By Alan Caruba
My Picks of the Month ~ Advice Books (Mostly) for Woman ~ The Story of America ~ Dogs of War ~ Books for Kids and Young Adults ~ Novels
My Picks of the Month
In 1984 I created a very popular media spoof called The Boring Institute© and it thrived until, after 9/11, I decided to put it on hiatus. Along the way I learned a lot about boredom and wanted to write a book about it, but publishers only wanted a “funny” book, not a serious one. Peter Toohey, a professor of classics in the University of Calgary’s Department of Greek and Roman Studies, has written Boredom, A Lively History ($26.00, Yale University Press). I had an opportunity to do a radio show with Prof. Toohey. He is an erudite and charming man, and an intellectual. Academics tend to squeeze a subject for all its juices. He has applied this to the subject of boredom and its fundamental attributes by referring to every painting, book, and every other historical and cultural reference. That said, he has done a very good job. I personally think that boredom has been a major driving factor throughout history and in our present culture. Prof. Toohey’s book is well written and well researched and, at this point, the definitive book on the subject.
When you see as many books as I do in the course of a month or a year, one is always on the look-out for those that stand out from the others. For example, I have a friend who has always had dogs as his companions, but did you know that Americans spend an estimated $45.4 billion annually on their cats, dogs, birds and other pets? This is money that is not being spent on ourselves as food, clothing and other necessities. In The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What makes Us Human by Pat Shipman, ($26.95, W.W. Norton) the author points out that, unlike other mammals, we are the only species that routinely adopts other species in this way. A paleoanthropologist, Shipman notes that our desire to keep and care for other animals in a uniquely human trait and, she says, our species’ greatest strengths. In a fascinating tour of the past, Shipman takes us through various milestones in our development, noting how humans related to other species. This is a wonderfully readable book that rates our domestication of other species as a major advance that defines our hominid lineage.
In a very different way, Waterford Press of Phoenix, AZ has published a unique booklet, Cat Care, a simplified owner’s manual ($7.95) that teaches you just about everything you need to know. It is quite brilliant even though it is quite short, taking the reader through the basics of food, health, playtime, the preparation before a cat becomes your pet, training fundamentals and everything else! This publishing house offers some wonderful Pocket Naturalist ® Guides, Travel, and Tutor guides, along with wildlife guides. Visit its website and be prepared to be excited by it. For sheer malicious fun, there’s a book of cartoons by Elia Anie. Evil Cat: A Fluffy Kitty Gets Mean ($10.95, Perigee, an imprint of the Berkley Publishing Group, softcover) featuring 95 versions of darkly humorous variations on an insidiously evil cat intent on destroying all decency. You will laugh!
In another section of this month’s report, the Zenith Press is noted for its many fine books on war, but it has also published two unusual books that anyone with an interest in history and engineering would enjoy. They are RMS Titanic Owner’s Workshop Manual and NASA Space Shuttle Owner’s Workshop Manual ($28.00 each). Extensively illustrated with photos, design and construction illustrations and plans, these two books relate why the Titanic suffered a tragic failure and sinking at sea and how the space shuttled defied gravity to fly its many missions to carry large payloads into space. First flown in 1981, six orbiters have been built before retirement after a thirty-year career.
There are a lot of college-bound young people as always and three softcover books will make that adventure a lot easier for them and their parents. They are published by Sourcebooks and cover the topics one really needs to know in order to make the transition. The Happiest Kid on Campus: A Parent’s Guide to the Very Best College Experience (for You and Your Child) by Harlen Cohen ($14.99) provides a wealth of advice on how to make the change work for both parents and the student. It’s all about the do’s and don’ts, and is a great companion for his other book, The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College ($14.99) that has already sold more than 125,000 copies to those smart enough to equip themselves for experiences they might not otherwise anticipate. Women will account for 58% of the enrollments in 2011 and they have their own special issues. These are happily addressed by Christie Garton in Chic U: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything ($14.99) that discusses everything from how to handle homesickness to the pros-and-cons of co-ed dorms, sororities, and the inevitable temptations of drinking, drugs and sex. I would not send my daughter to college without making sure she read this book first!
