Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bookviews - September 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

We are besieged with advice on what to eat and the government has long been involved in steering everyone toward certain choices. Much of the advice it has given out over the years has been erroneous and for anyone who has a serious interest in this, there’s Nina Teicholz’s new book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Health Diet ($28.00, Simon & Schuster) that debunks the dogma about the evils of disease-causing fats that are part of the official dietary guidelines and the advice of diet books gurus and other experts. They also are put forth by the multibillion dollar industry of low-fat foods. Teicholz researched this book for six years and her thick volume which includes more than a hundred pages of detailed notes details how a single flawed study by a scientist who devoted his life to convincing influential organizations like the American Heart Association to point to the eating of fat as the cause of strokes and heart attacks. Tons of literature has been written about cholesterol, but it is a vital component of everyone’s body. All this and more is established with the evidence in this book that exposes a hoax that still influences the choices we make. Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, hailed this book saying the author “reveals the disturbing underpinnings of the profoundly misguided dietary recommendations that have permeated modern society, culminating in our overall health decline.” Frankly, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

If you want to understand how Obamacare has destroyed the best health system in the world, you should read Sandeep Jauhar’s Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician ($26.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Jauhar reports on the deep loss of morale among physicians today who cannot practice medicine in the way they would prefer because they are forced to see many more patients for far less time than they want because they are paid far less than in the past. They have to practice a defensive, self-protective kind of medicine because of malpractice suits. A single patient might see fifteen specialists in a single hospital stay. The sharp downturn in payments to physicians and hospitals has forced them to devote less time to patients. “There is no more wasteful entity in medicine than a rushed doctor,” says the author of this profoundly revealing and disturbing book. It should be read by every member of Congress, but it is a message to all Americans that Obamacare should be repealed. Another book provides an insight to the problems encountered by those seeking treatment. Misdiagnosed: One Woman’s Tour of—and Escape from—Healthcareland by Jody Berger ($14.00, Sourcebooks, softcover) is her story of having doubted the advice offered by the physicians she consulted after being told she had multiple sclerosis when in fact she had a sensitivity to gluten. One question, “What are you eating?” unlocked the truth of minor tingling sensations she had in her hands and feet. Berger, a journalist and marathoner, was skeptical of her treatment options and the diagnosis and, after a year dealing with physicians, she found one who examined her entire medical history and provided a completely different conclusion. This book is well worth reading in an era in which physicians, thanks to Obamacare, are forced to see many more patients in order to make a living.

For anyone who is concerned about the role of money in politics, there is no doubt cause when a candidate for President must raise a billion dollars and a Senate candidate must raise at least ten million. Much of that money comes from corporations and the impact of it is addressed in Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution by Timothy K. Kuhner ($90.00/$27.00, Stanford University Press). Yes, the book comes with a hefty price tag, but so does our government these days. Kuhner is an associate professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law who lectures here and abroad. “European audiences can’t believe that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued official state justifications for an unregulated open political market, the sovereignty of donors and spenders, and the demise of political equality.” The relationship of money and politics, along with the rights of corporations in our constitutional democracy is vigorously examined in this book. 


If you have a problem in any aspect of your life, I guarantee you that there’s a book out there to help you solve it. Here are a few that have recently arrived.

The Power of Positive Confrontation by Barbara Pachter with Susan Magee ($16.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) is subtitled “The skills you need to handle conflicts at work, at home, online, and in life.”  As the author points out, there’s always someone out there who is annoying you in some fashion, failing to show respect or courtesy. It’s tempting to respond by expressing your anger or just bottling up your frustration and ignoring the person, but as the author notes, that doesn’t solve anything. This book is being issued for its 15th anniversary which means it has been around a long time, successfully providing a practical guide to interpersonal problem-solving. It is filled with good advice, starting with how you handle yourself and what kind of confrontational style you employ or avoid. Being polite and powerful is the essence of this books message, but mostly how to avoid the common problem of dealing with others who think they don’t have to show you the respect you should receive.

Do you ever feel stuck in a monotonous life built around a routine? Many do and Jamie George was one of them. He was a reluctant pastor in a downward spiraling marriage and he was finding it difficult to look past his circumstances and really embrace life. If this describes you in some respect then the good news is that Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck may just be the book for you ($14.99, David Cook, softcover). It will help if you are Christian and have a sense of the spiritual in your life, but the book shares many deeply personal stories on the author’s journey from being stuck to his new life based on forming meaningful, deep relationships, and living a life of purpose. Today George is the pastor of The Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee which he founded in 2006 as a safe haven for artists and the “religiously wounded.” Stuck? Read this book!

