Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bookviews - December 2010

By Alan Caruba

Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukah!

My Picks of the Month

If I could have just one book in my Christmas stocking it would have to be The Looney Tunes Treasury ($45.00, Running Press), written by Andrew Farago with a foreword by Ruth Clampett, the daughter of Looney Tunes animation director Bob Clampett. My earliest and fondest memories were of Saturday matinees at the Maplewood Theatre, a cavernous place with a huge movie screen. Whatever the main film was one could count on also seeing a Looney Tune cartoon and thus entire generations now in their 70s and 80s can instantly recall the joy and laughter provided by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and the human characters, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, among others. Filled with page after page of concept art, paintings, and memorabilia, the Treasury also has internal packets that yield shooting scripts, a Daffy Duck sticker book, a Tasmanian Devil masks, Pepe Le Pew Valentine’s Day cards, and other delightful items. Page after page is filled with the wonderful characters that sprung from the minds and pens of men like animator Isadore “Friz” Frelong or director Fred “Tex” Avery. Less well known were other members of the team that brought so many memorable characters to life and embedded them in the nation’s cultural history forever. If you loved Looney Tunes, you will love this wonderfully entertaining book about them.

The generation that fought World War II is passing from the scene and their children, your grandparents, are left to recall Christmas 1945: The Story of the Greatest Celebration in American History ($24.95, History Publishing Company). Written by Matthew Litt, it tells of the first Christmas after the end of the conflict. President Truman declared a four day Christmas weekend. Wartime restrictions had been lifted and every mode of travel was jammed with people eager to spend the holiday with family. I am old enough to remember trains filled with young soldiers coming and going from Fort Dix in New Jersey, but I was too young to understand the gravity of the situation in Europe and in the Pacific. This book recaptures the joy of that special Christmas when peace again reigned. In 1945, the only thing Americans knew was that they could begin to live their lives uninterrupted by the war and that was enough. The Christmas lights were lighted again and this book will spark memories and instruct those too young to know what was achieved by the greatest generation.

Christmas is about gifts and memorable dinners, so let’s tip our hat to the Cake Boss ($25.99, Free Press) as told by Buddy Valastro, star of the TLC show and owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, NJ. Buddy tells the story of his family who all work at the bakery. His dad bought the store in 1964 and its fame spread far and wide. There are great recipes and a delightful real life story. For those who will pass on the turkey and any other meat, there’s Fresh and Fast Vegan by Amanda Grant ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) and even I have to admit many of its recipes look delicious. Either one would make a great gift. Meanwhile, I will also be reading How to Lose Weight in the Real World: Why Other Diets Suck and You’re Not Losing Weight by Dr. Jessica DeValentino ($19.95, DeValentino Publishing, softcover). If you have tried dieting without success, the author will tell you why, how to beat temptations, and lots of other good advice.

In August I recommended “Dog Walks Man: A Six-Legged Odyssey” and this month, if you are a dog owner, the book to read is Born to Bark by Stanley Coren, ($24.00, Free Press), subtitled “My adventures with an irrepressible and unforgettable dog.” For anyone who loves does, this is a wonderful Christmas gift. Dr. Coren is a psychologist who has previously authored six books about dog’s behavior, intelligence, and training. It is the story of Flint, a terrier that became his companion after his first marriage ended in divorce and who was a challenge to his second wife who actually gave him Flint prior to their marriage. It is a funny and touching story, and one in which the author learned even more about dogs. For many people, dogs keep them sane and give them a reason to get up every day. Animals replace their human counterparts in radio host and author Paul A. Ibbetson's Oliver the Squirrel ($12.92, available from written in the same spirit as George Orwell's Animal Farm. It has its own unique social, political, and religious message for readers. Surrounded by a colorful cast of animal characters, Oliver experiences a spiritual growth as he becomes privy to the secret plan of the Gray Skunk, the most mesmerizing and dangerous foe the Cove has ever faced. Following heavenly instructions, Oliver is taken on an adventure in both the forest and city to save not only himself, but all that he holds dear. It is a metaphor that demonstrates how one very average squirrel became a servant of God and led a revolution to save the animals of Three Fingers Cove. This book has several twists, including the "special power" of the book's adversary, the Gray Skunk, as well as his ability to control the most dangerous animals of the forest. It is an uplifting story with many readers can identify. Because Oliver is a cute little squirrel and such a likeable character, his feats of courage throughout the story become even more amazing.

