turn, would decide not to run again in lieu of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Buckley recalls that he would not change his opinions to make himself more popular, but as the years passed Goldwater’s popularity would gain him respect and he set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s two terms in the 1980s. He was a unique figure in American politics and those who admire him will greatly enjoy this memoir.

Show business is always good for memoirs and biographies. Robert Hofler serves up Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). The 1970s are regarded by some as the pinnacle of Hollywood’s hedonistic age. Carr produced major hits such as Grease, Tommy, and La Gage aux Falles. He was famous for his exclusive and extravagant parties with an A-list of guests. His opulent home was filled with bars, a disco, and private rooms where guests could include their cocaine and sexual pursuits. His fall from grace was as dramatic as his rise and he would become a personal and professional pariah. The book shows how the overtly and proudly gay Carr broke social barriers and is a detailed, intimate look at Hollywood in that era. Sam Culter has written You Can’t Always Get What You Want ($17.95, ECU Press, distributed by Independent Publishers group, softcover) just out this month. This is a memoir of a life spent as the tour manager for groups like the Rolling Stones and then the Grateful Dead in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was there for the infamous concert at Altamont Speedway where a young man was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels in front of the stage when the Rolling Stones were performing. He writes with great insight and with humor about the antics of the legendary musicians he looked after and having to deal with riot police, groupies, drug dealers, mobsters and promoters, as well as friendships with rock legends like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and former Pink Floyd frontman, Syd Barrett. For anyone who recalls the period or wants to know what it was like to live through it, this will prove an interesting book.

A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincent Minnelli is about the genius filmmaker ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover), an Osar-winning director of such classics as Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris, and Gigi. Among others, Minnelli was married to Judy Garland. Mark Griffin became fascinated with Minnelli and his work in 1984 after seeing his second to last film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. He began to piece together every facet of Minnelli’s life to understand how it was reflected in his movies. For this book he interviewed many of the people who worked with him over several decades, including Kirk Douglass, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall, and Angela Landsbury. The result is a comprehensive biography that will please anyone who is a fan of his films that are so different from an entirely new genre that followed.

In a bow to the fact that a new baseball season is underway, the game’s enthusiasts will enjoy High Heat: The Secret History of the Fast Ball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time by Tim Wendel ($25.00, Da Capo Press), a founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly. Featuring interviews with Hall of Famers and baseball greats such as Frank Howard, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, et cetera, this book attempts to identify the one man who could out-pitch the rest. The problem is that many of these and other greats have worn the crown of fastest, but the truth is that it is the quest the book set out upon that is the real fun, along with the opportunity to learn just about everything there is to know about that rocket known as a fast ball. The same publisher also provides some fun reading with Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) edited by Sean Manning. Between its covers you will find some unusual choices among the writers who include singers, comedians and film critics. Their enthusiasm for those whom they think are the best players of a game is contagious and reveals why baseball continues to hold a place in the heart for many Americans.

Terror and War

The world has always been a dangerous place, but because we are so connected by news from all parts of it these days, we are more aware of it as we hear of bombings and other terrible things. Between Terror and Tourism is an account by novelist Michael Mewshaw of his 4,000-mile overland trip across North Africa that he took for his 65th birthday ($16.95, Counterpoint Press, softcover). That part of Africa is called the Maghreb and is Islamic from Egypt to Morocco. If ever you want to understand the wretchedness that Islam and the tyrannical rulers of the region impose on people, this is the book to read. Mewshaw arrived in Egypt during food riots and headed west into Libya. Despite oil riches, little reaches the citizens, many of whom flee to Europe if they can. While in Tunis, he visited an abandoned Star Wars movie set where, he is informed, al Qaeda had just kidnapped two tourists. Despite U.S. Embassy warnings, he ventured into Algeria where an Islamic inspired political struggle has killed over 200,000 people. In one village, six people had been beheaded the day before. By contrast, the Moroccan city of Tangier seemed safe enough. You can take the trip with him from the safety of your chair and I definitely recommend it.

In The Untold War Nancy Sherman explores what is “inside the hearts, minds, and souls of our soldiers” ($27.95, W.W. Norton). Despite all the movies on the subject of war, unless one has been a soldier in combat, it is difficult to comprehend, but that is what the author has set out to do. In her words, the book is “about the moral weight that soldiers carry on their shoulders” and this is the focus of her book as she considers the moral ambiguities each soldier wrestles with because battle requires killing the enemy and often means surviving a fellow soldier’s death. It means learning to adapt to civilian life after months on the battlefield. She interviewed forty soldiers at various stages of their military careers who had fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and World War II. The author is a psychoanalyst and a philosopher who specializes in ancient ethics. This book is a trip from Seneca to Freud, from ancient Rome to modern America.

Lovers of military history will enjoy All American, All the Way: From Market Garden to Berlin, a combat history of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II by Phil Nordyke ($22.99, Zenith Press, softcover). On Sunday, September 17, 1944, this unit jumped into history with the First Allied Airborne Army in a daring daylight parachute and glider-borne assault to capture key bridges at the start of Operation Market Garden. What followed was weeks of combat in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and following victory, the occupation of Berlin. They were part of the greatest generation and you will discover why when you read this book. My late friend, James Brady, has had his biography of Medal of Honor winner, John Basilone, reprinted. Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone ($25.95, Wiley) traces his tour of duty from Raritan, NJ to the beaches of Iwo Jima. Brady was a Marine, too, earning a Bronze Star during the Korean War. I have a friend, another Marine, who fought along side of Basilone. War today is too antiseptic in terms of how the media report it. The taking of the Pacific islands cost thousands more lives than the entire Iraq conflict as well as Afghanistan. This is a remarkable story by a great writer about a great Marine.

