Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bookviews - December 2011

By Alan Caruba
Founding Member, National Book Critics Circle

My Picks of the Month

As the European Union totters on collapse as several member nations face default and as the U.S. fails to address and solve its own financial problems, perhaps the one book you need to read to understand what is happening now, in the past, and in the near future is James Rickards Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis ($26.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin) that explains in an easily understood fashion what U.S. policy makers have done or failed to do to protect the integrity and value of the U.S. dollar, the nation’s economy, and its natural security, All three are interlinked. Rickards tells of previous currency wars, their causes and outcomes, identifying the present situation as the third such war. He discusses how, when this war is over, the global balance of economic power may look very different and America’s role on the world stage could be dramatically reduced. The failure of the so-called Super Committee to agree on spending cuts and the possibility of sequestration or automatic cuts are part of this larger picture. At present, the annual Gross Domestic Product, the value of the sale of all goods and services, is approximately $14 trillion. The national debt is now $15 trillion and growing. You don’t have to be a math genius to see where this is going.

It’s not going to leap onto any bestseller list but it surely deserves to be widely read. It’s Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry by Rich Trzupek ($23.95, Encounter Books). A chemist and principal consultant at Mostardi Platt Environmental, he has been an environmental consultant for twenty-five years for several Fortune 500 companies. Trzupek brings a wealth of scientific knowledge and his experience to focus on something many people suspect, but lack the time to explore. The Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, has long since strayed from its original purpose to ensure clean air and water, becoming a rogue agency more concerned with aggressive regulation of all aspects of our lives, but in particular all business and industrial activity, large and small. The result is jobs lost because of decisions not to start or expand a business, or to conduct it offshore. For years now the EPA has been waging a war against access to and the use of all the facets of energy Americans need and use. This is a surprisingly short book for such a big topic, but the author covers all the bases and the examples he cites are chilling. I strongly recommend this excellent expose of a government agency run amuck.

These are election times as the merits of the GOP candidates are being evaluated and we are now beginning to look back at the previous administration with some perspective. A softcover edition of Decision Points by former President George W. Bush ($18.00, Broadway) is now available and provides his story of his life and the reasons he made the decisions he did during two terms leading the nation; the first involving the 9/11 attacked that changed our lives in its wake. The President comes across as a man with a deep religious faith, but also uniquely prepared for the job as the son of a former President, a pilot in the Reserves, a businessman, and as Governor of Texas. He comes across as honest, doing the best he could, and pretty much what we all saw at the time. Mitt Romney is a GOP candidate that many want to know better and R.B. Scott has authored Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics ($16.95, Lyons Press, softcover) that answers many of the questions in voter’s minds. It is the first independent, unauthorized biographical profile and draws on research from two decades, including interviews with people who know him well, allies and adversaries alike. The book also looks at the Mormon Church and its march toward the religious mainstream. If you’re still trying to make up your mind, you will be aided by this book.

December is the month when book lovers look for interesting gifts and anyone who loves elephants—and I do—I recommend An Elephant’s Life: An Intimate Portrait from Africa by Caitlin O’Connell ($29.95, Globe Pequot Press) which is filled with her photos of elephants being elephants in glorious color. The author is a leading field biologist who has immersed herself in a study of elephant society for nearly two decades. Her narration of the photos is kept to a minimum so that the pictures speak for themselves, but it is also invaluable for the understanding and insight it provides. This is photojournalism and nature documentary at its best. It is an intimate portrait. A totally different, but hearty, recommendation is for Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg ($24.95, Camino Books, Philadelphia, PA) subtitled “Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking.” There are few joys to rival fresh-baked breads, bagels, and other taste treats. The Ashkenazi Jewry from Eastern Europe brought with them baking traditions that went back centuries, as did the Sephardic or Mediterranean Jews. This book is more than a collection of recipes and because so much of Jewish cuisine has become part of the American dining scene, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this book. But it helps! The authors recall their youth in Brooklyn and the Bronx, large Jewish enclaves even today. The recipes are based on professional formulas, but adapted for home kitchens. The book is enhanced by many color photos of a range of breads, pastries, cookies and cakes. It’s a great Hanukkah or Christmas gift.

