Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bookviews - February 2012

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

In my parent’s home, the living room was a library. One wall was floor to ceiling shelves and among the books was the complete set of the Harvard Classics, the books that constituted an education in Western philosophy, history and literature. Another shelf was for the Encyclopedia America. These sets of books were very popular in pre-television America as was the Book of the Month Club. Americans, whether they graduated high school or went to college, could self-educate and many did. Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America by Daniel J. Flynn ($27.95, ISI Books, Wilmington, DE) looks at the lives of people like historians Will and Ariel Durant, Mortimer Adler’s Great Books movement, economist Milton Friedman, longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer, and science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’ to reveal the impact they had on the generations of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s before television became the drug of choice. As Flynn puts it, “Stupid is the new smart” and anyone watching TV these days or observing the too-connected and too-distracted newer generations would be hard pressed to disagree. These are delightful, brief biographies of people from humble backgrounds who became major movers and shakers in the intellectual life of the nation.

Michael Grabell has authored Money Well Spent? ($28.99, Public Affairs) and I would suggest you save some money by taking a pass on it. It is, in essence, an apologia for the Obama administration’s massive stimulus effort, but to his credit, even Grabell says “For all its promise, the federal stimulus package became one of the most reviled pieces of legislation in recent memory.” Conservatives hated the massive outlay of billions, seeing it as a form of political patronage for unions and others who got a piece of it. Liberals thought that not enough money was spent. Grabell makes a mighty effort to justify it, but in the end, it just doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. It is not the government’s job to pick winners or losers. The banking system was bailed out because it could not be allowed to fail. The stimulus just rewarded states and cities that had, like the federal government, spent too much, signed civil service union contracts that were far more rewarding than private citizens could expect from their jobs, and wasted money on various projects. The stimulus spent $825 billion with little to show for it except an increase in the largest debt in the nation’s history.

An interesting book that may well save you money is Scammed by Chistopher Elliott ($24.95, Wiley) in which he reveals that many kinds of scams that exist to part you from your hard earned cash. Most of us are familiar with the scams out of Nigeria and, increasingly, other foreign nations, but Elliot provides an introduction to scams that include non-existent charities or by companies that sell you their products. He advises you avoid “gift cards” that rake in $90 billion annually, but only 7% are redeemed! Fake liquidation sales are another. Marking up the price of a product and then announcing a sale is yet another. If you read this book, you will no doubt conclude its price was well worth the money it will save you. Guy P. Harrison, a freelance writer, has gathered together 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) that is an entertaining look at why some people believe in astrology (instead of astronomy) or are still looking for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Others believe that aliens from outer space helped build the pyramids or their bodies are stored in Area 51. Harrison says that humans are a believing specie and, as such, prone to believe in things that lack any scientific proof and can be absurd. Regrettably, he stumbles when it comes to “global warming”, the greatest hoax of the modern era and he is skeptical of all religious beliefs. Overall it is refreshing to read a skeptic’s views even if some require some more skepticism themselves.

Every so often a really beautifully produced book reaches my desk. A case in point is the Southern Living® Wedding Planner & Keepsake ($29.95, Oxmoor House). It is the perfect gift for the bride-to-be whether they want to splurge or are working with a tight budget. Either way, its advice is excellent and will enable one to stay organized while creating a keepsake. Its lay-flat, concealed wire binder has pockets in which to save business cards, receipts, dress swatches, and other items that add up to memories. It will help keep track of every detail, including checklists and worksheets. It is also wonderful eye candy with more than 175 images, including more than a hundred full-color photos from real, dream weddings across the South. Those girls know how to do weddings!