Combining history and humor, How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous ($17.99, Walker & Company) written by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley is just page after page of fun. The history recounted is quite good and you will be astounded to learn how so many famous folks breathed their last. For example, a trip to London by Pocahontas, her two-year-old son, with her husband John Rolfe was literally the death of her. The air was so fetid that she soon developed respiratory problems and was dead at age 21 far from her home in Virginia. Beethoven was not only deaf and could not hear the music he composed, but he died a dreadful death made worse by the doctor’s effort to drain his stomach that had become bloated. George Washington was literally bled to death by his doctors. The novelist, Charles Dickens had a variety of illnesses including serious mental disease. A stroke killed him. I know all this sound ghoulish, but the various stories are fascinating compared to the usual things you have read about famous folks.
Advice Books (Mostly) for Women
Women must need a lot of advice these days because there are a number of new books that want to provide it.
Saundra Dalton Smith, M.D. has authored Set Free to Live Free: Breaking Through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves ($12.99, Revell, softcover). Apparently, perfection, envy, image, balance, control, emotions and limits represent a lot of problems for women and, since the author, a board-certified internal medicine physician, treats a lot of women, she sees a lot of the problems that arise as a result. Paula Renaye is a certified coach and motivational speaker with a passion for helping people face reality and take personal responsibility for their choices. Her latest book is The Hardline Self Help Handbook ($19.95, Diomo Books) and is billed as a fast-track course in self-discovery and self-empowerment that asks “What are you willing to do to get what you really want?” Both men and women can benefit from the advice she offers. Written for both adults and young adults, It’s Not Personal: Lessons I’ve Learned from Dealing with Difficult Behavior ($14.95, Orange Sun Press, softcover) by Cindy Hampel is filled with good advice. Hampel, whose won awards for investigative journalism and has a world of experience with corporate and non-profit organizations addresses how to handle fear and guilt tactics, stay poised under pressure, and the kind of attitude one needs to get through difficult encounters and experiences. Who hasn’t had to deal with bullies, a cranky neighbor, an unpleasant business encounter, and even a demanding elderly parent? Knowing how to deal with them lets you focus on your own goals and push life’s common disturbances aside. In the end, it’s really up to you.
Fans of Dr. Mehmet Oz of television fame know he has been married for 25 years to Lisa Oz who has also been a producer, entrepreneur, mother of four children, and the co-author of six bestsellers. One of them, Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships That Matter Most is now available in softcover ($14.00. Simon and Schuster). The author discusses how to “identify one’s authentic self and why it matters in a relationship, how your relationship with your body affects those with other people, tips for “conscious parenting”, and other advice that a reader might find of value. What Did I Do Wrong? What to Do When You Don’t Know Why the Friendship is Over is by Liz Pryor, Good Morning America’s advice guru ($14.00, Free Press, softcover). The book addresses breakups with your best girlfriends and, she says, they often come without warning and can be devastating. The book discusses why friendships fizzle, how to resolve old wounds, and even how to—sometimes—reconnect.
Think by Lisa Bloom is subtitled “straight talk for women to stay smart in a dumbed-down world ($25.99, Vanguard Press). The author thinks that women are in danger of spiraling into a nation of dumbed-down, tabloid media-obsessed, reality TV addicts. Paradoxically, women these days are excelling in education at every level, often out-performing their male counterparts in employment situations, but still spending too much time and money on their appearance, including, says the author, choosing plastic surgery in record-breaking numbers. Part of the problem, says Ms. Bloom is a culture that rewards beauty over brains. Are too many women just playing dumb or are they actually clueless? This is a very provocative book that will definitely make women readers think.
Then, of course, there is The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by three OB/GYNs ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) which, at 526 pages, is as complete a tome on the subject as one could want. Were there such books for our grandmothers and their grandmothers? Verily, if the answer you’re looking for in this guide cannot be found, the question is not worth asking. From preparing your body for pregnancy to birth, this is an impressive piece of work. Say Goodbye to Varicose & Spider Veins Now by Dr. Greg Martin ($14.95, Plentiful Publishing, softcover) discusses ‘how revolutionary new medical techniques can improve your health and quality of life by eliminating pain, swelling, cramps, restlessness and unsightliness in your legs.” According to the book, 80 million Americans, women and men, suffer from this condition. The author says this is a real health problem that should be addressed, increasing the risk for blood clots, phlebitis, and pulmonary embolisms. Have this problem or know someone who does? Get this book!
