Friday, November 1, 2013

Bookviews - November 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Move over Nostradamus, James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus have looked into their crystal balls and jointly come up with America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—why America’s Greatest Days are Yet to Come (25.99, Encounter Books). Over the years I have read any number of comparable books that have attempted to look into the future, some more successfully than others—perhaps because change has become so rapid since the end of World War Two. Anyone with an interest in the broad outlines of American history and curiosity about how the various national and international realignments will affect the future will find this book an interesting, well informed analysis of what may lay ahead. Bennett was cofounder of two private space transportation companies and other technology ventures. He has written extensively on technology, culture and society with a particular emphasis on the Anglosphere, the shared history of English speaking nations. Lotus has a BA in economics from the University of Chicago and a JD from Indiana University. He practices law when, like his coauthor, he is not writing about history and politics. Together, they bring their considerable knowledge to address whether the U.S. will undertake the reforms it needs to fix its economy, even suggesting that some of our larger states may divide into smaller, more manageable ones. Both agree that, at the heart of our nation is the nuclear family. This is, quite frankly, a book that will challenge your beliefs and ideas on every page.

When the Supreme Court rationalized that the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, was a tax and not legislation in direct conflict with several elements of the U.S. Constitution, not the least of which is its Commerce Clause, it set off a firestorm of resistance that we are seeing today. Clark M. Neily III has authored Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government ($23.99, Encounter Books) in which he argues that America’s judges have abandoned a key feature of the Constitution, its limits on government. He deems the ACA one of the most blatantly unconstitutional pieces of legislation since the expansion of federal power during the era of the New Deal. Neily is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice where he litigates constitutional cases involving economic liberty, property rights, free speech and school choice, among others. He makes a powerful case that the nation is being radically transformed from its founding principles to one where property rights and economic freedom are in jeopardy as the Supreme Court routinely protects government prerogatives at the expense of liberty. To understand what is happening and why, I recommend you read this book.

For anyone who grew up on the plains of America or still lives there and loves its vistas, there is a book of photography by David Plowden, Heartland: The Plains and the Prairie ($75.00, W.W. Norton), a large format collection of black and white photos that will conjure up memories and provide a lot of pleasure with their stark testimony to the beauty of vast expanses, long roads, silos and distant farmhouses. While the Midwestern flatlands cover nearly a quarter of the North American continent, spanning 73 million square miles between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, they are largely unknown to the bulk of the population that lives on the nation’s coasts.  This is a visual return to the land that feeds Americans and whose exports feed many others as well. For those from cities and suburbs, the book evokes the immense distance, the flowing grasslands, ever distant horizons, and dominating skies of the Midwest. Plowden has more than twenty photography books to his credit and this one will make a great Christmas gift for someone who fondly recalls the great plains and prairie, the heartland.

My late Mother gained recognition as a teacher of haute cuisine and author of cookbooks, so food was always a topic of conversation in my home. It is a topic, too, in magazines, on websites, and continues to generate new cookbooks. If you are a “foodie” then you will surely enjoy Best Food Writing 2013 edited by Holly Hughes ($15.99, Da Capo Press, softcover). Its seven sections, ranging from “A Critical Palate” to “Home Cooking”, has plenty to enjoy as various trends are explored such as the growing interest in buying locally grown veggies and fruits.  Ms. Hughes has edited this series since its inception in 2000 and she has produced another winner this year, too.

While on the topic of food, one of my favorites is cookies. Happily, Luane Kohnke has written Sassy Cookies: Sweet, Spicy & Savory Treats with Swagger ($19.95, Pelican Publishing Company). The author’s wholesale bakery in New York specializes in cookies catering to corporate clients. Her book provides more than forty original recipes, all of which are gluten-free. They include Lemony White Chocolate, Chocolate Shortbread, and Hazelnut Cream Sandwich Cookies. One section is devoted to cookies that are an accompaniment to soups, salads, and fruit-and-cheese trays. Suffice to say, in addition to the classics, there are some tasty treats you will want to try for their originality. If you’re a chocaholic like me, there’s Chocolate Desserts to Die For! (26.95, Pelican Publishing Company) by Bev Shaffer that will keep you happily baking and eating for years to come. Even a novice can master the recipes. How about a Chocolate Crumb-Crusted Chocolate-Caramel Cheesecake? All I can say is “Yummy.”