A unique approach to history is found in The Last Leaf: Voices of History’s Last-Known Survivors by Stuart Lutz ($26.00, Prometheus Books). What is it like to be the last man or woman standing? Lutz recorded the stories told to him by people who had witnessed many of history’s most famous events. Among those in his book are the final three Civil War widows, one Union and two Confederates; the final American World War One soldier; the last surviving employees of Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Harry Houdini; the last suffragette and the last person to fly with Amelia Earhard prior to the flight on which she was lost somewhere over the Pacific. These are the people who were the last eye-witnesses and participants in the events now consigned to history books and this one is well worth reading.

God in the Fox Hole by Charles W. Sasser ($7.99, Pocket Star Books, paperback), a renowned master of combat journalism and a former Green Beret, notes that from the battlefields of the American Civil War through World Wars I and II, from Korea and Vietnam to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers of all faiths have struggled to understand the awful realities of combat and have called on a higher power to survive and make sense of it. Sasser has gathered a collection of true personal accounts from generations of American soldiers whose faith “has been born, reborn, tested, sustained, verified, or transformed under fire.” This is a war chronicle quite unlike any other you are likely to read and worth reading. Though the memory of the Vietnam conflict is fading and is ancient history to a whole new generation, its lessons are still sifted for insight. Road of 10,000 Pains by Otto J. Lehrack, a retired Marine and two-tour Vietnam veteran ($30.00, Zenith Press) adds a valuable body of knowledge to the conflict. Subtitled “The destruction of the 2nd North Vietnam Army Division by the U.S. Marines”, it relates the battles that were fought in the Que Son Valley over seven months in 1967 and is based on interviews with more than ninety Marines who were there. It is testimony to the fact that these and other U.S. forces won more battles than they lost even if the media of that era did not report those victories. Much of the way the war in Iraq was fought was influenced by this earlier conflict. The courage of our warriors is still the same.

Books for Kids and Teens

How fortunate today’s children and young adult readers are to have a virtual gusher of books written and published just for them.

For the very young who are read to or just beginning to read, here are a few recent arrivals. My Father Knows the Names of Things ($15.99, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) is by the most prolific author of children’s books, Jane Yolen, and is illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. It is an ode to fatherhood and the respect it should receive. Also by Yolen and just in time for the baseball season is All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever ($17.99, Philomel Books, division of Penguin Young Readers Group). As the title suggests, it is about the legendary baseball player. If dad is already trying to play ball with little Johnny or Jane, they will enjoy this one. The story about a little girl and her pet cat is found in Mattoo, Let’s Play! ($18.95, Kids Can Press). Irene Luxbacher has written and illustrated a very entertaining story about Ruby, her cat, and how imagination can turn anyplace into a jungle or outer space. Eugenie Fernandes has written and illustrated Kitten’s Spring ($14.95, Kids Can Press), an introduction to books for the very young who will love the illustrations while learning the sounds of animals and birds. The same can be said for Have You Ever Seen a Stork Build a Log Cabin? ($14.95, Kids Can Press). Written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Jeff Szue, it tells how various birds, insects, and fish build structures of their own in which to raise a family.

Readers aged 8 to 11 or so are likely to be fascinated by dinosaurs and, for them, Monster Fliers: From the Time of the Dinosaurs by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by John Bindon ($16.95, Kids Can Press) will prove a fascinating exploration of creatures such as Pterosaur and Scaphogognathus. There is general agreement that today’s birds are descended from dinosaurs and this book is an education in itself. There’s an interesting book for this age group and older, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales ($13.00, Alfred A. Knopf, softcover) as told by Virginia Hamilton with illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. I can recall the Bre’r Rabbit story from my youth, thanks to a Disney film, “Song of the South”, but I was unaware of the wonderful other stories such as the beautiful girl of the moon tower or slave tales that speak of the desire for freedom.

American Girl is a publisher that specializes in book for girls of all ages and some of their latest include the following: Two “Smart Girl” Guides, one for Style and the other for Parties ($9.95 each, softcover), both for ages 8 to 11 and both filled with really good advice about things like fashion and smart shopping, or how to be a happy hostess, a great guest, and have fun at any party. There’s Just Dad and Me ($10.95, softcover) that is filled with fun things to do that will bring a father and daughter closer together. This is for the pre-teen age group. There’s even Raising an American Girl: Parenting Advice for the Real World ($9.95) that provides reminders and tips about the changes little girls go through as they hit their teens and deal with common problems and questions. It would be particularly useful for a first-time, young parent. American Girl also publishes various fiction series such as Kit Kittredge, the latest volume of which is Missing Grace. Check out for many books perfect for the little girl in your life.

A hilarious series is Amelia Rules! The latest of which is #5 The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular ($18.99/$10.99, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, hard and softcover) by Jimmy Gownley for ages 7 through 12. It is a graphic novel and in this one, Amelia McBride and the gang are about to embark on their most daunting mission yet, navigating the ranks of nerd, geek or even cheerleader to avoid not being unpopular. Any kid will find themselves laughing from the familiar situations. I loved it and I sure ain’t no kid!

Novels, Novels, Novels

The novels flood in as always. In no particular order, here are a few hard and softcover novels worth checking out.

Diane Meier debuts with The Season of Second Chances ($25.00, Henry Holt and Company), is about a woman renovating her life and her house at an age when one might assume she’d accomplished everything she wanted. This closely resembles the author’s life whose marketing firm began in 1979 and enjoyed success representing products by Elizabeth Arden, Neiman Marcus, and other top companies. When her first marriage ended, she just kept going and then married the writer Frank Delaney. In her novel, Joy Harkness, unlike the author, lacks a strong sense of style, but whose home becomes a metaphor for the discovery of those things that most express her desire for a home. It reflects her growing recognition of a stylish, fulfilling life. The title tells it all. This book will particularly please women who enjoy both work and life’s other satisfactions. A darker story is told by Michelle Boyajian in Lies of the Heart ($25.95, Viking) that brings into shocking reality the unintended consequences of using people as pawns to acquire others’ love. Katie Burelli is living a wife’s worst nightmare. Her husband, Nick, has been shot at point blank range. One of his patients, Jerry, a mentally disabled, grown man who they had welcomed into their home and treated like a son is on trial for the murder. Alternating between the past and present, the story unravels the truth behind the widow’s grief, exposing Nick and her emotionally and physically charged relationship. Outwardly a happy couple, the inclusion of Jerry was their effort to help him while trying to help themselves. It is a novel of psychological suspense that will prove hold your attention from beginning to end.

