Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bookviews - July 2011

By Alan Caruba
A founding Member of the National Book Critics Circle

Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs ~ Lots of Advice ~ Business Books ~ Summer Reading for Kids & Teens ~ Novels

My Picks of the Month

This report has recommended three previous books devoted to President Obama’s life and eligibility to hold the highest office in the land. In retrospect, as carefully documented as they were, the nation was not ready to consider that fact, nor ready to accept the consequences. Lyndon B. Johnson, however, surprised the nation with his announcement that he would not run for reelection in 1968 and, in 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first President to resign from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Prior to Obama’s election, however, Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, PhD, had authored “The Obama Nation”, warning that his credentials and life history was suspect. Now he has written Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President ($25.95, WND Books). More than 380 pages, complete with appendices and footnotes, meticulously reveal that he was not and is not eligible. I believe this book will lead to Obama’s resignation in the run up to the September 2012 Democratic Party nominating convention. I also believe that the mainstream media that formerly ignored or deriding all those who raised this issue are moving inexorably away from that position. Simply stated, Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution requires that a President be a “naturally born” citizen and Obama, as is widely known, is the son of a Kenyon citizen. Natural born requires that both parents be American citizens. How and why this was ignored in Obama’s case is examined in Corsi’s book, along with a massive cover up of the documentation that would and should disqualify him. Ignoring the Constitution has serious implications for the rule of law, the keystone of the American Republic.

I recommend you add Catherine Herridge’s new book to your summer reading list. It is The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda’s American Recruits ($25.00,.Crown Forum). If you watch Fox News then you know that Ms. Herridge is a national correspondent based out of Washington, D.C., and you know she has been following the story of terrorism directed against the nation for a long time. As a result, she has contacts deep inside the counterintelligence community as well as having traveled to Guantanamo many times to cover the proceedings there regarding some of the most evil people on Earth. She devotes a lot of the book to connecting the dots involving the life and activities of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam who facilitated the movement of several of the 9/11 terrorists before the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. His knowledge of American culture has made him a valuable al Qaeda asset, so much so that he is the only American on a CIA hit list. He is currently believed to be hiding out in Yemen, but distance is nothing to the Internet and he is a master of recruiting disaffected American Muslims to attack their fellow Americans. One of them was Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood killer. Jihad is not just a present-day conflict; it is generational, and it is now a movement as opposed to a top-down vertical organization. The failed underwear bomber and Time Square bomber should not make us forget that there are new plots to kill Americans being hatched every day.

Two companion volumes to the Herridge book will explain a lot to anyone who has not been paying any more attention to al Qaeda or Hezbollah for the last decade or longer. The first is Peter l. Bergen’s The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda ($16.00, Free Press) now in softcover is authored by a man widely regarded as a leading expert on al Qaeda, a national security analyst who has been in the belly of the beast. His book provides a comprehensive history of an organization devoted to terrorism for the ultimate purpose of imposing Islam on the West and everywhere else. Your grandchildren will be dealing with this threat. Consider Israel, now more than sixty year’s since its founding, but still facing implacable enemies. One of them is Hezbollah and Thanassis Cambinis has written A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). Part standing army, part terrorist group, party political party, and part theological movement, it joins al Qaeda and Hamas it its intention to remake the map of the Middle East. An influential movement, this book will surprise you with its description of the people who are willing to die for it, people who span economic classes and religious sect for its apocalyptic beliefs. Based in Lebanon, the Party of God, has influence well beyond its borders.

I have a friend who has spent most of his life accompanied by dogs and presently has two who regard him as the alpha male of the pack. His love for dogs makes up for a distinct skepticism about humans and it is difficult to disagree with him much of the time. Dog lovers will love The Dog Next Door and Other Stories of the Dogs We love, edited by Callie Smith Grant ($12.99, Revell, softcover). There are an estimated 77.5 million dogs in the U.S. with 39% of U.S. households owning at least one while 24% own two. Americans love their dogs and they will love this follow-up to “A Prince Among Dogs” for the 35 true stories Grant has collected to celebrate these tail-waggers. Another passion for many Americans is baseball and 1961: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase by Phil Pepe ($20.00, Triumph Books) tells of the year-long power surge that approached Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs for the 1927 New York Yankees. Maris would surpass it. The book is about an era when the game was not beset with doping scandals and raw power and real skill determined the outcome. Pepe has written more than fifty books on sports and this one is a wonderful look behind the scenes as well as on the field.

