Friday, August 30, 2013

Bookviews - September 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

The one book you must read this month is Erick Stakelbeck’s The Breakthrough: America’s Next Great Enemy ($27.95, Regnery Publishing Co.) because it will tell you what you need to know about the September 11th “Million Muslim March” in Washington, D.C. and why the Muslim Brotherhood haa been in the streets of Cairo trying to retake control of Egypt after having been banned for more than five decades there until the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. Secular Egyptians are fighting to avoid having to live under Sharia law, the 1,400 year old system of slavery that sanctions beheadings, stoning, and the oppression of women and all other religions. You will learn about its history and how widespread it is in America, using a variety of front groups, all devoted to destroying our nation along with, of course, Israel. Founded in 1928 by fanatical Muslims, it is in eighty nations and boasts over a hundred million followers. You will learn how the White House has opened its doors to some of its leaders, how top ranked national security officials favor Islam, and how mosques are being built throughout the nation in order to proselytize and create enclaves in our midst from which will come those who will use terrorism against us. Americans are being deceived by our own media, by those in our universities, and by those in our government. This book spells it out, documenting what has occurred and what will occur if Americans do not waken to this threat to the nation and the West.

The reelection of Barack Obama was a tremendous shock to Republicanswho could not conceive that a first term that began with enormous spending—the stimulus—that produced no shovel-ready or other permanent jobs or any improvement to the economy and ended with the Benghazi scandal in which a U.S. ambassador and three others will killed in a terrorist attack would not hand the election to Mitt Romney, their candidate. What Went Wrong: The Inside Story of the GOP debacle of 2012 and How it can be Avoided Next Time by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D. ($25.95, WND Books) is a brilliant analysis of why the GOP again choose a “me too” candidate and, in Romney’s case, a man who utterly failed to wage an aggressive campaign. Corsi explains how the Democratic campaign relied on the most modern techniques of computer modeling to identify exactly who to reach, combined with a get-out-the-vote campaign that ensured that more of them actually voted. The GOP thought that Romney’s economic message of small government, lower taxes, and less regulation would resonate with voters, but it did not and, in the end, a significant number white Republicans, the party’s core, just stayed home, disappointed with the campaign. It cost them the White House, but Tea Party candidates, scorned by the GOP elites did well at the polls. Obama was reelected by his core constituency, African Americans who voted 98% for him, Hispanics, single women and younger voters. Republicans, Tea Party supporters, conservatives and independents should read this excellent book to learn what must be done in the forthcoming 2014 midterm elections and how to capture the White House and Congress in 2016. Corsi believes it can be done.

Having begun my professional life as a very young journalist in the late 1960s, I found Harry Rosenfeld’s memoir, From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memoirs of a Newspaperman ($29.95, Suny University of New York Press) of interest as he recalled his family’s escape from Nazi Germany to the U.S., his youth growing up in New York, and his love of journalism that began early with a low-level job with the Tribune. Rosenfeld made his way up to editorial positions with the Washington Post and played a pivotal role when the Watergate scandal began as a break-in of the Democratic headquarters. He recounts how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both young reporters, were selected to investigate and how it grew into the greatest scandal to affect a U.S. president ever. It would take two years before Nixon resigned in the face of a pending impeachment. It is history as seen through the eyes of a journalist that is a contribution to understanding much about newspapers in an era where they were the dominant provider of news to the present times. It is a personal story, but it is also a story of the most dramatic times America passed through since the end of WWII.