The Story of America
It’s no secret that I love reading history and American history is a particular favorite. I was born just before World War II and came of age in the years that followed. One of the enduring markers of that time was the fear that the Russians would lob an atom bomb at the U.S. and after the Sputnik satellite in 1957 some people started building bomb shelters. The fears reached their peak with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. During that time, the government issues all manner of Civil Defense brochures and pamphlets. Eric G. Sweden has gathered their content between the covers of Survive the Bomb: The Radioactive Citizens Guide to Nuclear Survival ($17.00, Zenith Press) and it is not only a stroll down memory lane, it is still has relevance today as many worry that Islamic extremists could use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Its advice would be useful to cope with any kind of natural or manmade disaster.
One of the great chapters of American history is brilliantly captured in Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America by Richard White ($35.00, W.W. Norton. This MacArthur Award-winning historian cuts through the myths about “robber barons” are replaced with facts from the Gilded Age that reveal that many of the early investors in railroads were small-time grocers and merchants who were drawn to the subsidies and land grants of the Civil War Congress. A handful turned corporate and national economic disaster into personal fortunes. The railroads that opened up the West and connected the two coasts also made corruption a permanent fixture of the political system as favors were exchanged without even the need for bribery; such as favorable prices for stock, low-cost loans, and campaign contributions. Sounds like the recent housing bubble, eh? Well, there is so much more because the railroads are the sinews of modern America. This is great reading. A year or so ago I had praise for Colossus by Michael Hiltzik, a history of the building of the Hoover Dam during the Hoover and Roosevelt years. It is now available in softcover ($17.00, Free Press) and I am looking forward to his forthcoming history of “The New Deal”, coming in September. The dam was a great engineering achievement, but its human back-story reads like a suspense novel. If you want to talk about good times, let’s not forget the Roaring Twenties. David Wallace has written Capital of the World: A Portrait of New York City in the Roaring Twenties ($24.95, Lyons Press) and, in doing so, brings to life the era and personalities of the jazz loving customers, Prohibition gangsters who kept their glasses filled, and the music playing. It was the era of Mafia boss Lucky Luciano, Mayor Jimmy “Gentleman Jim” Walkers, the famed madam, Polly Adler, and comedienne Fanny Brice. Literary stars emerged such as the Round Table’s Alexander Woolcott and Dorothy Parker. You could go to the Cotton Club and hear Bessie Smith or the ballpark to watch Babe Ruth. Wallace has captured them and the fabled decade in which they thrived.
Another chapter of American history was the fabled gold rush and Howard Blum has written The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush ($26.00, Crown Publishers). It occurred in the last decade of the 1800s. The Wild West had been tamed and the men who tamed it had outlived their usefulness as “civilization” moved in to build towns and begin cities. When gold was discovered in Alaska and the adjacent Canadian Klondike, a giddy mix of greed and the lust for adventure sent men fleeing a worldwide economic depression, driven by dreams of wealth, to some of the most inhospitable regions of the northwest. All manner of greenhorns and grifters followed in their wake. It was, to say the least, a very colorful and dramatic time. This book never fails to ignite the imagination, particularly with its story of the Pinkerton detectives who tracked the men who stole a fortune in gold bars from the Treadwell Mine in Juneau, Alaska.
The Dogs of War
Much of what we call history is, in fact, the story of war. It holds a fascination for us because it is the ultimate drama for those who participated, were its victims and heroes, and because it is an expression of the aggressive aspect of our species, the one that for good or evil, defines humans. One sees it in its many forms all around us.
One publishing company, Zenith Press, devotes itself to reporting the events of war and, especially, World War Two. Their latest, a large format—coffee table—book is Bombs Away! The World War II Bombing Campaigns Over Europe by John R. Bruning ($50.00) and it is extraordinary. While battles were being fought on the ground with tanks, troops, and artillery, it was the war from the skies that rendered the relentless destruction of cities and specific military targets. Both the Nazis and the allies developed air warfare to a point never previously achieved. Bruning is among a handful of great military historians and his earlier books on “The Battle of the Bulge”, “The Air Battle for Korea”, and others are testimony to that. Filled with page after page of photos, this latest chapter from World War Two will provide hours of great reading while paying tribute to those whom we have come to call “the greatest generation.” 101st Airborne: The Screaming Eagles at Normandy by Mark Bando ($29.99, large format softcover) recounts one of the greatest days of this famed fighting unit that was composed of a cross-section of American men who volunteered to undergo rigorous training and who enjoyed a high degree of esprit de corps. This is an inspiring book and would make a great gift for the survivors as well as those following in their warrior tradition.
