Friday, October 31, 2014

Bookviews - November 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

If you have been having problems figuring out what is going on in Syria, then I recommend you read Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect by Reese Erlich ($25.00, Prometheus Books).  What began as a civil war to remove Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator and son of the previous one, turned into conflict that pitted a number of different groups against one another and against ISIS, an offshoot of al Qaeda that has since seized a swath of northern Syria and Iraq, declaring itself the Islamic State. Erlich has reported from the Middle East for many years and knows all those involved. He provides a useful history of events that began with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the subsequent creation of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon as England and France divided up the area as colonial possession only nominally ruled by local sheiks. The Syrian people, largely secular, have been caught in between the Assad forces that those seeking to oust him. The result has been a bloodbath in which some 900,000 have died and two million or more have fled Syria to neighboring nations. Naturally, powers like Russia and Iran have wanted to play a role, supporting Assad, while the U.S. lined up with the free Syrian forces. While Erlich brings politically liberal point of view to the text, he does so while also providing a useful explanation of what is occurring and why.

November is a political month thanks to the midterm elections, so I am happy to report that there’s a book for conservatives—women in particular—by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Common Sense ($26.95, Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group) that puts aside the usual ultra-serious examination of the differences between conservatives and liberals and defends conservatism with a heaping of humor and straight talk. In that regard it is very refreshing. The authors started a website, in 2009 and it became a very popular site for all the issues that conservatives grapple with. The authors are unapologetic about believing that America is an exceptional nation, unhappy with the way schools and universities preach a liberal doctrine replete with political correctness. They don’t look at people in terms of their race or gender and have a problem with those who do. It’s a relatively short book, but a breath of fresh air and a reminder of the values that conservatives hold despite the lies told about them as bigots, waging “a war on women”, and other inanities that are repeated endlessly in the media.

We tend to take for granted the fiction that has transformed America by their impact on the generations that have read them. In The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books Azar Nafisi examines her favorites, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt”, Carson McCuller’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, plus—despite the book’s title—James Baldwin’s “Another Country.”  Nafisi became famous a decade ago when her book, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” was published. She told how, despite Iranian morality squads and even executions, she taught American literature to her sometimes skeptical students in iran. The book became a bestseller with a million copies in print. She became an American citizen in 2008 and is now a fellow at Johns Hopkins University of Advanced International Studies. This is a woman who has deeply pondered what it means to be an America? Why are the values of American art, music, and literature so evidently at odds with the nation’s politics? Is America founded as much on heartbreak as on hope? Blending memoir and polemic with close readings of the books she has selected, she seeks answers to those any a host of other questions. In doing so she has written a book that invites the reader into the “Republic of the Imagination”, a country that has no borders, one in which the real villain is conformity, and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.

I have seen many cookbooks over the years and have wondered why few. If any, were written exclusively for men who like to cook or want to learn how. Tastosterone: The Best Cookbook for Men by Debra Levy Picard ($39.95/$14.99, hardcover and Kindle, DLP Enterprises) is not only filled with lots of delicious recipes, but also the kind of instructions that cookbook authors tend to assume the reader already knows. I can’t say this is “the best”, but I can say, given its specific audience of readers—men—it surely fulfills its mission. It does not assume that the recipes are super simple to prepare or that men would not be interested in a wide variety of dishes to tempt the palate. Each one comes with a shopping list of elements needed to prepare dishes ranging from lasagna to veal Milanese. Each recipe comes with estimated time of preparation and how many servings it provides; good, useful information. This would make a great Christmas gift for the man who wants to enjoy cooking and baking.

Throughout the year Bookviews receives books that don’t fit into any category and most surely Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers ($24.95, Quirk Books) fits that description. Margaret C. Sullivan loves everything Austen and is the founder of and has authored “The Jane Austen Handbook.” This book is filled with the cover art of her books from the years, 1811 to 1818 when she was published. When she died suddenly in 1817 her work almost slipped into obscurity, but publisher Richard Brankley recognized that there was still an audience for it. Since then publishers have worked overtime to produce editions of her novels and film adaptations have introduced it to new generations. If you are one of those fans or know someone who is, this book would make an idea Christmas gift.

Memoirs and Autobiographies

Those of us who grew up enjoying “Happy Days” on television, will especially enjoy Anson Williams delightful autobiography, Singing to a Bulldog ($14.99, Reader’s Digest). I have read many autobiographies, but rarely with the enjoyment of Williams’. Throughout the book he tells us of the advice he received as a young boy from an older African-American worker, Willie, in a department store where they both swept the floors. His parents were an unhappy argumentative couple who he left behind at an early age, harboring a dream of becoming an actor and singer. Along the way to the fame he would achieve, it was Willie’s advice that was a constant guide to his behavior, advising him to pursue his dreams, remain humble, and to give back to others as his success would permit over the years. In addition to his years on “Happy Days” he would become a successful director, writer, producer and entrepreneur. He would also meet some of the most famous people in show business and others like Ronald Reagan. Every page is filled with the events and personalities that helped him and his appreciation for them, as well as the friendships he enjoyed with his fellow “Happy Days” performers. Married with five daughters, this is a life well lived and an inspiration to the readers of his autobiography.

As this is written, a Missouri police officer who killed a young, black man in self-defense has endured a firestorm of attacks that have also generated riots in Ferguson. In time the facts will exonerate him and Michael Cover’s memoir Behind the Badge: A Policeman’s Legacy ($18.99, self-published, softcover) of his 24 years as a police officer in Southern California provides an excellent insight to the reality of being a police officer, one who must constantly operate in the midst of uncertainty, deal with gangs, the mentally deranged, and the drug crazed. They face knives, chemicals, and betrayal on the job as they daily fight criminals, bureaucracy, and, as we have seen, negative stereotypes. I have known a number of police officers and to a man (or woman) they go into the profession with a desire to help people. His book is well worth reading, particularly in a time when police officers now find themselves under attack by Islamic fanatics in addition to the others that would harm them.