Coming in May is The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo ($26.95, Unbridled Books). A first novel, it is based on fact, the story of the son of an American woman who married into Mexico’s famous Iturbide family. An American herself, the author is a well-known translator of contemporary Mexican literature, as well as a winner of a Flannery O’Connor Fiction Award. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence. The story is set during the mid-19th century when the Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg became Emperor of Mexico. The novel is a kind of history of Mexico, its struggle for a national identity amidst its wrangling for control of the Americas. Propped up by French troops, the childless couple took custody of a two-year-old who was expected to be the heir apparent. This is a complex story of individuals and a period of turbulent history that, given the rise of the Hispanic population in the U.S.A. will be of great interest to them and to those for whom history provides enjoyment. Also coming in May is Children of Ta-shaen by Greg Park ($24.95, Bladestar Publishing, 1499 North 950 West, Orem, UT 84057), Book Three of The Earthsoul Prophecies, a five-book series.) As you may suspect, it is in the fantasy genre, a tale of a dying world’s struggle for survival and an insightful look at mankind’s capacity for both good and evil. In Book Three, the allied nations of the Nine lands begin preparation for a prolonged war against the dreadlord Throy Shadan. I won’t give away the story’s details, but lovers of magic who have enjoyed the works of J.R.R. Tolkien will find this a powerful tale.

Among the softcover novels there’s Bone Dogs by Roger Alan Skipper ($15.95, Counterpoint Press) which tells the story of Tuesday Price, a wiseass, a boozer, and a loser. Only his wife Linda recalls a smarter, better man, and she is losing faith in his return. When Tuesday befriends a strange, silent Vietnam veteran who is a man with a cooler of beer in a disabled pickup, Linda has had enough. She leaves and when the old vet is found dead, Tuesday is blamed. His life falling apart, he returns to his deserted childhood home and begins to rebuild the structure at the same time he tries to rebuild his life. There’s a lot of humanity to be found in this story of loss, disappointment and a struggle to renew and redeem what is left of it. A very different story, actually the story of three Jewish families is told in Hey, You Never Know by Robert Newman ($19.95, Visions Communications) because it revolves around three main characters, Ida Haberman, Charlie Nollman, and Abe Hirsch, all senior citizens. Through each we see the last century unfold. These are not perfect people, but as their lives unfold in rapid succession on each page, we recognize in them our own families, our aunts and uncles, and the quest in the human heart for love, despite hardships and the vagaries of life. Though it will resonate best with Jewish readers, it will prove just as entertaining to anyone who picks it up. Hey, you never know.

The Livingston Press is a small press of the University of West Alabama. Over the years I have been impressed with the excellent fiction they publish. Two of the latest novels are On the Backstretch by W.C. Bamberger ($15.95) and The Prospect of Magic by M.O. Walsh (16.95), a collection of linked stories about a carnival broken down in the small town of Fluker, Louisiana. This is amazing, funny stuff by a very gifted writer. The other book is set in the 1930s England and tells the story of the prison stay of Gully Jimson, an artist those who have read Joyce Cary’s “The Horse’s Mouth” will recognize. In that novel, there is nothing written of Jimson’s incarceration and Bamberger decided to fill in the blank as a literary tribute to Cary. Jimson is a schemer, but his time behind bars transforms him to a degree. This is best read by those who have already read the Cary novel. A visit to would introduce you to a selection of books that are well worth reading.

For some listening pleasure, there’s Black Hills by Dan Simmons ($39.98, Hachette Audio, 18 CDs, and 21 hours of intrigue that begins in 1876 at the Battle of Big Horn and a connection between an 11-year-old Indian boy witnesses the death of General Custer and believes that his ghost has entered his body. If you love the old West and history, this story will keep you entertained for a long time. James Patterson keeps doing what he does best, write suspense and, in this case, fantasy. Fang ($22.98, 5 CDs, Hachette Audio) is full of evil forces, a horrifying prophetic message, and the kind of weird stuff that some folks just love. You will definitely keep the lights on when you listen to this one.

That’s it for April!

Spring has arrived, a quarter of the year has slipped by, and there is so much great reading to be had in the months ahead. Be sure to come back in May and be sure to tell all your book-loving friends about Bookviews.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bookviews - March 2010

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

With the advent of popular 24/7 cable news channels, Americans have become even more addicted to the news than ever before. Depending on one’s age, however, one is likely to perceive it in different ways. For the political junky, there is a very interesting look at the 1960s and how it shaped politics. Framing the Sixties: The Use and Abuse of a Decade from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush ($28.95, University of Massachusetts, softcover) examines the way “Ever since Ronald Reagan, U.S. presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, have battled over the collective memory of what the decade meant in an effort to advance their own agendas,” says historian Bernard von Bothmer. The decade heralded the growth of the conservative political movement. Former Senator Rick Santorum said in 2007 that “You can tell if you were a liberal or a conservative if you thought the sixties were a good or bad decade.” They turned a lot of young liberals into conservatives at the same time other young liberals were marching against the Vietnam War and embracing the counter-culture of the times. With a historian’s precision the author shows how that decade and the one that followed shaped the nation’s political choices.

Henry M. Paulson, Jr., the Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush, has written an excellent account, On The Brink, ($28.99, Grand Center Publishing, division of Hachette) explaining the events surrounding the sudden imminent collapse of the nation’s financial system late into the second term. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs had assumed the job in 2006. Little did he know he would be at the center of “a perfect storm” to save the nation’s and the global economy. By all outsider accounts, that’s exactly what he did with the support of Congress and others in government, not the least of whom was President Bush who Paulson obviously respects. What makes this book so interesting is his candid story of the people and the politics that made it possible to draw back from the brink. Hachette has also released it as an audiobook ($34.98, 13 CDs, read by Dan Woren, approximately 15 hours.)