I suspect that most people have no idea of the sheer immensity of India, but it has long held a fascination for those in the West as an exotic place. One of its gifts to us has been Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the recipient of the Booker Prize, two Academy Awards for the adapted screenplays of “A Room with a View” and “Howard’s End”, and many other awards. Happily, the first collection of stories by this talented writer has been published after nearly ten years. A Lovesong for India: Tales from the East and West ($26.00, Counterpoint Press) debuts this month and each of the stories provides a glimpse into the lives of men and women who call India home. In one, a young girl in pre-Mumbai, then Bombay, leaves a pre-arranged marriage for New York where she meets, falls in love and marries the son of a famous Indian actor. Their return becomes the topic of tabloids. In stories set in India, England and New York City, we are treated to her lifelong meditation on the East and West, and the emotions and experiences that united us across oceans, cultures, and lifetimes.

Editorial Services

Are you writing a book? Need some copywriting or ghostwriting? Could you use a personal writing coach? For these services and everything related to writing, check out which is the website of—guess who?—RON MARR. I have known him for years and he has authored books and written for leading magazines and newspapers. If you want to start a project, are half-way through one and stuck, or need keen judgment regarding a finished one, visit his website. You will be happy you did.

Minding Your Mind

Writers learn to pay attention to what they are thinking and to constantly “feed” their mind with new information and ideas. The process of growing up is one of training the mind to deal with the world, learning what to avoid that might cause injury, learning from experience, and coping with various fears and anxieties. A host of books address how to make your mind a better servant of a better life.

A Better Way to Think: Using Positive Thoughts to Change Your Life by H. Norman Wright ($12.99, Revell, softcover) debuted in October and offers practical and positive steps to create “healthy patterns of self-talk”, discovering how, with time, it is possible to change, and most importantly, gaining control over one’s emotions and behavior. Biblically based, it is a useful book for anyone, but I would think of particular use to those in adolescence or dealing with any stage of maturity. Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train your Brain to get More Done in less Time by Paul Hammerness, MD, and Margaret Moore with John Hanc ($16.95, Harlequin Enterprises, softcover) is the result of the work by a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and a noted executive wellness coach and change specialist, and co-founder of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School. Together they offer a way to overcome mental disorganization and distraction with their often debilitating side-effects of stress, anxiety, frustration, and a sense of frenzy. It is based on neuroscience and their work with people who had had disorganized minds. If this problem sounds like one you have or that of someone you know, this book can be extremely helpful. In a comparable fashion, Chip Conley offers Emotional Equations ($24.00, Free Press) filled with simple formulas that help the reader focus on things they can change in their life while identifying those one can’t. It’s a way of understanding and managing one’s emotional life. There are, as you can see, dozens of such books with, no doubt, more to come. I am sure some do help, but can only report those that are new and available.

Neuroscience is the basis for Allyson Lewis’ new book, The 7 Minute Solution, ($25.00, Free Press). Ms. Lewis is a well known time management expert and motivational speaker and her thesis is that change is often made up of tiny choices and habits that must be made on a daily basis. Employing her technique can, she says, lead to major improvements in any facet of life. My own life is one of a comfortable routine designed to ensure proper nutrition, rest, and a routine that allows maximum performance. Her book appears to confirm these habits of the mind and body. For those “at loose ends” much of the time, this book can prove very helpful. Seeking Enlightenment by Catherine H. Morrison is subtitled “The spiritual journey of a psychotherapist” ($26.99, Two Harbors Press, softcover). She asks if you are frustrated with your spiritual journey, wondering and searching. Through her own story and her professional knowledge and skills, she provides information about one’s emotional evolution and into maturation.