There are two books from Zest Books this month, one or both of which is sure to please you or someone you know. One is Why? Answers to Everyday Scientific Questions by Joel Levy ($10.99, softcover) and the other is How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide by Maghan Doherty ($16.95) aimed at those aged 18 and up. The former offers answers to common questions that often are not taught despite years in school or college. It is lots of fun to read as Levy provides answer to why we don’t eat grass, why trees drop their leaves, why we sleep or dream, and the classic, why is the sky blue? The latter book will prove quite helpful in a world filled with people who behave like idiots who cut into line in front of us or kick the back of our seat at movies. How does one deal with them? Ms. Doherty offers some straightforward advice on how to deal with challenging social situations—with roommates, relationships, in the office, etc.—to the point where you will be prepared. It is a very useful book for a younger person at a point where they leave the comfort zone of home and go out into the world and for the older reader who feels ill at ease in social situations.

Reading History

I am happy to report that Jeffrey Bennett’s latest volume to his “America, the Grand Illusion” has been published. It is What God has Joined ($29.95, Kettle Moraine Publishing, softcover) and it joins previous volumes “Orphans of the Storm”, “From Revolutions to Evil-ution”, “The Edge of Darkness”, and an “Uncertain Glory.” The special genius of these volumes and the latest is that they take the actual documents, speeches, and published records from a specific time period in U.S. history and bring them together in a way that enables the reader to grasp what people at that time where thinking, writing, and saying. In the process, these volumes free our history from the mythologies that have grown up with it to focus directly on what was occurring. This particular volume takes the reader from just before the Civil War to its end and the first steps toward reconstruction. Imagine, for example, being able to read the constitution of the Confederacy? Or the actual wording of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott case? All the major players from John Brown to Stephen Douglas to Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, among a large cast, are represented here. Anyone who loves reading history as much as I do knows the value of these volumes. They are priceless.

I have lost count of how many Illinois governors have ended up in jail, but the latest one is Rod Blagojevich and the story of his rise and fall is captured in Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois and Enthralled the Nation by Natasha Korecki ($16.00, Agate Publishing, softcover). Ms. Korecki had a front-row seat for the trial of Blogo and before him, George Ryan. She is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. In December 2008, Gov. Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges that ignited a political firestorm that reverberated all the way to the White House when he was charged with attempting to sell then-President-Elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. As a courts reporter, the author began to write “The Blago Blog” and this book reflects all the many twists and turns the case followed.

New Mexico: A History by Joseph P. Sanchez, Robert L. Spude and Art Gomez ($26.95, University of Oklahoma Press) marks the first complete history of this state in more than thirty years. It will greatly please anyone who was born there or lives there today, but also anyone interested in a state that preceded its U.S. history as a place of Spanish exploration and settlement. From well before the founding and after New Mexico was known for the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail, and for the railroads and famed Route 66 provided access. It was admitted to the Union in 1912 but modernization began in earnest after World War Two. Its history makes for a rich reading experience.

Have you ever wondered where the punctuation marks we take for granted came from? Keith Houston has written Shady Characters ($25.95, W.W. Norton) to provide a fascinating glimpses into the tumultuous history of some of our most familiar, but little understood, punctuation marks. It spans ancient history to today as it marries a history of typography with cultural criticism and social history as he tracks the evolution of eleven punctuation marks from the interrobang (?) to the asterisk (*) and the others our mind processes as we enjoy whatever we’re reading. Along the way you will learn how punctuation is intimately bound up with religion, technology, culture and the desire to accurately represent one’s self on paper or these days, on computer screens. For those who delve deeply into literature, a book originally published more than sixty years ago, Robert Graves’s The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth ($18.00, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, softcover) has been reissued. It reflects Graves’s vast reading and curious research into the territories of folklore, mythology, religion and magic. It is, simply said, the work of a poet-scholar and, if you find such matters of interest, you will welcome this new edition.

The Lives of Real People

Paul Johnson is one of the greatest living historians and has written biographies of Napoleon, Churchill, and Darwin. Now he has given us an illuminating, concise biography of Mozart: A Life ($25.95, Viking) that everyone who loves his music will want to read along with others who find the history of music of interest. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most prolific and influential composers of all time, winning new fans with each new generation. His compositional output was prodigious, but you may not know that he had such a gift that he mastered all the instruments except the harp. When the clarinet was invented he learned to play it as well and added it to his arrangements. Many myths have grown up around Mozart and Johnson challenges many of them including those about his health, wealth, religion and relationships to his family. He debunks the popular myth that he was a tortured soul who died in poverty. As always, the truth is more interesting than the fiction.

