Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bookviews - January 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

There are so many pressing issues facing Americans these days that we are fortunate that 2013 begins with a number of books that address and clarify them.

The first of five volumes, America: The Grand Illusion—Book I, Orphans of the Storm by Jeffrey Bennett represents a herculean task he set for himself to bring together the defining documents that set in motion the creation of America, going back to the Magna Charta in 1215 and moving forward through 1620 as men of extraordinary courage and vision rebelled against the world of their time, filled with monarchies and restraints on freedoms, and sought to build a better world in a place called America from a wilderness known only to the native tribes that inhabited it. Their achievement is stunning, even to this day. Book I has some familiar documents (that we often have heard of but not read) but there is much that further illuminates them. For example, as Bennett notes “September 25, 1789 – During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as draft would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a ‘bill of rights’ that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens.” And it was a good thing they did! This is a book whose individual elements need to be read as such but which ends up weaving a story of America’s beginnings that seem to have come together as inevitable. It was never inevitable and it is the result of some brilliant minds and brave souls. The book can be purchased from www.the for $22.95 via a credit card and from the publisher, Kettle Moraine, Ltd., PO Box 579, Litchfield Park, Arizona 85340, for $29.95 by check (includes postage and handling). Anyone who loves America will find this book to be an exciting, inspiring adventure.

Since the late 1980s, Americans and others around the world have been told that the Earth is warming and that “greenhouse gas” emissions, chiefly carbon dioxide, must be reduced to avoid a terrible fate. The fact is, however, that the Earth is has been in one of its periodic cycles for the past sixteen years and it is a cooling, not warming, one. Global warming will go down in the history books as one of the greatest, orchestrated hoaxes to have ever been perpetrated and you can learn the facts in E. Kirsten Peters’ The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals About the Nature of Endless Change ($26.00, Prometheus Books). Dr. Peters is a geologist and geology has a lot to say about the epochs through which the Earth has passed for the 4.5 billion years of its existence. For two hundred years, geologists have been studying the history of the Earth’s dramatic and repeated revolutions, as revealed in the evidence of rocks and landscapes. It is a fallacy to believe that the Earth’s climate has been essentially stable, but it is understandable that people believe this since the human race thrived in the current Holocene epoch of the last 11,500 years that followed the last major ice age. It was not greenhouse gases that brought that ice age to an end. It was, as always, the cycles of the Sun, increasing and decreasing the warming of the planet. Dr. Peters’ book is the most readable and accessible descriptions of the discoveries that, in combination with those of meteorologists, have provided an understanding of those cycles. Dr. Peters says “Because there’s no way to predict complex systems with many feedback influences we don’t understand, there is simply no way to know with certainty what global climate change will be like in twenty-five, fifty, or seventy-five years.” What we do know is that the interval between ice ages averages 11,500 years and the planet is at the end of its current interglacial period.

The month of December was taken up in the Congressional struggle to avoid going over “the fiscal cliff”, a combination of higher tax rates on everyone who has a job or is self-employed and the mandated spending cuts of the “sequestration” that Congress voted for after being unable to come to any agreement on how to deal with an economy that requires the government to borrow $4.8 billion every day! The theme the President has been talking about is “fairness” and his belief that taxing the “rich”, those earning $250,000, to solve the need for more revenue. In truth, the few billion that might be raised would keep the government going for about a week or so. If you want to learn the truth, however, you can and should read Stephen Moore’s new book, Who’s the Fairest of Them All? The Truth About Opportunity, Taxes, and Wealth in America ($21.40, Encounter Books). It is blessedly short, but filled with the facts about our present economic mess and why raising taxes on everyone is the well-known worst way to get out of a recession. Moore is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and a frequent contributor on CNBC-TV and Fox News. He has a gift for making complex economic issues easy to understand. Putting more and more people on government programs like food stamps or eliminating the requirement that those on welfare seek work has resulted in a growing number of the poor. In a nation where 47% of its citizens pay no taxes at all, the need to reform the tax code and repair “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare is the only way to get the nation out of the deeper and deeper debt which has been increased $6 trillion just during the President’s first term.

Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds by Jim Sterba ($26.00, Crown Publishers) will astonish most readers with its abundant facts about the reforestation of a stretch of land between Maine and Virginia, as well as other parts of the nation, a process that has been taking place since the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth. It is about a part of the nation’s history that is widely misunderstood as early Americans pushed west beyond the Appalachians both the early history of deforestation was reversed by nature. As suburbs developed where Americans could escape cities, yet take a short commute to their jobs, nature ensured the growth of wildlife creatures such as deer, bears, coyotes and turkeys, among many others literally adapted to life and thrived! It examines the way Americans now live isolated from nature in homes that provide a multitude of ways to enjoy the forest in which they live and how the increase in wildlife has created problems for the millions who no longer raise livestock or grow their own crops for food.

I recommend that everyone read this intriguing look at modern life.

A new year means a new edition of The World Almanac® and Book of Facts and it is now available ($12.99, The World Almanac®, softcover). I know that most folks go to Google to get facts, but the Almanac offers the value of bringing the most important facts together between its covers. In addition, it chronicles 2012’s most notable stories, people and places. (It is available as an ebook as well.) The 2012 edition boasts brand-new features that include the 2012 Election Results, as well as its annual sections like “Year in Pictures”, “Offbeat News Stories”, and “Time Capsule” that recount the last year. There are sections on last year’s sports including the 2012 Olympic Games. All the key facts are literally at your fingertips from the world at a glance to health and vital statistics, the economy and employment, et cetera! For students or anyone else, it is a terrific resource. Another fact-filled book is John Withington’s Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues, and Other Catastrophes ($14.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover). No question that Hurricane Sandy was a super-storm and did a lot of damage, but this book demonstrates that all manner of horrible weather-related and other events have filled history and, in the process, blighted and snuffed out the lives of millions of people. This is a useful book to read in order to put current events in context.

The reelection of America’s first black President was a historic event in 2012, but the history of blacks in America is filled with such events and Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Events by Dr. Jessie Carney Smith ($24.95, Visible Ink, softcover) is testimony to their achievements. Now in its third edition, it is 800+ pages that celebrate African-Americans from all aspects of the nation’s society, including the arts, entertainment, business, civil rights, education, government, invention, journalism, religion, science, sports, music and more. The book itself is an achievement and is filled with surprises such as the black explorer who joined the famed Lewis and Clark expedition. As taught in our schools, there is little emphasis on the facts presented in this book. For young black students, it is a treasure trove of information about black history and surely an inspiration.

The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World—The Best of Ralph: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities ($50.00, Mho & Mho Works, Box 16719, San Diego, CA 92176, a boxed set of two volumes) drawn from the Fessenden Review, famed for its saucy take on books and the publishing industry that featured reviews by media writers at the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Library Journal, and on National Public Radio among others. The Fessenden Review had too many creditors to survive, but it made a return online and to date more than 230 issues have been posted, receiving between 10,000 and 20,000 hits a day. For the lover of books, philosophy and the humanities, this two-volume set will be a treasure that will offer countless hours of enjoyment.

I am a fan of books that provide entertainment and information that is often called trivia. One such book is How Long Can a Fly Fly? 175 Answers to Possible and Impossible Questions about Animals by Lars-Ake Janzon ($12.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover). The author is the on-call biologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History and, over the past decade, he has researched the fun facts in the book in response to the questions he has received. The answers involve more than animals to include insects as well.  If you ever wondered if fish can swim backwards or whether a mosquito hit by a rain drop will die, this book will provide the answer along with a lot of other interesting and entertaining information. If, by chance, you have questions about chickens other than how to prepare one for dinner, then Chickens: Their Natural and Unnatural Histories by Janet Lembke ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing) is the book you have been waiting for. The award-winning author of nineteen books, she knows how to pull together a lot of information and, it turns out, chickens have quite a history. Lembke surveys chickens in ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 19th century and modern times. It is, in many ways, an amazing story.

If you have trouble figuring out what people are actually telling you, then I recommend you pick up a copy of The Secrets of Body Language: An Illustrated Guide to Knowing What People Are Really Thinking and Feeling by Phillippe Turchet ($14.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover). In poker body language is called “tells” by which one player can deduce what kind of hand another has, but in ordinary life, we try to perceive what others are thinking by picking up whatever clues they body language can suggest. Since we do this ourselves, the books tells you what kind of negative, positive, neutral or mixed messages we are sending those around us. Filled with illustrations, you can learn how to read visible and hidden emotions, what the hands have to say and gestures that convey a message. The author has spent the last twenty years developing these insights and they can improve your own body language as well as interpret other’s.