A new breed of journalist has emerged in the digital age and Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy by James O’Keefe ($26.00, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) is the extraordinary story of how this young man and colleagues exposed the corruption of ACORN, leading to Congress defunding the voter fraud organization, revealing the biases within National Public Radio, the easy tolerance of fraud at Planned Parenthood, and in many government agencies. In 2010 O’Keefe formed Project Veritas, a 501c(3) organization dedicated to citizen journalism. Best known for its sting operations that caught the various operatives of these organization on camera, O’Keefe is dedicated to exposing corruption that endangers the election process, the contempt of organizations that receive government funding, and many other ills within our society and government that undermine our values. He was fortunate to find a mentor in the late Andrew Breitbart, but the untold story until now is the way the Left fought back with law suits and outright lies intended to defame him and his group. What he accomplished was funded largely on his credit cards in the early years and his dedication got him through some very scary moments. If you have a feeling that something is very wrong with our nation’s institutions, you will find your fears confirmed in this excellent book that exudes his still youthful enthusiasm for “citizen journalism.”  
Jay W. Richards undertakes to explain the elements that led to the 2008 financial crisis in Infiltrated ($25.00, McGraw Hill Education). He is a philosopher with a special focus on politics and economics. The book is described as “part socioeconomic analysis and part examination of the continuing debate over who is to blame for the crisis and who is still trying to gain from it.” I found it tough going to the point where I finally gave up. About the only thing I know is that we live in an era of crony capitalism and the interplay between government and the financial markets is intricate and deep. Suffice to say, only those with a concerted interest in such questions will want to read this book and, I suspect, there are so many players involved that it defies much more than informed speculation.

Am I a Jew? By Theodore Ross ($16.00, Plume, softcover) will intrigue both Jews and Christians as the author tells the story of how, when he was nine years old, his mother forced him to convert to Christianity after growing up in a Jewish family. When she moved to a small town in Mississippi, she wanted to pass and, one assumes, wanted to make life easier for Ross, but he always knew he was a Jew and those years never really altered that perception. His parents were divorced so he was a Christian in Mississippi and a Jew in Manhattan when he returned to visit his father for holidays and summer break. As an adult living in New Mexico he became aware of “crypto-Jews” of Spanish origin, those who fled the inquisition or pretended to convert to avoid death. As he began to pursue this slice of history he became aware of how many people believed they were Jewish though living gentile lives. A whole sub-culture of those seeking to “return” to their spiritual roots was revealed to him. Told with humor and a sharp eye for detail, Ross tells his own story and that of others seeking an answer.  Linked only by Judaism, Bombed in His Bed: The Confessions of Jewish Gangster Myer Rush ($16.95, Alma Rose Publishing, softcover) is an as-told-to book by Bruce Farrell Rosen, his nephew. Rush was a very successful gangster who grew up in Depression-era Toronto, a man who would have been successful in any enterprise, accumulating wealth through crime and legitimate enterprise. He had a gift for stealth, and chutzpah, but he disdained the press and the way he was depicted. He was, as the saying goes, larger than life. He was in turn a cat burglar, ran guns into Palestine before it became Israel at the request of a rabbi, marketed a sex herb he discovered, and bought companies, turning them and other ventures into success stories. There is no way to briefly describe his life and we can thank his nephew for getting him to share his life for what is a very interesting biography.

Every so often a book comes along that I know will appeal to a narrow niche of readers and, in the case of Land of Lincoln—Thy Wondrous Story: Through the Eyes of the Illinois State Society ($40.00, Jameson Books, Ottawa, IL) by Mark Q. Rhoads that is surely the case. It helps if you were born, bred and perhaps still live in Illinois. The author was the president of the Illinois State Society from 1989 to 1990, serving on its board for 27 years until 2012. Suffice to say he has had a long and distinguished career, all of which touches upon his beloved state in some fashion or other. His book is a definitive history of Illinois reaching back to 1853 and moving along to the present through the events and the lives of men who made their mark on the nation and the state. We all know about Lincoln, but the book is filled with the politics of Illinois that was filled with interesting people, some on the national stage, others in the state, some of whom helped share the history of the nation as well.
Visible Ink Press publishes a series of books that I recommend highly. They come under the common title of “The Handy” book of “Answers” and several are debuting this month. They include The Handy Chemistry Answer Book, The Handy Astronomy Book (Third Edition), and The Handy Art History Answer Book, all priced at $21.95 and all authored by experts in their fields. Earlier editions in my personal library include answer books about history and science. In a very complex world, these books are a treasure of information that break down their topics into easily comprehended and informative texts that provide hours of interesting and entertaining reading while turning you into the smartest person in the room!  To learn more about this series, visit