Norman Rockwell is arguably the best known artist and illustrator in America. Now there’s a biography, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell ($28.00, Farrar Straus Giroux). For four decades his paintings were on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, one of the most popular magazines of its time. His images of small-time America evoked an earlier era, but one many senior citizens can still recall. They symbolized the culture and values of the nation. He died in 1978  and now Deborah Solomon, a long-time New York Times interviewer, art critic and biographer of Jackson Pollock and Joseph Carnell, has written a biography that is both thorough and surprising as it reveals an obsessed man who may have repressed his true sexuality throughout his life. His strongest relationships were with men despite marriage and a family. A decade in the making this biography is a triumph of research and attention to detail.

Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland by Beau Riffenburgh ($32.95, Viking) marks the first biography of a man who was a legend in his time after he had infiltrated the Molly Maguires, a brutal Irish-American brotherhood responsible for sabotage and at least 16 murders in the Pennsylvania coalfields. His two-year effort resulted in 19 trials and that was just the beginning of his career. He led the und for Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch and was so well known at one point that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invented a meeting between him and the fictional Sherlock Holmes. In time he became known as “The Great Detective” and the biography is filled with stories of outlaws and criminals, detectives and lawmen, based on the archives of the celebrated secretive agency and its premier sleuth.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodrigues McRobbie ($19.95, Quirk Books) is lively reading for anyone who enjoys history divested of the mythology that so often accompanies it. Little girls may dream of being princesses and others may follow the lives of modern day princesses such as Lady Diana, Grace Kelly, and now Kate Middleton, history provides many real princesses, whether royal by birth or marriage, who fought, stole, schemed, and partied as they made their way through a complicated world in which they were often chattel in arranged marriages whose job was to produce royal offspring. From Olga of Kiev (ca. 890-969) who avenged her husband’s death by slaughtering almost the entire Derevlian kingdom to Stephanie von Hohenlohe (1891-1972) who charmed her way into the heart (and out of the prisons) of both the Nazi Party and Lyndon B. Johnson, the ladies in this book offer a lot of entertaining and interesting reading.

Getting Down to Business Books

Someone ought to send the White House a copy of Michael Wheeler’s The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World ($26.00, Simon and Schuster). There has been no dearth of books on how to negotiate and they fall into the “win-win” method and the hard bargaining style. Wheeler, an award-winning Harvard Business School professor offers a third option. As he points out, “Negotiation can’t be scripted. Yet as negotiators we have to persist even when information is ambiguous, boundaries are hazy, and the scene is constantly changing.” He notes that master negotiators regard the challenge as one of learning, adapting, and, of course, influencing. His book offers an improvisational approach and shows how many different fields of endeavor use the techniques he recommends. Having taught the art of negotiation to thousands of MBA students, executives, managers, and public officials, his book now provides the reader the lessons they have enjoyed.

I once had a teacher who said that “Nothing ever happens until someone sells something to someone else.”  If your livelihood depends on sales than you just might want to pick up a copy of Unlimited Sales Success: 12 Simple Steps for Selling More Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian and Michael Tracy ($22.95, Amacom). Brian has trained thousands of people and still found time to write 55 books that have been translated into 38 languages. Michael is the vice president of sales and business development at Analog Analytics, a software company that was acquired by Barclays Plc in 2012. For either the novice or the person who has been in sales a while, the book provides advice on how to spot and avoid a poor prospect, how to turn indifferent customers into buyers, and lots of other tips that improve one’s prospects.

The BossHole Effect: Three Simple Steps Anyone Can Follow to Become a Great Boss and Lead a Successful Team ($16.99, Mill City Press, softcover) by Dr. Greg L. Alston is a short, easy to read book on how to become a respected, effective leader. He defines a BossHole as someone who behaves like an imbecile but has the authority to impact others’ lives. Dr. Alston has worked extensively in the chain drug and healthcare industries, supervising thousands of employees, working for hundreds of bosses, and “thwarting BossHoles at every turn.” He is currently both Associate Professor of Pharmacy Management and Assistant Dean for Assessment at Wingate University School of Pharmacy in North Carolina. Suffice to say he brings a lot of experience to this guide that offers a step-by-step strategy by which readers can become great bosses with minimum struggle and maximum success. We all encounter BossHoles in our careers and this book will teach you how to effectively deal with them.