Getting Down to Business Books

There are only a few new books on business topics as the year begins. What Management Is: How It Works and Why it’s Everyone’s Business by Joan Magretta ($26.00, Free Press) is an excellent guide that will help any reader understand what it takes to make an organization perform. Published initially in 2002, it has been reissued with a new preface by its author. It presents the basic principles of management simply, explains why you need a business model and a strategy, and why it is impossible to manage without the right performance measures. It is a beginner’s guide, and a very good one. The author is a former editor at the Harvard Business Review and has boiled all that she has learned over the years into a simple, clear volume, explaining both the logic of successful organizations and how that logic is applied in practice.

In these days when the Internet and social media have transformed out to market goods and services, companies are learning how they can grow bigger and faster by “reversing their business plan.” Start at the End by Dave Kavinsky ($22.95, Wiley), the cofounder of GrowThink, a consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and business owners identify and pursue new opportunities, has written a book for anyone that wants to sell millions of your product, expanding operations to a new location, and generate more profits, His book offers a unique approach and action steps to redevelop your business plan and readers will learn how to re-create your long-term vision and then make continuous progress in achieving that vision while continuing to hit your short-term goals. His book offers inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who have achieved success while providing easy-to-follow exercises and next steps.

Many people these days are turning to writing to generate income and to satisfy the itch to write a non-fiction book or novel. The publishing industry is changing rapidly these days, from self-publishing opportunities to major publishers purchasing self-publishing firms as a pipeline to acquiring books they can turn into bestsellers. Writers, however, even if they have been professionals for many years, are learning there are all manner of new rules to the game, particularly if one is seeking to secure a mainstream publisher. Jennifer Lyons is well respected as a literary agent with her own international agency. She has written The Business of Writing: Professional Advice on Proposals, Publishers, Contracts, and More for the Aspiring Writer ($19.95, Skyhorse Publishing). For anyone with aspirations to be published, I would heartily recommend reading this book and absorbing its advice. The book is enhanced by personal essays and interviews from a wide range of publishing experts, published authors, an ebooks editor, translators, a magazine editor, agents, an expert on self-publishing, and many others who will provide the kind of insider knowledge and insight that could take years to learn. A good companion book for beginning writers is by Stuart Horwitz. Blueprint Your Bestseller, ($16.00, Penguin Perigee, softcover) lays out his method to take a text from first drafts to a successful, published book. Asserting that every book can be broken down into individual scenes, the author describes how to identify each one, put them in order, and thus be prepared to construct a finished book. The first to say it is not easy Horwitz has a proven track record for helping writers.

War as a Human Enterprise

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict the nation engaged into until World Wars One and Two. Some 700,000 men died with the South losing far more than the North. It kept the Union together, but at a terrible price and it is an interesting aspect of it that it is reenacted to this day. Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors ($34.95, Merrell, London and New York) features the photographs of Mark Elson and a text by Jeannine Stein with a foreword by James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. The Civil War ended in 1865 just 72 years before I was born, so in terms of a generation or so, it is not ancient history, but one of the most interesting aspects of it are the groups that gather on its battlefields to reenact it, devoting themselves to learning its history down to the smallest details of uniforms and weapons. From Pennsylvania to Georgia and beyond, these living historians keep this history alive and this book is the most extraordinary collection of photos of real people representing those who fought or witness the great battles of that conflict. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in that conflict and a lesson about it that is quite unlike traditional books of history, bringing its participants to life again.

World War Two was captured by the photos of John (Jock) Candler, MD, MPH, who takes the reader on an emotional journal behind the front lines. As a conscientious objector, Cobb volunteered as an American Field Service ambulance driver, serving from 1942 to 1944, saving lives when and where he could. Fragments of Peace in a World at War ($19.95, animist Press) is the story in text and 107 b/w photos of Cobb’s experiences, beginning with his training in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria where he shows what life was like among the Arabs and then onto the North Africa desert war from Egypt to Tunisia from March to October 1943 and then onto the Italian campaign. The book and its photos focus on the lives of the men fighting it and the civilians who had endure and survive it. It is quite extraordinary in its own way and a reminder not just of that increasingly distant time but how contemporary it all seems today.