There are few challenges worse than dealing with someone with a mental disorder. It takes a toll on everyone around them. One is “borderline personality disorder” (BPD) and in Compassion for Annie: A Healthy Response to Mental Disorders ($16.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) Marilyn Dowell who describes the behaviors that someone with BPD exhibits through the story of a fictional married couple, chapter by chapter explaining what it is to struggle with the disorder, someone exploring what it is, and how it can be dealt with. Dancing in the Dark: How to Take Care of Yourself When Someone You Love is Depressed 15.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover) by Bernadette Stankard and Amy Viets is a guidebook for those in or out of recovery who live with or care for one of the millions of Americans who battle depression every year. In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in twenty Americans over the age of 12 has suffered from depression. The book offers tried-and-true suggestions, helpful hints, and up-to-date resources for anyone whose life is affected by the depression of another. Breaking Free from Depression: Pathways to Wellness ($21.95, The Guilford Press, softcover) is authored by a leading psychiatrist, Dr. Jesse Wright and his daughter, Dr. Laura McCray, a family physician, both of whom have seen thousands of depressed patients in their practices. They understand that depression is different for everyone and that there is no universal cure. Their book samples the numerous treatments available, allowing the reader to put together a personalized anti-depression action plan. The big softcover outlines six strengths-based treatment methods along with numerous worksheets, questionnaires, and exercises that can guide the reader toward a healthy, successful outcome.

As this was being written, a friend is on a succession of flights from Washington, D.C. to Copenhagen and then to New Orleans. It is part tourist and business travel over a week’s time and he knows how to get through it successfully. This is in sharp contrast to the more than 25 million people who suffer from fear of flying, aerophobia. Flying Fear Free: 7 Steps to Relieving Air Travel Anxiety by Dr. Sandra M. Polino, MD.Ed, Psy.D ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) addresses the fears associated with commercial flights. If you are one of the four million that take one on any given day, the author explores and defines the causes and associated phobias, offering her proven approach (and experience as a former flight attendant). She discusses a number of therapies, stress and relaxation techniques, and behavioral tools to make the experience more comfortable.

Biographies, Memoirs, Etc

I have no idea how many biographies of Adolf Hitler have been published, but there are a lot. R.H.S. Stolfi wanted to write one that would explain why Hitler was so evil. The result was Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny ($27.00, Prometheus Books) and, aside from the fact that he revisits already known facts, the effort to get into Hitler’s demented brain was hardly worth it. Hitler was a very successful nut job who saw himself as Germany’s messiah and who played on that nation’s anger over the outcome of World War One. He had a talent for speaking to groups large and small. But he was still a nut. You don’t have to read this book to come to that conclusion. That such people have risen to positions of power is hardly news. Where mental instability is concerned, the memoir Crazy Enough by Storm Large ($25.00, Free Press) may prove of interest to fans of the rock star or of anyone who finds her story of trying to cope with her mother’s full blown mental illness and making a lot of bad early decisions about her own life, sleeping with strangers, experimenting with drugs, and having no roots. An invitation to sing with a friend’s band opened her life to that of music and gave her the opportunity to pull back from the edge. This is an artist’s journey of self-realization, but it is also a tad raw and crude in ways the younger crowd will like.

It is a great relief to read a memoir that does not involve some kind of confession regarding the numerous ways people find to screw up their lives. Charlie: A Love Story by Barbara Lampert ($14.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) is for anyone who has ever loved a dog and been loved in return. Lampert is a psychotherapist and the best therapy in her life is her Golden Retriever, Charlie. He inspired the author as he overcame numerous health problems, exhibiting a zest for life and courage. The memoir is of Charlie’s last few years. I have a friend who has always had dogs as his companions. He has cared for them and he has seen them die. He has grieved them and he has renewed his life by finding new ones. This is a short, wonderful read. Fat is the New 30 by Jill Conner Browne ($14.95, Amazon Publishing, softcover) is not really a memoir in the usual sense of the term. It is “The Sweet Potato Queen’s Guide to Coping with (the Crappy Parts of) Life. The author aka the Queen, has a large following with 6,200 chapters in 22 countries around the world based on her previous books. She started her reign in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1982 when she and some friends decided to join the local St. Patrick’s Day parade. Since 1999, she has penned one bestseller after another. This new collection of essays will be released in March with an official publication date of April. Suffice to say, she knows how to keep the reader entertained and passes along a lot of wisdom as she does.