A clinical psychologist, Ellen Weber Libby, PhD, has written The Favorite Child ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) based on thirty years of helping successful, often powerful clients in Washington, D.C., where outsized personalities abound. Based on more than 60,000 hours of therapeutic counseling her book looks at the advantages and disadvantages of being the favorite child. Having been brought up to believe they can do anything, being unafraid of challenges, they often suffer an array of personality problems from the pressure to maintain the façade at all costs. Their ability to tell the truth can suffer and their intimate relationships are often elusive. We have seen this over and over again when politicians are brought down by adulterous affairs and other bad behavior. I found this book provided powerful insights and, if you think you were a favorite child or a member of your family was one, you might well want to read this interesting book. From the same publisher there’s God’s Brain by Lionel Tiger and Michael McGuire ($25.00, Prometheus Books) that takes part in the fractious debate about the existence of God and the nature of religion. What makes this book particularly interesting is that the authors approach the topic based on evolutionary biology with a focus on brain science. Tiger is a famed anthropologist and McGuire is a pioneering neuroscientist. The thesis they put forth is that the brain creates religion and its varied concepts of God and then, in turns, feeds on its creation to satisfy innate neurological and associated social needs. Not exactly the story you got from the Old and New Testament or other sacred text, but surely a fascinating exploration of how religion helps “soothe” the mind in a stressful world. One can see this at work when people with strong religious beliefs are able to cope with tragedy in a fashion that reduces the initial shock and guides them to a successful response.

The message of How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces that are Transforming America by David Kupelian ($26.00, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) is stark and simple. There is evil in the world and the author believes that your defense against it is the belief in a higher power and the rules for a moral life that are found in the Old and New Testaments. Though Kupelian does base his book on fundamental religious values, the fact is that many Americans do believe in them even as they see forces at work in the nation to destroy it. The value of the book is the way Kupelian confronts and answers questions many Americans are asking. Why are New Age religions becoming popular along with atheism? Why do so many celebrities and public figures that “have it all” end up self-destructing? Why are Big Lies more believable than little ones? Why are boys doing worse in schools today than girls? Why do we think that the only treatment for mental, emotional, and spiritual problems like anger and depression are drugs? These and many other comparable questions about our society and how it is changing for the worse are addressed. You do not have to be “religious” to be concerned and the book is a tad preachy, but it is also a valuable guide to the evil forces at work in our society today.

Las Vegas has been in the news of late thanks to President Obama’s penchant for saying bad things about it. For an insider’s look at Sin City, there’s Under the Neon Sky: A Las Vegas Doorman’s Story by Jay Rankin ($14.95, Jay Rankin Publishing, softcover). I am breaking my own rule against self-published books because this one is worth reading. “If you step back and look at the marketing, it’s brilliant: the lights, the shows, the food, the entertainment, the rooms, and the views…the possibility of winning big, of getting laid, of doing drugs, and on and on. Even the rush of anticipation you get when you plan a trip to Vegas is addicting.” Las Vegas is a place where some people go to break the rules while others go to attend major conferences and events. I have always had an aversion to gambling, so the allure of that was lost on me, but having been there on business a number of times, I found Rankin’s book a fascinating look at a city that truly never sleeps.

March is the 20th anniversary of the publication of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried now released again ($24.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). It is regarded as a classic work of American literature for its ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. It depicts the men of Alpha Company who fought in Vietnam and are recalled by O’Brien who had survived, returned home and began a family. From February 1969 to March 1970, he had served as an infantryman. For an entire generation or two, the Vietnam War might as well have been as long ago as the Civil War, but this excellent evocation brings it to life. O’Brien currently teaches creative writing at Texas State University.

Every so often I receive a unique book that meets a real need or problem. It only takes a few seconds to a minute for a child to go missing, whether in the woods while parents are camping or in a shopping mall. It is one of the most terrifying experiences for parent and child. J. Wayne Fears has written How to Lost-Proof Your Child as part of a survival series he has authored for Pro-Tool Industries ($8.95, softcover) This should be mandatory reading for parents because it is filled with excellent advice and recommendations regarding the many ways one can teach a child proper behavior with which to avoid getting lost, what to do if lost, and the many things a parent can do to prevent or respond to it. The book is available from

The Lessons of History

Of all the topics books address, my favorite is history. It is a cliché to say that those who do not know history will repeat all of its mistakes, but it is true.

A World of Trouble by Patrick Tyler ($18.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, softcover) is a great book for those interested in both American politics and the on-going strife in the Middle East. It is subtitled “The White House and the Middle East—from the Cold War to the War on Terror.” Tyler has reported extensively from both the Middle East and Washington, D.C. for The New York Times and The Washington Post. He is a splendid historian, documenting how presidents from Eisenhower to Bush were continually confounded by events and personalities in the Middle East. Some had some experience to draw upon, others knew little of the region and its history. LBJ was distracted by the war in Vietnam, most tried and failed to resolve the hostility of Israel’s neighbors to its very existence. In sum, this book, page by page, is filled with the insider details of the Oval office and its advisors who grappled, year after year, decade after decade with a region operating from seventh century attitudes and practices. In a comparable fashion, I enjoyed Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World by Fredrik Stanton ($26.00, Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA). There have clearly been and still are times when all the sanctions and negotiations cannot deter a nation hell bent on war or some other mischief. That said, history is filled with examples where negotiations have averted conflict or secured the end of a conflict. The author takes one on a tour of diplomacy in the modern area from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, back to the Treaty of Versailles after World War One that created many of the problems with us today. From Benjamin Franklin who secured vital French support for the American Revolution to Reagan and Gorbachev laying the groundwork to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons, the author explains what each party brought to the negotiating table, the stakes, the obstacles to success, and how they were overcome.