Perhaps the greatest difference today is the creation of Special Forces, the Green Berets, who came about during the Kennedy administration. In The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers, the Green Berets ($26.00, Free Press), Tony Schwalm takes the reader inside the grueling training regimen endured by every Army officer who aspires to become a leader in the Special Forces and explores the important, stand-apart role these highly specialized forces play in today’s often unconventional wars. The author is a retired lieutenant colonel with the Special Forces and a veteran of multiple combat deployments around the world. As Douglas Waller, an author of several books on military affairs, says, “The Guerrilla Factor isn’t just an account of how Green Berets are made. It’s a highly personal, compellingly written and thought-provoking story of one man’s journal from conventional soldier to unconventional warrior.” To understand this aspect of today’s wars, this book is a major contribution and, I might add, a real page-turner.

Memoirs, Biographies, Real People

I have always had a fondness for biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs because they deal with the lives of real people. A recent biography of John Quincy Adams, recommended here, was a lesson in the early history of the new republic that was fascinating.

Biographies are often testimonies to the way a single man can change the course of history and Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice by Larry S. Gibson ($28.00, Prometheus Books) is an excellent example of that because Marshall transformed the nation’s legal landscape by challenging segregation, ending this backlash against the laws that freed the slaves, but left them second-class citizens for decades, indeed, for nearly a century after the end of the Civil War. Marshall won twenty-nine of thirty-three cases before the Supreme Court, was a federal appeals court judge, served as the U.S. solicitor general, and, for twenty-four years, sat on the Supreme Court. His biographer shows him to be a fascinating man of contrasts who fought for racial justice without becoming a racist. This is the only biography of Marshall to have been endorsed by his immediate family and anyone interested in law, civil rights, and American history will find much here to enjoy and celebrate. A bit further back in U.S. history, Prometheus Books offers Dear Mr. Longfellow: Letters To and From the Children’s Poet by Sydelle Pearl ($18.00, softcover) One of the most famed American poets of the late 19th century and his name is now enshrined among the great ones the nation produced. In his time he was known as the children’s poet because school children memorized his poems and they wrote hundreds of letters to him from all over the nation. The life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is charmingly told by drawing on the letters he received and those he wrote in response. His most famous poem was “The Village Blacksmith” with its opening line, “Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.” Here’s an opportunity to visit a distant, less complex time in the history of our nation.

Some humans demonstrate an extraordinary capacity to survive the worst that life can hand them and Ping Fu, the author of Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, ($26.95, Penguin Portfolio) is testimony to that. It begins when eight-year-old Ping is living a privileged life in Shanghai, China, with her intellectual father and loving mother. All that ended with the Cultural Revolution let loose by Mao Tse Sung, the communist dictator. Her family was deemed an enemy of the state and forcibly split as Ping was placed in a camp with her four-year-old sister. She persisted despite horrid conditions and was briefly detained by authorities again after her college thesis on infanticide was objected to. She persevered during the Revolution that affected 36 million Chinese and in which three million were killed or maimed. Her salvation came with exile and, in 1984, she arrived in the United States with just $80 in her pocket. Despite that, she would graduate in 1988 with a degree in computer science from the University of California, San Diego, working with a team that created NCSA Mosaic, later known as the Netscape Web browser. She is the founder and CEO of Geomatic, a global technology company, was an Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year, among many other achievements. This is an inspiring book and a look inside the early decades of Communist China.

Peggy Parsons Sands tells a personal, heartwarming story of a boy born with developmental disabilities and the family that loved and supported him. A Cup of Joe ($14.95, softcover), says the author was her way of showing everyone “that mental retardation isn’t a curse or a hardship, and that people with special needs are just like everyone else. My brother Joe had good days and bad, but mostly he was a funny guy who got into some crazy situations.” A collection of short stories, anecdotes, and recollections of her brother, born with brain damage, relates a story familiar to many other families with the same experiences and an insight for those who do not. Zoo Station, ($12.99, Zest Books, softcover), a memoir by “Christine” is written as a cautionary story for younger readers, but older ones will find it of interest as well. For the author, growing up in the 1970s, Berlin was a struggle. Her family was poor, her father was abusive, and she never seemed to fit in at school. By the age of 12, Christine was smoking pot and drinking and, by 13 she started snorting heroin and going to clubs. By age 14 she was shooting up before school and selling her body to pay for her addiction. It is not a pretty story, but Christine wanted a better life. When first published in Europe in 1978, it became a great success and was made into a popular movie. Even now it will resonate with many younger people and remains relevant when you consider that an estimated 20% of high school students have abused prescription drugs, 12% have been forced to have sex, almost 40% drink alcohol, and that 19% of girls have seriously considered suicide, along with 12% of boys.