I cannot imagine what it must be to pilot a fighter jet, but a new book, Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing by John M. Dibbs, an award-winning air-to-air photographer with text by Lt. Col. Robert ‘Cricket’ Renner, ($40.00, Zenith Press) will get you as close to the experience as one can have by enjoying page after page of extraordinary photos and a text provided by as 1988 Air Force Academy graduate who retired in 2010 after 22 years of active duty service that included 37 combat sorties over Iraq. If a machine can be called beautiful, than surely the F-16 Fighting Falcon, known to its pilots and crews as the Viper, is a thing of beauty and the photos are testament to that. Reading this book gives one a wonderful insight to the lives of those associated with this fighter jet and a sense of its lethal capacity to protect the nation that built it. From the same publisher comes Burt Rutan’s Race to Space by Dan Linehand ($30.00, Zenith Press). Rutan has earned a reputation as an aerospace visionary and he is seeking to make private space travel affordable and accessible these days. The book is the story of that endeavor. I suspect, however, that its appeal will be mostly to those steeped in the engineering aspects of the effort and those for whom this quest remains the ultimate expression of pushing the envelope.

Odds and Ends: My Mother taught gourmet cooking, mostly French and European cuisine, so I am partial to cookbooks (she wrote two) that share their enthusiasm and recipes for this gastronomic genre. I first encountered Chef Jacques Haeringer through the “Chez Francois Cookbook”, the bible of classic Alsatian cuisine. The chef lives in Northern Virginia where L’Augberge Chez Francois in Great Falls attracts not only the locals, but some famous DC folk as well. His new book is Two for Tonight ($26.95, Bartleby Press) and is a gourmet’s dream of romance when you combine great recipes, a nice bottle of wine, and a summer al fresco meal. These are meals for dining outdoors whether it’s his Alsatian fish stew or any of the other mostly fish dishes with the occasional lamb chop, veal scallopini, or Kobe beef dish for meat-eaters. The color photos are mouthwatering and, yes, I miss Mom's wonderful dinners. While recently attending the Book Expo in New York, I came across a book that I think many older computer users will find of interest. It’s Windows® 7 for Seniors: Quicksteps by Marty Matthews ($20.00, McGraw-Hill, softcover). It has many advantages in that it uses a larger print size, has lots of illustrations, and is filled with how-to tips that will enhance the use of this popular operating program. It is comprehensive and anyone taking advantage of it will discover how remarkable Windows®7 can be.

Many book lovers also aspire to be writers and for those who think they have a novel in them, there’s A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft, edited by Andrea Barrett and Peter Turchi ($19.95, Trinity University Press, softcover). It features twenty contributors offering some excellent advice that will answer many of the questions a beginner may have. I have always been a non-fiction writer and concluded long ago that my brain is not equipped to write fiction. That requires a whole different set of sensibilities as well as the development of specific skills. This book will help future and current fiction writers hone those skills.

Let me finish with the thought that I do not normally take note of a specific poet’s work, preferring to deal only with anthologies of poetry. The reason is simple and cruel. If I feature one poet, I receive the books of others and great poetry is usually produced in relatively small amounts in any given era. I am going to make an exception for Maxine Kumin whom I met long ago when we were both young. I was at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, famed even then as a Middlebury College legacy of Robert Frost. I was there to write about it for Publishers Weekly and Kumin was one of the writers there to give readings and share their insights on the craft with aspiring writers. I was, at that point, already an aspiring and published poet but it would be my first and last time. I was old school, but Maxine was a modernist. All this returned to me when I received Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 ($16.95, W.W. Norton, softcover). Maxine is the author of 17 poetry collections, as well as numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. She’s won the Pulitzer Prize and a raft of other literary awards. If you were to choose a present day poet to read, you would discover she writes poetry that goes straight into your mind and heart. There is no way to “describe” a particular poet’s work, though I am sure many try. To read a modern poet, Maxine Kumin would be a very good choice.

Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs

The thing about some memoirs is that one often ends up wondering why the writer thought their life was all that significant or why the publisher did. Not all lives are equal in this respect, but I suppose one can learn something from a memoir if it reflects one’s own questions about life or illuminates some dark, unexplored corner.

My AOL address book was recently hacked for the second time and I am searching for software to prevent that occurring again. Serendipitously Mafiaboy: A Portrait of a Hacker as a Young man, arrived. Told by Michael Calce with Craig Silvermann ($22.95, Lyons Press), it is his account of what it was like to be a 15-year-old boy who, in the spring of 2000, was exposed as “Mafiaboy”, the cybercriminal who had crippled the websites of Yahoo!, Amazon, CNN, E*Trade, eBay and Dell. Not only were people asking how some adolescent could pull off devastating denial-of-service attacks, but why? Due out officially in August, Calce reveals the story of how his prodigious talent for unraveling and manipulating computer technology evolved into a teenage obsession. He was too young to realize the scope of the damage he was doing, but joining a gang of hackers gave him a sense of power and mission. In the end, the FBI joined with Canadian authorities in a manhunt to find out who he was. Calce acknowledges how reckless and stupid his attacks were. He was caught, spent eight months in a group home for troubled adolescents, and a year on probation with restricted access to computers. Cyber-folk will find this book of interest. Where’s My Wand? by Eric Poole ($15.00, Berkley, softcover) is an entertaining tale of growing up gay and Baptist in the 1970s. It is not a gay polemic as one might assume, but rather a hilarious recounting of confused gender at a time and place, and in the person of a very clever youngster looking for a way to make sense of it and come to peace with it. Gay folk will no doubt enjoy it, but the surprise is that straight folk will too. A comparable search for identity is told by Maise Houghton in Pitch Uncertain: A Mid-Century Middle Daughter Finds Her Voice ($24.95, Tide Pool Press, Cambridge, MA). It is the story of how she slowly decoded her parent’s marriage as the middle child coming of age in the 1950s. Her parents had an estranged by oddly loyal relationship and the author captures the era and genteel culture of the time. I am not sure who would find this book of interest except for someone of the same age and gender, but it is a well-told account. A very different memoir is told by Kelle Groom, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl ($23.00, Free Press) that recounts her young life as an addict and how, at age 19, she became pregnant with a son that she would end up losing twice, first to adoption, and then, within a year to cancer. This is a look into an addictive personality who discovered alcohol at age 15 and was an out-of-control alcoholic by age 19. The child’s death only hastened her downward spiral. The memoir, based in part on journals she kept at the time, is about her search for that lost son. In recovery she became a poet, earning a spot in Best American Poetry 2010, along with other accolades. Anyone who has known an alcoholic knows how totally destructive this addiction can be unless the pattern is broken. In a very real way, writing saved her life.

Sex, Mom, & God by Frank Schaeffer ($26.00, Da Capo Press) recounts what it was like to grow up in L’Abri, the Swiss chalet/Christian community that his parents, Evangelicals Francis and Edith Schaffer ran. He was surrounded by women, beautiful women, but the one who influenced his sexuality was his devout, but candid, mother who was at ease answering his questions about Jesus or sex, believing that conservative religion wasn’t about ruining sex for believers and others. Part memoir, part exploration of Evangelical views on issues such as abortion, premarital sex, and contraception, the book explores the harsh attitude organized religion has toward women and sex, while demonstrating that faith and fun can actually co-exist. Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire, the National Book Award winning author of “Waiting for Snow in Havana” ($15.00. Free Press, softcover) recounts what it was like to come of age as a Cuban √©migr√© attached to the memories of his youth in that island nation. He explores the tension between Carlos the Cuban and Charles the American as he eventually embraced his continual reinvention as someone distinctly American.

Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness by David Kastin ($26.95, W.W. Norton) is a fascinating biography of Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonic “Nica” de Koenigswater, a British Rothchild who flew her own plane before she was twenty-one. Her husband was a French baron and, during World War II, they joined the French Resistance and went to North Africa where she drove ambulances at the front lines of battle against Rommel. That might have been enough for a biography, but in 1953 she moved to New York to pursue who overwhelming love of jazz and never left. As a patron of jazz, she befriended jazz legends and, indeed, both Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk died in her home. There is much to explore in her extraordinary life and the author, a music critic and journalist, plums it for its history of the powerful forces at work in a remarkable chapter in American history when jazz defined American modernism, mid-century New York, self-invention, and race. Any fan of jazz will want to read this book.