The criminal world is one which we all live, fearful of becoming its victims, and Katarina Rosenblatt, Ph.D., tells of her horrendous youth and survival of having been lured into child prostitution as part of a sex trade that exists in the shadows of society. Recruited while staying with her family at a hotel in Miami Beach, she was already a lonely and abused young girl who simply yearned to be loved. For years afterward, she endured a cycle of false friendships, threats, drugs, and violence. As she points out, this could happen to any child. She tells her story in Stolen ($14.95, Revell, softcover) and was saved after she heard Billy Graham preach that God would never forsake her. She escaped her fate and went on to earn a Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolutions, and a law degree in intercultural human rights. Today she works with law enforcement agencies that include the FBI and Homeland Security as she focuses on the prevention and rescuing of the victims of the sexual slave trade. This memoir is well worth reading.

Reading History

I love reading history and, in particular, American history. While we are all familiar with the names of the Founding Fathers, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Monroe and Madison, one man who played an extraordinary role in defending the Constitution is finally given his rightful honors in Harlow Giles Unger’s book, John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Save the Nation ($27.99, Da Capo Press). Rarely mentioned in the history books that are used in our schools, Marshall’s life is a reflection of the turmoil that accompanied the Revolution in which he fought with distinction, followed by the his biggest battle, to protect and assert the role of the federal government and the Constitution that defined its powers and limits. He begins with the death of George Washington in 1800, the man who had led the fledgling nation through the long Revolution and then with two terms as its first President. As Unger says of the young Union, “they lost their way.” Indeed, “Chaos engulfed the land as surviving Founding Fathers…turned on each other as they clawed at Washington’s fallen mantle.” That’s the dramatic beginning of a book that will give you a very different view of the men we hold in such great honor because with the exception of those who clung closely to the Constitution, others like Jefferson were so power-hungry, they would have tossed it overboard if Marshall had not been appointed Chief Justice by John Adams who followed Washington as President. The Supreme Court rendered decisions in the nation’s earliest years that defined the powers of the federal government and those of the states. It protected contracts. And, what Marshall feared came true; the southern states declared secession and a brutal Civil War threatened the republic. Thanks in great part to Marshall and his Court, the Constitution sustains the oldest system of self-government in the history of man. This is a great book that I heartily recommend to everyone.

Thomas Jefferson is one of the nation’s iconic founders and while there have been many books about his life, M. Andrew Holowchak has written Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision ($26.00/$12.99, Prometheus Books, hardcover and Ebook), delving deeply into Jefferson’s writings to reveal an intensely curious Enlightenment thinker with a well-constructed, people-sympathetic, and consistent philosophy. Holowchak has written a number of other books about Jefferson and his knowledge of the man is amply on display as he examines Jefferson who was himself greatly influenced by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. This book looks at Jefferson’s views on human nature, morality, education, and the liberalism he brought to bear in his service to the nation. Jefferson was most surely a man of letters and his gifted writings helped shape the new nation.

I particularly enjoy reading about people who changed history because of a dream they had and most certainly that describes Golda Meir, one of the pioneers of the state of Israel and one of its prime ministers. Ann Atkins has written a very readable biography, Golda Meir--True Grit, ($14.95, Flash History Press, softcover) of this remarkable woman who, from very early in her life, concluded that the Zionist dream of a nation where Jews could be free of the prejudice and oppression they faced in the world, could be made a reality. She was a woman of remarkable capabilities who earned the respect of all who heard her speak or dealt with her. Not only did she help bring about the creation of Israel in 1947, she was instrumental in securing the funds needed to defend it and for years after she held a number of key roles. She is an inspiration and I would surely recommend this autobiography to anyone who wants to learn about her and Israel.

For those of the era in which Playboy magazine, which debuted in 1953, became an empire of Playboy clubs around the U.S. and the world, Playboy on Stage: A History of the World’s Sexiest Nightclubs by Patty Farmer with contributions by Will Friedwald ($24.95, Beaufort Books) is a special treat, especially like myself, who can recall visiting the clubs and being entertained by some of the greatest musical and comedic talent of those days. At the height of their popularity in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the clubs were collectively the largest employers of talent in the nation. To his credit, Hugh Hefner and his staff were colorblind welcoming African American starts and furthering both civil rights and gender equality. The original club was in Chicago, but it was soon joined by venues in Miami, New Orleans and New York, and other global cities. Who could ever forget the lovely “bunnies” that served food and drinks? Not me. The book tells the story of clubs in the words of many of the artists, musicians, singers, and comedians, as well as those behind the scene. This is history that is, dare I say, very entertaining.

Food for the Mind and Body

My Mother taught gourmet cooking for three decades and wrote a number of cookbooks, so food was always a topic in our home where dinner was always an adventure. For others who enjoy the topic, I can recommend Best Food Writing 2014, edited by Holly Hughes who has edited this series ($15.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) since 2000. Some of its articles discuss the latest food trends, minus the hype, such as the trend toward spicy foods and the heightened popularity of bacon. Fifty writers have their say in this edition and there’s plenty to enjoy in it.

Like a lot of Americans, I had no idea what gluten was or that it caused thousands of children and adults the distress of health-related problems. Dr. Alessio Fasano is one of the world‘s leading authorities on gluten and celiac disease and in Gluten Freedom ($24.95, Wiley) he presents the facts about what gluten does, whom it affects, and what can be done for the millions of Americans, most of them undiagnosed, with celiac disease. Dr. Fasano is the founder and director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and a visiting professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He notes that gluten intolerance hadn't even been identified as recently as twenty years ago, nor recognized by either the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the National Institute of Health. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last ten years,” writes Dr. Fasano.  His book provides a clear, concise roadmap for understanding why gluten does what it does and what can be done about it. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder affecting children and adults; even the slightest bit of gluten can set off an autoimmune reaction, one that can eventually lead to the complete destruction of part of the small intestine. If you suspect you or someone you know might have Celiac disease, this is definitely the book to read.

Sex, Love and DNA: What Molecular Biology Teaches Us About Being Human ($17.77, softcover/$9.99 Kindle, Olingo Press, Foster City, CA)  is one of those titles that is hard to resist even it may sound a bit intimidating. Written by Peter Schattner, a member of the Biomolecular Engineering Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, it is written for non-scientists. Its chapters focus on age-old questions such as “What is Love?”, “What is Sex?”, and “What Makes Some People So Smart?”  This is what is often called popular science and we are fortunate that this particular science, as provided by Schattner, will astound and entertain you far more than any science fiction might. It is a fascinating journey into the biology of our cells as the author explains how proteins and DNA affect our lives. He should know. He is a scientist, educator and writer with thirty years’ experience in molecular biology, biomedical instrumentation, and physics. This book explores the mysteries of being human and I heartily recommend it.