Christmas is a traditional period for purchasing gifts and other items. Kathy Spencer, along with Samantha Rose, have penned How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something for Nothing ($14.95, Da Capo Press, softcover). Spencer offers advice gleaned from years of coupon clipping and discount hunting. She lets the reader in on the little-known tricks of the retail world such as how to score prescription drugs for free, find $80 jean for less than the price of a latte, navigate the clearance rack, and get free giveaways from Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn and other popular stores. This book is a treasure of information about store club programs, the ins and outs of eBay, how to avoid consumer scams, and the truths about rebates. This is a shopper’s dream come true.

It takes all types is the common cliché and people whose lives evolve around the use of math are a type unto themselves. That’s why G. Patrick Vennebush has collected Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks ($11.95, Robert D. Reed Publishers, Bandon, OR, softcover) and if you are one or know one, this is a great stocking-stuffer. The author manages online projects for the National Council of Teachers and sports a M.A. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland. Teachers in particular will enjoy and want to use this book of course, but it will provide lots of laughs for anyone else whose work involves working the numbers. It is also proof they can be very funny, too.

Here’s a book you’re not likely to hear about in the mainstream media. It’s Is It Organic? By Mishcha Popoff ($36.97, via and at 599 pages it is literally everything you ever wanted to know about so-called organically grown food crops, plus a history of farming that’s worth the price of the book. You can get a discount off the price when you visit the website. Popoff was an industry insider, an inspector who knows that anything asserting it is organically grown must be tested in the field, not after it has been picked and processed. The organic food empires that exist today generate millions of dollars in sales, but it is all “certified” on the way out the door to the market where people pay a premium cost to purchase it. Written in a lively fashion, filled with facts and the outrage that comes with exposing the true agenda of those who want farming to return to the days of plowing with a horse and never using anything to fertilize a field or rid it of insect pests and weeds that can destroy a crop in a heartbeat. The bottom line is that modern methods of farming have vastly reduced the price of food while at the same time producing an abundance of it. This is the definitive book on modern farming, environmental myths, and obscene profits from the gullible.

Getting Down to Business Books

One of my friends is an internationally known expert on negotiating. Jim Camp has advised clients from Russian bankers to start-up companies and individuals, all of whom need to know how to get an acceptable outcome from the negotiating process. So what is the title of his book? No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home ($24.00, Crown Business). From childhood on we are conditioned to look for compromise and acceptance. Camp, however, points out that a child instinctively knows that “no” is just the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. Throughout the book Camp teaches you how to recognize and control the elements of a negotiation, starting with yourself. Throughout, his book reveals all the secrets of successful negotiation you will ever need. Another advisor to business and other leaders was Napoleon Hill, a lecturer, author, and consultant whose clients included Andrew Carnegie and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of his key principles is to reflect on your goals each and every day. Now there’s a compact guide, Think and Grow Rich Every Day ($14.95, Tarcher Penguin, softcover) and it would make a great gift, especially to someone who will graduate college. A young person on the brink of maturity will benefit greatly. It is full of wise maxims such as the advice to engage in a continuous pursuit of knowledge. This book contains all the elements of leadership and achievement. In that regard, it is useful for anyone of any age.