I love big, fat books filled with useful information and was greatly impressed when I received African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence by Lean’tin L. Bracks ($22.95, Visible Ink Press, Canton, MI, softcover). It has biographies of more than 750 influential figures, is filled with little known or misunderstood historical facts, enlightening essays on significant legislation and movements that explore the past, the progress, and current conditions of African Americans. As a true almanac, it covers the civil rights movement, African American literature, art and music, as well as religion, advances in science and medicine, theatre, film and television. It is a tremendous value for the vast amount of information it provides.

One of the most common questions I receive comes from writers who want to know if I can recommend a literary agent or a publisher for their book. The best answer I have is to pick up a copy of Jeff Herman’s encyclopedic 2012 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents ($29.99, Sourcebooks, softcover). It is an extraordinary compilation of data about the many publishing houses that exist, what their preferences are, who their personnel are, and everything else you need to know. The same applies to the section on agents and to independent editors who can assist a writer. The guide even includes a section on the future of book publishing in regard to the ever-changing technology as well as resources for writers, websites and a glossary for those new to the process of finding the people that can transform a manuscript into a finished book. Herman has a track record of representing bestselling authors and this guide will prove a worthy investment.

Memoirs, Biographies & Autobiographies

Kurt Vonnegut whose novels like “Slaughterhouse Five”, “Cat’s Cradle”, and “Breakfast of Champions” became iconic markers of the twentieth century. Generally speaking, the man, himself, was not well known. His life was a series of tragedies that include his mother’s suicide, being a prisoner during World War II, the loss of a sister to cancer. One suspects he survived because he distilled it in his novels and leavened it with his unique sense of humor. Fans will welcome Charles J. Shields’ And So It Goes—Kurt Vonnegut: A Life ($30.00, Henry Holt and Company). It is an authorized biography, the result of five year’s research, hundreds of interviews, and more than 1,500 letters. Just out in November, it has been greeted with praise, hailed as “triumphant” and “definitive”, the best praise may be that it is very entertaining.

The passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs evoked worldwide notice. George Beahm just had his book, I, Steve: Steve Jobs in his Own Words ($10.95, Agate Publishing, softcover) published. It is a collection of Job’s quotations a vast array of topics, from anxiety to zen. Nor is this a fat compendium of lengthy statements, but rather a selection of short takes, often no more than a single sentence, so the 200 quotes actually fit in the palm of your hand. They capture his thoughts, ideas, and opinions on business, technology, culture, and life. Just as we look back at the genius of Edison in his era of innovation and invention, future generations will do the same for Jobs.

The story of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomatic envoy who risked his life to save the lives of more than 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children during World War II. Alex Kershaw tells that story in The Envoy ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) recounts the final winter of the war and the extraordinary story of how Wallenberg used “safe passage” passes and secret “safe houses” throughout Budapest, using material gleaned from international archives as well as interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors and relatives of those whom he saved. The Talmud says that he who saves a single life, save the entire world. Wallenberg’s fate remains unknown, but his story lives on. Fast forward and Anna Badkhen offers a memoir of Afghanistan and Iraq from the point of view of a war reporter in Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories ($15.00, Free Press, softcover). It is an unsparing and intimate history of the last decade’s most vicious conflicts, bringing the human elements to life along with the dehumanizing realities of war, the people, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate to survive. It is a very different view of the conflict that reflects the culture that has declared jihad against the West.

Manny Pacquiao, who many consider the best boxer of our times, has his life told in Pacman by Gary Andrew Poole ($15.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) that takes one behind-the scenes in this first major biography. More than a superb athlete, Pacquiao is a cultural icon known as much for his philanthropy to his country. He has been elected a congressman in his native Philippines, using his position to fight the severe poverty from which he came. Many predict he will one day be the president of that nation. In a classic rags to riches story, fans of boxing in particular will greatly enjoy this biography. From the music scene, fans of the group, Black Sabbeth, will enjoy Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbeth, a memoir by Tony Iommi ($26.00, Da Capo Press) that recounts how his band emerged around 1968 to break through the folksy songs of the hippie subculture to address war, famine, and political corruption, shocking and angering people with a new genre that would be known as heavy metal. As their lead guitarist he recounts how an accident sliced off the tips of the two middle fingers on his right hand, affecting the way he played, producing the deeper, more powerful musical tones for which the band became famous. He recounts his drug and alcohol abuse, marital discord, and the constant management problems that included exists by band members, the most famous of which was Ozzy Osbourne.

Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski recount the surprising story between a busy ad executive and a hungry little boy, Maurice Maczyk, who she encountered one day on a Manhattan street corner. An Invisible Thread ($25.00, Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster) tells the story of how something about the boy touched her heart “as if we were bound by some invisible, unbreakable thread.” The boy, born to an abusive father and drug-addicted mother, living in welfare hotels with his knife-weilding grandmother, had all the odds stacked against him, but he had a special spirit and what began as a simple lunch shared between strangers became a weekly ritual and life-changing friendship. Ron Franscell’s The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, ($18.95, Globe Pequot Press, softcover) is subtitled “The Yukon odyssey of a father and son in search of a mummified human toe…and everything else.” A lifelong journalist, the author grew up in Wyoming. He has witnessed and written about the evolution of the American West, the first months of the Afghan war and the devastation of Hurricane Rita. The author of many books, this one is an account of a road trip with his son where they drank a cocktail containing a mummified human toe and spent the longest day of the year under an Arctic sun than never set. Quite simply, he is an extraordinary writer and the memoir can be read for the pleasure of his prose. Anyone who has ever owned a horse will identify with and thoroughly enjoy Jana Harris’s Horses Never Lie About Love ($24.00, Free Press). When she and her husband moved to Washington State, she wanted to fulfill her dream of starting a horse farm. On a visit to a ranch where horses had been corralled for sale, she fell in love with a handsome mare and her foal, a black colt. When they were delivered three months later, however, she was unrecognizable, having survived a range five that had scarred her head and ears, and damaged her lungs. Could this now half wild horse be gentled? Harris’s book is a heartwarming story of the bonds between those who love horses and the horses who love them back.

Memoirs can also be painful while being cathartic. Betrayal and the Beast by Peter S. Pelullo is subtitled “a true story of one man’s journey through childhood sexual abuse, sexual addition, and recovery” ($15.95, Only Serenity LLC) Pellulo focuses on his corporate life in the music industry where he gained recognition for recording acts like the Rolling stones, Foreigner, and Stevie Wonder. He was active as well in the telecom industry, the Internet, and the financial world, but despite success in these fields, he could not overcome the scars of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of two older neighborhood kids in the 1950s. This book points up, as Pelullo notes, that it is estimated that one in three girls and one in four boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. In his case, it led to a hidden life of sexual promiscuity and pain he sought to dull with prescription drugs, alcohol, and work. He had no one he considered a close friend. This book tells of his journey to recovery which he shares to give other victims like himself hope they too can recover.

Reading History

My understanding of the present and concerns about the future are informed by a life spent reading history. It never fails to fascinate me.

A brilliant new book about the history of Christianity is Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion ($27.99, HarperOne). From an obscure Jewish sect whose teacher was executed by the Romans, the story of Christianity is quite extraordinary one. Stark previously authored “The Rise of Christianity”, but this new book carries history forward from its origins to the conquest of Roman society. His new book applies his considerable intellect to the last two thousand years, often challenging the conventional interpretations of many major events in the Christian narrative. He argues that Constantine’s conversion did the Church a great deal of harm and notes that the majority of converts to early Christianity were women. Some books on religion engage the reader in ways that either strengthen or decrease their faith, but this is a book of history and, as such, it is filled with insights that depart from much that is taken for granted by the faithful. Most surely, Stark’s belief that religion must disappear to allow for a more secular world, confident of its own achievements, is provocative, but he also explains why faith remains vigorous almost everywhere around the world and why Christianity continues to play an important role.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to have lived in an earlier century? If so, you are in for a treat when you read The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer ($15.00, Touchstone Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, softcover. “Imagine yourself in a dusty London street on a medieval summer morning. A servant opens an upstairs shutter and starts beating a blanket. A dog guarding a traveler’s packhorses starts barking. Nearby traders call out from their market stalls…and you, in the middle of all this, where are you going to stay tonight? What are you wearing? What are you going to eat?” Instead of stories about jousts and chivalry, Mortimer brings to life, the daily sights, sounds, smells and tastes of England in the Middle Ages, hundreds of years before electricity, indoor plumbing, and modern medicine. This is history experienced in ways most other books do not convey.