For a quick laugh, there’s Your Guide to Spotting and Outing Bloodsuckers at Work: A Little Book of Monstrous Puns by Rita Harris and Heather Harwood ($17.99, Authorhouse, softcover). Working off the vampire theme, these two come up with a variety of puns that, for example, turn a chef into Count Spatula. Don’t say you weren’t warned! It would make a cute gift for anyone suffering a horrid boss or co-workers.

Advice, Advice, Advice

I wish I had read more books of advice when I was younger. Fortunately I had parents that offered a lot of good advice, but as often as not one needs to learn from others and, if they have demonstrated they expertise, their books are often a very good investment.

As a semi-retired senior citizen, I wish that Failure is NOT an Option: Creating Certainty in the Uncertainty of Retirement ($14.95, Incubation Press, Bend, Oregon, softcover) had been around when I was younger.  Written by David Rosell has extensive credentials as a financial planner and, as ten thousand “baby boomers” are reaching retirement age every day, many discover they are not ready and not able to stop working and enjoy their senior years. If you or someone you know are approaching the age of retirement, this book will prove an invaluable source of financial survival tips about the eight fundamental risks every retiree faces, providing strategies to avoid mistakes and turn existing adversity around. This book is not the usual advice about just putting money away for retirement. It goes well beyond that. The book comes with a rousing endorsement by Charles R. Schwab, Jr.

There’s plenty of advice for couples on how to resolve conflicts in marriage and we know that half of all marriages these days end in divorce despite the high hopes when the knot is tied. He Wins, She Wins: Learning the Art of Marital Negotiation by Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. ($19.99. Revell), a clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and author, has as its ultimate goal recommendations that will help couples grow in their love for one another. At one point he advises, “Never do anything without the enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.” Is that possible? It is if they address the way emotional reactions often prevent calm discussion or neither of you want to talk about an issue. There’s a problem, too, if you or both are indecisive. His previous book, “His Needs, Her Needs” sold more than two million copies, so you can be confident that this one contains advice that will help overcome the problems that every married couple encounters.

I confess I have always had a problem with trust. I suspect a lot of other do too. That’s why I think Ellen Castro’s book, Spirited Leadership: 52 Ways to Build Trust ($14.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) will likely be very helpful to anyone with a similar outlook. She earned her Med from Harvard and an MBA from Southern Methodist University where she served on the faculty of The Business Leadership Center. She is, in fact, an example of the advice she offers, learning it through experience and then translating it into practical, uplifting, concise, “how-to” exercises that benefit those who are successful and inspiring hope in those who feel hopeless. It is a book about emotional intelligence, social skills, and people smarts. These are essential skills if one is to travel through life courageously.

When Life Hurts: Finding Hope and Healing from the Pain Your Carry by Jimmy Evans with Frank Martin ($21.99, Baker Books) will no doubt prove helpful to those who carry the hurt that comes with divorce, abuse, illness or the loss of a loved one, among other forms of emotional pain. Evans is the cofounder with his wife, Karen, of Marriage Today, a television ministry, and together they have authored a number of books on marriage and family. No stranger to emotional pain, Evans shares his own life experiences and, as one might expect, incorporates faith in God to deal with deep-seated wounds. The book is enhanced by the skills of Martin who has collaborated with others including Dr. Robert Schuller and has been a family commentary writer for Focus on the Family for the past fifteen years.

School Skills

I used to hate taking tests in school. It was more an attitude than lack of preparedness, but nowadays the entire educational system from coast to coast has been taken over by standardized tests—a very bad idea since any teacher will tell you that students learn at their individual rate, mastering different subjects as individuals, not as a bunch of robots in a classroom. That’s why two books by Elie Venezky, available from, are worth checking out; Test Prep Sanity, a guide for parents, and Test Prep Sanity for Students ($13.46 paperback, $9.99 Kindle). Both have a track record of success based on the author’s 14 years of helping students prepare for tests and 20 years working with teenagers. Love’m or hate’m, youngsters have to take tests so any parent that takes the time to learn how to help and any student who learns how to take tests is going to be at a definite advantage.

Getting into the college of one’s choice is another challenge and How to Prepare a Standout College Application by Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey ($16.95, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, softcover) offers advice based on the author’s experience as college admissions professionals who now work together at Ivey College Consulting, based in Cambridge, MA. A book like this can make all the difference between acceptance or rejection. In a fiercely competitive world, this is often the first step.

Woof, Woof!

