Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bookviews - August 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

David Horowitz, founder of and the child of two members of the Communist Party, longtime progressive, had an epiphany when a friend of his was killed by the Black Panthers, masquerading as the New Left in the 1970s. Since then he has devoted his life to warning against the deadly agenda of communism and exposing the lies of the progressives whose agenda has always been the destruction of American values. His latest book, The Black Book of the American Left, ($27.99, Encounter Books) is a collection of his writings and speeches since then and provides alarming insights to the way communism in Russia and elsewhere has resulted in the murder of tens of millions. Its strength is in its revelations of how the Left has worked to undermine the nation to fulfill its utopian fantasies and its weakness is that it repeats itself over the course of nearly 400 pages. As a guide to the Left, it is invaluable, filled with many insights along with the facts he cites.

For those with a passion for the nation and its system of governance, there’s Donald J. Devine’s America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution ($29.95, ISI Books). Devine has spent most of his life as an academic, a professor at the University of Maryland and at Bellevue University, teaching governance and politics. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan tapped him to be the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in his first term. He trimmed 100,000 jobs and saved more than $6 billion by reducing generous benefits. He has written eight books and this one examines the tensions between freedom and the need for a system that does not allow too much power to be acquired by any element of the U.S. government. He discusses the role of tradition including the influence of Judeo-Christian values in governance. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest active one and a remarkable instrument. The book is filled with lots of information and insights that apply to the nation’s present problems and challenges. An interesting corollary is Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces ($27.99, Public Affairs) which was on display in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing when SWAT teams went house to house in one neighborhood to find the terrorist who was still at large. What is generally unknown, however, is that such teams “violently smash into private homes more than a hundred times per day” and police departments across the nation now have armored personnel carriers designed for use on the battlefield, while others have helicopters, tanks, and Humvees, as well as military-grade weapons. It is a different mindset from daily police work and is coming to dominate law enforcement. This is one of those books that raises important questions and, as you read it, some scary ones.

In this scary economy, many homeowners are facing foreclosure and if that is you or someone you know, The Foreclosure Phenomenon: How to Defend Your Home from an Impending Foreclosure ($24.99, Telemachus Press, softcover) by Joaquin F. Benitez who experienced losing his home. His is an inspiring story of an immigrant who subsequently earned a diploma in civil engineering and his book is intended to help anyone with a step-by-step guide to help save one’s home, strategies to deal with three different types of financial situation, how to calculate property value, and how to address the emotional, physical, and mental toll of a foreclosure proceeding. He counsels, too, that even a loss can free one from the burden that is no longer affordable and open a door to a new life.

Some books are just extraordinary works of art in addition to their texts. From the world of science comes Invisible Worlds: Exploring Microcosms by Julie Coquart ($49.95, H.F. Ullmann) which is a large format book filled with 99 extraordinary photos of the tiniest things on Earth. It is microphotography devoted to nature, biology, chemistry, medicine, mineralogy, and textiles, all in full color, and all revealing the astonishing way everything is designed to function from the dental enamel coating your teeth to the Penicillin that prevents the spread of certain bacteria or the Salmonella bacteria we call food poisoning. The simplest handful of sand takes on amazing shapes and colors. Clearly, this book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who love science and see into the microscopic world around them, this book would make a great birthday or holiday gift.  

Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers ($39.95, Museum of New Mexico Press and Foundation of Landscape Studies) is devoted to “The other Las Vegas”, a town that is seven hundred miles from the one in Nevada, but they might as well be on different planets. It is a small town that the author, the founding president of the Central Park Conservancy and the Foundation for Landscape Studies, has chosen in order to examine “the meaning of place in human life.” You surely do not have to be from this town to appreciate its streetscape, its architecture, and public places, such as the plaza that is a venue for numerous events. Her text is enhanced by her many photos. The town’s location made it an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anyone with an interest in architecture, landscapes, and how location leaves its mark on those who live in a particular place will thoroughly enjoy “learning” that Las Vegas was a Wild West outlaw Mecca, a major trading center, a railroad hub and a film location that epitomizes a vanished America, but remains home to its residents to this day. Serendipitously, the University of Oklahoma Press is set to publish New Mexico: A History by three historians ($26.95) that traces it from the earliest days of Spanish exploration and settlement. Those interested in the West will find a treasure of new books at All manner of books on topics that reflect is history and culture can be found there.