The Warren Buffetts Next Door by Matthew Schifrin ($29.95, Wiley) is subtitled “The world’s greatest investors you’ve never heard of and what you can learn from them.” This is a particularly timely book given the fact that there are an estimated fifty million online investors today, up from about five million a decade ago. Thus, armed with technology and tools, previously only available to professionals, many such investors are achieving results without professional commissions or fancy degrees from Wharton or Harvard. Schifrin, an editor with Forbes magazine, profiles ten regular people who can pick stocks better than the vast majority of all professional advisors and money managers, people who seek more modest goals as opposed to amassing huge fortunes. These investors out-perform Wall Street and this book describes the techniques they employ. Breakthrough! A 7-Step System for Developing Unexpected and Profitable Ideas by Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance ($22.95, Amacom) examines the way major brands were repositioned for greater profits. Arm & Hammer took baking soda out of the cupboard for baking at one teaspoon at a time and put the whole box in the refrigerator and the kitchen sink drain to freshen them. Frank Perdue turned chicken into a brand name. The authors, both marketing experts, say that the big idea is not a stroke of luck, but results from smart, focused planning. Done right, it’s a bonanza, but they are candid enough to say that is often just a crapshoot. However, a structured approach can greatly improve the odds for success. They take you through the steps and, if you have a product or service that needs to jumpstart its sales, this book will prove very helpful.

We all love a good spy story and, of course, the Central Intelligence Agency remains an object of fascination for deeds about which we can only speculate. Peter Earnest, formerly a CIA senior officer during the height of the Cold War, has teamed with Maryann Karinch, a business writer, to author Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA ($24.95, Amacom). It turns out that espionage requires many of the same skills needed to manage a successful business. The result is that one gains a look at the reasons why many were drawn to the intelligence services, why they stayed there, and the culture of trust needed to function day-to-day. Examples of tradecraft and fieldwork make for interesting reading. It is clear that one can learn from the way the CIA really operates and how it learns from its mistakes. These days Earnest is Executive Director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. His co-author is a veteran business insider, a communications consultant, and author of several books.

War! War! War!

The most dangerous creatures on Earth are human beings and war since time immemorial is proof of that. The number of books for which war is a theme seems to be proliferating these days.

Those who read history know that it is largely about war and conquest. An excellent new book puts that into an economic framework in Conquest, Tribute, and Trade: The Quest for Precious Metals and the Birth of Globalization ($28.00, Prometheus Books). Howard J. Erlichman reminds us that empires were won and lost based on their ability to find, exploit, and control increasingly large volumes of mineral wealth. It is the story of the closely-related states of Portugal, Spain, and later the Dutch Republic that checked the Ottoman Empire’s expansion, supercede the great Italian city-states, and overturn centuries of Muslim commercial domination in Africa and Asia. It was a phenomenal rise to power as they exploited the mineral resources of Central Europe, Africa, the Americas, and even Japan. Out of it came the first multinational corporations and centuries of colonial subjugation that still influence events to this day. You will recognize many of the characters, Columbus, Da Gama, and Megellan, Cortez and Pizarro, but in a new way. All those famous explorers had one thing in mind, wealth.

If you are prepared to plow through a relatively tedious, scholarly text, there’s gold to be mined from Gangs, Pseudo-Militaries, and Other Modern Mercenaries: New Dynamics in Wars by Max G. Manwaring ($45.00, University of Oklahoma Press), an expert on non-state warfare, the kind that has predominated since the end of World War Two with episodes of traditional warfare in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. The U.S. has been struggling to find a new definition of its battlefield enemies since they often are affiliated with jihadist organizations funded by Iran and harbored in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. The author says a new stage of irregular warfare has been developing, gangs. This is seen in the bloodshed generated by the narcotics warlords and is a growing threat just across the U.S. border. Since the end of the Cold War there have been some one hundred insurgencies or irregular wars around the world and gangs have figured predominantly in these conflicts. Until now they have received little attention from scholars or analysts. This book fills that void.