Science Stuff

Richard Grossinger first published The Night Sky: Soul and Cosmos in 1981, updating it in 1988 and again this year ($29.95, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, softcover) and if you have an interest in astronomy, this massive 800-plus page volume will pretty much tell you everything you ever wanted to know. Where he found the time is a mystery given the fact that he has written more than twenty other books and edited eight others. Grossinger believes that “science is telling us half or less of what it is doing.”  He has devoted his life to investigating four main topics, medicine, cosmology, embryology, and consciousness. I would have been exhausted just investigating one of them! “The universe that science can’t get out is the university of our being, e.g., our basis as cosmic witnesses…”  So, if you have ever looked up at the night sky with its countless stars and wondered what was out there and how you relate to it this book will surely provide some profound answers.

Getting Down to Business

What is often forgotten about America and what makes it truly exceptional is the world of opportunity it offers to those willing to work hard to make their dreams come true. That is the message of Bill McDermott’s Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office, written with Joanne Gordon ($28.00. Simon and Schuster). These days McDermott is the CEO of SAP, the largest business software company in the world. It’s a long way from working-class Long Island where he had traded three hourly-wage jobs to work at a corner deli. When its owner decided to sell the story, McDermott was still in high school, but he bought it with a $7,000 loan, learning how to serve customers, outshine competitors, and growing his small business. Using the deli’s profits to pay for college, he moved on to selling copiers door-to-door in New York City for Xerox in the 1980s. Not surprisingly he became a top salesman and Xerox’s youngest ever corporate officer. SAP was a languishing unit and he was named its president. He would lead it to nearly triple software revenues, outpace the company’s overall growth, and achieve market leadership. Inspiring? You bet! Worth reading? You bet!  

The world of business is filled with fascinating personalities and their stories. One of them was Albert Champion, the founder of AC Delco and Champion Spark Plug. He would become a tycoon investing in what was there the new and revolutionary auto industry when Chevrolet and General Motors, among others, were just beginning. Peter Joffre Nye has captured his life in The Fast Times of Albert Champion: From Record-Setting Racer to Dashing Tycoon, an Untold Story of Speed, Success, and Betrayal ($26.00 Prometheus Books).  Champion rose from poverty in Paris to great wealth and fame in both his native France and the United States. As a bicycle racer, he set more than a hundred world records. He used his prize money to invest in an industry that would make the U.S. a world leader in automobile manufacturing. He also famous for many dalliances and his final love triangle resulted in his death under mysterious circumstances. This one is fun to read from start to finish.

No More Business as Usual by Chutisa and Steven Bowman ($24.99, Access Consciousness Publishing, softcover), a husband and wife team who currently advise more than 440 organizations a year, along with a thousand CEOs and board chairs at international companies, is definitely unusual because it departs from the usual books on the subject of business success. They describe it as a “paradigm-changing book that presents a system and tools for consciously generating different possibilities” to grow a business. They believe they have found the underlying reasons why leaders succeed and fail. In short, they believe that being able to see different possibilities instead of concentrating on what the competition is doing opens doors to success. I have seen comparable books on this topic, but this one has merit too.

Books About Christmas

This is the time of year when new editions and versions of Christmas-related books arrive. For a younger generation they provide their first introduction and for older generations they can be gifts to the younger that will be long remembered.

Penguin Books offers “classics” and this year they have five, all priced $16.00, that are a little library of Christmas classics. They are A Merry Christmas & Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott, The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol, The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. At 5 inches wide and seven-and-a-half long, they would be easy for a youngster to hold while reading and easy to stuff into a Christmas stocking. For anyone who loves this holiday, they are a small treasure.

A Christmas Carol has also been published by Running Press, a member of the Perseus Group under its “Steampunk” imprint ($18.95). It also includes “A Christmas Tree” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.” This edition is beautifully illustrated by Zdenko Basic. It would make an excellent gift for anyone of any age, but the younger reader in particular will enjoy it. From Carlo Devito comes Inventing Scrooge: The Incredible True Story Behind Dicken’s Legendary A Christmas Carol ($22.99, Cider Mill Press). Devito has delved into the story of the classic from when it was conceived by Dickens on a train ride to Manchester in October 1843. He would write to his wife, “I can never write with effect…until I have become so excited with my subject that I cannot leave off.”  That’s a good description of the way this now classic Christmas tale grips a new reader of it. The literary story behind it is explored and Devito says he has uncovered the true identity of Ebenezer Scrooge. Indeed, the Carol is highly autobiographical, utilizing his youth and his family’s earliest travails.

A parent’s crazed efforts to prove to his 4-year-old that Santa is real is the crux of a curious story, Real Santa by William Hazelgrove ($29.95, hardcover; $16.95 softcover, $7.99 Ebook,  Koehlerbooks) George Kronenfelt is an unemployed engineer who is intent on keeping his daughter’s belief in Santa intact. When she tells him that the only way she will believe in Santa is if she can videotape him and post it to YouTube. George realizes he must become the real Santa and from then on we are entertained by his efforts to find reindeer, hire a broken down movie director, and fulfill his promise becomes a funny, heartwarming story of parenthood gone awry as keeping a child happy dominates everything else for a while.

Our Furry Friends

Over the years Lissa Warren has sent me many books as the director of publicity at Da Capo Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. We’ve never met, but I most surely recognized her name as the author of The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family and a Family Saved a Cat ($21.95, Globe Pequot Press). She writes of Ting, a seven-pound Korat who was brought into the family as a companion for her father while his wife and daughter were at work. Ting quickly endeared herself. In late 2008 Lissa’s father died of a heart attack and less than a year later Ting was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition. They made the decision to have a human pacemaker implanted, a rare procedure to be sure but they were determined not to lose their beloved gray cat. If the memoir ended with that, relating the grief and hope that they had all shared, it would be a testament to the close relationships we share with our pets, but Lissa received her own diagnosis, multiple sclerosis, There is no cure, but Lissa thinks Ting has taught her how to cope and has a remarkable, positive attitude. MS has taught her how others love her, including Ting. Anyone who shares their life with a family cat will absolutely love this book and be inspired by it.

Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn by Dean Koontz and his dog Anna ($20.00, Center Street) is a pure delight. Koontz is one of the most successful novelists of our time with more than 450 million copies in print, in 36 languages, 14 of which have been number one on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. Anna is identified as an advice columnist for dogs. This is her first book. It is a marvelously funny, entertaining book that is further enhanced by the wonderful photos by Vincent Remini. Koontz introduces the book saying he had noticed that other dogs in the neighborhood seemed to consult with Anna, a Golden Retriever. Then he noticed she appeared to be having conversations as well with all sorts of people they encountered in their daily life. Then, if you can believe this, he discovered she had “secretly acquired her own computer and was engaged in the dispensing if advice online to all manner of species.” Suffice to say that the advice is worth a good nod of its worth on every page and more than a few laughs. A great gift for sure.

Novels, Novels, Novels

I like when a novelist can turn history into romance or drama and Renee Rosen does both in What the Lady Wants ($15.00, New American Library, softcover) with a story that begins with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which left the city in a state of destruction and depression. With typical American vigor, men of wealth saw a greater future for the city and began building department stores and other enterprises that led to the city hosting the World’s Fair in 1893. On the night of the fire, 17-year-old Delia Spencer watched as the flames consumed her beloved hometown and on that same night she met a man named Marshall Field. He built one of the department stores with the motto “Give the lady what she wants” and Delia fell in love with him. Behind the success and the opulent life style of his fellow entrepreneurs, Potter Palmer and George Pullman, their private lives were riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness in their separately ruined marriages, but their love deepens and they stand together despite ostracism in an age of devastation and opportunity. Moving forward to modern times, the city is Dubai and it is the setting for Kay Tejani’s debut novel, Power and Passion, ($9.90, Global Impact Publishers, softcover). The novel encompasses three women living in a world of extreme wealth, filled with seven star hotels, man-made islands, and even glass-enclosed ski slopes. Sara Shariff had come to Dubai with her Muslim parents from Canada three years earlier and is working as the events coordinator for the Middle East section of the Special Olympics. Her fiancĂ©, a non-Muslim real estate executive from the United Kingdom suggests she run a gala on a grand scale to raise money. She is joined by Joan Harrison who has been running successful charity events for years and by her best friend, Maryam. All is going well under a devastating lie changes the course of Sara’s life, putting everything she is doing in jeopardy. The author knows the city well, having lived there for many years. She brings an authenticity to the story that women readers in particular will enjoy.

Mysteries and suspense novels just keep coming. Here are some of the latest softcovers.

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek—A Samuel Craddock Mystery by Terry Shames ($15.95, Seventh Street Books) After Jarrett Creek went bankrupt and Gary Dellmore, heir apparent to the main bank is dead, The retired Craddock is asked to return as police chief. Dellmore was known to have a roving eye despite his marriage and Craddock wonders whether a husband or father of those women thought he should be eliminated? What he discovers is that Dellmore had a record of bad business investments including the loan he took that brought about the bankruptcy. The more he digs, the uglier the story becomes. Also from Seventh Street Books, Black Karma: A White Ginger Novel by Thatcher Robinson ($15.95) in which Bai Jiang, San Francisco’s best known souxun—people finder—is hired to track down the mysterious Daniel Chen. Police inspector Kelly suspects Chen of being involved in a botched drug heist that resulted in the death of an officer. Bai has her own suspicions. She thinks the police just want to see Chen dead. In the course of the investigation, she finds herself caught between international intelligence agencies and merchants of war, who deal in death, drugs, and high-jacked information. There’s intrigue aplenty here.

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni ($15.95, Thomas & Mercer) will add to his fame as the author of bestselling legal thrillers. In this novel Dugoni returns with a powerful and poignant story of a homicide detective determined to avenge the murder of his beloved younger sister. Seattle cop Tracy Crosswhite was a high school chemistry teacher when her teenaged sister Sarah disappeared one night on her way home to their small town of Cedar Grove. A young ex-con, Edmund House, was quickly tried and convicted. Twenty years later and a career change later, Tracy has dedicated her life to questioning whether the right man went to jail. When Sarah’s remains are uncovered from a newly-exposed lake bed, new evidence seems to support Tracy’s theory. Somewhere in Cedar Grove is a killer. Blame: A Casey Portman Novel by Linda Rocker ($14.95, Wheatmark) is enhanced by the fact that Ms. Rocker worked more than 35 years as a trial lawyer and judge in Ohio’s highest trial court. Lawers turned novelists is becoming a trend, but it helps if they’re good at it and Ms. Rocker is as she tells the story of a young man who dies of a drug overdose and his mother is looking for someone to blame. She embarks on an obsessive crusade to destroy the pain doctor who gave her only son the pills the killed him. The Palm Beach Courthouse and an ambitious prosecutor become the tools of her revenge. Casey Portman, the judge’s bailiff, is dealing with her love for a handsome sheriff, but the ripple effects of the young man’s death and a trial of a respected neurosurgeon fills this story with plenty of twists and turns, that will keep you reading it. Lastly, Unrelenting Nightmare by Stan Yocum ($20.95, iUniverse) follows 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. The author brings both his theatre background and extensive background in the business world in the writing of this novel as he tackles the prevalence of violence and the impact of virtual reality on youth.

That’s it for November! Come back next month as we look at some ideal books for Christmas gifts and just good reading. Tell your book-loving friends, family, and co-workers about Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bookviews - October 2014

My Picks of the Month

The Obama administration’s foreign relations policies have significantly weakened America and The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership ($27.99, Encounter books) by Douglas E. Schoen and Melik Kaylan reveals how these two nations, in league with Iran, North Korea and other nations, have drawn closer together as they have initiated massive military buildups of conventional and nuclear forces. The Obama “reset” with Russia has proven to be just one of many failures to realize how its policies are endangering America’s role as a superpower to which other nations have looked for protection. Russia’s and China’s trade and economic policies, along with their support for Iran’s ability to create its own nuclear weapons and their aggressive actions to expand territorial claims are in violation of UN norms. The annexation of Crimea by Russia is just the tip of the iceberg, as are China’s actions in international waters reveal their true intentions, but the U.S. response has not just been weak, but its reduction of the U.S. military to levels that existed before WWII are a danger to national security. Both nations have been facilitating rogue regimes like North Korea, Iran, and Syria, as well as militant Islamic groups. Both are engaged in massive cyber theft and espionage directed against the U.S. It is significant that Schoen, one of the most influential Democratic campaign consultants for more than thirty years, is so critical of the Obama regime. Kaylan is a leading authority on international politics. Together they have written a book that anyone and everyone concerned about current events and their future potential that should be “must” reading. They have documented a very scary future for America.