New York plays a role in Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin ($30.00, Da Capo Press). Olmsted is best known as the designer of Central Park and Prospect Park, as well as other famous sites including Stanford University in California, and the Capitol Grounds in Washington, D.C. He was likely the most famous landscape architect of his times and since, but he was also a champion of abolition to American and British audiences in the 1850s and 60s. He was a forerunner of environmentalists to preserve public places that included Niagara Falls and Yosemite. This is a life well-lived and filled with achievements that still touch the lives of all who enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist by Peter L. Berger is subtitled “How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore” ($26.00, Prometheus Books) doesn’t live up to its promise. Essentially a memoir of an extraordinary and distinguished career as a sociologist, author and educator, it still manages to spend a lot of time on minutia that may interest his colleagues and former students, but didn’t motivate this reader to engage to the end. Is it just me? That’s a question I often ask, but if an author doesn’t capture and hold my attention, I tend to blame them. By contrast, James Hesketh is a freelance journalist and former motorcycle columnist for The Miami Herald. His memoir is Riding a Straight and Twisty Road ($15.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover) and recounts his life and his love of motorcycling, calling motorcycle riders “motion addicts” in ways that only other cyclists could understand. For them motorcycling is “a celebration of life.” Hesketh tells of a life initially affected by a childhood trauma and then a struggle for recovery to reclaim his life from another sort of addiction. In the course of his memoir, we learn about the changing history of motorcycle culture, a cross-country ride in response to a personal crisis, and the new serenity he found at the end of the road. It is a well-told tale that is sure to resonate with many readers who love motorcycling and/or are seeking recovery from their own addictions.

Lots of Advice

There is no end to books offering advice about every aspect of life and, having seen many of them, I still believe they perform a useful service. I particularly liked Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong by Alina Tugend ($22.95, Riverhead books). As we all know, we’re told that it’s okay to make mistakes so long as we learn from them and don’t repeat them. Ms. Tugend points out that, in reality, we are frequently punished for making mistakes. She points out that mistakes occur all the time, but her book focuses on how we can identify them correctly and, in the process, improve not only ourselves, but our families, our work, and even the world around us. She has done a lot of research about the cultural attitudes regarding mistakes, how they can affect us from the earliest stages of our lives, and shape us into adults who are risk-averse and reluctant to take on challenges. This is one of those unexpected books, the kind that looks at something commonplace and provides a complete new understanding of it.

Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear: Practical Ways to Find Peace is one of those titles that tell you everything you need to know about the book. Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, along with Ann McMurray ($13.99, Revell, softcover).has added a new book to the more than 25 he has already written, several coauthored with Ms. McMurray. There is no question that we are living in times that are fraught with anxiety that comes at us from the media and is generated in our own lives as many struggle to make a living and get on with life’s other tasks. This new book offers a whole-person approach to coping with and eliminating anxiety. It is a combination of common sense, biblical wisdom, and therapeutic advice that can free the readers from being anxiety all the time. If this describes you or someone you know, the book will prove a good investment.

I suspect most mothers simply ask themselves “what would my mother do?” by way of raising their own children. I have no doubt that raising children can prove quite overwhelming for many young mothers. Momsense: A Common-Sense Guide to Confident Mothering by Jean Blackmer ($12.99, Revell, softcover) is there to help. The book features “real mom” stories along with proven and practical advice, encouraging them not to seek perfection, but to honestly assess their skills and develop their own mothering style. If you’re a new mom or know one, this book will prove a blessing. It makes a lot of momsense! Books on better parenting abound and I particularly liked Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD and Mark S. Lowenthal, PsyD ($16.95, Jossey-Bass, softcover) in which the two authors combine their expertise to provide strategies to help children develop social and emotional skills that will need to become capable, confident, and caring people. Among the chapters are “building connection”, “developing motivation” and “finding joy.” In a society beset by fear-mongering, endless testing in school, and mixed messages about personal conduct, raising a child is a real challenge, but most parents can do it with a bit of guidance. This book provides that guidance and the children will be the beneficiaries. The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up by Barbara K. Hofer, PhD, and Abigail Sullivan Moore ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) advises parents on how to stay connected to college-bound youngsters while giving them the space they need to become independent adults. The advent of cell phones, email, and texting, many kids turn to their parents for instant answers on how to handle a variety of problems they encounter. The authors suggest that too much guidance at this stage in life results in kids that never really emerge as adults in their own right. This is a significant book in a new era of connectiveness and one I would recommend to any parent whose child is going off to college.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