Our Emotional Lives

Getting a handle on our emotions is often a lifelong effort. It is the reason there are so many books providing advice on how to deal with them. Over at New Horizon Press they make it a specialty. Just out this month is Smart Relationships: How Successful Women Can Find True Love by LeslieBeth Wish, ($14.95, softcover) is written for women who have achieved success in their careers but find that their romantic relationships do not endure. Many distrust their judgment about men or fear the toll of breakups. A psychologist with more than 35 years of experience, the author teaches women the structure of intimate relationships and how to break free of past failures. She explores self-sabotaging behavior and provides strategies to take charge of their love and workplace relationship decisions as she explores fundamental needs to feel safe and loved. I have no doubt this book will prove very helpful.
Ten Steps to Relieve Anxiety: Refocus, Relax and Enjoy Life by H. Michael Zal ($14.95, softcover) is not officially due out until October, but if you have problems with anxiety you might want to make a note to yourself to pick up a copy. I have been a lifelong worrier and I suspect I inherited the trait. It has never incapacitated me and has often protected me from making decisions that would likely not turned out well. There are those, estimated at 6.8 million Americans who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Dr. Zal, a psychiatrist for the past forty years and a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, has all the credentials and experience to write about the subject. The good news, then, is that you are not alone and the better news is that this book provides ten easy-to-follow steps to achieve a less stressful, calmer life.

On a theme similar to “Smart Relationships”, Joyce M. Roche with Alexander Kopelman have written The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success ($18.95, BK Berrett-Koehler Publishers, softcover) for women who, despite their success, feel like imposters. Ms. Roche rose from humble circumstances to earn an Ivy League MBA and serve in top executive positions including president of Carson Products Company, now a part of L’Oreal. She was the first female African-American vice president of Avon Products where she led global marketing and, in 2006, Black Enterprise Magazine hailed her smong “Women of Power.” Despite this, she writes that she couldn’t help feeling like a fraud even though she clearly was not. In this book she shares her struggle with what she calls the “imposter syndrome” and offers advice and coping strategies based on her experiences and those of other high-achieving leaders who also suffered from it. To know that others feel this way and to learn how to overcome it makes this a very valuable book.

Acrobaddict by Joe Putignano ($17.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover) is the autobiography of a gifted athlete who abandoned his Olympic dreams when he fell down the hole that heroin digs for those who fall under its grip. He loved both gymnastics and heroin. The latter took him from the U.S. Olympic Training Center to homeless shelters. It is a harrowing tale with a powerful narrative that tells how the same energy, obsession and dedication that can create an Olympic athlete can detour into being a drug addict. This is his story of recovery and like so many books is a cautionary tale that has a happy ending, but which almost ended his life. It makes its official debut in September. For a look into an even darker aspect of mental disorder, Mary Papenfuss has written Killer Dads: The Twisted Drives that Compel Fathers to Murder their Own Kids ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). This is one of the most horrific of crimes and the veteran journalist explores five examples of “family annihilators” that reflects the dark trajectory of machismo in economically stressful times. It is based on some fifty in-depth interviews of victim’s friends and family, and the profiles by researchers of these “killer dads” driven to kill their children by a sense of failure and their distorted egos. There is much more in here and none of it makes for easy reading. For those who want to learn more about this crime, it is an excellent work of research.

My friend, Dr. Alma Bond, a psychiatrist, has authored a series of “On the Couch” books that examine the lives of the famous and the fictional, from opera singer Maria Callas to Lady MacBeth. She always brings a lifetime of knowledge and experience to her books. Coming in October is one that is sure to interest the fans of the movie icon, Marilyn Monroe. Many books have been written about her, but Marilyn Monroe on the Couch ($23.95, Bancroft Press) provides insights to the actress who had talent beyond her luminous beauty and yet remained so fragile despite her fame. Dr. Bond focuses on her fame from the 1950s and 60s, a time in which she sought the help of a Manhattan psychoanalyst to cope. It is an illuminating book in ways that others sought to achieve, but often missed.

Reading History

I love reading history and recommend it as the best way to understand the present. Having lived through the period of the civil rights movement, I found William P. Jones The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights ($26.95, W.W. Norton) especially interesting, in part because I heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at a nearby college and had the opportunity to go backstage and meet him for a short chat. On August 28, 1963, nearly a quarter million people were in Washington, D.C. to demand “Jobs and Freedom” at a rally is best remembered for his speech “I Have a Dream.” Few recall that his was the last of ten speeches devoted to ending racial segregation and discrimination in the South, but also to achieve equality nationwide and the opportunity to have quality education, affordable housing, and jobs with a living wage. Even less known was that the rally was the result of grassroots activism by organized labor and the Socialist Party. A professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, the author restores the march to its proper context as he relates the 25-year struggle that preceded it.  This book is an important contribution to the history of those times and the effort that began in the 1940s by men like A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The civil rights movement in 1963 had been a long time coming. The 1960s were a turbulent time and they are captured here in a book that is well worth reading.