As Americans continue to try to understand what is occurring in the Middle East, Donald Liebich has provided some answers in his excellent look at the region and America’s involvement there. Fault Lines: The Layman’s Guide to Understanding America’s Role in the Ever-Changing Middle East ($16.99, Elevate, Boise Idaho, softcover) is both filled with history and other facts about the region and its importance to our lives. The author is not a career diplomat or a think tank expert, but instead has been in the U.S. Navy, followed by a career with a corporation and as a consultant to business enterprises. It included many trips to the Middle East over the past ten years that included meeting many of the key players as well as the common people. His extensive knowledge is shared with the reader in ways you may not read in newspapers or other U.S. media. Liebich explores why the U.S. got involved—ensuring the oil we needed as a rising power in the wake of both world wars—and why President’s 41 and 43 felt the need to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, then to invade Afghanistan in response to 9/11 and later to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. He explains why the “Arab Spring” failed and why the U.S. has lost much of the influence it once had. This book is “must” reading for anyone trying to make sense of the headlines and reports.

As Americans face the likelihood of having to return to the Middle East to attack and destroy the Islamic State, many questions about the waging of war will arise and the perfect book to respond to them is Prof. Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Worth of War ($24.00, Prometheus Books) in which the historian and scholar lays out how and why war over the centuries has produced the modern world thanks to the development of the bureaucracies to wage them, the financial developments to fund them, and the emergence of the concept of the citizen soldier to fight them. While war is terrible and brutal, it has also advanced the world in many ways as nations realized they needed strong economies to wage and win wars, developed the propaganda techniques to justify them, and have seen the spread of knowledge to both the winners and losers from the days of the Greek and Roman Empires to the present era. This is an interesting, thought-provoking book for anyone interested in history and the role that war has played throughout. Throughout our history, policies have been introduced in Congress that their supporters thought would benefit Americans only to discover that they created problems that had to be corrected or modified at some point. That’s the subject of Thomas E. Hall’s new book, Aftermath: The Unintended Consequences of Public Policies ($15.95, Cato Institute). I would recommend it to anyone studying political science at the university level or who is interested in U.S. history in general. A professor of economics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, he has written a number of books that demonstrate his capacity to do a lot of research and explain the complexity of events like the Great Depression or the causes of economic fluctuations. This book is particularly timely insofar as the debacle of Obamacare has demonstrated once again that government interference with the marketplace often results in a disaster. The book demonstrates that when the government imposes new taxes, rules, or regulations, the outcome can produce consequences so severe they render the intent a failure. Prohibition is one example he examines, alone with cigarette taxes, both of which created crime empires. The concept of a minimum wages can leave a younger generation jobless. And the income tax has led to a giant federal government, the exact opposite of what the Founders laid out in the Constitution. 

Not everything is or should be taken as seriously as war and thank goodness for that! Some books are written just to entertain and can be read for that reason. A perfect example of that is 1,399 Quite Interesting Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin, and the QI Elves ($15.95, W.W. Norton). The authors are the brains behind the award-winning BBC quiz show, QI. The book lives up to its name. For example, the human nose can distinguish between over 10,000 smells and humpback whales can sing non-stop for 20 hours. Your brains makes a million new connections every second and Chopin only performed 30 concerts in his entire life. Suffice to say, every page has four facts that will manage to inform and entertain you at the same time. I loved it. For sheer fun if you are the parent of a new baby or know someone who is, pick up a copy of How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity: Guiding Your Child to Success and Fulfillment by Rick Chillot with photography by Dustin Fenstermacher ($12.95, Quirk Books, softcover). Suffice to say this is satire, a pure tongue in cheek “guide” for all those parents who love posting the latest photo or video of their child on their blog or some site like YouTube where fame is instant.

For anyone who loves animals, Daisy to the Rescue: True Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and other Animal Heroes by Jeff Campbell ($17.99, Zest Books, softcover) is sure to please. As his book demonstrates, animals are not only our companions, but become in many cases, true lifesavers as well. The book is enhanced by original illustrations by Ramsey Beyer that illuminate more than 50 amazing stories of how animals can not only make our lives better, but even save them on occasion. You will enjoy stories of bottlenose dolphins rescuing surfers from a great white shark, lions protecting a kidnapped girl, and a pig stopping traffic to get help for a heart attack victim. Great fun to read. Judy: The Unforgettable Story of a Dog Who Went to War and Became a True Hero by Damien Lewis ($24.99, Quercus, softcover) will cheer and inspire any lover of dogs with its story of an English pointer, born in Shanghai, China in 1936 who became the mascot for the English gunboat, HMS Gnat.  When war broke out , the crew was redeployed to Singapore and Judy had a keen sense of when an attack would occur. She and her shipmates were taken prisoner by the Japanese where they endured horrible conditions. The camp commandant gave her recognition as a POW, protecting her from harm. She helped maintain her fellow POW’s morale.

Reading History

I love reading history. It never fails to provide an understanding of what is occurring in the present times or provide a glimpse into the lives of those who helped shape it in some fashion.