With unemployment verging on or exceeding 14 million, Unbeatable Resumes by Tony Beshara ($16.95, Amacom, softcover) is a very timely book indeed. As the author explains, it is a sales tool to get the attention of a hiring authority. Based on 38 years as a placement and recruitment specialist, the author knows what makes a resume effective. This book takes the mystery and the agony out of writing a resume that has a high probability of winning a candidate a face-to-face interview. His survey of more than 3,000 hiring decision-makers, managers and human relations specialists, reveals the hallmarks of a well-written resume. For those seeking employment, this could well be the best investment in yourself that you could make.

Another book on this topic that I would recommend is from the “Knock’m Dead” series that has sold more than five million books to date. Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World by Martin Yate ($14.95, Adams Media, softcover) not only deals with resumes, but offers tips on turning interviews into job offers and tips about job security and promotions, understanding key career choices and career change strategies. This book addresses how to take control of your job search, your career, and your life. Career Mapping by Ginny Clarke and Echo Garrett ($17.95, Morgan James Publishing, softcover) isn’t officially due out until next month, but it takes a look at the world of work and concluded that it has changed forever. The only way to thrive in this highly competitive, technology-driven economy is to think of yourself as a free agent says the author. In short, you have to have a plan and her book is devoted to that. She too has been a recruiter and a career coach, so she is well positioned to understand the changes and how to adjust and take advantage of them. This book will work for the newcomer to the job marketplace as well as people nearing retirement age who want to switch gears. Books like this give those out of work a real advantage.

Everyone in business is looking for ways to secure an advantage over their competition. Front Runners: Lap your Competition with 10 Game-changing Strategies for Total Business Transformation by Mahesh Rao ($24.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group) offers a step-by-step program that has been successfully implemented by numerous executives of Fortune 100 companies over the past decade. Rao has been an executive consultant with more than twenty years of business experience, as well as a coach to top executives, who has spent many years building strategies, managing global business and technology operations. With a degree in engineering and an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, he holds 14 US and international patents. The book comes with endorsements from the president of Global Brands and Commercial, Hilton Worldwide, and an executive vice president of Cisco Systems.

The “buzz” these days is all about “social media” and anyone seeking to master these rapidly growing communications vehicles would do well to read one or both books that have been recently published. Social Boom! How to Master Business Social Media by Jeffrey Gitomer ($22.99, FT Press--Financial Times) discusses how this tool is the best, least expensive, most direct way of communicating with your customers and how you can take advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. It is easy to read and easy to implement. How to Make Money with Social Media by Jamie Turner and Reshma Shad, PhD ($24.99, FT Press, Pearson Education Inc) offers comparable advice and comes with glowing endorsements from top level executives. It is self-described as an in-the-trenches guide” written by experts who have developed money-making marketing campaigns for many of the world’s largest companies. This is not for lightweights because it discusses how to set objectives, assess one’s competition, craft strategies, select platforms, and integrate social media into broader marketing programs. Marketers, executives, and entrepreneurs can all benefit from its advice.