Silly, Funny, and Fun

Some books are just supposed to be fun to read and that surely applies to Ripley’s Believe It or Not ® Dare to Look!, a coffee table, large format book ($28.95, Ripley Publishing) that is filled with some of the most bizarre, incredible, and amazing true stories from around the world. Moreover, by downloading an APP for “oddScan” you can scan some of the images and they come alive off the page. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the odd ways some people behave and the things they do. There’s the guy who pinned 161 clothes pegs to his face, an eight page gatefold of ventriloquist’s dummies, and much more fun stuff on every page.
For those who enjoy exploring mysteries, conspiracies, and cover-ups, Nick Redfern’s Monster Files ($15.99, New Page Books, a division of Career Press, softcover) will more than satisfy with its “look inside government secrets and classified documents on bizarre creations and extraordinary animals.” Redfern has either uncovered some strange information from “secret files in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the British military, and other government agencies” or he is putting on the reader. Either way, it is quite entertaining with its tales of lake monsters, an alleged link between the CIA and the Abominable snowman, and Russian experiments with animal ESP.

There is one type of book that I enjoy simply because it is so much fun. It is a collection of odd facts and 1,227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin and the QI Elves ($15.95, W.W. Norton) lives up to its title. Lloyd and Mitchinson are the creators of an award-winning BBC quiz show called “QI” and Harkin is a senior researcher. It is pure trivia, but it is arranged so that each page’s items link together in some fashion. Not that it matters because each page has some surprising fact such as the international dialing code for Russia is 007 or that heroin was originally sold as a cough medicine. Did you know that Google makes more money--$20 billion a year—from advertising than CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX combined? You will liven up your conversations with all manner of facts after you’ve read this very entertaining book.
By far the most amusing take on ghosts I have seen in a very long time is Doogie Horner’s 100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts ($9.95, Quirk Books)  just in time for Halloween next month. In fact it would make a great Halloween gift. Horner is a writer, designer, and stand-up comedian with two previous books to his credit. Suffice to say he has a very whimsical mind and the illustrations that compose the book show many variations on the theme of the white sheet and two eye-holes that is the comic book version of a ghost. He has found some very amusing ways of taking this simple piece of artwork and transforming it into a chuckle on every page of a book you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Lots of Useful Advice
I think someone has been writing a book of advice since the invention of the printing press and, of course, the Bible, written much earlier, is filled with advice on how to live one’s life. A number of such books have arrived so let’s take a look at them.
Raising a young man to turn out well is always a parent’s concern and Rick Johnson offers some advice in A Man in the Making: Strategies to Help Your Son Succeed in Life ($12.99, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing, softcover). Written from a Christian point of view, its advice is universal, however, citing the need for intentional guidance, education, and good role models. Johnson cites famous men of the past as models of manhood and the values they possessed. Shannon Perry has written The Overlooked General: Parenting Teens and Tweens in a Complicated Culture ($14.99, softcover, A radio and TV host, she formerly was a public school teachers and counselor, and certified instructor for crisis counseling and parenting classes. I cite this to let you know she has the knowledge and experience to address bullying and other difficult issues that include eating disorders, drug use, and other problems that today’s tweens and teen must address and avoid. Well researched and filled with good advice, I would recommend this book for any parent of a young girl and boy who wants to deal with these issues. For parents with a child who insists on having the last word there’s Parenting Your Powerful Child by Dr. Kevin Leman ($17.99, Revell). It is filled with practical advice on how to turn the battle zone in your home into a peaceful environment. Dealing with a child that insists on getting his or her way requires insights as to how they got that way and what steps can be taken to change attitudes and behaviors.
A short, clever book by David E. Silvey offers advice on The Smart Way to Deal with Stupid People: How Some Get What they Want and Other’s Don’t ($14.99, Smart Way Books, softcover) is not so much about “stupid” people but rather those in a position to be of service, but may fail to do so. It’s about navigating frustrating situations and people in a conflict-free way and, if you or someone you know, always seem to be in conflict with others, it would make a very gift or book to read. It is available on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and Lulu. In the world of business, the challenge is to hire the right person and Abhijit Bhaduri, who’s been a human resources executive at several large, global organizations such as Microsoft and PepsiCo, has written an interesting book on the subject titled Don’t Hire the Best: An Essential Guide to Building the Right Team ($14.95, Hogan Press, softcover) which may seem counter-intuitive, but the author contends that by selecting candidates with the right personality fit and competencies, rather than the most impressive experience or education, an organization can ensure that it brings in the right people who can work effectively and successfully together. The book is already getting raves from business leaders for its practical advice on how to improve the way they assess their candidates. We have all heard of the “glass ceiling” that kept women from climbing the corporate and career ladder. Norma Yaeger stepped into the male-dominated world of the stockbroker on Wall Street in 1962 and brings lots of perspective and experience to her book, Breaking Down the Walls ($15.99/$9.99, Publish Green, softcover and ebook). This is her story and the advice she offers a new generation of young women entering the workplace with more choices than those who preceded them.
After a life spent working, the time comes for retirement though it must be said the current economy may make that more difficult than before. More than 10,000 adults turn 55+ every day and they are faced with questions about what to do with the prospect of several more decades of life. Shifting Gears to Your Life Work After Retirement by Carolee Duckworth and Marie Langworthy ($18.50/$8.50, New Cabady Press, softcover and ebook) offer a roadmap for Boomers to live the final years and make them their best that covers a wide range of topics from a 10-point retirement countdown, a 5-step process to create a unique retirement adventure, how to use one’s time best, and how technology offers web connectivity and other benefits. The book offers advice on how to reinvent one’s personal and professional next phase along with some good parenting advice for one’s senior years.