I am naturally partial to the books of the History Publishing Company, Palisades, New York. In a unique book, Custer Survivor, John Koster writers of “The end of a myth, the beginning of a legend” ($16.95, softcover) because, as it turned out, despite the commonly held view that all of the troopers of the five companies accompanying General George Armstrong Custer died at the battle at the Little Big Horn, it turns out that one of them did, indeed, survive, Second Sergeant of C Company, Frank Finkel. This is the story of how he escaped, his ensuing ordeal, and the subsequent years of his successful life. It is, admittedly, a tiny niche of history, but an interesting one. For those who find war reportage interesting, Operation Phantom Fury: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq by Dick Camp ($30.00, Zenith Press, Quayside Publishing Group) offers 100 color photos and 10 color maps to enhance a compelling text about the November 2004 operation that, as in most military engagements, did not go as planned. A combined force of U.S. and Iraqi forces was, in fact, the second offensive into Fallujah and involved the most difficult house-to-house kind of combat. This firsthand account of the brutal reality of the war in Iraq is a tribute to those who fought it and those who lost their lives. The 188th Crybaby Brigade by Joel Chasnoff ($25.00, Free Press) is subtitled, “A skinny Jewish kid from Chicago fights Hezbollah.” It is a less than flattering look at the Israel Defense Force, still regarded as one of the most feared fighting forces in the Middle East. Seeking to prove something to himself, Chasnoff, a 24-year-old Ivy League post-graduate decided to volunteer to serve in the IDF, going from would-be warrior to disillusioned soldier who in the end discovers that, according to Jewish law, his mother’s conversation doesn’t really qualify him as a Jew at all. He can die for Israel, but he just can’t get married there! He is the lone American is a platoon of 18-year-old Israelis. This is an entertaining glimpse inside Israel that the tourist board would rather you not read.

A special look back at the U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 can be found in Eric Hammel’s Islands of Hell ($50.00, Zenith Press, Quayside Publishing Group.) It is a coffee-table, large format book, 300 pages filled with 567 black/white photos and seven maps that tells the story of the final stepping-stone battles that involved brutal combat in places like Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa, the doorstep to Japan. The book, just out this month, is released in conjunction with HBOs new mini-series, “The Pacific” and it serves to remind the reader not only of the valor of these now legendary warriors, but of the contrast with today’s conflicts where casualties over a period of years do not begin to compare with those suffered in mere days and weeks in that now long-ago war against the empire of Japan. The text is spare and excellent, but it is the photos that tell the story.

Anybody remember the Cold War? Well, the Soviet Union may be history, but the Russians still operate on the same principles and The KGB’s Poison Factory: From Lenin to Litvinenko ($25.00, Zenith Press, Quayside Publishing) by Boris Volodarsky reveals how, since 1917, the Russian security services have regularly carried out “bespoke” poisoning operations all over the world to eliminate what it regards as enemies of the Kremlin. The most recent to gain notoriety was in November 2006 when Alexander Litvenko, a former Lt. Colonel of the Russian Security Service was murdered in London using a sophisticated poison. The author maintains it was just one episode in a chain of murders that continues to the present day. This is a very scary look at a ruthless regime. To gain an insight to how this came about, read Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport ($27.95, Basic Books), a vivid account of seventeen years of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s life spent on the run or hiding in Europe as he plotted the revolution in Russia that overthrew the czar in 1917 and initiated the Soviet Union, an experiment in communism that would kill millions of Russians. It is the arduous, lonely, and frustrating years in places that included London, Geneva, Paris, Krakow, Zurich, Copenhagen and Stockholm that are the focus of this historian’s examination of how this master conspirator and strategist planned and plotted to change history. It took extreme patience and persistence, a ruthless dedication, but Lenin made it happen. This is the stuff of great, if tragic, history. To understand Russia, one must understand Lenin.

Going even further back in history, you can read Thomas J. Craughwell’s The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History, that of Genghis Khan and the Mongols ($19.99, Fair Winds, Quayside Publishing, large format softcover.) Emerging out of the vast steppe grasslands of Central Asia in the early 1200s, the Mongols quickly carved out an empire that, by the late 13th century, included one-sixth of the Earth’s landmass, from Eastern Europe to the eastern shore of Asia. Extensively illustrated, the author brings that piece of history to life in a lively text. The focus on Asia since the end of World War Two has been on China and, in particular, the Peoples Republic or communist China. I doubt that anyone in the West can even grasp what it must have been like to grow up in that society whose “transformation” by Mao Te Sung and the party cost millions their lives and was irrationally disruptive. One of the best accounts of what it was like during those years is Red Circle: China and Me 1949-2009 by Stephen Songsheng Chen ($19.95, Author House). It is a story of a family branded capitalist exploiters and suffering the ordeal of surviving in the mad world of communist ideology. To understand the China that Richard Nixon “opened up” to the West and the turmoil of the years until Mao’s death, as well as the remarkable embrace of capitalist economic principles that followed, there is probably no better book available today.

Finally, for people who love the philosophical as well as the historical implications of things, there's The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter ($27.95, W.W. Norton & Company) in which the author “offers a comprehensive assessment of western ideas of race, beauty, and blood from antiquity to the present time, deftly demonstrating that all three are concepts evolved by dominant cultures rather than based on biological fact.” This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it must be said it is not as boring as one might assume. There is surely something to be said for the Caucasians who proved to be the discoverers of scientific truth and the most innovative race in recent centuries. That said, the Chinese were writing poetry while our ancestors were still deep into the Dark Ages. No one race is “superior” to one another since we all share the same DNA. Weaving together all that we know at this point, this book challenges our presumptions.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

We are in parlous times thanks to several administrations and congresses that have ignored the laws of economics that say you cannot borrow your way out of debt and keep spending at the same time.