Messy Beautiful Love by Darlene Schacht ($15.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover) addresses the problems that marriages face such as financial problems, sickness, aging parents, and a chronically unhappy spouse. In a world where divorce is a family word and marriage is simply tossed aside, many women are asking, “Is there hope for my marriage?”  The author, married for more than 25 years, understands the temptations and struggles many women face and, coming from a place of brokenness, grace, and redemption, she candidly shares her personal testimony of infidelity and a message of hope with a guide through Scripture. It helps to have a spiritual orientation to benefit from this book.

Were you a fan of Gilligan’s Island, the TV show that debuted in 1964 and is still being seen in reruns by whole new generations? One of its characters was Mary Ann Summers, a sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice Midwest girl played by Dawn Wells. She was the good girl stranded with the other characters on an island. In What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life Wells makes it clear that good girls can and do finish first ($16.95, Taylor Publishing, softcover) in a book written with Steve Stinson that is part memoir, part humor, and a dose of classic TV nostalgia. Its twelve chapters exploring everything from how Mary Ann would respond to changes in today’s culture to addressing issues confronting single women and mothers. Dawn found success in the 1960s, appearing in shows such as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Bonanza, and Hawaiian Eye before being cast in Gilligan Island. Since then she has continued acting on the stage and screen, produced films, and been active in a number of charities. Women will find this book worth reading.

A major concern of parents is to ensure that their children do not fall into the trap of taking drugs. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., who served Presidents Johnson and Carter, the latter as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, as written How To Raise A Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents ($15.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, softcover). It is a guide to keeping children substance-free through the formative pre-teen, teen, and college years. As the founder of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, this has been a long interest of Califano’s. The book addresses when and how to talk to a child about drugs and alcohol, what circumstances put a child most at risk, how binge drinking and marijuana use threaten the development of a teen’s brain, how to address the glamorization of drinking and drug use on social media, the Internet and in films and on television, including how to find the right program if one’s child needs treatment. Raising a child comes with many challenges and this book will make this one easier to deal with.

 Memoirs and Bios

There is no end to memoirs and biographies, many of which provide information and insight regarding those we admire and others which tell us the stories of people we have never heard of before.

In Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh ($37.95, W.W. Norton) one may be inclined to feel that John Lahr has told us more about the legendary playwright than we really want to know. There have been some forty biographies of Williams, but this one plumbs deeply into his sex life, his alcoholism, and the way his warring dysfunctional family and youth informed his greatest plays, “The Glass Menagerie”, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that transformed the theatre of his day, all of which were made into films that made him famed to a vast audience. Lahr, a prolific author and a regular contributor to The New Yorker where, for two decades, he was the magazine’s senior drama critic, has penned over 750 pages with footnotes. It is enhanced with nearly one hundred photos. In person, Williams was a difficult person to be around in ways that only someone of his talent and personal traumas can be. I once met him and commented on how much I had enjoyed his book of poetry, In The Winter of Cities, and he was delighted someone had read it. The biography is a disturbing account of a disturbed and disturbing man. Only someone seeking to know the man behind the dramas will want to read this biography. Men of such talent are often seem more frail, more self-absorbed, and more troubled when their lives are examined in the depth this biography offers. This book is likely to be regarded as William’s most definitive biography and it well deserves to be.

I doubt there is anyone who has not heard of the Beatles and, for the U.S. their astounding fame began in the summer of 1964. The Beatles and Me on Tour by Ivor Davis ($15.99, Cockney Kid Publishing, softcover) who was the only British newspaper writer invited on the entire tour. Over the course of 34 days and 24 cities, Davis watched them make rock history while enjoying unrestricted access to the four lads from Liverpool, from hotel suites to backstage to their private jet. He waited fifty years to write the book because the years in between were filled with other events that he also witnessed, from the assassination of Robert Kennedy to the Los Angeles Watts riots. In the 1970s he was just as busy covering Angela Davis and Daniel Ellsberg, and other figures of the era. In this book he recounts in frank and amusing fashion the adventures of the now legendary band. Fans of the Beatles will surely enjoy it. Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile by Robert Greenfield ($25.99, Da Capo Press) Written by a former associate editor for Rolling Stone magazine’s London Bureau, who was a mere 25 years old when he followed the most iconic band of the British invasion during their farewell tour of their home country. Watching from the wings from Newcastle to Los Angeles, Greenfield chronicles the group during the ten days before their leave England in tax exile. The story is punctuated by Greenfield’s analysis of the seething tensions between Mick and Keith on the cusp of their heyday.