It would surprise most people to learn that Walt Whitman, one of America’s great poets, was living in the basement of his mother’s home at age 40 or so, having published two editions of “Leaves of Grass” to virtually no sales and few reviews, most of which were unfavorable. This and the story of one of America’s first gathering place for writers, poets, artists, actors, and other free spirits on the eve of the Civil War is told in Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians ($27.99, Da Capo Press) by Justin Martin. The book focuses on a New York saloon, Pfaff’s, in a Broadway area that was filled with restaurants, art galleries, bookstores, and other places that made it a favorite place for the city dwellers. Pfaff’s, was overseen by Henry Clapp, Jr. who had returned from several years living in Paris with the aim of recreating the atmosphere he enjoyed in nightspots that catered to creative folk. It would attract a group of people, most of whom did not achieve Whitman’s later fame, but were widely published and known in their own time. Though we may think of the 1850s, lacking electric lights and other modern conveniences, as a bit ancient, intellectually and artistically, it represented much of what we regard as modern culture. Indeed, politically it reflects our present times. “Congress was simply nonfunctional. The Presidents of the era were generally bunglers until Lincoln was elected. By the late 1850s, there didn’t exist a single official U.S. institution that wasn’t in crisis,” notes Martin, who writes that “A common stance among Clapp’s set was a kind of sly cynicism. Every aspect of American society seemed so eroded, so diminished; drinking, carousing, and trading witty barbs in a subterranean bar—what else even made sense?”  For anyone who loves history and wishes to understand Whitman’s times, his life and work, this book is a real treat! Whitman lived long after the Civil War was over, but many of his contemporaries at Pfaff’s did not, burning out before they reached much beyond age 30. In all this is a book that is a fascinating look at the era in which the most famed of American poets found his unique voice.

For those who enjoy a hefty volume, you will not be disappointed by Donald L. Miller’s Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America ($37.50, Simon and Schuster) which, at just over 750 pages, cover the topic extensively and entertainingly. The central figure of the Roaring Twenties era was Jimmy Walker, New York’s dashing Mayor. It was during this time that midtown Manhattan was the center of a construction boom that changed the character of the city as the area around Grand Central Terminal became home to the tallest skyscrapers on earth as well as the fabled residences of the wealthy along Park Avenue. Times Square was America’s movie mecca and home to bustling theatres. New York became the headquarters for national radio and the site of influential magazines like The New Yorker.  The city was becoming the center for a whole new universe of culture and enterprise that included now legendary names like Florenz Ziegfeld, David Sarnoff, William Paley, Duke Ellington, and others like the speakeasy owner, Texas Guinan. Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth were sporting giants of the decade. Everything about the city and the times was about size and excess. The Crash of 1929 brought an end to the era captured lovingly in Miller’s book, one well worth reading.

In our fast-paced world, one can be forgiven for having forgotten the uproar in 2005 when a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a number of cartoons about Islam, including one drawn by artist Kurt Westergaard that depicted Muhammad with a bomb wrapped in his turban. In The Tyranny of Silence ($24.95, Cato Institute, softcover) Fleming tells the story of the “cartoon crisis” that followed as Muslims in Europe and around the world erupted in protest. Danish embassies were attacked and more than 200 deaths were attributed to the protests. Rose came to symbolize one of the defining issues of our era; the tension between respect for cultural diversity and the protection of freedom—particularly freedom of the press and of free expression. Fleming tells of what he had to confront in the aftermath of the outcry. This is his personal account of an event that has shaped the debate about what it means to be a citizen in a democracy at the same time that more than a billion Muslims take offense at any criticism of their religion.
Another Cato Institute book worth reading is Bootleggers & Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics ($24.95) by Adam Smith and Bruce Yandle. It reflects our era of “crony capitalism” in which businesses engage the government to enhance their bottom lines. Throughout our history, the government has been a good place to sell one’s goods and to manipulate the marketplace to one’s benefit. Yandle’s theory asserts that regulatory “bootleggers” are parties taking political action in pursuit of economic gain. His book examines major regulatory activities such as Obamacare, the recent financial bailouts, climate change regulation, and rules governing “sinful” substances. The burden of regulations, some of which are deemed “significant” because their effect on the economy is estimated at $100 million or more each year they are in force, is being felt in all areas of the nation’s economy.

With Islam in the news as a threat to everything including secular Muslims, It’s All About Muhammad: A Biography of the World’s Most Notorious Prophet by F.W. ($16.95, Zenga Books, softcover) is very timely and very scary. What emerges from F.W. Burleigh’s intensively researched book is the portrait of a deeply disturbed, extremely violent individual and one whose life is venerated by over a billion Muslims as a guide to how they should live theirs. It is a religion Muhammad put together, thinking his epileptic seizures were a communication with God whom he called Allah. He cobbled together the faith he created, borrowing from Judaism and Christianity, but ultimately rejecting them and all others as he dictated the Koran. Muhammad literally declared war on all other faiths. Fleeing those who saw him as a danger, he built Islam through a history of assassinations, banditry, kidnappings, and beheadings that made Islam feared in his own time. Fourteen centuries later, Islam is still feared and it should be. This book will answer all your questions, but will not be available for sale until October 15 when you can purchase it via

Those who enjoy reading about the Civil War will surely enjoy S.C. Gwynne’s excellent biography of Stonewall Jackson, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson ($35.00, Scribner) that brings to life the story of one of the Confederacy’s greatest generals. Like Gen. Robert E. Lee, Jackson, while he had won plaudits and promotion during an earlier war with Mexico, had led a generally undistinguished life, not much filled with success or the portents of their close cooperation during the Civil War that held off a far larger Union army and defeated it in several major battles. Jackson virtually invented the concept of swiftly moving large numbers of troops while keeping the Union unaware of their movement. He was a taciturn man and paid little heed to his attire. Far more than just an account of battles, Gwynne delves into his personal life that included the loss of his beloved first wife. During the course of the war he emerged as a man of legend, dying of a wartime wound in May 1863, uttering as his last words, “Let us cross the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has made a separate reputation as the author of books about the killing of noted figures, the latest being “Killing Jesus” which has been on the bestseller list for weeks. Robert M. Price, a New Testament scholar has authored several books on Christian matters and his latest is Killing History: Jesus in the No-Spin Zone ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). O’Reilly claims that his book is a purely historical account of the events in the life of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion, but Price regards it as the number one source of misinformation on Jesus today that ignores the past century’s New Testament scholarship, interpretations, and findings. He makes his case that O’Reilly’s books is little more than historic fiction.

To Your Health

I miss seeing more cookbooks that offer a range of tempting and tasty items to eat. So many are “health” oriented and that’s okay, but my Mother was a cookbook author and taught gourmet cooking for several decades. Dinner at our house was always a treat and, frankly, we ate everything…with gusto!