Master Your Debt by Jordan E. Goodman with Bill Westrom ($24.95, John Wiley & Sons) offers lots of detailed advice, based on the latest laws and new government programs and policies. You will find a variety of strategies to rid yourself of debt, along with reliable source information such as toll-free numbers, websites, association and government agencies, and vetted companies and services to help you implement your plan to dig out from debt. Goodman has authored a dozen books and, for eighteen years, he was the Wall Street correspondent for Money magazine, as well as on television and radio. Westrom is a consumer advocate and veteran mortgage professional who has become a critic of the traditional banking system. From the same publishing company comes How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business by Dave Anderson ($24.95, John Wiley & Sons) that will appeal to anyone raised with religious values. In a time when surveys tell us that only 45& of Americans are satisfied with their work, an all-time low since the study was begun in 1987, unhappiness on the job, says the author, has some very real consequences. “Unhappy employees are unhealthy employees—psychologically, emotionally, and sometimes even physically,” says the author. Inspiring and motivating workers is job number one says Anderson. He identifies the bad habits owners and managers can develop in bad times and he offers some good advice how to improve life for everyone from employees to customers.

When Turtles Fly by Nikki Stone ($17.95, Morgan James Publishing, softcover) is subtitled “Secrets of successful people who know how to stick their necks out.” By recounting the stories of 40 people like designer Tommy Hilfiger, jazz musician Branford Marsalis, and NFL quarterback Steve Young, the author demonstrates that, in addition to their talents, they also were willing to take the chances necessary to win big in life’s lottery. There’s No Crying in Business: How Women Can Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries by Roxanne Rivera ($39.95, Palgrave Macmillan) takes a look at what it takes to succeed and does so from her own personal experience running her multi-million-dollar construction company. Then, to hammer home her message, she relates the stories of others like herself who made breakthroughs. Among those cited are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, country music star Taylor Swift, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, but there are plenty more whose names are instantly recognizable such as former Governor and vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. This book will prove exceptionally inspirational to young women just beginning their careers. There are endless books about managing and some are better than others. Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability ($18.00, Fire Starter Publishing, softcover) by Quint Studer who is a firm believer in accentuating the positive. “Managing up is, in essence, positioning people well,” says Studer, and his book examines how to align a staff instead of dividing them, as opposed to a “we/they culture” in which employees feel the enemy is management. Discussed in full is managing your boss as well as your staff. For managers hitting obstacles too often, this book may well prove the breakthrough.

Every profession or business has its own tax issues and a related need for information, and this is no less true of the creative trades. A New Tax Guide for Writers, Artists, Performers & Other Creative People has been published ($18.95, Focus Publishing, R. Pullins Company, softcover). The 2010 edition by Peter Jason Riley, a CPA, is a complete guide to income and business tax forms and includes the 2009 forms for filing. In addition, the author provides some very useful advice. This publisher, a specialist in books for and about drama, also offers The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory ($18.95), The Process of Dramaturgy: A Handbook ($16.95), and Playwriting in Process: Thinking and Working Theatrically ($18.95). All are softcover editions.

There are two excellent audiobooks available from Hachette Audio. One is Burton G. Malkiel’s and Charles D. Ellis’s The Elements of Investing ($24.98), good for approximately two and a half-hours of introduction to the rules and principles of intelligent investing that can save you both time and money. Selling in Tough Times: Secrets to Selling When No One is Buying by national bestselling author, Tom Hopkins, ($24.98, six CDs) shares his experience to help you increase sales by tested and true techniques.

To Your Health

America must be one of the most health-conscious nations on Earth. It seems like health is a constant topic on the various news and talk shows. There are any number of programs on television as well including one devoted to autopsies! There are endless articles in magazines and newspapers, too. It was even a major political issue this past year.

When you’ve been a book reviewer as long as I have (don’t ask!) you see, from year to year, a lot of books that fall into familiar formulas; essentially repeating what many previous books have had to say. That’s why finding books with something new to say is the bonus for which I look. That’s why I am recommending Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives by Jane Miller, LISW, CDBC ($16.99, New Page Books, a division of Career Press, softcover). I have a friend who has always had dogs in his life. He currently lives in a rural cabin with a blind Malamute, Boris, for company. I have known him long enough to know that his dogs have brought him endless love and have been part of his family for decades. There are 65 million dog owners in America that know that dogs inspire confidence, nurture emotional well-being, and bring out the best in them. This interesting book examines how dogs can benefit survivors of emotional illness and mitigate agoraphobia, depression, and post-traumatic stress. It is filled with good advice on how to choose a dog and take care of one. The author is a clinical psychiatrist in private practice.

Surviving Your Doctors: Why the Medical System is Dangerous to Your Health and How to Get Through it Alive by Dr. Richard S. Klein, M.D., ($32.95, Rowman & Littlefield) points out that, “every year, at least 100,000 patients die in American hospitals because of malpractice.” Drawing on 38 years of experience in the healthcare industry and 20 years testifying in malpractice lawsuits, the author has a lot to say about things you should do to protect your health and deal with what he calls the “organized crime” of insurance providers and plans. When dealing with your physician, keep in mind he has allotted you about 15 minutes time for the visit, so Dr. Klein says you should make a list of all symptoms and questions you have. Then be prepared to question your doctor’s diagnosis and opinions. Do as much research as possible beforehand. Then get a second opinion. In sum, this book could, indeed, save your life by empowering you with a better understanding of what you’re getting into with a doctor’s visit or one to a hospital.