Regrettably, some seniors fall victim to dementia. A 2009 census revealed that more than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. That means there are fifteen million family caregivers and An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver’s Guide to Dementia by Janet Yagoda Shgram ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) was written to provide the kind of advice to get them through that challenge as she guides readers through the often-confusing world of dementia care. She explains the basics of dementia as a brain disorder, its accompanying behaviors, the procedures to diagnose and stage the disease, as well as the legal aspects of providing care for an adult who is no longer competent. There’s excellent advice and guidance on every page.
Science and Such
Science has transformed modern life for the better and is so much in the news that it has become a kind of religion. It has been corrupted in recent decades, particularly in regard to the greatest hoax of modern times, “global warming.” It is producing a lot of books of late so let’s look at some that have arrived.

An important moment in the advancement of science and mathematics was the publication of Isaac Newton’s book in 1687. Magnificent Principia: Exploring Isaac Newton’s Masterpiece by Colin Pask ($26.00, Prometheus Books) is a guided tour of the book that created the framework for what we call modern science and why we now take matters from gravity to our solar system for granted. For anyone with an interest in the history of the book and its impact, Pask will take you on a journey that will put you in the company of intellectually curious readers, as well as the professional scientists and mathematicians who actually read it.

Environmentalism has produced whole libraries of books and all seem to blame humans for everything that occurs in nature without crediting it with enormous powers well in excess of anything humans do. A typical example of this is Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide Between People and the Environment by Kenneth Worthy ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) which sees all aspects of human life from food production to the use of toilet paper as some kind of assault on nature. I have a tip for you. Nature doesn’t care. Much of human history has been devoted to overcoming the dangers to human life that nature poses and we have developed everything from agriculture to feed us to cities to house us in order to avoid living in mud huts and eating nuts and berries. A similar doom and gloom look at nature is find in Air: The Restless Shaper of the World by William Bryant Logan ($16.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) which includes the usual claptrap about carbon dioxide that is released when we burn coal or use oil to generate energy for the power we require to turn on the lights or drive our cars. Carbon dioxide plays no role in “global warming” or “climate change”; it is a bare 0.038% of the Earth’s atmosphere, but without it all animal life would perish as it is the “food” that all plant life needs for growth. We need to stop worrying about the so-called “greenhouse gases” and begin to consider the threats posed by assaults on the Constitution and the Islamist movement.

On a more positive note, there are some books about science that are not blatant propaganda. One such is Edward Ashpole’s Signatures of Life: Science Searches the Universe ($25.00, Prometheus Books) that explores the question of whether we are alone in the universe or whether life is a universal phenomenon? There are countless galaxies, but the astronomers in SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) have spent the last fifty years scanned the universe for any signals of other intelligent beings and have found none. The author examines the problems inherent is this effort, seeking radio or optical signals from an alien intelligence.  Granted that this is a fairly specialized aspect of science today, this book does it justice. The Particle At the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll ($17.00, Plume, softcover) tells the story of the biggest machine ever constructed, taking ten years to build, and costing in excess of $9 billion. It required the cooperation of engineers from more than a hundred nations and, in the end, its colossal discovery was the unbelievably tiny Higgs Boson, often referred to as the “god particle.” Don’t ask me to explain what it is other than that it is a subatomic particle, deemed the most important scientific discovery to date. The story behind the construction of the project is a great drama, the result of unprecedented international cooperation and all manner of deal-making and even occasional skullduggery. As such, it makes for lively reading.