There are dog people and cat people. For the former, there are a number of recent books they are likely to enjoy, starting with Mama & Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs ($19.99, Reader’s Digest). Written by Carey Neesley with Michael Levin, Carey was very close with her brother, Peter, and naturally she worried about him when he was sent to Iraq as part of his Army service. In weekly calls, Peter told her of adopting a stray dog and her pups. When three of them died, Peter became committed to saving the remaining two, Mama and Boris. However, on Christmas Day, Peter was killed. Carey wanted to honor his memory by bringing the dogs home to Michigan. Not the easiest task since they were halfway around the world, but she was assisted by a network of heroes.  This is a wonderful story.

According to, pets can detect and affect their owner’s mood, blood pressure, and overall health. Many have become therapy dogs, visiting hospitals to lift the spirits of those recovering from illness, particularly children. They also visit nursing homes. Kathryn Walter has written a novella, Babbette’s Pack ($26.99, based on true medical cases and featuring her Shih Tzu named Babette as the heroine, a dog that can detect fictionalized, but actual canine skills to predict seizures, low blood surge, and other events. “I was inspired,” said Walter, “to write this book from my time as a physician’s assistant and RN.” Sushi: The Lhaso Apso—A Love Story ($14.95, softcover) is the story of how a little dog gained the love of one family and the legacy she eventually left behind. Claudia and Paul Elhoff tell the story of how Sushi became a part of their lives and how she bravely battled recurring cancer. Readers who have gone through the pain of losing a pet to illness or old age will especially relate to this heart-warming story.

For some laughter and fun, there’s Throw the Damn Ball: Classic Poetry by Dogs ($15.00, a Plume original) that purports to be an anthology of poetry written by dogs and “edited” by R. D. Rosen, Harry Pritchett, and Rob Battles. These are poems about things that really matter to dogs, love, loss, sex, friendship, meals, and bodily functions. These three have collaborated on bestsellers, “Bad Dog”, “Bad Cat”, and “Bad President.”  While dogs may be man’s best friend, the “poets” do not ignore their owner’s faults and frailties. There are 112 poems in this book which should be on your gift list for anyone who has a dog. It is hilarious.

Kid Stuff

For the kid who’s age 7 to 9, there is a very unique book, The Bee Society, ($15.95, The Bee Society Press, LLC) that the author would have you believe was written by Georgie Bee, a honey bee who has taken it upon himself to explain the life of bees to humans. He is quite chatty and charming, and the book is extensively illustrated with both artwork and photos, but it is the text that provides both entertainment and information about, well, bees.

From Tanglewood Publishing come two novels that pre-teens, 8 to 12, will enjoy. This first is The Last Enchanter: The Celestine Chronicles—Book Two by Laurisa White Reyes ($16.96). Book one, “The Rock of Ivanore”, was a bestseller, but now it has been months since Marcus and Kelvin succeeded in their quest to find it. Kelvin is living as royalty in Dokur and Marcus is studying magic with Zyll. Then Fredric is murdered and Kelvin becomes king, it is evident that neither is safe. This is a wonderfully written sequel, filled with action, magic, and adventure. The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justesen ($15.99) explores the problems when a teen finds himself at the center of a struggle when his birth mom wants custody even though there has been no contact for five years, Mike the young teen has been living with his father whose girlfriend has been like a mother to him. Mike has to take on the legal system despite the fact that he has no legal rights in cases of death or divorce. For those 12 and older, this is a deeply moving story.

Novels, Novels, Novels

There are so many novels being published every month that it’s nice to know that one can become reacquainted with authors we may have missed out on reading earlier. For example, Kurt Vonnegut, best known for “Slaughterhouse Five”, was around awhile and evolving as a writer. We Are What We Pretend to Be ($12.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) is a collection of his first and last unpublished works with an introduction written by his daughter, Nanette. We see his budding talent in “Basic Training” as well as his last, unfinished novel, “If God Were Alive Today.”  The two stories are bookends to his life. Similarly, David Mamet is famed as a stage and film director as well as a playwright, notably for “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Verdict.”  Three novellas have been gathered into a book, Three War Stories, by Mamet and self-published by Argo Navis Author Services. One assumes it is available via Amazon and other outlets. Suffice to say Mamet is a great talent and his book is more proof of that.