Other new Zenith Press titles include one that also involves the air war, Mission to Berlin by Robert F. Dorr ($28.00) that tells the story of the 314 bombing missions to Berlin between 1940 and 1945. Berliners did not expect to be bombed and in the early years of the war were not. Berlin, however, was a legitimate military target as the headquarters of the Third Reich and German armed forces. The sixth largest city in Europe, it was home to manufacturing facilities such as aircraft factories. Forty miles of defenses protected it, but the British and American fliers carried out a sustained effort that is well worth reading. Hitler’s most daring commando, Otto Skorzeny, who died in 1975, was called “the most dangerous man in Europe” for his exploits. His book, Skorzeny’s Special Missions, ($16.99, softcover) is a memoir of his war years and vividly depicts commando action. The recent mission to kill Osama bin Laden had its roots in these early exploits. Modern wars are also generating their histories and Zenith has published Dick Camp’s Battle for the City of the Dead: In the Shadow of the Golden Dome, Najaf, August 2004 ($30.00) tells of the spring and summer of that year when Iraq was coming apart at the seams, was rent by sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis, and Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Militia used the Imam Ali Mosque as its base of operations. A U.S. Marine battalion and two U.S. Army battalions broke the militia’s defenses in the cemetery and Najaf’s old city. This is an ugly story of war, but one that needs telling and is told well.
The role that bombers played in World War Two is also explored by David Sears in Pacific Air ($27.50, Da Capo Press) in a book that provides a panorama of the battle against Japan. Despite three years of sacrifices by fearless airmen who took on a strong military power, a combination of aeronautical ingenuity and aviators who refused to accept defeat turned the tide and led to victory. Anyone who loves military history will thoroughly enjoy the stories of the many young men who helped write it against daunting odds. In the end, Navy and Marine Corps pilots at the controls of F4F Wildcats, F6F Hellcats, and TBF Avengers destroyed more than 5,000 Japanese aircraft and scored a big win in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Wolf: The Mystery Raider that Terrorized the Seas during World War I by Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) reaches back to 1917 to tell the story of a disguised German raider ship that embarked on a 15-month wartime mission to capture or bomb every ship in its path, becoming at one point an international floating prison to more than 800 men, women and children, prisoners and crew as it sailed the world’s major oceans. Amazingly, it made it back to Germany, 64,000 miles and 444 days later. Gretel’s Story: A Young Woman’s Secret War Against the Nazis by Gretel Wachtel and Claudia Strachan ($24.95, Lyons Press) puts a human face on story of war as it recounts how a young, free-spirited woman was caught up in World War II and waged her own war against the Nazis by helping a local priest protect those hunted by the Gestapo, hid her Jewish doctor in the cellar of her house, allied herself with the Resistance, served as a typist in the Wehrmacht and passed along secrets learned from her work, finally to be arrested by the Gestapo in 1945, and liberated by the British army. It is an astonishing story. She moved to England in 1993 and died there in 2006. This memoir would make a great movie.
The Itch to Travel
There are folks who just love to travel. Throughout the 1980s as part of my work as a writer and photojournalist, I traveled all over the United States. With the exception of New England there were only a few States I did not visit, often several times. I have not gotten on a plane in so long I cannot recall. My idea of travel is the local supermarket. Leave the USA? No way. For those who do still want to travel, however, there are many excellent books to help satisfy that itch.
I recently attended the annual Book Expo in New York where thousands of new books are on display, often with authors to sign them, and long aisles of publishers promoting them. I paused at the East View MapLink booth and discovered their Crumpled City soft city maps for places like New York, Paris, London, Tokyo and others. They are literally on cloth so you can stuff them in your pocket or backpack when not using them to find your way around. It is a very clever idea. Check them out at http://www.evmaplink.com/.
Though not a “travel book” by definition, David Monagan’s Ireland Unhinged: Encounters with a Wildly Changing Country ($28.00, Council Oak Books) provides an intriguing look at today’s Ireland by someone born in Connecticut who moved himself and his family to Ireland in 2000 and established himself as one of its observers. His travel books include “Jaywalking With the Irish” and “Journey Into the Heart.” Monagan was there to observe its recent economic miracle declines swiftly into collapse. His book is a clear-eyed look at his adopted country. This is a highly personal story of Ireland and its people for whom Monagan has a depth of love and concern. It’s still a great place to visit and this book will provide insights you will likely not fine elsewhere.