As someone who cannot balance his checkbook without the assistance of my bank’s online page, anything to do with physics and mathematics is a mystery to me, but there are a number of books that do a good job of explaining it. One such is The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything that Can Happen, does) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw ($15.99, Da Capo Press, softcover). The authors are professors of physics at the University of Manchester and do an excellent job of demystifying quantum physics to the point where even I can understand it. They do so in a very entertaining way for those of us interested in why the laws of physics determine everything in our world and the universe. This one is worth reading. The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview by Dennis R. Tumble ($20, Prometheus Books, softcover) involves a lot of deep thinking about the deeper benefits of science, particularly its emphasis on critical thinking and science literacy. The reason we trust science is that it is subject to reproducibility. Unless a theory or a claim can be reproduced by other scientists, it is subject to dispute and those disputes are critical to arriving at a truth. I am not talking about “a consensus” or agreement, but a conclusion that has been proven to the point where it is accepted on its own merits. The best part of science is that it keeps us open to a sense of wonder about the world we inhabit and an optimism that the human condition can be improved. I took some comfort, given my lack of arithmetic skills, in Magnificent Mistakes in Mathematics by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingar Lehmann ($24.00, Prometheus Books). This is a book that will appeal to those who work in the world of mathematics, but also to those with a general interest in the subject.

The Making of the Mind: The Neuroscience of Human Nature by Ronald T. Kellogg ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) explores in detail five distinctive parts of human cognition. In more basic terms, why did we humans turn out so different from chimpanzees with whom we share a fair amount of DNA? According to the author, we have very good working memories, a well-tuned social intelligence that lets us interpret what others are saying, a capacity for symbolic thought and language, and an inner voice that interprets conscious experiences by making causal inferences. Unlike the chimps, we know our species has a history, a past, and that it has a future. Kellogg is concerned that our modern world of 24/7 media leads to a great deal of mass distraction. This is one of those kind of books that provides a world of insight to our own lives and that of society in general.

What Makes a Hero: The Surprising Science of Selflessness by Elizabeth Svoboda ($27.95, Current, an imprint of Penguin Group USA) is an interesting look the way people will act selflessly and why. Using a variety of examples of people who demonstrated this quality, the author shows how this can greatly improve our mental health in our daily lives though it sometimes comes with a price. Interestingly, breakthroughs in biology and neuroscience reveal that the human brain is primed for selflessness which, to be candid, came as a surprise to me which is, of course, why the title of the book is about this “surprising science.” It turns out that we all have the capacity to be heroes in our own ways. Another book from Current is The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein ($26.95) that offers an interesting look at sports that raises some interesting questions. For example, half the men who hold the top ten records for the 100m dash are from Jamaica, Two of them, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, hail from neighboring parishes. Is there something in the water or is it in the gene pool? This book looks at sensitive subjects such as what role race and gender play in athletics? And why do bodies respond differently to identical training? Everyone can recall the star athlete from their school days, the one who made it look easy and the question the book explores is why some have the “sports gene” while others clearly do not. Sports Illustrated senior writer, Epstein, tackles the nature versus nurture debate and examines what science has to tell us. Along the way he dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel.

You have no doubt noticed that several of the books noted in this section are from a single publisher, Prometheus Books, and the good news is that several are available as ebooks at significantly lower prices than the traditional format
Kid Stuff
I am a great believer in getting kids to love books at an early age. For the very young, being read to from a book, particularly a picture book, engages them and encourages them to learn to read on their own.