An interesting, alarming memoir, Fatlash: Food Police and the Fear of Thin—A Cautionary Tale is by Karen Kataline, ($14.99, Swift Ink Books, softcover) in which she relates being restricted to 500 calories a day as a child and, by age seven forced into the spotlight by her weight-obsessed mother, trapped in a world of pageants, performances, and perpetual hunger. To escape she began using food and weight-gain to shield herself. The media is filled with stories about an obesity epidemic, food regulations, and child beauty pageants. Her memoir is particularly timely and tells the story of an adult who finally came to understand how her experiences affected her. She exposes the consequences of putting children on display and policing what they eat. She urges action against both.  On a happier note, there’s Memories of The Catskills: The Making of a Hotel by Alvin L. Lessor ($16.50, GSL Galactic Publishers, softcover, $9.50 ebook) is a memoir his family asked him to write about his parent’s hotel called the Lesser Lodge in an area of Sullivan County, New York that became famous for the vacationers, mostly Jewish, who went there to enjoy the outdoors, the recreation, the entertainment and the food. What began as a modest house and some out buildings became a resort where unknown newcomers learned their art as entertainers to become stars. From 1922 until it burned down in 1963, Alvin’s life reflected a special time and place.

Deep Thinkers

For those who like to immerse themselves in subjects that challenge the mind there are a number of books that fit that description. For the record, I do not take sides in taking note of these books.

Kore: On Sickness, the Sick, and the Search for the Soul of Medicine by Andrzej Szczeklik ($26.00, Counterpoint Press) examines the connection between sickness and the soul. His first book, “Catharsis”, put him in the ranks of physician-philosophers and this one combines his immersion in art, music, and literature. To that he brings his thoughts on experimental medicine and daily clinical experience. It is a life-affirming work of science, philosophy, art, and spirituality. The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World by Susan M. Schneider ($21.00, Prometheus Books, softcover), an internationally recognized biopsychologist, tells the story of how something so deceptively simple can help make sense of so much. For better or worse, we all learn that there are consequences from the decisions we make and the book addresses how our life experiences teach us to choose between short-term and long-term consequences. Personhood Revisited: Reproductive Technology, Bioethics, Religion and the Law by Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jr., MD, ($19.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) visits the issues involving invitro fertilization. This is his eighth book and reviews his battles with the Vatican, the policy surrounding personhood, and society’s ever-growing ethical questions.

The Inner Philosopher by Lou Marinoff and Daisaku Ikeda ($12.95, Dialogue Path Press, Cambridge, MA, softcover) brings together Marinoff, a professor and chair of philosophy at the City College of New York, and Ikeda who writes and lectures widely on Buddhism, humanism, and global ethics. He heads the Ikeda Center for Peace, He is the founder of Soka Gakkai International, a lay Buddhist organization with twelve million members worldwide. Both share an optimism about humanity’s capacity for improvement and the book examines the many cultural problems throughout the world and the way philosophy can play a role in treating culturally-rooted problems that include, in their view, obesity, bullying, hedonism, and consumerism. The Fact/Faith Debate: Why Science Hasn’t Killed Religion by Jack Gage ($15.99, Two Harbors Press, softcover) looks at the way 18 major Christian religions and 9,000 denominations often lead to conflict, but share common beliefs. Gate pulls together religious history, both ancient and modern, to create an intriguing look at their connections, Doomsday predictions, and creation stories. It is a history lesson and analysis of religion.

Cataract by John Berger with drawings by Selcuk Demirel ($22.00, Counterpoint Press) records the effects of cataract removal operations on each of his eyes and the result is an illuminating take on perception. Berger ponders how we can become accustomed to a loss of sense until the dulled world becomes the norm and how the operation reawakened his sense of sight with an acute attention to sensory detail. This little book beckons us to pay close attention to our own senses and wonder at their significance.