He wasn’t President for long before his assassination, but John F. Kennedy did have a many-layered relationship with a fellow mid-20th century leader, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of Great Britain. Based on previously unquoted papers and private letters between them and their families, Christopher Sandford tells the story of that relationship in Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy ($25.95, Prometheus Books) which had to deal with Kennedy’s disastrous Bay of Pigs episode in Cuba, the Soviet act of building the Berlin Wall, and serious disagreements over the Skybolt nuclear deterrent, that cause a major rift in US-British relations. Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy this slice of it.

I frankly had never heard of or read the works of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, two Canadian poets, but their correspondence over forty years from 1947 to 1987 will surely appeal to anyone who enjoys a look at the creative process at work. We Go Far Back in Time ($39.95, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, British Columbia) are their letters, edited by Nicholas Bradley, an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Victoria. Purdy is often considered Canada’s “unofficial poet laureate” and Birney was a celebrated poet and novelist who received the Governor General’s Award twice for his poetry. Canadians understandably will find this of greater interest, but these two literary figures also reflect their times in which they lives and the inherent issues of the creative process. Both, however, were incredibly prolific, producing many books. By contrast, no one would know of Susan Blumberg-Kason if she had not written a biographical account of her cross-cultural experience in Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong ($14.99, Sourcebooks, softcover). The author is an American who had a fascination with China and, while attending graduate school in Hong Kong fell for what she thought was the Chinese man of her dreams. They married and she believed her intercultural marriage would play out like an exotic fairy tale. It quickly turned into a nightmare as she examines the values of marriage and family in contemporary China and America. As her husband Cai Kason becomes increasingly controlling and abusive, the author is forced to forgo her own Midwestern values to save the relationship and protect her newborn son. When Cai threatens to take Jake back to China for good, she has to stand up for herself, her son and their future. I think women in particular will find this book of interest, but anyone interested in current Chinese culture will as well.

Math and Science

Prometheus Books is a highly prolific publisher. One of its specialties are books about math and science topics. For those who are interested in these topics, it has four recent books. It Started with Copernicus: Vital Questions about Science by Keith Parsons ($19.95) tackles questions such as can science meet the challenges of skeptics? Should science address questions traditionally reserved for philosophy and religion? The corruption of science is on the minds of many these days as, for example, we learn of how climatology has been used to advance the global warming/climate change agenda when, in fact, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for seventeen years. This and other examples have troubled scientists. Parsons has written a jargon-free examination of areas such as evolutionary theory, paleontology, and astronomy, and others that have generated controversies.

Those interested in the history of science will enjoy The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon’s Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry was Forged ($24.95) by Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite.  These three veteran chemists show that the alchemist’s quest—often to turn ordinary metals into gold—involved real science and recounts the stories of the sages who performed strange experiments by separating and purifying materials by fire to reconstitute them. Despite their objectives, by trial, by design, and by persistence, the alchemists discovered acids, alkalis, alcohols, salts and other elements. It is a fascinating story.

Lovers of math will enjoy Mathematical Curiousities: A Treasure Trove of Unexpected Entertainments by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann ($19.95, softcover) who demonstrate that math can be enjoyable as well as an important skill on which much depends. Exploring our galaxy has been a quest that goes back to early scientists. Curiousity: An Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen by Rod Pyle (19.95, softcover) is a behind-the-scenes look at the recent mission of Curiousity, the unmanned rover whose journey of discovery is providing researchers with unprecedented information about Mars. The author provides stunning insights into how the enthusiastic team of diverse individuals uses a revolutionary onboard laboratory of chemistry, geology, and physics instruments to unravel the secrets of the red planet. The story of the most advanced machine ever sent to another planet makes for fascinating reading.