I am a fan of the Howard B. Wigglebottom series by Howard Binkow and the latest is A Fable About Trust ($15.00, We Do Listen Foundation) by Binkow and Rev. Ana, and illustrated by Taillefer Long. The book introduces 4-8 year olds to the concept that trust is earned and that it is okay to say no. Filled with appealing and recognizable characters, it teaches a valuable lesson in selecting one’s friends and avoiding doing things because others urge one to.  You can learn more about the series as Bimbambu by Ileana Katzenelson ($18.73, Soul Prints Press) is for the pre-school youngster age 3 to 5 or so. It was inspired by a story told to her by her father, a concentration camp survivor, and explores the theme of being compassionate and giving. The main character is a bird who, asked to share its feathers by a variety of other animal characters does so and who receives their help in return. Illustrated by Sean Brown, it is a story the very young will want to return to again and again.
A very clever, entertaining picture book for the very young is Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Paul Meisel ($15.99, Candlewick Press) takes a common experience when infants get their first teeth and want to test them out on everything. For older siblings this can be a painful experience. In this story, a baby develops fangs! She may be a vampire, but she is still is much loved little sister. It is, of course, a metaphor for the transition that occurs when a new child joins the family. American Girl is more than just a publisher. The company introduces new characters and, in the case of Bitty Baby, creates dolls, outfits, and accessories. Aimed at girls who are 3 years old and up, the first of a series is Bitty Baby and Me by Kirby Larson and illustrated by Sue Cornelison ($14.99) along with Bitty Baby at the Ballet, Bitty Baby Love the Snow, and Bitty Baby the Brave. All involve learning experiences of one kind or another and, from a parent’s point of view, will prove helpful. Little girls will just enjoy them.

Dragon Boy and the Witches of Galza ($15.95, Xlibris, softcover) is a debut novel in a planned series by A.A. Bukhatir and it will appear to younger readers age 12 and up with its story of an old woodcutter named Aijou who mourns the death of his cherished wife, living in near total isolation. His life takes a dramatic change when, having lost his way in an enchanted forest, he encounters two tiny fairies engaged in a battle with a fire-breathing she-dragon. They prevail and as she lays dying she assumes her human form and begs Aijou to adopt her baby boy. He agrees, not know that the infant is actually a dragon. This is an intricate story filled with all the elements of fantasy and mystery that will intrigue younger readers. A non-scary story along the lines of Alice in Wonderland has been penned by Mark J. Grant. Lila: The Sign of the Elven Queen ($14.95, Mascot Books) is a modern fairy tale about s six-year-old girl who lives in New York. She has two cats, but dogs are not allowed in her apartment building, so she asks her parents if she can have an invisible dog.  They agree and as they go about buying invisible pet supplies for “Fluffy” when a black and white Aussie appears to Lila and introduces himself as Fluffy. All manner of adventures follow, including invisible people who discover a birthmark on Lila that is the sign of their Elven Queen. When she turns seven, she is made a princess. This is an instant modern fairy tale and one that is sure to please ages eight and older.

The best thing about Green Golly & her Golden Flute ($19.99, Eifrig Publishing) is the CD of music performed by Keith Torgan and Barbara Siesel, the authors of this book for those ages 4-10 that comes with it. Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda illustrated it, but even her artwork cannot rescue the story that is based on the tale of Rapunzel whose long hair helped her escape from the tower in which she had been put. Whether read to at bedtime or read by the child, the story that begins with the baby Golly’s parents giving her away to a witch for a bowl of salad is so inherently terrifying that everything that follows defies the understanding of the world by even the youngest reader. The intent was to spark an interest in classical music, but the result is a poorly conceived, poorly written story with negative themes throughout.
Novels, Novels, Novels

While I receive many books each month, the vast bulk of them continue to be novels and there is apparently no end to the hunger for a good story.