Summer Reading for the Kids & Teens

I have a number of favorite publishers of children’s and young adult books, and among them is Charlesbridge Publishing of Watertown, Massachusetts. Year after year, season after season, their editors and writers provide books for young readers and the latest batch is no exception. There’s Little Pig Joins the Band written and illustrated by David Hyde Costello ($14.95). This one is for the very earliest reader, age 5 or so, and of course can be read to the pre-school set. Being quite small Little Pig finds most musical instruments too big for him to play. It turns out that that he has a natural talent as the leader of the band! Those further along in reading skills, ages 7 and up, will enjoy Leo Landry’s Grin and Bear It ($12.95) about a bear who can write funny jokes by gets stage fright when he tries to tell them. Readers with a Hispanic heritage will especially enjoy Under the Mambo Moon by Julia Durango, illustrated by Fabricio VanderBroeck ($12.95) filled with wonderful poetry and short tales it is a tribute to Latin American cultures and music. What child does not love animals? Cool Animal Names by Dawn Cusick is lavishly illustrated by color photos of all manner of creatures, including insects and fish, who share the Earth. Those in the early grades in school will enjoy Miss Martin is a Martian, a Children’s Book Award Winner by Colleen Murray Fisher, illustrated by Jared Chapman ($7.95) and told from the point of view of one of her students who cannot imagine how she knows so much and is on to all his tricks! For the younger reader age pre-teen and older, there is a spooky, scaring, completely fascinating novel, Escape from Zobadak by Brad Gallagher about a mysterious box that leads to an antique maze of wooden corridors. This story is so complex that it draws the reader in and won’t let go until the last page.

Kids Can Press is another favorite of mine and a visit to its website will reveal why. Two recent books are Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do by Cynthia Pratt Nicolson and illustrated by Dianne Eastman ($16.95). Aimed at those aged 8 and up, it is a clever, frank discussion of why humans hiccup, burb, shake when they’re scared, crave surgery food, and many other common characteristics. It’s a great introduction to the human race. Mathemagic! Number Tricks by Lynda Colgan and illustrated by Jane Kurisu ($16.95) will intrigue younger readers with an interest or flair for mathematics, and particularly good for those who need a reason to develop these skills.

There’s a world of fun in How Back-Back Got His Name by Thomas and Peter Weck and illustrated by Len DiSalvo ($15.95, Lima Bear Press) just out this month with a story about Lima Bear and his animal pals who help Plumpton the opossum when his back disappears! Ideal for those aged 4 to 8, it is fully of laughs. The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob ($16.99, Children’s Success Unlimited LC) is aimed at children aged 5 and up. It quite deliberately intends to share its philosophy of life to motivate young minds to make the most of every day using the creatures of the sea to impart it. For the child that needs a nudge in this direction, it is a good book to share. In a similar fashion, two books from New Horizon Press are intended to help children be team players and to teach the value of perseverance. They are Joni and the Fallen Star by Cindy Jett Pilon, illustrated by John Hazard ($9.95) and The Tale of the Teeny, Tiny Black Ant by Teresa R. Allen, illustrated by Tea Seroya ($9.95). Both are geared to either pre-schoolers to whom they can be read or early readers aged 5 and up.

For the older reader, ages 10 and teens, there’s The Lucy Man: The Scientist Who Found the Most Famous Fossil Ever! ($16.00, Prometheus Books softcover) by CAP Sacier. It is a biography of Dr. Donald C. Johanson who found Lucy, (Australopithecus afarensis) in 1974. A paleoanthropologist, the skeleton was the first up-right walking human ancestor that was mostly complete. Any youngster showing an interest in such things will be immersed for hours in this book. Its foreword is provided by the subject of the book. Just published this month is a novel by Karen DelleCava, A Closer Look, ($16.95, WestSide Books, Lodi, NJ) for those aged 14 and older. It is about alopecia, an affliction that causes a person’s hair to fall out. How Cassie deals with this, at first trying to keep it a secret, and then confronting it when the secret is exposed, is the heart of a story about dealing with setbacks and still achieving one’s goals in life. This may seem a bit creepy, but I suspect many teenagers will find it a reflection in some way of their own lives.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Summer is traditionally a time for taking a novel to the beach or just the backyard to catch some sun and pass some time. I have stacks and stacks of novels and can only share news of some, so here goes.

Rules of Civility marks the debut of Amor Towles ($26.95, Viking) that is in many ways a throwback to the way novels were written in earlier times and, in particular, its theme of rising from humble beginnings to reach great heights, a classic American tale. It is the story of an irresistible young woman that is set in the late 1930s. On New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, 25-year-old secretary, Katey Kontent and her boardinghouse roommate meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker. Both fall for him, but the meeting sets Katey on a year-long journey through the upper echelons of New York society where she encounters a glittering new world of wealth and station, along with all the other emotions and behaviors that lurk beneath the surface. Katey is made of stern stuff and good values. Towles was born and raised just outside of Boston, graduated from Yale University, and an MA from Stanford University. He is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan. He has just joined the ranks of promising new authors.