Whereabouts Press of Berkeley, California, has a unique series that booklovers will want to tap before selecting a destination. It is “A Traveler’s Literary Companion” and one of the latest is devoted to India ($14.95, softcover), edited by Chandrahas Choudhury. It is a different way to experience that vast subcontinent as it serves up short fiction by accomplished writers, many of whom are famous in the English-speaking world beyond India. The foreword is by Anita Desai and one of the contributors is Salmon Rushdie. Its thirteen selections provide insights into Indian culture and history, representing eight (translated) languages and a dozen different cultures and regions. I have known about this series for a long time. Twenty different nations and cities are available from Argentina to Vietnam, Amsterdam to Vienna.
Michael Jacobs has written an exhaustive book about the Andes ($24.95, Counterpoint Press, softcover), a mountain range stretching 4,500 miles through South America, rivaled in height only by the Himalayas. Jacobs, a travel writer, takes one on a tour across seven different countries, from the balmy Caribbean to the inhospitable islands of Tierra del Fuego. His route begins in Venezuela and ends with the tip of the continent. Along the way you will learn of Simon Bolivar, the young Charles Darwin, and a host of other characters whose lives were intertwined with the Andes in some fashion. This is a hefty volume that is likely to be regarded as a travel classic in the years to come.
Alaska has become a destination for travels in part because of the fame acquired by its former Governor Sarah Palin, but it is also a place of great natural beauty as well as famed for its recreational opportunities. It is a huge place and the 63rd edition of The Milepost ® 2011: Alaska Travel Planner, edited by Kris Valencia ($29.95, softcover) is 784 pages with more than 700 color photos and 100 maps including the classic MILEPOST® Plan-A-Trip Map with mileage plus latitudes/longitudes for GPS users. It contains all the information needed and more. Where to stay, where to eat, where to visit. This book is a triumph and definitive for anyone who wants to visit Alaska, the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, or the Northwest Territories. Go not leave home without it!
Books for Kids and Young Adults
The next time some young person says “I’m bored”, tell them to go read a book. Not turn on the television and not play some video game. Nothing engages the mind and helps it to grow more positively than reading.
You can get the reading habit going even in the pre-school years by reading to a child. One of my favorite series for this stars Howard B. Wigglebottom by Howard Binkow and illustrated by Susan f. Cornelison. Aimed at ages 4 through 8, these books teach useful lessons in a delightful, entertaining way. You can learn more about them at http://www.wedolisten.com/. The latest is Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad ($15,00, Thunderbolt Publishing) in which Howard, a white rabbit, does too much celebrating on his birthday, eating too much, buying too many balloons that carry him aloft, and generally giving him a tummy ache and scaring the wits out of him. It’s all good fun for the young reader who also will learn a valuable lesson. Also for the same age group, there’s Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown ($16.95, Carol Rhoda Books, a division of Lerner Books). It’s the story of a trend-setting girl who is bored with the standard hairstyles in her classroom and, inspired by her grandmother’s bouffant, get one in order to stand apart from the pack. First mocked and then imitated, Annabelle experiences the thrill of trying something new and, yes, getting bored with it and ready to move onto to something else. It’s a clever story.
Beach Ball Books has published John Thorn’s First Pitch: How Baseball Began ($14.99) for ages 9 and up. Thorn is Major League Baseball’s Official Baseball Historian and former editor of “Total Baseball”, so you can be sure the facts are accurate as he traces the game back to its roots and dispels many of the myths about how it evolved. Handsomely illustrated with photos and artwork from its early years, readers will learn many fascinating things such as women have been playing baseball since at least 1798 and was being played in China in 1836. It’s popularity spread after the Civil War when it became a game played by professional athletes. The Ultimate Guide to Basketball by James Buckley, Jr. ($7.99) is an alternative book for the younger readers, ages 7 and up, that enjoy that game. The same publisher provides fun reading with Weird Sports ($6.99) that includes elephant soccer, extreme unicycling, and even bog snorkeling. To learn more about this and others, visit http://www.beachballbooks.com/.