Judge Jeanine Pirro has made a name for herself as the host of a Fox News show. I don’t know where she finds the time to write novels, but she is also gaining recognition for her “Dani Fox” series based on a smart and sexy female assistant DA in Westchester County. Her second novel, as the first, draws heavily on her own experience in the field of law. In Clever Fox ($19.99, Hyperion) Dani has won a big case, but lost her true love, and now she must take on the case of a gruesome murder of a young woman with family ties to the New Jersey mafia. This pits her against a powerful New York crime boss, the press, and her boss. Fortunately she has an experienced detective on her side.  Not only is she a good story teller, but Pirro has an ear for the way those in law enforcement talk to one another and deal with the pressures involved. She also knows what it is like to have been young and inexperienced in a male dominated environment. This novel works on many levels. Crime and the suspense that goes with it have established John Rector as a leading novelist and bestselling author. His fans will welcome his return with Out of the Black ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover) in which Matt Caine, a Marine who has completed a harrowing tour of duty in Afghanistan is trying to put his life together after the death of his wife and the responsibility for his young daughter Anna. He is, however, jobless, broke, and in debt to a notorious loan shark. When a drug addict from his pre-Marine days slithers back into his life and offers him a job driving a van for a supposedly foolproof and profitable kidnapping job, Caine realizes too late that the target is the wife of a powerful crime boss. The tension just mounts from there and you will find yourself reading with rapt attention to see how events play out. When you hear the name John Gilstrap you know you’re in for a high suspense reading experience. He’s back in a paperback, High Treason, ($9.99, Kensington Publishing) featuring freelance hostage rescue specialist Jonathan Grave in a fifth installment of Gilstrap’s series. The First Lady has been kidnapped and the FBI director knows that Grave is a man who always gets results, no matter what, and this is a mission that must be carried out with utmost secrecy. In tracking his way through a labyrinth of lies and murder, Graves discovers a traitor at the highest level of Washington power who is about to commit the ultimate act of terror. It’s great reading at the beach or patio as summer comes to an end.

Another writer of renown is J.M. Coetzee, the author of 21 books that have been translated into many languages. He has twice been awarded the prestigious Booker Prize and in 2003 won the Nobel Prize in Literature. A native of South Africa, he now lives in Adelaide, Australia, and his latest book is curiously titled The Childhood of Jesus ($26.95, Viking) even though it is not about Jesus, but rather about a small boy who arrives by boat in a new country after having been separated from his parents and the piece of paper that would explain everything. During the trip, a man has taken it upon himself to look after him and upon arrival they are assigned new names, new birthdates, and essentially new lives. They know little Spanish, the language of the land in which they find themselves. The renamed Simon and David make their way to a relocation center and Simon finds a job on a grain wharf where he warms to his co-workers. He knows, however, he must locate David’s mother. While walking in the countryside with David he catches sight of a woman he is certain is the person for whom he is looking and persuades her to assume the role. There are many levels to this story of renewal against great odds and it is testimony to why Coetzee is regarded as one of the great authors of our time.
Ralph “Gaby” Wilson has beaten the odds of writing and selling screenplays many times, having sold 45 of them and now he has tried his hand as a novelist with Illegal Woman: A Gypsy Love Story ($19.99, Xlibris, softcover), about a young writer from Kansas who meets a gypsy woman in 1965 France. It is an unusual encounter as K.P. Kelly finds himself marooned in Europe without any money and alone. His only hope is to hitchhike to Paris where he there may be some checks from his publisher at an American Express office. He is 600 miles away when he catches the eye of an alluring Gypsy woman, Kalina, who teaches him how to travel by his wits. For a while he lives with her family and learns the Gypsy culture and together they travel across France in a spicy romp. This book is a lot of fun to read. Vermont could not be a more different locale, but it is the setting for You Knew Me When by Emily Liebert ($15.00, New American Library, softcover). Katherine Hill left her small New England hometown in pursuit of a dream and now, twelve years later, she is a high-powered cosmetics executive in Manhattan, far removed from her former life. By contrast, her former friend, Laney Marten, did not get to live out her dreams, becoming a young wife and mother. When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from a former neighbor, she reluctantly returns home where she is met by Laney and, tethered together by their shared inheritance of a sprawling Victorian mansion, they must address their long-standing grudges and determine if their earlier friendship can be revived. This is a novel that women will find of interest.
Some novels do not neatly fit into a particular genre. Several that explore the human condition provide some intriguing reading. From Canada, the award-winning author Jane Urguhart has written Sanctuary Line ($24.95, Quercus) about 40-year-old Liz Crane who returns to her family home on the shores of Lake Erie in southern Ontario with the intention of gathering data on the migration patterns of the monarch butterflies that leave Canada every winter for Mexico.  As she re-establishes herself in the place where she grew up, a commercial fruit orchard that is still productive but falling into disrepair, she finds her attention being overtaken by the powerful memories of childhood and the generations that came before her. Never married, she realizes that she leaves no one to carry on the family line. This is a novel of the mind and heart where a life is examined against the metaphor of the monarch butterflies and their migrations.