The American Revolution tends to be taught in fairly sterile terms of battles and books about the leaders, but it was fought by real people and experienced by others that by Noel Rae ($30.00, Lyons Press) whose thoughts and experiences were captured in diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other sources of the time has been captured in a great read, The People’s War: Original Voices of the American Revolution. To gain insight to what it meant to live through that long, tumultuous period, this book is the one to read. We are familiar with George Washington and his colleagues, but here we are introduced to a farm boy who ran away to sea at age twelve, a pretty young widow roughed up by Tory ruffians, and a slave who escaped to the British after witnessing his mother being flogged. Not everyone favored the Revolution in much the same way we differ among ourselves over today’s conflicts. This is history at its most entertaining and authoritive, as told by witnesses to the events.

Much of history is about wars and two define much about America. Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year recounts the last year of the military genius brought the Civil War to an end and served as President. Charles Bracelen Flood goes beyond Grant’s memoirs, written in his final days, beset by terminal cancer and cheated of his wealth by a business partner. They were his effort to save his family from destitution and, finished just four days before his death, became a bestseller. Flood paints a picture of a man devoted to his family. His determination, love of family and nation, is captured in this biography. Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub ($24.00, Da Capo Press) recalls the days that followed December 7, 1941 that brought the U.S. into the World War that had been raging in Europe and Asia while Americans resisted being drawn into it. The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor altered history forever. An award-winning historian, author and co-author of more than fifty books, Weintraub describes how Churchill, at great risk, traveled to the U.S. to meet with Roosevelt to set in motion the events of WWII. He arrived on December 22. The book captures the unique feeling of a nation on the brink of war and provides the an insight to the strategic planning of the two most respected politicians of the 20th century. Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian W. Toll ($35.00, W.W. Norton) chronicles the first two years the followed the attack on Pearl Harbor that claimed 2,500 lives and dealt a blow to U.S. naval power, locking American and Japan in a titanic struggle for control of the Pacific ocean, a struggle that became the largest naval war in history. It tells of the panic, triumph, and sacrifice of the early months of the epic contest and the admirals, political leaders, sailors and pilots on both sides of the conflict. From Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway, the collapse of the Japanese Empire was set in motion. Little wonder this aspect of the war holds our interest to this day. This book is a gripping story that anyone who loves history will devour despite its length or because of it.

Some years just stand out in our nation’s history, 1776, 1864, 1941 and 1968. The last is the subject of a book, The 1968 Project: A Nation Coming of Age by the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society ($24.95, Minnesota Historical Society Press, softcover) does a terrific job with texts and photos catching the highs and lows of a year that was unique culturally, politically, and in so many other ways. 1968 saw the assassination of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It was the year of the Democratic Party national convention in Chicago with its epic battles with protests in Lincoln and Grant parks. Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee. Richard M. Nixon was the GOP choice and, in November, he was the winner. There were more than 549,000 troops in Vietnam; 17,000 had been killed in combat that year. For a sense of a turning point that influenced much of what has since followed, this is an excellent book to read.

For the younger reader there is perhaps nothing more inspiring than to read the lives of men and women who, as Sandra McLoed Humphrey puts it, “made a difference.” They may learn about such people on television or from movies, but nothing is quite so intimate than to hold a book in one’s hands and to read about them. That’s why I would recommend They Stood Alone! 25 Men and Women Who Make a Difference ($14.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) by Ms. Humphrey who takes the reader on a tour in which she says, “heroes are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things…” From DaVinci and Newton to Curie and Einstein, from Gandhi to Neil Armstrong and Rosa Parks, this is a gift that should be under the tree or near the menorah as it celebrates vision and courage.

Advice, Advice, Advice

In the world of books there is no end to advice on every single aspect of life. One of the most challenging is how to find a mate and then how to fashion a successful marriage. It’s not easy but Bari Lyman has written Meet to Marry: A Dating Revelation for the Marriage Minded ($14.95, Health Communications, softcover). Lyman has coached hundreds of singles as a modern-day marriage-broker and her book helps the single reader to find their way to lasting love. She teaches how to recognize one’s own blind spots and to change the way one thinks when mind-sets hinder relationships. One must first be able to live in harmony with oneself while being visible to one’s partner. She offers a three-step program—Assess, Attract and Act. I think this book will help a lot of singles avoid the pitfalls and take the right steps. Then there’s the question, “What does your husband—whom you still love—do that drives you nuts?” It was a question that Jenna McCarthy posted on her Facebook page and out of it came If It Was Easy, They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married ($15.00, Berkley Publishing, softcover). McCarthy is happily married and the mother of two daughters. She is also the author of five books and a very funny writer who brings laughter and clarity it to this subject. Women will identify with what she deems male idiocy, but she also dishes some straight talk to the girls as they navigate through marriage.