A very intriguing story is told by Kevin Klesert in The Other Side of Light ($32.95,
( A combination of science fiction and historical fiction, Klesert asks what would happen if a modern U.S. Naval Task Force with the Secretary of Defense on board to watch how new technology can render the entire task force invisible to the enemy only to have it go awry and transport them back to December 3, 1941, four days before Pearl Harbor! Knowing what happened, they must wrestle with the question of changing history by intervening. I am not going to tell you much more because it would spoil the plot. This one is a fascinating take on the twists and turns of history. The genre of the science of genetics and its unexpected events is the background to The Genius Gene ($34.95 hardcover, $14.95 softcover, $4.99 Kindle, by Howard Bernberg. We are introduced to geneticist Catherine Fox and archeologist Paul Butler, attractive, accomplished, ethical, and widely acclaimed. Political, religious, and scientific institutions are trying to cope with rapid medical advances that allow the potential of our own genomes to be unlocked. This is a complex story of an older Nobel Prize winning geneticist who has developed a package of genetic enhancements he wants to legalize, the purpose of which is to create superior humans and make all others obsolete. The plot's twists and turns will have you turning the pages in this compelling and scary story. Fans of supernatural thrillers will want to glom onto the first four of a five-book series you can check out at Eli Just has chosen a very different kind of hero to battle the forces of evil, a live-and-let-live bachelor with a minor but successful music career. Strange things begin to happen to Manny when his band takes a break. I am not a fan of this kind of fantasy genre, but Just makes it work. The Manny Jones series is priced at $29.95.

Among the softcover novels available there are several that stand out. On the light side, there’s Why I Love Singlehood by Elisa Lorella and Sarah Girrell ($13.95, Amazon Encore). Eva Perino is single and the proud owner of The Grounds, a bustling coffee shop in the heart of a North Carolina college town. She’s busy, she’s happy, and there is no need, she feels, for a man in her life. It has been two years since her live-in boyfriend broke her heart and her blog about singlehood is a big hit, but Eva begins a secret and very funny search for love when she secretly joins an online dating site. It is soon time to decide between her lifestyle choices. A very different story is told by Christina Ali Farah in Little Mother ($22.95, Indiana University Press). The Somali-Italian author provides an insight to the Somali diaspora, the result of that torn nation’s civil wars. She tells the story of two cousins, Domenica Axad and Barni, forced to flee. Barni ekes out a living in Rome and Domenica wonders Europe in a painful effort to reunite her broken family. After ten years the two women meet again and, when Domenica gives birth to a son, Barni, an obstetrician, is there by her side. It is a powerful story of the strength of women, family, and the tenacious yearning for a homeland that has been denied to them. Short stories make for good summer reading and you will find some excellent ones in Stolen Pleasures by Gina Berrialt ($15.95, Counterpoint Press). She died in 1999 after receiving many awards for her four novels, short story collections, and several screenplays. Novelist and screenwriter, Leonard Gardner, shared her life for many years and selected the stories in this collection. No two of the stories is alike and each taps into the fundamental emotions that drive our lives.

Being New Jersey born and bred, I naturally want to give a nod to a fellow resident, Janet Stafford, who has written an excellent new novel, Saint Maggie, ($16.00, Squeaking Pips Press, Box 5854, Hillsborough, NJ 08844, softcover). Set in the days just before the Civil War, this debut novel has a full cast of characters who share a rooming house on the square of a small New Jersey town. It is run by Maggie Blaine, a compassionate Christian woman who participates is the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves moving north. When the new minister moves in, sparks begin to fly and we are treated to a bit of history and a bit of romance. All in all, a very good story from beginning to end.

That’s it for July! We are now more than halfway through the year and hundreds of great new books await us. Come back in August for news of the best in fiction and nonfiction. Don’t keep Bookviews a secret! Tell your friends, coworkers, and others!