Children’s and Books for Younger Readers

A favorite children’s book series of mine has at its central character, Howard B. Wigglesworth, a young rabbit with whom any child can identify. The artwork rivals the text for fun. In the eleventh book in the series, Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Courage, by Howard Binkow, Reverend Ana, and Jeremy Norton, ($15.00, Thunderbolt Publishing, aimed at ages 4 to 8, it teaches how to work with issues of fear and Howard begins by being afraid of everything until he sees a young bird work up the courage to fly from her nest for the first time and is told “If you’re not afraid, you can’t be brave.” There’s another series I have been following called “The Teacher Who Would Not Retire” and in this one she Becomes a Movie Star ($17.95, Blue Marlin Publishers). In others she discovers a new planet and goes to camp in stories told by Sheila and Letty Sustrin with illustrations by Thomas H. Bone III. When a Hollywood film study holds a contest for student’s favorite teacher, Mrs. Bella wins and her adventure begins. The story and artwork will keep younger readers turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Also for the younger readers, 4 to 8, is The Adventures of Lisbeth ($13.54, AuthorHouse Publishing, by Liesel F. Daisley with artwork by Omni Illustrations that has the unique feature of having a text in both England and Spanish. This one, the first in a series, is devoted to a day at the beach with her parents where she enjoys all the activities the beach provides. Another learning experience is provided in The Case of…Itch and Rash by Erika Kimble, illustrated by Laurel Winters ($14.95, Bandages & Boo Press, Medina, Ohio) and, as you may have guessed it has a medical theme featuring Malcolm Finney, a fourth grader who will no doubt grow up to be a doctor. The book is filled with useful information for any youngster who encounters the various things that cause an itch or a rash. It may even inspire a young reader to become a doctor. Draw Plus Science by Freddie Levin ($8.99, Peel Publications, Vancouver, WA) uses art instruction combined with different aspects of science for some fun activity that teaches life cycles, scientific classification, and other topics for those age 6 and up who love to draw and, as all children, are interested in the world around them.

American Girl is a publisher that knows just what girls, age 8 and up, love to read. They have just introduced a new character, Saige, and one of a series of three books built around her is about an effort to save the school’s art program and Saige’s training of her friend’s horse. The plot moves along engaging in a variety of themes that teach relationships and problem solving. Also in the series is Saige Paints the Sky (both $6.95) and just out this month. Another American Girl book that is debuting this month is Express Yourself: Use Art to Explore the Emotions Inside You! ($9.99) that is filled with questions, quizzes, and projects to help the reader, 8 and up, how to explore their emotions and use art to discover more about themselves and the world around them.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Over recent years, I have learned to look forward to Lior Samson’s new novels. A pen name for an award-winning writer, designer, and university professor, his previous novels include “Bashert”, “The Dome”, “Web Games”, and “The Rosen Singularity”, all published by Gesher Press. His new novel is Chipset ($14.95, print, $3.99 Kindle). Samson combines the details of places and technology with the events of your times as they occur or affect Israel. In this novel, Karl Lustig and Shira Markham are expecting an easy excursion to the picturesque Portuguese island of Madeira, where Karl is delivering new military microchips to MIRI, the Madeira Intelligent Robotics Institute, and lecturing at the University of Madeira. The two of them look forward to exploring the island together, but Karl’s talent for trouble leads him to uncover a puzzle in the advanced avionics chipset he helped design with Israel’s IsTac Systems. His digital detective work will put him in danger and demand decisive action from Shira. I guarantee that you will not be able to put this novel down once you begin to read it.

Just out this month is a novel that has already begun to get raves. Truth in Advertising by John Kenney ($24.99, Touchstone, a Simon and Schuster imprint) is a wickedly funny and honest debut novel about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family. Drawing on his own background in advertising, Kenney imbues the main character, Finbar Dolan, with details that enhance the story of a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue agency. Though he regards himself he’s happy, in truth it’s a mess. He has kept a careful distance from others, perhaps the result of having a formerly abusive father that neither his brothers nor sister intend to visit despite the fact he is dying and alone. He has recently called off a wedding. This is the story reevaluating his life at age 39 and single. None of this may sound like a lot of laughs, but the author’s sardonic humor ensures that the reader will find much to laugh at. In Y: A Novel by Marjorie Celona ($24.95, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) a comparable story is told. As a newborn, Shannon is abandoned at the local “Y” and then spends much of her young life asking ‘Why?”  Celona reconstructs Shannon’s life as she moves through several foster homes before she settles in with Miranda, a single mom with a daughter, Lydia-Rose. The relationship is rocky. Shannon is not the easier child to rear and throughout she struggles to understand her abandonment. This is an impressive debut novel.