A very different approach is found in Draw Close ($19.99, Revell) written for Christian couples by Willard F Hartley, Jr. and his wife, Joyce. They share their insights for growing a strong marriage with a devotional because they believe one must draw close to God as well as each other. They must be doing something right. They have been married 48 years! The book addresses a variety of topics that every couple faces in marriage ranging from love to time issues, honesty, harmful habits, selfish demands, criticism, respect, parenting, and so much more. If one’s marriage includes a mouthy, moody teenager, I have just the book for you. It’s Dr. Kevin Leman’s Have a New Teenager by Friday ($17.99. Revell) in which this family expert and author of more than forty books reveals how to deal with the most familiar bad attitudes of teenagers with advice that really works; how to gain respect, establish healthy boundaries, communicate effectively, turn selfish behavior around, and be the influence for the better person you want your teenager to be. Two other Revell books to check out are A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself & Live in the Security of God’s Promises by Renee Swope ($13.99, softcover) and Walk Strong, Look Up by Chantel Hobbs ($13.99, softcover) the author of “Never Say Diet” who is back with a book on the healthful benefits of walking to transform your physical, mental, and spiritual outlook. It is filled with practical advice.

Stephen R. Covey gained fame with his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which sold 20 million copies and he is back now with The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems ($28.00, Free Press) which looks at the traditional way of conflict resolution—my way or your way. He offers a third way in which the parties engaged in “creative dialogue” and temporarily suspend their entrenched positions. This is not exactly a big breakthrough, unless you’re one of those people who believe in “my way or the highway” and then maybe you need to read this book! Most of life involves a degree of flexibility and compromise and that is what Covey’s new book addresses.

Last Laughs: A Pocketful of Wry for the Aging seems an appropriate way to close out this discussion of advice books ($14.95, Two Harbors Press). Actually, Everett Mattlin serves up a collection of essays that skip all the usual feel-good chatter about growing old and gets right to all its most annoying aspects. His advice is to get lazy and be lazy in your “golden years” because as he says, there is nothing wrong with spending your time wallowing in all the wonderfully clich├ęs of old age, a comfy rocking chair, old movies on TCM, your favorite libation, and just remember the good old days. It works for me!

Getting Down to Business

Ronn Torossian has built a reputation for himself and for his public relations firm, 5W Public Relations, over the years as being among the top practitioners of PR that benefits his clients in New York, Los Angeles, and points in between as one of Inc Magazine’s list of the top 500 entrepreneurial firms. So what should a successful PR professional do at this point in his career? Write a book of course. For immediate Release, written with Karen Kelly ($24.95, Benbella Books, Dallas, TX) is testimony to the triumphs and pitfalls of public relations. It is filled with good advice based on real world case histories of what works and what doesn’t. Over my 40+ years as a public relations counselor I can attest to the many ways this book can help everyone from the CEO of a giant corporation to a start-up new business. Much of what we read or hear in the media is directly related to the information provided by PR practitioners as they seek to help their clients and, indeed, federal and state governments engage in massive amounts of PR to advance their agendas and policies, so it isn’t just private enterprise. Non-profits, too, use PR for their causes. This is one of the best books on PR that I have read in years.

Getting new business and then servicing it are the subjects of two softcover books of interest. Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing by Neal Schaffer ($21.95, Windmill Networking) While most who sign up on Linkedin for the purpose of getting a job, Schaffer explores the network’s potency in connecting sales and marketing forces and backs it up with 15 business owners and professional’s case histories. The book shows how to create a sales-oriented profile and connections policy to attract more leaders. He recommends becoming an industry thought leaders by establishing your own community within the LinkedIn demographic. The networking website clearly offers many such opportunities and this book shows you how to get the maximum value from it. Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service is now in its fifth edition ($18.95, Amacom), testimony to its advice on how customers both shop and relate their experience. Readers will benefit from its new tips, tools, and techniques to impress and retain customers, on problem-solving, working with generational and cultural differences and even how to handle the “customer from hell.” For the start-up or the old pro, this book has proven itself over and over again.