Kid Stuff

By far one of the most unique and entertaining books for young readers age four and up is Lori Scott Stewart’s Grandma, Aren’t You Glad the World’s Finally in Color Today! ($19.95, Palmar Press), but it is really for all the generations from grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. Told in rhyming verse, it is a tribute to those generations who came well before the technology today’s kids take for granted and tells the story, replete with black-and-white photos on pages facing those filled with color photos, of how those earlier generations lived through events that preceded and included the Great Depression and World War Two, before television, air conditioning, computers and all of the conveniences of our times. I had the pleasure of recommending Ms. Stewart’s debut book, “If I Had as Many Grandchildren as You” that went on to receive a 2013 Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award and Family Choice Awards. This book is sure to win a lot of award as well. It is a delight to the eye, the ear, and the soul as it takes one from those early photos to those that capture the world in full color today.

As the school year begins many parents encounter a child who is afraid to go and Ylleya Fields has written a clever book, Princess Cupcake Won’t Go to School delightfully illustrated by Michael LaDuca ($15.95, Belle Publshing, Cleveland, OH). Young readers, age 5 to 7, will enjoy the many excuses Cupcake makes to avoid that first day of school and recognize them if they have tried them out. In the end, Cupcake does go and discovers that school is a place to make new friends.

It’s football season and a great way to combine encouraging one’s children to be active in some sport and to enjoy, in this case, football, is Sports Illustrated for Kids “Football—Then to Wow! ($19.95, Time Home Entertainment) which has the added benefit of encouraging them to read. Telling the history of the game that was born in 1869, it takes the younger readers, ages 10 and up, on a journey through time, explaining how the game developed—such as the way the shape of the ball came to be the one we recognize today, how protective shoulder pads were introduced as well as the history of helmets, the building of stadiums for the game, and tons of information about its legendary players in various positions. There’s much more and by the time the reader gets to the end of this book, they will be a football whiz, enjoying it on a level well above others. Also from Sports Illustrated for Kids is What Are the Chances? The Wildest Plays in Sports ($14.95, Time Home Entertainment). It will be a big hit with any younger reader who is into sports and, typical of the SI books, it is extensively illustrated and has a lively text devoted to the rare achievements by stars as they scored points to save a game, threw or caught a ball that decided the outcome, The sports highlighted are baseball, football, and basketball. Christmas is not that far off, so if you have a youngster that loves these sports, you might want to put this one on the gift list.

I’m of a mixed mind about Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince ($15.99, Zest Books, softcover). Growing up, Liz Prince was a tomboy and she tells the story of her transition to recognizing what it meant to be female, doing so with humor, honesty, poignancy and a straight forward account of the physical and emotional changes that occurred as she matured. She goes from a girl who hated dresses, preferred boys clothes and being with them. Her teen years would change that and, being a graphic novel, each page is like a comic strip rather than just text. For young girls who share her early preferences, this will be a useful book as they too must make adjustments in adolescence. This is a “graphic” book as well in the language it employs and sensitive topics it addresses. Hence my concern.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Fans of the internationally bestselling novelist Ken Follett who have been waiting for the third book in his “century trilogy” will be pleased to know that Edge of Eternity ($36.00, Dutton) is now available. In 2010 he embarked on an ambitious project, a historical epic that spans the twentieth century. It began with “Fall of Giants” which was followed by “Winter of the World in 2012.”  The trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English and Welsh—as they make their way through the upheavals of the twentieth century. Each book follows the next generation. The new novel covers the tumultuous era of the 1960s through to today, taking in civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, presidential impeachment, revolution, and rock and roll. The copy I received was 1,098 pages! So prepare yourself for a lengthy, but fascinating reading experience. Follett’s trilogy is a real achievement, capturing the last century in a way that people can relate to through the lives of the characters.

An interesting novel by Bruce Holbert, The Hour of Lead, ($25.00, Counterpoint Press) follows his 2012 novel, “Lonesome Animals”, which was named the Best Book of the Year by both the Seattle Times and Slate. This one is set in the scabland farms and desert brush of Eastern Washington. The story follows Matt Lawson, a 14-year-old boy who is forced to take over his family’s ranch after losing both his twin brother and father in the great snowstorm of 1918. His mother disappears into grief and drinking the local moonshine and Matt realizes that he is on his own. The work gives him some relief from his feelings of loneliness, but when his relationship with Wendy, the daughter of a local grocer, goes sour, Matt sets out on a journey across the nation by way of finding himself. His mother opens her ranch home to Wendy, a local widowed teacher, and her bastard son, Lucky. It takes decades for Matt to return and his long journey will forever change the life of those around him. Stan Yocum always wanted to be a writer, but he took off 30 years to be a businessman. Now, though, he is establishing himself as a writer of indie-suspense novels and his latest is Unrelenting Nightmare ($20.95, iUniverse) that follows Stuart Garrison, a virtual reality software developer on the cusp of industry domination, as he navigates a deadly cat-and-mouse game with an international assassin hired by his fierce competitor. Garrison must outwit the killer at the same time he is releasing the new technology to the world. You will be hard pressed to put this novel down as it explores the prevalence of violence and the impact of virtual reality on youth.