Anyone who has had the good fortune to grow up in a small town will thoroughly enjoy Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece, PhD ($15.95, Five Star Publications, softcover). In this case it is DeGraff, Ohio and this is a memoir of his life as a newspaper boy whose route included Bernie Jones, confined to a wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy, but with an indomitable spirit that inspired Rick who went on to become an educator, starting as a school teacher and ultimately becoming a university professor, provost, and president of the University of the Ozarks. Everyone’s childhood memories are specific to themselves, but the author’s memories have universality to them that evoke gentler times and better values than are found in present times. For Rick, his customers on that route were some of his best teachers, but especially Bernie. It’s a heartwarming memoir of a time and place I hope will not be lost to the matrix of digital connections to the world outside.

A new graphic book is out, The Zen of Steve Jobs, by Caleb Melby and JESS3, in collaboration with Forbes Media ($19.95, Wiley, softcover), displays the talents of a freelance writer and a creative agency that specializes in data visualization for major corporate clients. If you grew up reading comic books and are a fan of the late genius behind the success of Apple Computer Company, this story envisions Jobs friendship with a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest, Kobun Chino Otogawa. The story moves back and forward in time from the 1970s to 2011, the year of Job’s death, and the period when Kobun taught Jobs “kinhin”, a walking meditation, as Jobs sought “ma”, the Japanese concept of simplicity. It translated into the design of many Apple products.


I knew early on in life that my mind was not wired for the acquisition or use of mathematics. I am a wordsmith and struggle to this day with the simplest efforts at arithmetic. Oddly, my late father was a Certified Public Accountant and could do sums in his head with ease. Three new books are devoted to this topic.

Colin Pask has authored Math for the Frightened: Facing Scary Symbols and Everything Else That Freaks You Out about Mathematics ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover. It is a noble effort to help the math-challenged and it succeeds. Pask, a mathematician, introduces the reader to the main ideas of mathematics and explains how they are expressed in symbols, explaining how and why they are used. He takes the reader on a trip into the world of mathematics, explaining how it is used in science and elsewhere in ways that makes it a very entertaining and enlightening experience. Math for Life by Jeffrey Bennett ($25.00, Roberts and Company Publishers, Greenwood Village, CO) is subtitled “Crucial ideas you didn’t learn in school.” Bennett presents a wide array of simple math skills that can be used in every day applications, many of which are a mystery to those whose doubt their math skills. In doing so, he shows how math plays a role in everything from taking out a loan to understanding important national issues. It focuses on quantitative thinking, not on solving equations, and offers suggestions on how to improve the teaching of math in schools.

The Glorious Golden Ratio by Alfred S. Posamentier and Igmar Lehman ($27.00, Prometheus Books) is definitely for those who love mathematics, exploring how for centuries mathematicians, scientists, artists and architects have been fascinated by a ratio that is ubiquitous in nature and commonly found across many cultures. It is called “the Golden Ratio” because of its prevalence as a design element and its seemingly universal esthetic appeal. From the ratio of certain proportions of the human body and the heliacal structure of DNA to the design of ancient Greek statues and temples, as well as modern masterpieces, it is a key pattern with endless applications and manifestations.

The Business of Business

America is about freedom, liberty, and that includes the opportunity to become wealthy. This explains why there are so many books devoted to the subject. Here a few of the latest.

Get Rich Click! The Ultimate Guide to Making Money on the Internet by Marc Owtrofsky ($22.99, Free Press) is a classic example of advice by an author, an online pioneer and internet entrepreneur whose various enterprises earn $75 million annually. The author shares the strategies that made him a multimillionaire despite having no technical skills and never creating a single website. There’s no arguing with the fact that the internet has become the most powerful business tool in history while changing how fortunes are made. This book shows the reader how to make money online with no money upfront, how to use readily available apps to save money and make it online, how to effectively use blogs, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and how to buy Internet traffic and resell it for many times your original investment. Creating the right environment to build wealth is the subject of Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link’s new book, Smart Trust: Creating Prosperity, Energy, and Joy in a Low-Trust World ($27.00, Free Press). Covey previously authored a bestseller, “The Speed of Trust” and with his business partner, they share principles and anecdotes of numerous “outliers” of success from people and organizations that utilize the techniques they describe. Following the 2008 financial crisis, it was obvious to them that the greatest challenge to world economic growth was the subsequent loss of confidence and trust. They identify the loss of trust as a key factor in the current malaise and impediment to the economy.