When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms by Cal Brown ($24.95, Brown Books Publishing Group, Dallas, TX) takes a look at the many different problems that life throws in our path, examining questions that include what if “I lost my spouse?”, “I lost my career?”, “I lost my investments?”, along with similar questions regarding marriage, the loss of parents, stolen identity, the loss of health and even one’s mind! The author is a financial planner and brings his experience to bear on these common situations. The book is filled with excellent advice on how to prepare for these problems, looking ahead for the sale of one’s spouse, children, and personal future. Put this one on your “must read” list. In Affluence Intelligence: Earn More, Worry less, and Live a Happy and Balanced Life ($25.00, Da Capo Press) authors Stephen Goldbart, PhD, and Joan Indursky Difuria, MFT, join to discuss what constitutes a fulfilling, financially secure life in which you work at what you love, have satisfying relationships, and life a life that has meaning and purpose. We often do not address these questions until too much time has passed by, so a book like this allows you to begin to focus well before it’s too late.

A rather specialized book is Andrew J. Sherman’s Harvesting Intangible Assets: Uncovering Hidden Revenue in Your Company’s Intellectual Property ($29.95, Amacom). The author says that most companies allocate little structured attention to cultivating the resource of their intellectual property; companies that do include Google, IBM, Amazon, and others. Based on his work with some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies, Sherman presents systematic methods for managing, measuring, maximizing, and protecting these assets in an information-centric, innovation-driven world.

Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst’s Fight to Save the Big Banks from Themselves ($29.95, Wiley) by Mike Mayo could not be more timely in light of the events of 2008 and the “Occupy Wall Street” attack on the nation’s banking system. The author is an award-winning Wall Street analyst, Mayo writes about the biggest issue of our time, the role of finance and banks in America. In doing so, he lays out the truth about practices that have diminished capitalism and tarnished the banking sector. He brings to bear his experience working at six Wall Street firms, analyzing banks and protesting against bad practices for two decades. In doing so, he blows the lid off the true inner workings of the big banks. This book deserves not only to be read, but to be a template for correcting the ills and misfortunes of today’s banking community.

Children’s & Young Adult Books

I am one of those people that thinks that, under the Christmas tree, there should be books as well as toys. A child can always return to a favorite book for some quiet time and usually benefit from its story.

There’s Hanukkah, too. The Jewish festival of lights and one of the most entertaining and charming stories with that holiday theme is The Story of Hanukkah Howie, written by Jan Dalrymple and illustrated by her husband, Bob Dalrymple ($18.00, Peanut Buttler Publishing, Seattle, WA) in which a toddler awakes one day with a spike of hair on the top of his head and one by his ear. This is followed by more such spikes of hair and always as Hanukkah is close at hand. It is an amusing tale of how Howie tries to cope with this strange phenomenon as he grows older until a youngster points out that his hair resembles of menorah with nine candles. If there’s a Jewish youngster around 6 to 9 or so that you know, this would make a great gift. Parents can read the story to those of pre-school age.

For the very young there are books that are indestructible, made with thick cardboard pages and covers, but wonderfully illustrated. Parents can develop a love for books by giving them as a gift and reading from them at bedtime. One example is A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson ($7.95, Tanglewood Publishing, Terra Haute, IN). As a beam of sun makes the rounds of his nest, young Chester’s imagination gets the best of him as various creatures are conjured up and sleep is slow to arrive. From the same publisher there’s Wild Rose’s Weaving by Ginger Churchill and illustrated by Nicole Wong ($15.95) for the early reader, 5 to 7, about a little girl whose grandmother wants to teach her how to weave, but she wants to play outside and enjoy nature. When she returns home, there’s a rug that’s been woven that has all the colors and shapes of nature and Rose decides she too wants to learn how to weave. Jabberwocky Books has published a book specifically for the pre-teen who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and there’s an estimated one in one hundred that do. Stuck by Rhonda Martin, M.A., ($15.77) and illustrated by Denis Proulx is about a seven year-old girl who gets “stuck” on things like cleaning her hands, the use of words, and even saying goodbye to her parents. The book will help both the OCD child and their parent deal with the disorder and to know that they are not facing it alone.