Between a Mother and Her Child by Elizabeth Noble ($15.00, Berkley, softcover) explores how a tragic death can tear apart the seemingly comfortable marriage of Maggie and Bill Barrett, and their three children. On December 26, 2004, their lives in London are shattered by news that their eldest son has been killed in a tsunami that left thousands dead. Maggie shuts down, unable to connect to her children or husband. Feeling isolated, Bill leaves to try to find some peace on his own and, when he announces he has fallen for another woman, Maggie finally realizes it’s time to move on and to pull her family back together. Her sister, on a visit, from Australia steps in to find a path to healing and it all adds up to a compelling story. Many baby boomers from the 50s and 60’s wake up to discover that the American dream they thought would be the pattern for their lives did not provide the answers they sought. Wallace Rogers debuts as a novel with Byron’s Lane ($15.99, London Street Press, softcover) He has been the mayor of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and manages a consulting business involving local governments. It never fails to amaze me where talent is found. In this novel, narrated through the thoughtful witness of his friend Tom, we follow Jonathan Adams as he examines his life at late middle age. A civil contract in Iraq, he thought he could improve people’s lives through democracy, but finds himself traumatized by his experiences there, bitter about a failed relationship, and distressed by the feeling he has become irrelevant in the new century. Baby boomers in particular will find this novel of interest, but it is a good read for anyone. The quest for meaning in one’s life is also found in Derek Sherman’s Race Across the Sky ($16.00, Plume, softcover. It spans two very different, but equally fascinating worlds, the cult of ultra-marathoners and the underbelly of the biotech industry. It is a story of the lengths a family will go to save each other. Caleb Oberest is the ultra-marathoner who left behind his workaholic life in New York and severed all ties to his family and friends to run the 100-mile marathons across treacherous mountains. His brother, Shane, is a sales rep for a cutting-edge biotechnology firm, creating new cures for disease. Despite his efforts, there were distances between him on Caleb and Caleb has fallen in love with a new member of his marathon group and her infant daughter. When he discovers the baby has a fatal disease, he reaches out to Shane. Much is at stake for both brothers and you will be turning the pages as fast as you can to find out how the story concludes.
Machiavelli—A Renaissance Life by Joseph Markulin ($21.95, Prometheus Books, softcover) could only have been written by a former professor of Italian and Comparative literature with a specialty in Medieval and Renaissance studies. The result is history in a novel during the turbulent era of Florence’s Medici family, the nefarious Borgias, and artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and the doomed prophet Savonarola. Machiavelli is famed for his instructions on governance, The Prince, but this novel fleshes out his life as he does his best to navigate Florentine Renaissance politics. It is a riveting story and will also impart a grasp of history you will find intriguing. Historical fiction is also found in Robert the Bruce by Jack Whyte ($27.99, Forge Books), the second volume of his “The Guardians” series as he follows Scotland’s greatest heroes as they rise to glory and become legend. The first was devoted to William Wallace and this novel tells the story of a man who is remembered as a national hero and one of Scotland’s greatest kings. It is a hefty volume at 573 pages and will satisfy anyone who enjoys the fully-told story of the decades-long path of the struggle for Scottish freedom. In May 1328, King Edward III signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton that recognized Scotland as an independent kingdom and Bruce as its king.

The passing of the great novelist Elmore Leonard in August was a reminder of how blessed we are with the talents of superb storytellers. Leonard started out writing westerns and when that market lost its appeal he switched to writing the crime novels on which his reputation is based. My friend, James D. Best, seems to be making a similar journey because he is arguably one of the best writers of westerns, but his newest novel, The Return, ($12.95 Wheatmark, softcover) featuring Steve Dancy, a character from several of his previous novels, is set in the East. It is the summer of 1880 and Dancy has returned to New York from two years of misadventures in the West. Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb is about to put the gaslight industry out of business and Dancy sets out to obtain a license to sell electric lamps. Edison agrees on one condition; that he and his friends stop the saboteurs who are disrupting the electrification of Wall Street. That is just the beginning of Dancy’s newest set of challenges, along with the woman he has brought back with him and a feud that began out west and could cost him Edison’s backing. The action never stops until you get to the last page.
That’s it for September! So far the year has been filled with new non-fiction and fiction to satisfy any interest and there is still more to come as autumn ushers in many new books in anticipation of the Christmas season. Tell your book-living family, friends and co-workers about where they will find news of these new books.