A much earlier period in time is the subject of Fatal Rivaltry: Flodden, 1513—Henry VIII and James IV, and the Decisive Battle for Renaissance Britain by George Goodwin ($29.95, W.W. Norton). It was a time of great kings, colorful queens, conniving courtiers, and political popes; a time of extraordinary wealth in a period when the power of the Renaissance infused the lives of those in power. Set against each other was England’s Henry VII and Scotland’s James IV, suspected of having murdered his own father. His marriage to a Tudor princess brought a tenuous peace with England after five centuries of war, but his brother-in-law Henry VII had plans of his own which lead to a battle that established England’s political domination of Scotland for the next five hundred years.  The author ably captures the many aspects of those tumultuous years, marked by shifting alliances with kings, popes, and emperors, ultimately erupting into bloodshed that ushered in a new technological, economic and geopolitical era.

Music, Music, Music

My least favorite form of music is “heavy metal” perhaps because I grew up in a period that transitioned from the “crooners” to rock’n roll. I can still recall how an older generation thought Elvis Presley marked the end of western civilization. Even so, the music was more melodic than today’s. That said, there are several books that address the music with which many have grown up and enjoy.

Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen ($26.99, Da Capo Press), a musician who earned the praise of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Corey Taylor of Slipnot, and others as their musical influence. Jourgensen, with Jon Wiederhorn, recounts his rise to infamy within the tumultuous ranks of the rock industry amidst the non-stop use of heroin, cocaine, crack and booze, along of course with the groupies. This is a cautionary autobiography in which he relates his Cuban roots, growing up in Chicago, and his friendships with Beat Generation icons William S. Burroughs and Timothy Leary. He created the band called Ministry, has been a producer, songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. Now much older and living in El Paso, Texas, his book is more about what not to do with one’s life than one misspent in so many ways.

Da Capo Press has two other music-related books out as well. Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell ($25.99), an all-girl punk answer to Led Zeppelin, all teenagers that took is aggressive, libidinal rock music from Los Angeles to Japan over its four years of fame. Among its members, Joan Jett and Lita Ford would go on to have successful solo careers, but the band fizzled like a dud cherry bomb in an environment of drug abuse and clashing egos as its members quested after fame. This story of the group reveals that, for all their outward bravado, they were still just girls who got homesick while on tour and by the wizardry of their manager, Kim Fowley, were able to elbow their way into an industry dominated by men. For those who follow such things, the book will be full of insights, but it too is a cautionary tale. Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City by Steve Miller ($16.99, softcover) takes the reader back to Detroit in 1966 when the lights of the Grande Ballroom stage went up every night on young rockers trying to make a name for themselves. Out of their numbers can performers such as Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, along with Iggy and the Stooges. Based on more than 200 interviews, this is an oral history that chronicles the manic and obsessive love affairs that Detroit had with its music and does to this day. As is the case with rock’n roll, it tells the story of a drug-fueled subculture playing hard and partying even harder. By the 1970s, America had lost interest in its punk music, but it was a catalyst for others who followed in its wake. Most of us are more likely to recall the great Motown period.

Younger Readers

A number of books that will appeal to younger readers have arrived. One that might also interest older ones is Sharkopedia: The Complete Guide to Everything Shark by Andy DeHart, a marine biologist ($19.95, Time Home Entertainment/Discovery Channel, softcover), a large format book with more than 400 photos that includes information on all 498 known shark species. Sharks hold a special fascination for all ages and this book will more than satisfy their interest as it discusses their feeding habits, behavior, anatomy and senses, and countless other information that is fairly astounding. Another natural phenomenon is the subject of Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch ($17.95, Charlesbridge), aimed at ages 6 through 9. Along with its illustrations by Susan Swan, it is filled with information about real volcanos around the world and the role they play on planet Earth, creating new land, mountains and islands, and much more. It’s just out this month and a visit to will introduce you to this outstanding children’s book publisher’s latest books, such as Me and My Dragon: Scared of Halloween by David Biedrzyck ($17.95) for ages 4 through 7 about a boy whose pet dragon is scared silly on this spooky holiday. Even this grownup thought it was hilarious.