In no particular order there are three novels that offer entertainment. The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee ($23.00, Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster) retells a torrid love affair and the after-effects between two of the most famous monarchs in history. Based on extensive research into the life and times of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, the novel reflects one of biblical history’s most unknown tales and brings the world of ancient Israel to life. In the 10th century BC, the Queen has inherited her father’s throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Her realm stretches west across the Red Sea, but it is new alliances to the north that threaten the trade routes which are the lifeblood of her nation. Solomon is the brash new king of Israel, already famed for his wealth and wisdom. The Queen must test and win his support, but neither rule has anticipated the clash of agendas and passion that threatens to ignore and ruin them both.

Fast forward to present times and The Wishing Tide by Barbara Davis ($15.00, NAL Accent, the Penguin Group, softcover). This is her second novel and the author lives in North Carolina, the setting for the story of Lane Kramer who moved to Starry Point, North Carolina, with the hopes that the quaint island village might be a perfect place to start fresh. She is now the owner of a charming seaside inn, having put aside her hopes of being a novelist and finding love again. When an English professor, Michael Forester appears on her doorstep in the middle of a storm, his familiarity with the island has her wondering if he is quite what he appears. Meanwhile, she has developed a friendship with an older woman who possesses a special brand of wisdom, but a fragile mind with a tenuous grip on reality. Put the three together and a decades-old secret, stir vigorously, and you have an interesting story.

Seventh Street Books has four softcover novels to offer, all available as ebooks as well. The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty ($15.99) involves a small group of mostly German nudists living an extreme back-to-nature existence, worshipping the sun on the remote island of Kabakon. When one of their members, Max Lutzow, dies it is assumed to be from malaria, but an autopsy in the nearby capital of Herbertshohe raises suspicions of foul play. Retired British military police officer Will Prior is recruited to investigate the circumstance of the death and, while the group seems friendly and willing to cooperate, Prior is convinced they are hiding something. The tension grows steadily and the climax is worth waiting for. Cat on a Cold Tin Roof—An Eli Paxton Mystery by Mike Resnick ($15.95) begins as hard luck private investigator, Eli Paxton, is hired to find a missing cat. It is a very important one because its collar is studded with diamonds worth a small fortune. What starts as a routine search of animal shelters soon becomes a perilous journey through a murky underworld. Turns out that the woman who hired Paxton is the wealthy widow of a recently murdered financial adviser with an alias and mobster ties. Eli finds the cat by not the collar. Suffice to say an intricate plot unfolds into a treacherous maze that Eli hopes to survive.

Blind Moon Alley—A Jersey Leo Novel by John Florio ($15.95) takes the reader back to the days of Prohibition. It’s Philadelphia and Jersey Leo doesn’t fit in. He tends bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. When his old grade school buddy calls from death row and asks one last favor, all hell breaks loose for Jersey who finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush, the sultry Myra Banks. Intrigued? You will be when you read this delightful novel filled with some great characters. And lastly there’s The Button Man—A Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor ($15.95) in which a former FBI profiler, Hugo Marston, has just become head of security at the U.S. embassy in London. He’s asked to protect a famous movie-star couple, Dayton Harper and Ginny Ferro who, while filming a movie in rural England, have killed a local man in a hit and run. It is a disaster from the beginning because, before he even meets them, he discovers that Ferro has disappeared and her body has been found hanging from an oak tree in a London cemetery. Hours later, a distraught Harper gives Hugo the slip. Putting the connections together with the help of a cast of characters, he must elude a serial killer after more bodies show up. Yes, it is another suspenseful, well told gripping tale.

That’s It for September

Lots of good books, fiction and non-fiction, this month as you can see. With the advent of autumn, the publishing world kicks into a high gear, producing many more. Come back in October and don’t forget to tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers about where you will find the work of authors who deserve attention.