On an individual basis, Mary Hunt offers 7 Money Rules for Life: How to Take Control of Your Financial Future ($17.99, Revell). In an economy where credit card debt has reach $828 billion and 77% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and 43% have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, this is a very timely book. Too many Americans have not been taught how to handle their personal finances and this book seeks to remedy that, especially for those wallowing in debt. Consider, too, that the current president has increased the national debt more than all previous presidents combined! The rules she offers are simple and sensible. This book may just be the best investment anyone coping with debt can read and apply to their own life.

Those in management positions will benefit from 2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals by Paul Falcone ($11.95, Amacom, softcover). The author says “Motivation is internal, and I can’t motivate your any more than you can motivate me, but as a leader within your organization, you’re responsible for creating an environment in which people can motivate themselves.” This is a handy and sage guide coaches the reader on how to reinforce core competencies and he critical characteristics for concise, compelling, and actionable goals, using tried and true phrases that managers can use to encourage higher levels of individual accomplishment. The “Knock’em Dead” series have proven helpful addressing various aspects of business and the newest addition is for those seeking a new job. How to Write a Killer Resume: The Ultimate Job Search Guide 2012 by Martin Yate, CPC, teaches how to turn job interviews into job offers. Yates is a leading expert in the world of job search and career management, the author of several books in the series. In a difficult job environment, this is the one book I would recommend to anyone seeking a new job for its advice on how to write a resume, get job interviews, and negotiating the best offer. This book, now in its 26th edition, is packed with the latest online tools, tips, and tricks to land the job you want.

Economics is often called the “dismal science” and William A. Barnett, the Oswald Distinguished Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Kansas, Director at the Center for Financial Stability in New York and a senior fellow at the ICS Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, has authored Getting It Wrong: How Faulty Monetary Statistics Undermine the Fed, the Financial System, and the Economy ($35.00, MIT Press, softcover). This is not light reading and not directed to the general reader, dealing as it does with economic measurement, arguing that governments, corporations, and even household lack the requisite information to judge systemic risk. Better data could have signaled the misperceptions and preventing the erroneous systemic-risk assessments that imploded the financial system in 2008. At the heart of this book is his assertion that the U.S. Federal Reserve has been providing inaccurate monetary statistical data. It is a worse case toxic mix.

Kid’s Books

Not too many books for the very young and teens of late, but it’s early in the year. Howard B. Wigglebottom is back in Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Sportsmanship: Winning Isn’t Everything by Howard Binkow and illustrated by Sue Cornelison ($15.00, Thunderbolt Publishing, www.wedolisten,com) Aimed at those age 4-8 years old and especially those who think they have to win every time and are angry and unhappy when they don’t. Told through an amusing text, supported by lively artwork, this book reflects the importance of being a team player and the ideals of good sportsmanship. It’s a great way to impart these lessons. My only concern is that winning is an important component of success in life. In a similar fashion, a series written and illustrated by Susan Castriota teaches valuable life lessons in Wilson Gets Adopted and Wilson Learns Manners ($12.95 each, available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon) Wilson is a poodle who was adopted by the author and in both books he and his doggie friends learns to appreciate his good luck and the importance of good manners to get through life smoothly. These two books are aimed at the fourth grade reading level. The author is a talented artist. They are, as you might imagine, a delightful way to impart some lifelong values and one cannot start too young to do that.