Tasting the Seasons: Inspired, In-Season Cuisine That’s Easy, Healthy, Fresh and Fun by Kerry Dunnington ($19.95, Artichoke Publishers, softcover) is happily filled with some 250 recipes that reflect the season’s bounty with a section on meat and chicken dishes, but if you prefer vegetables than you will find many more dishes that featured plums, mangos, tomatoes, and others such items. The author is a culinary consultant and caterer who specializes in “healthy” eating and entertaining. You will learn a lot from this book which offers some surprising ways to turn ordinary dishes likes pancakes and waffles into a health-related event using salba, teff, millet and flax seeds! I come from the old school of ordinary pancakes with butter melting on top of a stack and plenty of maple syrup. Even so, there is no doubt that anyone with health in mind will greatly enjoy this book and its wide range of recipes. In a similar fashion, The Forks Over Knives Plan: A 4-week Meal-by-Meal Makeover ($24.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) by Alona Puide, MD, and Methew Lederman, MD, with Marah Stets and Brian Wendel, and recipes by Darshana Thacker and Del Srouga offers itself as a guide on “how to transition to the life-saving, whole-food, plant-based diet.”  It asserts that various diseases can be reversed by leaving meat, dairy, and highly refined foods off the plate. This is a serious effort to help people who may be experiencing health problems due to their current diet of foods that most of us enjoy without having to give any thought to them. The back cover is filled with endorsements by physicians and others, but the bottom line is whether you want or need to switch to a diet that may not challenge your taste buds as you dine on navy bean hummus and mixed vegetable pita pockets.

Apparently I have a sugar addiction because a day without chocolate or ice cream is unthinkable to me. That said, the issue for many people is one of moderation. And a lot of them are fat because of eating too many sweets. The Sugar Savvy Solution ($24.99. Reader’s Digest) will teach you how to “kick your sugar addition for life and get healthy.” Written by "High Voltage" with a foreword by Katie Couric it offers a eating plan that, over a six-week period promises to “rewire” your brain chemistry and retain your taste buds to break your addition to sugar, as well as “excess salt, bad fats, and enriched white flour.” It is more than just a diet, but it has helped readers to lose weight over the weeks you engage it, using its recipes and advice.

For the three million Americans with celiac disease, avoiding gluten can be the difference between life and death. If you add in those with nonceliac gluten sensitivity, the number of people experiencing gluten issues triples in number. They are the people who should pick up a copy of The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free by Beth Hillson ($17.99, Da Capo Press, softcover.)  The author is the food editor of the magazine, Gluten Free & More, and she knows this topic from A-t0-Z. As she points out, gluten hides in everything from food to commonplace household items. For those sensitive to it, it can cause gastrointestinal distress, rashes, anemia, depression, and in the long term, cancer, infertility, and organ failure. That’s reason enough to read her book if you or someone you know are incurring these symptoms. The book is filled with practical, comprehensive advice on all the aspects of living from a child who is allergic to Play-Doh to gluten-free dining. The author is the president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance and her book could be life-saving for anyone with the disease or troubled by gluten-related health problems.

Among the recommendations in Prescription for Life: Three Simple Strategies to Live Younger Longer ($19.99, Revell) by Dr. Richard Furman are “six foods you should never eat again” and “why lack of exercise is killing you.”  The author is a vascular surgeon who says that while aging is inevitable, a variety of diseases associated with it are not. The preface to his book says you should consider it as a letter from a friend who is a doctor “explaining in straightforward terms what is happening to you as you count the days to another birthday.” Among the foods he recommends you avoid are a juicy steak, cheese, and a variety of other things we all commonly eat. The fact is, however, we all need meat in our diet for its protein and other benefits, so the author may be overstating his case in this area. My feeling is that this is a book for people overly concerned about aging. The medically-oriented advice the author offers is worth considering, but the rest is just widely known common sense.

Un-Agoraphobic: Overcome Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Agoraphobia for Good by Hal Mathew ($18.95, Conari Press, softcover) is one of those titles that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the book. The author, a journalist, was plagued by panic disorder and agoraphobia, the fear of open, public places, but overcame his disorders twenty years ago and has since become an expert on the topic. If you or someone you know experiences these problems, I would surely recommend you read his book. He recommends putting a structure in your daily life so you know what you intend to do and do it each day. He gives tips on choosing a therapist to help. His style is easy to read and I have no doubt that this book will help anyone seeking to overcome these disorders.

A Caregiver’s Guide to Dementia by Laura N. Gitlin, Ph.D. and Catherine Verrier Piersol, Ph.D., ($22.00, Camino Books, softcover) addresses the common challenges encountered by individuals and families caring for someone with dementia. This is an easy-to-read guide designed to help at-home caregivers navigate the daily challenges with clear and proven strategies that can enhance the quality of life for those with dementia—a condition for which there is no medical cure.

Advice about Your Life

At various points in our lives we all need and can benefit from good advice. We seek it from family and friends, but there are books that provide it as well and have the advantage of being non-judgmental.

Have a Happy Family by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman ($17.99, Revell) is the latest of some forty books this internationally known psychologist and media personality has written. It is part of a series of series using “Have…by Friday”, advising how to have a new you, a new teenagers, a new husband, etc. Suffice to say he is extremely prolific, but he has a world of knowledge about marriage and family issues that have benefited many readers. He stresses good communications with family members and then provides tips on navigating the problems that occur with toddlers, teenagers, and all ages. What he wants is for Mom to be Mom and Dad to be Dad. They are different each in their own way. And it applies to single parents as well. I must confess I was intrigued by the title of Seth Adam Smith’s book, Your Life Isn’t For You: A Selfish Person’s Guide to Being Selfless ($12.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, softcover). Turns out that Smith is writing from experience as someone who was seriously self-obsessed and the harm it inflicted on his life and his marriage, one that included addiction and depression. The book is distinguished by his candor and by the lessons he drew from the hard-earned lessons he learned. He tells you that your life is about being of service to others in countless ways and thus the title becomes clear. If you feel you’re encountering problems because of your own selfish attitudes or behavior, I strongly recommend you read his book.