Thomas and Peter Weck have created a series of books for readers age 4 to 8 called the Lima Bear stories. They are illustrated by Len DiSalvo in a delightful fashion. I have seen and recommended a number of their books such as “The Megasourus” and “How Back-Back Got His Name.” The newest is Bully Bean ($8.95, www.Limabearpress,com, distributed by Small Press United) and it addresses a common problem children encounter, the bully.  In the kingdom of Beandom, Bully Bean is feared and Lima Bear is one of his favorite victims. When the bully gets trapped under a heavy rock, he calls out for help and sees Lima Bear walk away, but only to discover he has rounded up others to come back and get him out of his jam. He learns a good lesson and so will the youngsters who read this enjoyable story.

Football season will begin soon and for those youngsters who love the sport, there’s the Big Book of Who: Football ($17.95, Time Home Entertainment and Sports Illustrated Kids) that is a guide to 101 players filled with profiles, facts and stats that will provide lots of enjoyment to younger readers, along with his extensive photos of the sport’s champions, record breakers, super scorers, and yardage kinds. Grownups, too, will enjoy this one.

There are novels, too, for young adult readers and one that is sure to please is Jeff Yager’s Atom & Eve ($13,51/$4.99 Kindle, Hannacroix Creek Books, softcover) set several years into the future in which a powerful flu that causes many deaths and a dramatic slowdown of the economy. One of those affected is Ricky Romanello, a college freshman. A research scientist has developed an anti-aging drug that she believes could eradicate the flue and Ricky becomes one of the test subjects. The government approves the drug and the epidemic is soon over. He is cured, but soon he and others discover an unintended side effect that has catastrophic consequences for the entire population. Jeff comes from parents who are writers and, at age 23, his first novel demonstrates that talent can be inherited. Another futuristic novel for young adults is The Meme Plague by Angie Smibert, ($16.99/$9.99, Amazon Children’s Publishing, hardcover and Kindle), book 3 of the Memento Nora series at a time when everyone has microchips implanted in their brains that are designed to erase memories and add new ones. The two main characters, Micah and Nora are determined to take charge of their memories by building a new electronic frontier that cannot be controlled by local politicians and others. In an era when we now know the government is capable of knowing all our phone calls, emails, and other activities, this novel is a cautionary tale that is well worth reading.

Due in September is William Elliot Hazelgrove’s The Pitcher ($15.95, Koehlerbooks) about a Mexican-American boy with a golden arm who has no change to make the high school team until a broken-down World Series pitcher who coaches the team agrees to coach him and give him an opportunity to fulfill his dream. It has been nominated for the YALSA Printz Award and is the Junior Library Guild’s pick for a new autumn release as well. The award honors the best book written for teens and this story that includes the issues of immigration and the mythic dream of overcoming all odds will please its readers on many levels. I will happily join those who believe it is a great new story. For diehard Giants fans there’s The Years the Giants Won the Series: A Fan’s Journal of the 2012 and 2010 World Series Seasons by Joseph Sutton ($15.00, Mad Dog Publishing Company, softcover), a little book that chronicles the two games.

Novels, Novels, Novels

The deluge of novels continues, but it is mid-summer and a time for vacations and the leisure to read a story for entertainment and diversion.

One novel, however, runs 685 pages and you risk a hernia just picking it up. Worse, it is an astonishingly boring story that was widely rejected by publishers when it was first proffered in the 70s and 80s in Italy, the home of its author, Goliarda Sapienza, now deceased. The Art of Joy ($30.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is described as “a sprawling, formally inventive, sexually explicit feminist epic” which is literally talk for a long, shapeless, self-indulgent mess. It was eventually published in France and Italy, but failed to attract much attention. It was initially published by the author’s lover, Angelo Pellegrino, and for reasons known only to its current American publisher, is offered now.

Anne Hendren has had far more success with her books and her latest is Project Runaway ($11.00, Ring of Fire Publishers, softcover) about fashion designer, Karin Ohisson, who has moved to New York to follow her dream only to have her work appropriated by a designer to takes credit for it. Disillusioned, she decides to return to her roots in Idaho where she links up with her ailing aunt Hannah and her sewing group that produces quilts. After Hannah passes away, she decides to return, but in the interim she has learned a lot about herself and with a renewed appreciation for family bonds. It has a happy ending, but you will have to read it to find out. A very different character in a previous era, Prohibition, is Jersey Leo, the quintessential outside, an albino of mixed race. Jersey is a bartender at a speakeasy in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and has used his boss’s money to purchase what turns out to be counterfeit moonshine. The novel, Sugar Pop Moon, by John Florio takes its name from this stuff ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) and Jersey enlists his father’s help to track down the bootlegger. They encounter some very nasty characters as he tries to avoid retribution from the mobster who owns the speakeasy. It is an interesting story of his relationship with his father and moves along swiftly.