There are all kinds of specific injuries and illnesses. Successfully Surviving a Brain Injury: A Family Guidebook ($17.95,, softcover) by Garry Prowe provides a wealth of information about brain injuries, noting that each is unique, from mild to severe, and each affects the entire family and requires their participation in the recovery. Brain injuries are far more common than most people know and the good news is that the brain has the capacity to repair itself in many cases. I would have to say that this book is excellent in every respect. It has just the right kind of information and encouragement that anyone, the patient and the caregiver, would want to know and need to know. Cancer is as scary as it comes, but many recover thanks to modern medicine. Joi L. Morris and Ora K. Gordon, M.D., have authored Positive Results: Making the Best Decisions When You’re at High Risk for Breast or Ovarian Cancer ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). It is a singular, comprehensive source of information and advice to help women who are at high risk because of family history and their genetic profile. It is one part memoir and three parts “how to” manual, providing in a clear and steady manner the myths and realities of the disease. It lays out all the options in easy-to-follow compassionate language. This book will provide a lot of peace of mind for those vulnerable to this disease and the encouragement to know it can be overcome. We all know that germs can cause or aggravate illness. Joni James Aldrich writes of her husband’s struggle against cancer in Saving Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer ($19.95, Cancer Lifeline Publications, softcover).The focus of the book is how to eliminate germs as a means to enhance treatment of a cancer patient. Since the patient cannot live in a bubble, there are many factors to keep in mind and they are spelled out in this book to include surroundings in public and at home, as well as in medical facilities. To maintain an environment that minimizes the potential hazard from germs requires a lot of effort and knowledge, and this book provides a lot of knowledge. Chasing Miracles: The Crowley Family Journal of Strength, Hope, and Joy ($22.95, Newmarket Press, softcover) as the name implies tells of the determination of John F. Crowley, the author, and his wife, to save the lives of their two youngest children, keep their family together, and their marriage strong when 15-month-old Megan and 4-mouth-old Patrick were diagnosed as having been born with a rare genetic disorder called Pompe disease. Their effort was ultimately successful, but the story of how they coped will prove inspirational to others experiencing a similar struggle. Crowley walked away from his corporate job to set up a biotech company to focus on finding a cure and today their children, despite their special needs, are now 13 and 11 years of age.

As someone who was the caregiver for two aging parents, both of whom lived into their nineties, I found Feeding Mrs. Moskowitz and the The Caregiver: Two Stories by Barbara Pokras and Fran Pokras Yariv ($19.95, Syracuse University Press, softcover) a delightful experience. It is a candid and humorous look at aging. With 4.3 million Americans now taking on the role of caregivers to loved ones, there are plenty of stories to tell and share. The book is two novellas in which we meet Golde Moskowitz, an elderly Russian-born widow living alone with her memories and, in the second we visit a fictional upscale assisted-living facility in Hollywood and learn about it through the eyes of Ofelia Hernandez, a young Latina caregiver who relates the lives of those living there. It is well worth reading whether one is a caregiver or not, aging or not. This is a slice of life worth visiting. A Sacred Walk: Dispelling the Fear of Death and Caring for the Dying($15.95, A&A Publishing, softcover) by Donna M. Authers addresses the fact that all of us will die at some point and that all of us will be called upon to help a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one make the final journey. Helping them make the most of their last years, months or weeks can provide priceless memories, despite the fact that it will test you in every way. This is Authers’ personal story, but it is also ultimately everyone’s story when faced with this final stage of life.

Books for Kids and Teens

A torrent of new books for pre-school, early readers, and teens has arrived and this month and next we will be recommending some wonderful books to add to your child’s library. We learn best when we are self-taught.

Let us begin with books for pre-school and early readers, ages 2 through 7. From Kane Miller Publishing there’s Passing By ($15.99) written by Yona Tepper and illustrated by Gil-Ly Alon Curiel, a charming story of a little girl observing the street below her window as dogs, birds and people become part of her world. In Andy and Sam: Hide and Seek by Liesbet Slegers ($14.99), Sam the cat loves to hide and the fanciful illustrated pages of the book invite young readers to find Sam amidst many other objects. For the early reader, Francoize Boucher has created I Love Words ($14.99), an activity book for writing, drawing and just having fun while practicing the alphabet and discovering the fun of writing. Check out this publisher at

Another favorite publisher of mine is Kids Can Press. A Paddling of Ducks: Animals in Groups from A to Z by Marjorie Blain Parker and Joseph Kelly is marvelously illustrated and creates groups that include a “Bask of Crocodiles” and a “Skulk of Foxes” to reinforce the alphabet and introduce a young reader to all manner of creatures from Yellow Jackets to zebra in a very entertaining fashion. Melanie Watt created Chester the cat, a rather self-centered feline, and his latest manifestation occurs in Chester’s Masterpiece ($18.95) in which she admonishes Chester not to copy other people’s writings as he attempts to write his own book. Will he write humor, action, drama, suspense, horror, science fiction, or romance? The results will be hilarious to any young reader who will begin to think about writing their own book, too! An older reader, age 10 to 12, will surely enjoy Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton ($18.95) with an excellent text and extraordinary computer-generated images, illustrations and photos that demonstrate how various species evolved over millions of years. Any youngster showing an interest in science will love this one.
Check out this publisher at,

Tanglewood Press publishes books for the youngest readers that combine wonderful stories with memorable illustrations. A New York Times bestseller is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn with illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak ($16.95) that won a Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing. School is starting in the forest and Chester Raccoon does not want to go. To help ease Chester’s fears, Mrs. Raccoon shares a family secret to give him the reassurance of her love any time the world feels a little scary. Published originally in 1993, it is a keeper! He reappears in Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories ($16.95) by Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson. When Chester’s best friend, a squirrel, goes missing forever, Mrs. Raccoon suggests that Chester and his friends “make some memories” when they miss him. This book helps a youngster learn how to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Moving onto the older readers from 12 through 15, there is plenty of advice and fiction from Kids Can Press and a good place to begin is Think Again by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Julie Morstad ($16.95) that is filled with short poems, couplets that provide some very good advice for those approaching a new level of maturity. Along the same lines is Girl in the Know: Your Inside-and-Out Guide to Growing Up by Anne Katz, R.D., PhD and illustrated by Monika Melnychuk ($18.95) that I would surely recommend to parents of girls approaching and entering their teen years. It deals with a lot of topics parents can often feel uncomfortable discussing and does so with excellent advice. Fiction is well served in James Leck’s The Adventures of Jack Lime, L.M. Falcone’s The Midnight Curse, and Susan Hughes’ Virginia.