World War Two continues to generate books. Hitler’s Master of the Dark Arts: Himmler Black Knights and the Occult Origins of the SS by Bill Yenne ($30.00, Zenith Press, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group) traces the way the Nazi leadership was fascinated as much by the occult as by its roots in early environmentalism. They embraced a bizarre interpretation of ancient European paganism, blending it with fragments of other traditions from sources as diverse as 10th century Saxon warlords, 19th century spiritualism, and early 20th century fringe archeology. The swastika had its roots in ancient symbolism. The man who guided all this to create and lead the dreaded SS was Heinrich Himmler. He was an odd choice because he had poor eyesight, a slight physical stature, and a weak stomach. The book provides a chilling look at how such paganism manifested itself in the last century.

In the titanic struggle against the Nazis, many elements of the U.S. armed forces participated with great honor and sacrifice. The All Americans in World War II: A Photographic History of the 82nd Airborne Division at War by Phil Nordyke ($22.99, Zenith Press) pays tribute to this legendary fighting force who jumped into history on July 9/10, 1943 when they made their first parachute assault of WWII. Three others would follow at Salerno, Normandy, and Holland. Any serious collector of WWII history will want to add this book to their collection. The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players That Won the War by William B. Hopkins ($22.99, Zenith Press, softcover), who was a participant in that theatre of war. As the years passed Hopkins steeped himself in the histories and memoirs of the Pacific war to produce one of the best books on the subject you will ever read.

Later wars fought by Americans are yielding valuable accounts. Among them is Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story by Patrick K. O’Donnell ($26.00, Da Capo Press) relates the epic stand of the Marines of George Company. It is hard to believe it has been sixty years since that war began in 1950 and it has been, for the most part, a forgotten war. Based on more than a hundred interviews and primary source materials, this book tells the story of mostly teenage boys who found themselves on the front lines of a war that came soon after the end of WWII and ended in an armistice. Technically, South Korea and the U.S. is still at war on that peninsula. In a similar fashion, despite its length, the conflict in Afghanistan has not generated much news coverage. Into the Viper’s Nest: The First Pivotal Battle of the Afghan War by Stephen Gray, a British journalist, tells of a December 7, 2007 battle between the Taliban, entrenched in the southern Afghan city of Musa Qala, and the International Security Assistance Force spearheaded by Task Force 1 Fury: 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 82nd Airborne Division. With a force of about twenty thousand, the Taliban were about to learn what it’s like to take on a modern armed force. It turned out to be the biggest and bloodiest battles of the war.

Books for kids and Younger Readers

Naturally, I think books are great Christmas or Hanukah gifts for children.

For the young readers in elementary school, there is a harvest of wonderful books to put beneath the Christmas tree or Hanukah bush. Karen Duncan and Kate Hannigan Issa, along with illustrator Anthony Alex LeTourneau, offer The Good Fun Book ($15.59, Blue Marlin Publications) with twelve months of parties that celebrate service. The idea is to help young children engage in their communities to do some good. There are all kinds of party ideas that can bring cheer to both those engaged in the projects and those on the receiving end. Ms. Duncan is a former teachers and the wife of the current Secretary of Education and Ms. Issa is a professional writer for children. This is a book with an agenda, but I much prefer books intended to make a kid laugh out loud or gasp with delight.

I favor stories and The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories ($23.99, Barefoot Books) includes a CD with Juliet Stevenson who narrates the stories for kids who cannot yet read or that can be listened to while older ones read along with it. The two authors are Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Helen Cain has beautifully illustrated the book. Drawing on many cultures and nations, the book tells stories whose theme is all about dance. I am sure that youngsters, particularly girls, will find it enchanting. A visit to will provide information on the many other wonderful children’s books from this publishing house. Far-off Mongolia is the setting for one of a series of books from Goosebottom Books, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses, one of which stars Sorghaghtani of Mongolia written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Albert Nguyen. Those age 9 to 13 will love this series that has the benefit of introducing young minds to history and places, along with a message of empowerment because the six princesses achieved success in their time, whether they were in Egypt, Caria, Kirman, Castile, or India. Richly illustrated, they are a special treat and I recommend you visit to learn about the entire series.