For middle school young folk and teens, there are novels that both tackle serious topics or are just fun. In the latter citatory there’s Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman ($15.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), ideal for those ages 8 through 12. Told through 10-year-old Gabe’s eyes, he is looking forward to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment that other kids call the Smart Camp for Geeks and Eggheads. When he meets his super-cool, soon-to-be stepbrother, Gabe begins to wonder if he isn’t geeky-squared? All manner of trials ensue from a lice epidemic to a karaoke showdown, and the camp experience turns out to be far less stressful than he anticipated. Two new books from Westside Books will prove compelling for young adults, ages 14 and up.. They are A Kid from Southie by John Shea and Mike Harmon ($16.95) and Open Wounds by Joseph Lunievicz ($16.95). South Boston is where Aiden O’Connor, a high school senior, must sort out his loyalties to a local street gang and the benefits of a better life, a trip through temptation and the sacrifices it will take to make the right choices. Queens, New York, is the setting for the second novel in which Cid Wymann is almost a prisoner in his own home to avoid the harsh world outside. He loves Errol Flynn movies filled with swordplay and duels, deciding to become a great fencer. When his cousin Cid arrives from England, he introduces him to a Russian fencing master who provides training and, at age 16, he learns to channel his aggression through the discipline of the blade. Suffice to say, an adult could read these books with equal pleasure.
Novels, Novels, Novels
Time was a novelist had to run a gauntlet of publishing house editors in order to get published. They usually needed a literary agent as well. Not so today. Any author can publish their novel and even reach a large audience of readers if the “buzz” goes viral and people hear about it.
Jeffrey M. Anderson, a former book publicist, has gone the self-publishing route with Ephemera ($15.99, Creatorspace, softcover). It is a perfect book to take to the beach to read on a summer’s day for its length, 420 pages, and densely written, compelling story about Nester Cab, a second-rate magazine writer whose life is changed when a mysterious note left in his office awakens his curiosity. He begins a search for a missing soldier and, in the course of it, discovers a clandestine anti-government organization and a hidden world of government conspiracies, real and imagined. Anderson is particularly adept at character description and the dialogue rings true. The novel is filled with madmen, killers, and megalomaniacs. It is a modern day journey for truth told with a mixture of satire and sadness. Ephemera is defined as "a short-lived thing, printed matter of passing interest." Your interest will be grabbed from the beginning to the end of this novel.
I think former Sen. Bob Graham’s novel, Keys to the Kingdom ($25.99, Vanguard Press) is going to generate a lot of buzz, a suspense novel that has the particular benefit of the fact the author served in Congress, knows its secrets, was the former Chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence for many years, and has written a timely story about terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Sen. Graham’s writing style has an eye for detail that lends a verisimilitude to the story that begins with a New York Times opinion editorial by a Florida Senator who served as a co-chair of the 9/11 commission and is murdered not long after the piece is published. The issue raised is the full role that Saudi Arabia played in the 9/11 attack; something not seriously addressed by the commission. The Senator, sensing the danger he has provoked by his commentary, recruited an ex-Special Forces operative, Tony Ramos, providing him with detailed instructions for an investigation. Ramos joins forces with the slain senator’s daughter to uncover a shocking conspiracy linking Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, and al Qaeda. It spans Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. At the heart of the novel is the question of whether Ramos and his team can stop an al Qaeda attack, this time nuclear, on American shores?
Vietnam haunts the collective memory of Americans who fought in or lived through the war in the 1970s. Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong ($13.95, Amazon Encore, softcover) has the distinction of being told by a winner of the Vietnam National Honor Prize for Literature at age 16, who like many fled her native country in the wake of that war. Now, thirty years later, her debut novel tells a century-long tale that captures the complex history of Vietnam and its people. Told through the eyes of Simone, a precocious teenager, it is the story of a concubine of the extinct Kingdom of Champa, her daughters, and her mother. From monarchy to French colonial occupation, the American intervention, the fall of Saigon, and Communist rule, it is a compelling history as experienced by all elements of Vietnamese society. The author, a Harvard graduate, was the first Vietnamese-American appointed as a US judge. It is well worth reading for many reasons, not the least of which is its compelling story. Penguin Classics has published El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal ($17.00, softcover) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth and the translation of his story, a revolutionary epic set in his native Philippines. A story of obsession and revenge, it has a rich cast of characters as it tells the story of resistance to colonial rule by a champion of Filipino nationalism and independence. This novel so angered Spanish authorities that, when the revolution broke out, the author was imprisoned and, at age 35, executed. Another nation’s history is captured in Knight of Swords by Ian Breckon ($14.95, Counterpoint, softcover), set in the winter of 1944 when northern Italy is a battlefield with Communist partisans battling the forces of Mussolini’s fascist Republic. A wounded fugitive finds shelter in an isolated and decaying castle in the mountains, home to a reclusive nobleman and his family. As he regains his strength, he discovers they have no intention of letting him leave. Snowed in during the long winter, the fugitive, the Baron, and his family are drawn into a complex game of power and seduction. India is the setting for An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy ($14.00, Free Press, softcover) marks her American debut. The place is a small town in Bengal where a family lives in solitude in a vast new house. This is pre-partition India of the 1940s and focuses on the relationship between an orphan of unknown caste, Mukunda, and Bakul, an orphaned daughter. Mukunda is banished to Calcutta where he prospers, but his thoughts are always of Bakul and he knows he must return. It is a richly romantic novel that explores many themes.
