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 http://www.americangirl.com 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 www.livingstonpress.uwa.edu 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.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Bookviews - April 2010
Posted by Alan Caruba at 5:13 PM
Labels: children's books, fiction, history, non-fiction
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