As you might imagine, as much as I may think that books for children that are “educational” is a fine idea, I personally much prefer silly books that just make me laugh and I suspect most other kids do, too. One recent arrival did both. It is Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Monkey on His Back: A Tale About Telling the Truth written by Howard Binkow and illustratrated by Sue Cornelison ($15.00, Lerner Books). The Wigglebottom series has won awards for the way it conveys its message to kids aged 4 through 8. In this one, Howard, a rabbit, discovers that telling lies, which he knows is wrong, just makes him feel worse and worse each time he does it. They become a monkey on his back. He feels much better when he stops. To learn more, visit

One of my favorite publishers for young readers is Kids Can Press and, for the kid in your life, here’s a selection of funny books he or she will treasure. Have you ever wondered who came up with the expression The Cat’s Pajamas? Well, Wallace Edwards did too ($18.95) and he got to thinking about many other common expressions and result is a book of marvelous, imaginative pictures, a collection of animal portraits illustrating such things as “birds of a feather flock together” and “a frog in his throat.” The pre-and-early reader will especially enjoy this book, but anybody can. Stanley’s Little Sister by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin ($17.95) is the latest in the Stanley series about a big dog and what happens with his people bring home a cat! Try as he may to make friends, the fur is flying, the chase is on, and Stanley gets the blame. This is a wonderful take on sibling rivalries and has a happy ending. Of course! Making the Moose Out of Life by Nicholas Oldland ($16.95) This particular moose was not like any other and not inclined to play with his friends. He tried to figure out why he was missing out on life and, when a sail boat passes by, he climbs in, ends up on an island, has to fend for himself, is befriended by a turtle, and discovers the fun of doing things, all kinds of things. Rescued by a passing cruise ship, he is greeted by the bear and the beaver, and is a totally new moose! For those ages 9 and up, there’s Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adult Tell You by Catherine Rondina and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester ($14.95) filled with all the cautionary advice kids hear regarding matters of health, some of which is silly, but most of which is an effort to avoid encountering a problem. The advice is identified either as true, false or “you decide.” If I was young, I would find it quite interesting. Fact is, even at my age I did!

A story for young adults that draws on history is told by Sharon Dogar in Annexed ($17.00, Houghton Mifflin), one in which the author imagines what it must have been like to be Anne Frank’s young boyfriend, hiding out in the annex of an Amsterdam home, seeking to avoid being swept up by the Gestapo as the world around them collapsed in World War Two and the Holocaust. Written for young adults, it is an excellent way for them to gain an understanding of what it was like for Peter van Pel and his family to cope with the madness of those times.

A publisher that specializes in young adult fiction (14 and up) is WestSide Books, Lodi, New Jersey. Two new novels are Pull by B.A. Binns ($16.95, softcover) and I Am Nuchu by Brenda Stanley ($16.95, softcover). The former is a gritty tale of inner city life. High school senior David Albacore and his younger sister must cope with the murder of their mother by their father and a move to a Chicago school when taken in by their aunt. He must make some difficult decisions and young readers will be eager to read to the end to find out what they are. The latter book is about Cal Burton, a half Ute Indian who has not paid much attention to his native American heritage until his parents divorce and he is taken to live on a Utah reservation where his mother grew up. He is shocked by the blatant racism. A tragedy ensues and this teen must struggle with his identity while caught between two very different worlds.

Ask any young fan of fantasy who Geno Salvatore is and they will tell you they can’t wait for the next in his Dungeons & Dragon Sries. Just out this month is Stone of Tymora: The Sentinels ($17.95, Wizards of the Coast Books for Young Readers). Salvatore has sold millions of copies. This novel is the last of a trilogy by R.A. and Geno Salvatore. There are demons, narrow escapes, and a magical stone, plus swashbuckling swordplay, and plot twists that will keep any lucky teen reading way passed bedtime.