A favorite publisher of mine is American Girl ( and they have kicked off 2012 with a number of books. Their “McKenna” series by Mary Casanova for those eight and up, illustrated by Brian Hailes, features ten year old McKenna in two books, McKenna and McKenna, Ready to Fly ($12.95 each) In the former, McKenna who has always done well in school and gymnastics begins to find that, in fourth grade, learning has become more challenging. She is helped by a wonderful tutor who happens to be in a wheelchair. An injury in gymnastics sidelines McKenna and she must reacquire her confidence and move on. In the latter story, her cast is coming off and she must learn how to help others conquer their fears and deal with other’s jealousies. Take the Challenge! Crazy Challenges and Silly Thrills to Explore Your Talents and Everyday Skills by Apryl Lundsten and illustrated by Galia Bernstein ($9.95) is also for those eight years old and up. Through a series of fast and fun games, readers learn how to find all kinds of ways to stretch their skills and explore their talents with more than a hundred different challenges. This book is a great confidence builder for little girls.

American Girl is famous for creating characters sustained through a number of books. In August 2011 it introduced two girls of different races in 1853 New Orleans, Cecile Ray and Marie-Grace are part of a six-book series to demonstrate the power of friendship through this historical figures who reach across boundaries of race and culture to help their families, friends, and community during a time of great need. This is an inspirational series and one I am pleased to recommend.

The Jerk Magnet by Melody Carlson ($12.00, Revell, softcover) is aimed at today’s teenage girls. When Chelsea Martin’s future stepmother helps transform her from a gawky and geeky girl into the hottest girl at her new school she discovers that her new look is attracting lots of guys who have one thing in common; they’re jerks. Being the center of attention also gets in the way of finding a good friend to other girls. When a great guy catches her eye, Chelsea must come up with a way to get his attention or will her new image ruin everything? Carlson has authored more than 200 books and shows her fine hand in this one, providing inspiration and worthwhile learning experiences.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Every so often you pick up a novel that is so authentic, so well paced, so filled with details that can only be drawn from the author’s actual experience that it draws you into its plot so swiftly that you have to know how it ends because the characters have become real for you. Imagine, then, if al Qaeda in 2002 had gotten its hands on a small Soviet-era nuclear device intended to be used in the event of a conflict with NATO. That is the plot of Barbarossa by Charles Faddis, ($14.95, Orion Strategic Services, Edgewater, MD) a retired CIA officer who spent twenty years in the Near East and South Asia, working against terrorist groups, rogue states, and WMD smuggling networks. Not every former clandestine agent turns out to be a skilled novelist, but Faddis is. He has four prior novels to his credit. He takes us inside the CIA as they discover via drone surveillance that the nuke has been acquired and being moved to an area in Iraq under the control of al Qaeda. From there on a special operations team must be put together, bringing the main character of the story, Bill Boyle, and his longtime girlfriend, Aphrodite, a former Greek terrorist in her own right. Set mostly in the Near East, the novel provides a powerful and utterly frightening insight to the minds of Islamic terrorists then and now. It also serves as a powerful reminder that the clandestine service is the front line of defense against the nation’s enemies. The novel is available via

J.A. Jance has been entertaining readers for years with her Ali Reynolds series, the J.P. Baumont series, the Joanna Brady series, and four interrelated southwestern thrillers featuring the Walker family. How does she do it? Talent and hard work! Her latest Ali Reynolds’ novel is Left for Dead ($25.99, Touchstone Books, imprint of Simon & Schuster), just out this month. Set in Arizona, along a desolate border plagued by illegal immigrant crossings and an escalating drug war, when one of Ali’s classmates from the Arizona Police Academy is gunned down during a seemingly routine traffic stop, she rushes to the hospital where Santa Cruz deputy Jose Reyes clings to life. She meets her friend, Sister Anselm, who is serving as a patient advocate for another seriously injured victim. Suffice to say, like all good mysteries, this one involves characters with whom you identify and events that unravel in surprising ways, all the time avoiding becoming more drug cartel victims themselves. Ireland in1956 is the time and setting for Frank Delaney’s The Last Storyteller ($26.00, Random House). It was a time when Ireland was impoverished, not just financially, but emotionally and intellectually. The struggle for independence from England had gone on for decades and would continue for decades, but it is the Ireland in which Ben McCarthy lives and contemplates his life. He yearns for carefree former days and for Venetia, the girl now married to another man. Entangled with an IRA gun-runner, Ben must find his way toward a better life, unencumbered by his past and his present concerns. Delaney is an acclaimed writer, born in Tipperary, Ireland, but now living in the U.S. This novel is the third in a series, the first two of which garnered high praise. Delaney is, himself, a master storyteller.