For those who enjoy detective novels, they will be happy to hear that Inspector Banks, Peter Robinson’s creation, is back in Watching the Dark ($25.99, William Morrow). Robinson’s previous Inspector Banks novels have drawn high praise and the author has more than 20 award-winning and bestselling novels. When Detective Inspector Bill Quinn is found murdered in the tranquil grounds of the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, and compromising photographs are found in his room, DCI Banks is called in to investigate. It emerges that Quinn’s murder may be linked to the disappearance of an English girl called Rachel Hewitt, in Tallinn, Estonia, six years earlier. When he and a fellow detective visit Tallinn it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the past stirred up again. This novel is sure to please. A new detective due has been created by two Mystery Writers Association Grand Masters, the husband and wife team of Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller. The Bughouse Affair ($25.99, Tor/Forge) introduces former Pinkerton operative, Sabina Carpenter, and her detective partner, ex-Secret Service agent, John Quincannon. What starts as two seemingly separate cases converge in a surprising fashion for the two when Sabina is hunting for a pickpocket and John is after a housebreaker who targets the San Francisco homes of the wealthy. The two cases eventually connect, but not before there are two murders, assorted other felonies, and a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes joins in. It’s an entertaining novel that is sure to please.

Another page-turner is Trompe L’Oeil (To Fool the Eye) by Caroline Miller ($14.95, Kono Pono, softcover) whose previous novel, “Gothic Spring”, was recommended by yours truly. When a young college student, Rachel Farraday, gets an assignment in the French countryside to chronicle the story of a chateau during height of the French-Algerian war, she discovers his dark history of murder and, when her employer dies suddenly, she also learns that she has become the co-inheritor of the chateau with a likely insane young man. The inheritance threatens her life and I guarantee that you will want to read it through in one sitting.

Both the real world of insanity and the fictional one continue to hold our attention. In Shrunk, a novel by Christopher Hogart ($12.99, Bickerstaff Press, softcover) the author introduces us to Dr. Albert Prendergast, an eminent psychiatrist, a titled clinician at a leading hospital with a thriving private practice who is also crazy as a loon, the sole occupant of a paranoid rabbit hole, and the subject of a satirical novel that evolves out of his intent to destroy Henry Avalon, also a psychiatrist, whom Prendergast sets out to destroy both professionally and personally. This may not strike you as the subject of humor, but Hogart pulls it off against the background of psychiatric training and practice. We are reminded that psychiatrists are only human. A novel I previously reviewed, Next in Line to the Oval Office by David H. Brown ($25.99, AuthorHouse) has undergone a revision by the author because he took to heart the many suggestions he received regarding the plot which is filled with twists and turns. The subject, the succession to office, is not one that I have seen addressed and the revisions have, indeed, improved the new edition. When explosions kill both the incoming and outgoing presidents, along with many other notables, the novel takes off like a rocket.

For those who favor historical novels, they are in for a treat with Tracy Chavalier’s The Last Runaway ($26.95, Dutton) that tells the story of a young Quaker woman, Honor Bright, who has fled romantic disappointment in her native England only to experience yellow fever that leaves her awkwardly dependent on her sister Grace in Ohio. The transition to the rough-and-tumble ways of Ohio in the pre-Civil War days is jarring and, for the first time, Honor encounters African-Americans, along with a ruthless runaway slave catcher. As a strong believer in the Quaker principle of human equality, she soon finds herself assisting fugitive slaves on their way north to Canada and at the same time befriending two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Suffice to say, Honor must cope with many challenges and the story showcases the author’s trademark talent of bringing the past to life.

That’s it for January! The new year begins with many new books, non-fiction and fiction, among which readers with different preferences are sure to find an abundance of information and entertainment. Be sure to tell your friends, co-workers and family about any of the books noted this month and about


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