Novels, Novels, Novels

It is rare when a novelist makes his debut with as powerful a novel as Philip Chen’s Falling Star ($15.25, available from, softcover and on Kindle). It begins in 1967 and concludes in the Oval Office in 1993. In between Chen introduces you to an array of characters, all of whom have unique talents, some of whom are U.S. Navy officers, some with the FBI, all devoted to the protection of their nation. They are a handful of people who know about mysterious entities far beneath the surface of the waters surrounding the U.S. Others are members of a rogue KGB unit, moles who lived among us, but whose mission ended when the former Soviet Union collapsed. This novel stands out for the way you are introduced not just to the characters, but the physical reality in which they live, the sights and even the smells. Slowly and then with increasing intensity, the mysteries are unraveled, the enemies identified, as life and death often hangs in the balance. Drawing on his own life as an ocean research engineer, attorney and banker, Chen brings an authenticity to the novel that provides a heart-pounding reality that forces you to ask “What if?” What if Earth was under observation by those from another planet that is circling a dying sun? What if they intended to colonize it? What if the year for this was 2013? If you read just one novel in 2011, make it Falling Star.

Novels quite naturally appeal to many different tastes and preferences. The fascination with horror is one genre and Grim Reaper: End of Days by Steve Alten ($25.95, Variance Publishing) was inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy” providing his glimpse into hell, purgatory, and heaven. The author comes with the credentials of a bestseller novelist and, in particular, one whose books all carry dark themes of horror. This new novel is set in Manhattan and is part of a planned trilogy. It involves a microbiologist, Mary Klipot, who develops a bio-defense weapon called “Scythe”, a modern-day version of the Black Plague which “God” commands her to release in New York. The original Black Plague killed a third of Europe’s population. In a VA hospital, an Iraqi war veteran, Patrick ‘Shep’ Shepherd is recovering from an explosion that took his arm and memories of his estranged wife and daughter whom he has not seen in eleven years. Two floors down Mary Klipot, thoroughly insane, instructs Shep’s physician to find the Scythe antidote. What follows is a harrowing tale. Americans who take their freedoms for granted cannot imagine what it must be like to live in Iran where fanatical ayatollahs and mullahs rule, driven by belief in a mythical Twelve Imam that can only return if the world is plunged into chaos, destruction and death. Nahid Sewell, who was born in Tehren before the Islamic Revolution, has penned a novel, The Ruby Tear Catcher, ($18.95, Summerhill Press) also available on Kindle, that provides a look into that nation through the character of a young woman torn between a culture that still stones women to death for adultery and the education she received because her enlightened father encouraged her. After he fled the country, she is interrogated and tortured by government authorities seeking to find him. The novel is filled with conflict of every kind, the loss of a brother who spoke out against the regime, a loveless, abusive marriage, and the unspeakable cruelty of a totalitarian regime.

Charles D. Blanchard debuts as a novelist with Mourning Doves After the Fire ($29.99/$19.99, Xlibris) telling a story set against the backdrop of 1910 Pennsylvania, filled with love and loss, passion and tragedy, and a triumph of the spirit, as 28-year-old Abby Whitman learns she has cancer. Her physician seeks the aid of a renowned doctor who has developed an experimental treatment. There is a subplot of a friendship when Abby befriends a young girl who shares her interest in music. Reflecting the plight of the human characters is a female mourning dove whose nest is in a nearby oak tree and is a witness to the human story unfolding around her. A woman is at the center of The Last Jewish Virgin by Janice Eidus ($24.95, Red Hen Press, softcover). The heroine is Lilith Zeremba, rebelling against her feminist mother and determined to make her own way in life in the world of fashion, but unexpectedly find herself in a place where mythology and sexuality collide as she is attracted to two very different men. It is an innovative, humorous, and universal tale of longing and redemption. The twist is that it refreshes and reinvents the classic vampire myth for a contemporary world. With a number of novels to her credit, two time winner of the O. Henry Prize, she knows how to create a compelling story.