Another thriller asks what happens when the world’s economic system collapses. Dan Romain provides his answer in The Quaker State Affair ($22.95, Two Harbors Press) in a thriller that seems ripped from the headlines and will not let you stop reading as it presents a world in which oil prices are skyrocketing, nuclear secrets are stolen, and events begin to come together to undermine the global system based largely on trust as money moves at lightning speed from bank to bank, et cetera. The one man whom the government turns in the crisis is a physicist who wants nothing to do with it. America’s salvation or ruin hangs in the balance. It should not surprise you that the author was among those who predicted the 2008 economic meltdown or that he build one of the most successful insurance firms in the country. A combination of experience and talent results in this novel. There’s excitement to be found in Code Blood by Kurt Kamm ($14.95, MCM Publishing, softcover) that connects the lives of a fire paramedic, a Chinese research students with the rarest blood in the world, and the blood-obsessed killer who stalks her. The story opens when Colt Lewis, a young Los Angeles County fire paramedic responds to a fatal car accident where the victim dies in his arms. Her foot has been severed, but is nowhere to be found. In the week that follows, he risks his career to find the victim’s identity and her missing foot. It leads him to an underworld of body part dealers and underground Goth clubs. The sense of reality Kamm evokes has been the mark of his first two novels, this one, and the one he’s working on. Another novel also deals with body parts. It’s Tessa Harris’ The Anatomist’s Apprentice ($15.00, Kensington, softcover), the first of a “Dr. Thomas Silkstone” mystery series. This novel is set in 18th century England that combines that historical setting with a forensic investigation of the death of Sir Edward Crick, late citizen of Oxfordshire. He was a dissolute young man, mourned only by his sister and, when her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks the help of Dr. Silkstone, a pioneering forensic detective from Philadelphia. The author will make you familiar with the world of the laboratory, scalpels, dissections, and other elements that will keep anyone who enjoys today’s “CSI” television shows highly entertained.

Historical fiction has the advantage of being based on actual personalities and events. Erasmus: The Man Who Laid the Egg—Luther, the Man Who Hatched It by Barth Hoogstraten ($28.00, Two Harbors Press) examines the lives of this rivals of the Reformation Movement and how their personal debate nearly destroyed the Catholic Church, at the time the world’s greatest empire. It transports the reader back to the 16th century and tells of Erasmus’ effort to reform the Church from the inside, arguing his belief in humanism, and of Luther, a fellow priest and scholar, who thought the Church could not be reformed from the inside and had become so corrupt a new system of belief in Christianity had to replace it. Anyone who enjoys history and particularly this portion that transformed it will enjoy this chapter in which two brilliant and diverse minds eventually became adversaries in the greatest debate of that era.

I am at a loss to describe Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot ($14.00, Black Cat, softcover) which is set in a future where the distinctions between nature, humanity and technology have all blurred. It is called absurdist fiction, satire, and no doubt a lot of other things. The author has been compared with Vonnegut and Barthelme, and praised by Tom Robbins, the author of “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and other novels. It has been called “speculative madness” by Kirkus Reviews. It is, suffice to say, a very bizarre future and, if this kind of thing interests you, it will more than get the job done.

That’s it for February! Come back in March to learn about the new novels and non-fiction books, some of which will prove helpful while others will simply entertain. Tell your friends, family and co-workers about