From Kane Miller there’s Ruth Starke’s Noodle Pie ($15.99) that tells the story of American-born Andy who returns to Vietnam with his dad, a former refugee returning for the first time to visit his relatives. Talk about culture shock, but it is also a valuable lesson in learning about Vietnam. There’s a lot of fun to be had in The Python Problem by Darrel and Sally Odgers ($4.99), a short book in the Pet Vet series told by Trump, a dog that lives with a veterinarian who tends to all kinds of animals. If you child shows an interest in animals, he or she will love this delightful story and learn a lot of useful things about animals in the process.

A book arrived from far-off New Zealand, Ben Brown and the Return of the Nephilim by Michael C. Thorp. It is the first in a “Ben Brown” series published by Free House Publishing and is a non-genre fictional story for young adults in which Ben is launched on many adventures when a space explorer vehicle crashes in his family’s Kansas wheat field. Any young adult will enjoy going alone as he voyages to the end of the universe to free an enslaved people. These days one can purchase just about any book published anywhere thanks to the Internet. The autobiography of a real young man, Matt Furey, The Unbeatable Man ($24.95, Gold Medal Publications, Tampa, Florida) recounts how, as a young fellow growing up in a rural Iowa town, Furey was a punching bag for his four brothers, but discovered he had a talent for wrestling. As a teenager he became an accomplished athlete in both wrestling and swimming, seeking and winning championships. Furey became a successful entrepreneur, but the lessons he learned as a young man were the key to his achievements as a teen and as he grew older. It is an excellent book for any teenage boy struggling to find out who he is and what he can become.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

In no particular order, let’s look at some of the fiction that has arrived at Bookviews Hq.

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung ($25.95, Viking) was inspired by the real-life story of a Russian boy who fled an abusive home and lived a number of years with a pack of dogs. This is not the first time this theme has caught the imagination of a writer and one need only think of Mowgli of The Jungle Book or Tarzan. In the aftermath of Perestroika, countless homeless children and adults roam the streets of Moscow and a four-year-old follows a stray dog to its home in an abandoned church cellar. He is accepted into the pack by Mamochka, the pack’s mother, and slowly abandons his human attributes to survive two fiercely cold winters, becoming the pack leader because of his skills as a strategist. The pack is constantly in search of food to survive and as they begin to prey on people, he attracts the attention of local police, street urchins, and, finally, scientists. This is an exploration of what it is to be human. It will make you think! Family is the heart of an excellent debut novel by Leslie Jamison. The Gin Closet ($25.00, Free Press) starts out in the 1960s when Tilly Rudolph abandons here middle class home and flees to the seedy underworld of Reno. She will spend much of her life without a family, but nearly three decades later her niece, Stella, a young cosmopolite from New York tracks her down and life changes for both of them as they move to San Francisco where they are joined by Abe, Tilly’s handsome and mysterious son. Told from the point of view of the two main characters, the fragile triangle between them soon breaks under its own weight. Is family enough to save someone from a transforming decision made years earlier? The novel asks and answers that question in a way that marks the author as someone to watch for future work.

Among the softcover novels are three worth noting. Life as a Sandwich by Eric Peterson ($15.95, Huckleberry House) looks at the “sandwich generation”, adults caught between raising children, tending to their careers, and caring for aging parents. Peterson gives us Wallace Noe who decides to leave his consulting career and stake everything on a start-up company and when everything goes terribly wrong. He is the product of a unique time in California’s history, a high tech boom when it seemed like everyone was hitting the jackpot. Wallace is one of those whose dream deflates very swiftly until he must reexamine his priorities in life. This is a real slice-of-life novel and well worth reading. The next is The Secret Keeper ($l5.00, Plume) and it takes us to a war-torn African nation, Sierra Leone, and a journalist determined to uncover the truth behind his former lover’s post-war murder. When he returns, he finds a different nation, one that is financially on the mend and superficially at peace. One follows his travails to the point where he must literally choose between his principles and his life. The third novel could not be more different from than the others. Harrison Slater has written Nocturne ($24.95, Editions Peabody Mason) published just in time for the 200th anniversary of Chopin. Artemisia Talbot, a photographer, gets an assignment to photograph Chopin’s Paris, finding unconditional love there in the form of a young, American musicologist, Matthew Pierce. She follows him to Warsaw where a diary that describes Chopin’s ill-fated love affair with a talented pianist and watercolorist has some disturbing parallels to contemporary events. An obsessive killer, bent on revenge, is on the loose. The combination of these themes makes for a very interesting story, particularly for anyone who loves Chopin’s music and the era in which he flourished.

Short stories are a great way to pass the time and there are two recent collections that have been published. Precarious by Al Riske ($16.95, Luminis Books, softcover) is subtitled “Stories of Love, Sex, and Misunderstanding.” That should provide a clue to the fifteen stories about the differences between men and women and the conflicts that inevitably arise between them. Riske has peopled his stories with some vivid characters and provocative scenarios. They range from rain-soaked Seattle to Malibu and Cape Cod. It is never boring! Other reviewers have long acclaimed Lady Caroline Blackwood’s literary skills whose marriages to artist Lucian Freud and to poet Robert Lowell, gave her a reputation for eccentricity and frequent flares of panic. Never Breathe a Word is a collection of her stories ($26.00, Counterpoint) spanning her long career and ranging between tragedy and humor. She must have been fairly terrifying in real life. She died in 1996 in Manhattan’s Mayfair Hotel, living as she said, in “grand squalor.” Fans of the short story genre are in for a treat.

I will break my rule about self-published books by noting my friend Joe Sansone’s Obama in Wonderland ($11.95, softcover, because it is a very amusing satire on the present political chaos. Just imagine Alice in Wonderland with a whole new cast of characters, all equally distanced from reality, as Obama tries his best to “transform” Wonderland with some hilarious and absurd results. This is a cautionary tale as well and one that the disaffected independent or conservative in your life will thoroughly enjoy. Available, too, from

That’s it for March! Wow, three months have flown by. Come back in April and don’t forget to tell your friends and family about the only site for eclectic news of new books for all ages and all tastes, fiction and non-fiction.