The social issues of adoption and divorce are explored in Susan Hausman’s novel, Cable’s Image ($12.99, Tate Publishig, softcover). Nevin Cable feels cursed by a name he hates, an absent father, and a mother who is a drunk. When he joins the military to avoid becoming like either one, the decision alters his life forever. The short novel is filled with romance and suspense, an emotional rollercoaster, with settings from Philadelphia to Berlin to Fresno. You can learn more at For a very different, decidedly upbeat story, I think you will enjoy The Cosmopolitans by Nadia Kalman ($28.00, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama) that takes the theme of immigrant families in America, a trio of very different sisters, a Jane Austin-like maze of suitors and marriage, the dreariness of Stamford, Connecticut, and tramsform them into something free and very entertaining. Drawing in her life when her family immigrated from the former Soviet Union where she grew up in Stamford, the author has made a warm and comic debut with her story of the Molochniks, a Russian-Jewish family that is somehow everyone’s family at the same time. There’s lots of rich social satire to be found in The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark ($l4.95, Weinstein Books, softcover) that took the fashion world by storm when it was published last year in hardcover. It follows the strange partnership between Wyatt Hayes IV, an arrogant erudite without social graces, and Lucy Jo Eillis, his earnest, mid-western, headstrong protégé. Re-christened Lucia Haverford Ellis, Lucy submits to a three-month regime intended to turn her into the toast a Manhattan’s social elite so that she may advance her career. Meanwhile Hayes is planning an expose of the process with a book deal that could ruin her career before it takes off. It is an entertaining twist on “Pygmalion”, as current as today’s headlines.

A trio of softcover novels will get you through the holidays and into 2011. Kate Jacobs’ has developed quite a following for her series about “a Friday night knitting club.” Her third novel, Knit the Season, ($14.00, Berkley, softcover) invites readers to spend the holidays with the club in a story about family and friendship, food and craft, and the spirit of the season. Women will recognize themselves and their friends in a story that features a knitting store, Walker & Daughter, now managed mostly by George Walker’s daughter, Dakota. When Dakota’s father surprises her with a Christmas reunion at her great-grandmother’s home in Scotland, Dakota is in for some important realizations about life’s priorities. This is a perfect story for December. A far darker story is found in two other softcover novels. P.L. Gaus has a following of his own with his Amish Country mysteries and you will know why if you read Clouds Without Rain ($13.00, Plume). When an 18-wheeler collides with an Amish buggy on a quiet country road it seems a tragic accident, but the victim’s less than pious life makes Holmes County deputy Michael Branden suspicious. While working a case of local robberies among the Amish, the accident doesn’t make any sense to him, particularly when one of the victims has lived a less than Amish life complete with electricity, cable television, expensive firearms, and more. The ethical, moral, and scriptural nuances of Amish life are the backdrop to an interesting investigation. Lastly, David Holmberg makes his debut as a novelist with The Hurricane Murders ($14.50, Eloquent Books, an imprint of Strategic Book Group, Durham, CT). The author is a veteran reporter who has covered many stories over a long career. He decided to write the novel based on a 1992 mother/daughter homicide that he covered for The Palm Beach Post. The novel reflects his life as the novel’s counterpart, Jake Arnett, a somewhat cynical, largely idealistic reporter is dealing with his latest career crisis, working for a newspaper at a time when it and others are on the brink of closing their doors. He pursues the story of a double murder but coverage of a hurricane interferes briefly with his pursuit of the truth that takes him into beaches, bars, and motorcycle gang hangouts in South Florida. This novel rings true in many ways and on many levels.

That’s it for December! Do tell your friends who love to read about Bookviews, the only monthly report on new books that provides news about many different genre of books about which you might otherwise discover. Now you can spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. Happy Holidays!