Kids Can Press is a publishing dynamo for children’s books. For those ages 3 to 5 there’s My Name is Elizabeth! Written by Annika Dunkler and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe ($13.95) about a little girl who loves her name and does not want to be called anything else like Liz or Lissie. It’s very funny in a sweet way. From the same publisher and also for this age group is Hocus Pocus by Sylvie Desrosiers and illustrated by Remy Simard ($14.95) about a battle of wits between a magician’s rabbit named Hocus Pocus and the magician’s grumpy canine called Dog. Dog wants to sleep. Hocus Pocus wants to eat carrots. The two have a merry time trying to outwit each other. This age group will also enjoy The Call of the Cowboy by David Bruins and illustrated by Hilary Leung ($16.95) about a little cowboy who has to learn that all the noise he is making is annoying his friends, especially a bear and a ninja. They go off on their own and he discovers the value of being quiet around others who return to be his friends again.

For others, Kids Can Press, has some educational books that are also fun to read. Ages 4 to 7 or so will enjoy Look at That Building! A First Book of Structures by Scot Ritchie ($16.95) that’s a brightly illustrated introduction to basic construction concepts of walls, floors and roofs, as well as the many different kinds of structures there are, even in nature. Basic concepts of physical science and space are explained in Motion, Magnets and More by Adrienne Mason will illustrations by Claudia Davila ($18.95). Any parent who works in these fields will want to share this with their child. That’s how young scientists and engineers are guided. And breathes there a child who is not fascinated by dinosaurs? From its series, Tales of Prehistoric Life, there’s Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton, illustrated by the author and Jim W.W. Smith ($16.95) and when I say “illustrated” I mean absolutely extraordinary artwork that brings that lost era alive. The story is a real adventure.

Young Adult

For young adults, there’s a graphic novel, The Sign of the Black Rock by Scott Chantler ($17.95, Kids Can Press) from the Three Thieves series, part two. Told comic book style, it is a story of friendship, betrayal, and escape—all on one dark and stormy night as Dessa, Topper and Fisk continue their search from Grayfalcon in the hope he will lead them to Dessa’s brother. It’s a long night at Black Rock Inn, only to come face-to-face with their pursuer, Captain Drake. It’s a page turner. Just published in November by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group comes Snow in Summer: The Tale of an American Snow White by Jane Yolen ($16.95) in which the fairy tale is turned into a modern, rather grim story of young Summer, a girl growing up in West Virginia who loses her mother and her baby in childbirth, followed by her father’s marriage to a step-mother with a very dark side to her personality. Yolen has authored more than three hundred books, has won a heap of awards, and knows how to spin a tale. The Sea Wall by Leslie Ann Keatley ($11.99, Arbor Books, softcover) is a timely novel set in the fictional town of Moss Ridge, California, where 17 year-old Audrey Kelly finds herself the target of a group of bullies known as the Cheerleaders. Fed up with being a victim, Audrey sets out on a campaign of revenge against the group’s leader, Caroline, but her so-called harmless pranks get out of hand. The novel demonstrates what can happen when frustration and anger get out of control and how dangerous such aggression can be. The book works just as well for an older reader, too.

A new Christmas-themed story is The Taste of Snow by Stephen V. Masse ($20.00, Good Harbor Press, Medford, MA) is ideal for ages 8 through 14. It takes the reader to an Alpine wonderland, Gartendorf, Austria, just days before the Feast of Saint Nicholas where eleven-year-old Nicole Kinders has stopped at Boznik’s market stall on the way to school so her younger sister, Ashley, can buy a sweet. Boznick offers Nicole a candy cane saying, “This is a magic candy cane. The magic will be revealed.” One taste unlocks memories of the most wonderful flavors in her memory. But trouble is waiting when Nicole intervenes in a quarrel between students on the tram home from school. Will the candy cane’s magic work to recapture the joy of the season? You will have to read it to learn. Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang ($14.95, Tanglewood) takes the reader to China in 630 A.D. where Chengli is an orphaned errand boy in Chang’an. At age 13 he feels ready for independence and joins a caravan on the merchant route known as the Silk Road. In part he is searching for a father who disappeared many years earlier. Also on the caravan is a princess and her royal guards. This is a coming of age story filled with adventure and heroism that will delight a young reader. Finally, for lots of fun, there’s Elliott Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster by Carl DiRocco ($8.99, Blue Martin Publications, softcover) in which Elliot, unhappy to be missing events and friends far from the Vermont family cabin on Neshobe Island in the middle of Lake Bomoseen thinks he may have spotted a sea monster and meets Marley “a totally cute girl next door” that turns the summer into an adventure.