I enjoyed James Phoenix’s previous novel, “Frame Up”, the first in the Fenway Burke Mystery Series, so I was pleased to receive Loose Ends ($27.95, White Cap Publishing, Weymouth, MA) and not surprised to hear he had inherited the fans of Robert B. Parker as well as Raymond Chandler. He’s that good. Unlike most detective heroes, Burke is happily married and even a feminist. It’s a combination of old and new detective genre as we greet Burke again aboard his floating home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, his wife, baby daughter, and two enormous English Mastiffs, really big dogs. Burke is introduced to a man in his 90s, Morris Gold, a legendary money man for the mob. His grandson’s wife has disappeared without a trace, but he doesn’t want the police involved. When he takes on the case, it has a lot of loose ends and the chase takes him to New York City, then Venezuela and Columbia. Getting her home is going to require all his skills and courage. Fortunately, he has plenty to spare.

The other novels this month are all softcovers and I will wander through the stack with no particular direction in mind. Laura Spinella returns with Perfect Timing ($15.00, Berkley Publishing). It is a romance in which Isabel Lang, a young woman, has moved from New Jersey to Alabama where she forms an unlikely friendship with the musically gifted Aidan Roycroft. They share everything from a first kiss to family secrets, but a tragedy at the town’s time-honored gala causes them to flee to Las Vegas. Seven years later, Aiden is now a famed rock star and Isabel is working at a radio station. I won’t tell you more in order to avoid spoiling the story. The Secrets She Carried marks the debut of Barbara Davis ($15.00, New American Library) and a very good one as she invites us along with Leslie Nichols, the main character, to a discovery of a family’s long-buried past. Leslie does not have happy memories of Peak Plantation, the scene of an unhappy childhood that included her mother’s death and her father’s disgrace. When her grandmother, Maggie, dies, Leslie isn’t the only one who was left with the property. Jay Davenport, its caretaker, has a claim to it as well and Maggie has told Jay a terrible secret. Leslie and Jay will uncover the kind of secret that transforms one’s life forever.

I hear from book publicists all the time. It’s one thing to write a novel, but it takes real know-how to promote one. Christina George is a book industry insider and has written a series called “The Publicist” in which the second novel, Shelf Life, is just off the presses ($8.00, via Publishing is filled with people who have huge egos, often unrealistic expectations, and some who write books whose shelf life can be measured in days. Kate Mitchell is the publicist and trouble arrives when one of her star authors is led away in handcuffs. At about the same time her career and love affair hit the “off” button. She had to rebuild her life and, as fate would have it, her name becomes synonymous with a huge bestseller. This is what is often called “chick lit” because the girls will really enjoy it more than the guys. Also in the genre is Love Waltzes In by Alana Albertson ($9.99, Bolero Books) which has an uncanny resemblance to Dancing With the Stars, he popular television show. In her novel, Ms. Albertson, a former competitive ballroom dancer, pulls back the curtain to expose the sex, lies and secrets that remain hidden behind the glitzy costumes and fast moves in this, her debut as a novelist. The book has already won a number of awards and as you follow Selena Marcil, the star of a hit show, Dancing Under the Stars, you will be drawn into her life and quest for love. Chick lit, yes, but a good read too.

For a change of pace, there’s Caught in the Current by Daniel Hryhorezuk ($15.95, Langdon Street Press) that takes the ready back to the summer of 1970 in the Soviet controlled Ukraine. A first generation Ukrainian-American is on a break from his college studies, having organized a European tour with a group of friends. Unbeknownst to the group, Alec has agreed to gather information for the Ukrainian Youth Organization that seeks to undermine Soviet rule. This is a coming of age novel like no other because we are now grown distant from what life was like in the Soviet Union, a complete dictatorship. The novel is semi-autobiographical and well worth reading for its insights and drama. A foreign nation is the backdrop for another novel is the Philippines in Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealer’s Daughter ($14.95, W.W. Norton). It is her third novel and her U.S. debut with a lush, dizzying depiction of wealth, corruption, and rebellion in the 1970s. As she idles away the years in a decrepit mansion overlooking the Hudson River, Solidad Soliman is the narrator as she obsessively relives a brief, but traumatic episode from her adolescences. She was born into privilege in the Marcos-era Philippines, but never questioned the true source of her family’s wealh until she enrolls in university in Manila. There she joins a rebellious Maoist student group and becomes infatuated with Jed, a fellow rich kid. Solidad must come to terms with the fact that her father is an arms dealer whose weapons prop up the nation’s tyrannical regime. The novel captures the issues, the pretenses of all involved, and the turbulent time in which it is set.

That’s it for November! Come back in December and start making your gift list of special books for special family and friends. Meanwhile, tell others who love to read about Bookviews.