Another summer read is an erotic adventure novel, Captured Prey by Craig Odanovich ($14.95, Emerald Book Company, softcover). Its plot ranges from the windswept ranchlands of Texas to the back rooms of political power on a New Year’s Eve on the beaches of Rio. It is a romp, inside the bedroom and out as Misty, an elite fitness trainer to a well-heeled male clientele spins her web for the powerful men who come her way and gets snared by her own tap. A very different story is told by Marilyn Howell in Honor Thy Daughter ($16.95) published by the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Though fiction, it is a hard-hitting story of the author’s loss of her 32-year-old daughter to colon cancer and for anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer this story will strongly resonate. The unique aspect of the story is the use of psychedelic therapy to ease her daughter’s final days, making for a politically provocative and emotionally stunning tale. Howell makes a compelling case against the 40-year ban on research into psychedelic psychotherapy, especially as it relates to end-of-life issues as opposed to the chemotherapy drugs in wide use today.
Two softcover novels explore universal themes. In Long Drive Home author Will Allison returns after his literary sensation, “What You Have Left”, a 2007 novel that was widely heralded. In this novel, a sudden decision by a happily married suburban father who gives into an angry impulse when he jerks the steering wheel of his car to scare a reckless driver who dies as a result. It explores the moral ambiguities of personal responsibility as he tries to explain his action to his daughter. It is written in part as a confessional letter of a single event that alters both their lives. In Her Sister’s Shadow Katharine Britton ($15.00, Berkley, softcover) tells the story of two estranged sisters whose lives are brought together again after a sudden death. Forty years earlier Lilli Niles fled her family in White head, Massachusetts to escape her over-competitive sister Bea and a betrayal that has resonated ever since. Living in London, she received a call from Bea who has just lost her husband and wants Lilli to fly home for the funeral. It is a strong debut for the author who explores the bonds of sisterhood. Making his debut with The Descent of Man ($24.95, Unbridled Books) Kevin Desinger also employs the theme of a happily married man with a successful, quiet suburban life. Having survived the grief of his wife’s miscarriage, seen his marriage tremble, but stand, he refuses to lose her, and the questioned explored is how far he will go when he wakes one night to find two men trying to steal his car and, against her wishes, goes outside to get the plate number of the thieves’ truck, only to make the split-second decision to steal it! Sinister events ensue as his life spirals into a nightmare and he risks everything to regain of his life before that night.
For lovers of thrillers and the detective genre, there’s Fool’s Republic by Gordon W. Dale ($19.95, North Atlantic Books) and Wahoo Rhapsody: An Atticus Fish Novel by Shaun Morey ($13.95/$9.98, print and digital, Amazon Encore). The former is a masterful political thriller in which a man who has lived a normal life, barely noticeable, finds himself detained and accused of crimes against the state that are never specified.
He fights back using his only weapon, a high IQ, as the novel explores issues of freedom of action, of thought and the right to be left alone. The novel is a bit of an intellectual exercise. Shaun Morey’s story is a more traditional story about the motley crew, a captain, first mate, and novice deckhand aboard the fishing charter boat of the novel’s title. The crimes at its center are drug-running and murder. Atticus Fish, an expatriate American lawyer becomes involved when an old friend is murdered by a drug lord and Fish sets out to save the charter’s crew from becoming human chum. It is a very entertaining story told with a light touch.
That’s it for June. The summer holds the promise of many new fiction and non-fiction books to entertain and inform, so bookmark this site and tell all your book-loving friends and family about Bookviews. See you in July!
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Bookviews - June 2011
Posted by Alan Caruba at 12:49 PM 13 comments:
Labels: advice, children's books, fiction, history, non-fiction
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