For a change of pace, there’s The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn ($15.00, Berkley, softcover) set during the Italian Renaissance in a novel of the Borgias and their never-ending crises of marriage and murder. It is Rome in 1492 as the Borgias make their rise, looking to put one of their own as Pope. Vivacious Giulia Farnese seemingly has everything, beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband, but she is stunned to discover that her marriage is a sham and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless Cardinal Borgia, a candidate for Pope. Suffice to say the bodies mount up as she and your friends must decide to flee the Borgia dream of power or even survive it. A more contemporary history is the background for Island of the White Rose by R. Ira Harris ($24.95, Bridge Works Publishing) and it makes for excellent reading. It is set in Cuba in the years that led up to the overthrow of one dictatorship, that of Fulgencio Batista, that only led to another, Fidel Castro’s. Father Pedro Villanueva, 34, is the son of an upper-middle-class Havana family and non-political, but when asked to try to free a parishioner’s son from La Cabana prison he enlists his brother, Alberto, to bribe the guards there. The prisoner is released, but Alberto is killed in the handover. Pedro joins the underground to support the Fidelistas. His involvement deepens, but as history demonstrates, he is betrayed by the Castro regime for which he smuggled arms on his family’s sloop, named the White Rose for a symbol of Cuba. This is a very compelling story that is well worth reading.

Thomas and Mercer, a publishing imprint of, has three novels out in August worth considering. One is by Aric Davis who has two previous novels to his credit and, in The Fort ($14.94, softcover) he takes the reader into the world of tattoo parlors, dive bars, pool halls, and police stations of the present-day Midwest for an action-packed story for a suspenseful coming-of-age story of innocence, evil, and the bonds of friendship. Beginning in the summer of 1987, Tim, Scott and Luke are enjoying life in the tree house fort they have built in the woods behind their homes. They spot a killer with his latest victim, Molly, and know they must do what they can to save her, but both their parents and the police doubt them. Told from the alternating viewpoints of the boys, the killer, and the detective on his trail, it is an electrifying story. Out of the Black by John Rector ($ 14.95, softcover) tells a harrowing story of former Marine Matt Caine who is widowed after a car crash that claims his wife. He struggles to support his daughter, but is broke from hospital and funeral bills. Desperate to pay his mortgage, he borrows money from some notorious local thugs and his in-laws are threatening a custody battle. Things go from bad to worse when he is lured into a kidnapping plot. This is a tightly plotted thriller and one that you will read to the last page. Unthinkable by Clyde Phillips ($14.95, softcover) is the fourth installment of Phillips’ bestselling Jane Candiotti series. She’s a hard-nosed San Francisco detective and this is her toughest case, a mass murder that has claimed the life of a member of her family, a teenaged nephew. On a blustery night, six strangers find shelter in a neighborhood restaurant—only to be shot dead minutes later. The carnage leaves the city on edge. Despite being pregnant with her first child, Lt. Candiotti is driven to solve the crime and you will be driven to read this story from beginning to end in one sitting.

In June of last year I reviewed “The Last Policeman” by Ben H. Winters and recommended it. Now he’s back with Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II ($14.95, Quirk Books, softcover) and I am pleased to recommend it as well. It received an Edgar Award for Best paperback Original. The first book of the trilogy is set in a pre-apocalyptic period in which there is just six months before an asteroid is scheduled to impact the Earth, that deadly deadline, but Book II is down to 77 days for Detective Hank Palace no longer is out solving crimes until a woman from his past begs him for help in finding her missing husband who disappeared without a trace. As society is falling apart Palace pursues the few clues available that lead him to a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment and then onto a coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees. Science fiction meets societal chaos in this compelling tale.

That’s it for August! September promises to kick off the fall publishing season with many new non-fiction and fiction books, so it’s a good idea to check back then. Meanwhile, tell your family, friends, and co-workers who love to read all about where you will find news of books that may not be on the bestseller lists, but should be on your reading list.