Novels, Novels, Novels

David H. Brown puts his experience dealing with Washington, D.C. agencies, taps the current interest evoked by the forthcoming election, and then hypothesizes that would happen if an act of terrorism killed the incoming and outgoing presidents and vice presidents on Inauguration Day! The succession would go to the Speaker of the House and next to the President of the Senate Pro Tempore, but neither is available to serve. Instead, a new Speaker is named and she is given the oath of office, vowing revenge for the perpetrators. You’re not likely to put down Next in Line to the Oval Office ($25.99, but only $16.30 direct from Author House, also available as an e-book) as the search is on to track down the killers. A very timely novel, indeed!


There is a gusher of softcover novels available and, in no particular order, there’s It’s a Waverly Life by Maria Murnane ($14.95, Amazon Encore), a sequel to “Perfect on paper: The (Mis)adventures of Waverly Bryson.” Waverly is a popular blogger whose fans call her an ‘American Bridget Jones.’ Busy with her dating advice blog, Waverly has also fallen in love with Jake McIntyre, a physical therapist for the NBA in Atlanta. Having had one broken heart with a previous romance, she is struggling. Life is getting very complicated for Waverly and if this sounds like ‘chick-lit’, it is. The girls will love this one and, no doubt, A Pinch of Love by Alicia Bessette ($15.00, Plume) who tells a warm-hearted story about the young widow of a Katrina volunteer who forms an unlikely friendship with Ingrid her 9-year-old neighbor. Rose Ellen ‘Zell’ Roy is still morning the death of her husband Nick who died on a relief mission. She has taken up baking to pass the time and has set her eye on winning the grand prize to donate in Nick’s honor. The theme of female friendship is explored in Inseparable by Dora Helt, as translated by Jamie Lee Searle ($14.95, Amazon Crossing, also available as an e-book) Life can be complex. Christine’s best friend ran off with her now ex-husband and she is pretty sure she doesn’t need another BFF in her life. Still reeling from her recent divorce, she is hardly looking forward to her upcoming 44th birthday. Then her editor assigns her to write a column about what she’s been through and, when she does, her two other friends hatch a plan, a surprise party, to snap her out of her doldrums. Believe it or not, this is often a laugh-out-loud story as it we discover how important friendships are. This one is a winner!


For the guys (and girls) who prefer some mystery, a bit of violence, and psychological complexity, there’s Already Gone by John Rector ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). Rector’s complex characters and intricate plots have won him plaudits from the media, fellow writers, and a burgeoning fan base. This is his third novel. His main character is Jake Reese, who is teaching writing at a university in the Southwest, has been married to Diane for just over a month, and has a mild drinking problem more or less under control. What could go wrong? Everything. After leaving a local bar to head home, he is assaulted y thugs who do not take his money or car, but just his wedding ring and the finger it was on! The local police are not much help, so he decides to track down his attackers himself. Then he receives news that his wife’s body was found in a car wreck. In his previous life, Jake was a criminal and he reaches out to the crime boss who mentored him for help. Suffice to say this novel has more twists and turns than you can imagine, all quite gripping and worth reading. Another mystery story is Waterfall by David Zini ($17.95, Langdon Street Press) in which police investigators Mark Truitt and Jamie Littlebird are trying to unravel a succession of deaths at Midwest Research Labs, a Minnesota business. The finger points to the Pallidin family that owns the labs, but are they villains or just pawns in a deadly game to control the world’s population? At the center of the story is a vicious contract killer with total disdain for humanity. Scary? You bet!

That’s it for 2011

Wow! 2011 is in the history books and we will now turn our attention to 2012, a year for a national election and who knows what else? In terms of new fiction and non-fiction, I can predict the usual deluge because there is no end to storytelling and to books of all kinds that help us ensure good health, run our businesses better, and provide insight into history. Others teach us about cooking and baking, child care and parenting, and every other aspect of life. Some ask me if ebooks will replace traditional ones. My answer is no. Nothing can replace a book you can hold in your hands and then put on a shelf to revisit.

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