In our present times, many people are inclined to dismiss any religion in their lives, but I have noticed that those who do embrace faith seem to have an easier, happier life. Sarah Jakes is the daughter of Bishop T. D. Jakes and she oversees the woman’s ministry at The Potter’s House of Dallas, a church led by her parents. She is the author of “Lost and Found” and now a new book for women that shares the hope-filled legacy of Ruth, Colliding with Destiny, ($24.99, Bethany House). The life of Ruth, as told in the Old Testament, is one in which she went from being a widow to a wife with a secure, protected future, one that paved the way from the birth of King David. Ruth never let her past define here and the message for any woman that reads this inspiring book is full of good things.

For those who like to delve deep into the philosophical questions about life, Edward O. Wilson, biologist and naturalist, author of more than twenty books, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and a professor emeritus at Harvard University, is back in his 85th year with The Meaning of Human Existence ($26.95, Liveright Publishing, a division of W.W. Norton). The book consists of fifteen tightly interlinked essays broken into five parts—the meaning of meaning, science and the humanities, other life forms, the developed mind, and our collective future. Essentially, he believes that the human species is at its best when it functions as a team and, of course, we see many expressions of this in sports and industry, among other ways we come together, For those who ascribe to beliefs regarding the environment and what we are allegedly doing to it, this book will confirm them and is thus not for everyone. 

Getting Down to Business (Books)

Thinking of investing? Wall Street seems to be saying we’re out of the Great Recession and the troubles occurring around the world will not affect profits here at home. The Handy Investing Answer Book by Paul A. Tucci ($21.95, Visible Ink, softcover) is ideal for the investing novice or whether you think you have spotted a trend. Tucci covers the whole investment marketplace from stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, tax strategies, to retirement planning.  In plain English he explains the basics while giving tips on how to avoid poor returns and unnecessary risk. In 2011 he authored The Handy Personal Finance Answer Book and been an investor for more than three decades, a former global information and publishing manager, a business owner and partner in an innovative IT services and software development firm. His book pretty much answers all the questions you would ask a financial advisor and much more.

Street Smart Selling: How to Be a Sales Superstar is the kind of title you would expect from Daniel Milstein ($17.05, Gold Star Publishing, softcover) and, for anyone starting out in sales it is a treasure of various guidelines to use for the ambitious beginner as well as established professionals who want to improve to a higher level of success. Much of the book has a message of self-improvement for motivated individuals. Milstein comes from a background in which his family in the Ukraine narrowly escaped the Soviet Union and made their journey to America. His is the classic American story of success, from sweeping restrooms in a fast food restaurant to becoming the CEO of one of the nation’s most successful mortgage brokerage firms. Happily for the reader, Milstein shares what he has learned about making sales and this could just be the only book you will need to read for your own successful sales career.

Kid Stuff

The Best Part of the Day by Sarah Ban Breathnach and beautifully illustrated by Wendy Edelson ($16.99, Regnery Kids) is a wonderful way to create a daily tradition of focusing on the small pleasures of daily life that often get lost in our busy, disconnected lives. It teaches young children aged 4 to 10, how to enjoy the little things that make life sweet. As the author says, “Gratitude is often thought of as an intellectual concept, when gratitude is really a small seed planted in the heart that is nourished through acknowledging all the good that surrounds us. Good that can be discovered through the reassuring comfort of family customs, rituals, and traditions, and restoring a sense of rhythm in our daily round and through the changing seasons.” It celebrates the changing seasons and the joy of simple pleasures such as feeding birds or tending a garden. Parents and their children will rediscover and learn why common experiences are to be valued and enjoyed to the fullest. I loved it and you and your young children will too.

Teaching children ages 4 to 8 how to value money is the theme of Alex’s Ten-Dollar Adventure ($15.95, Three Bean Press) by Wendy Bailey and wonderfully illustrated by Ernie D’Elia. It begins with a birthday gift for Alex from his grandparents, five dollars. Alex is very excited but his mom leads him to understand that many things he wants cost more and Alex checks out his bank to discover he has enough for ten dollars. He wants to spend it all and finds ways to do it, learning along the way how swiftly the ten becomes less with every purchase. In the end, mom encourages him to put back five dollars to save for what he wants, a new toy. As the son of a CPA, I can celebrate this delightful way to teach fundamental lessons about spending and saving.

A young adult novel that is sure to please is Bonnie S. Calhoun’s Thunder ($16.99, Revell) that begins in a post-apocalyptic world and society where the landscape is littered with the hopes and ruins of past generations. Every is struggling to survive and one of them is Salah Chavez whose family of bounty hunters, live off the reward they earn with each capture of the Landers, a mysterious people from a land across the big water. As she turns 18 with nothing to look forward to then being traded as a bride to a neighboring clan, she discovers secrets that will tear her world apart. What follows will keep the pages turning. They will do the same with Unmarked by Kami Garcia ($18.00, Little Brown Books for Young Readers), her eagerly anticipated sequel to “Unbreakable”, a novel leading off her “Beautiful Creatures” serials that was published in fifty countries and translated into 36 languages! In the sequal, Kennedy Waters lives in a world where vengeance spirits kill, ghosts keep secrets, and a demon walks among us—one she accidently set free.  Now she and the other Legion members have to hunt him down. They are on the run, outcasts who each possess a unique skill. This one is a powerful fantasy like the first.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Jay Brandon has written a novel that taps into the belief that the U.S. is actually run by a secretive group and the result is a lot of fun to read. In Shadow Knight’s Mate ($16.95, Wings Press, softcover). After all, he’s written fifteen previous novels! In this one, Jack Driscoll is a member of a shadowy group known as The Circle. Its members have stealthily shaped America’s foreign and domestic policies for more than two centuries even though they do not hope office, nor are famed corporate leaders. They operate through suggestion and subtle influence, but now the Circle has been broken as the nation comes under a bizarre nanotech attack and the question is from whom? And what will be the outcome? 

By the Breath of the People, Gil Bean makes his debut with part one of “The Last River series” ($19.99, Langdon Street Press, softcover). It is a meticulously research work of fiction that intertwines the stories of two men living on the same land three centuries apart. One is a young Lenape Indian coming of age as his people are being driven from their native lands by European settles. The other is a father and grandfather building a retreat for his family on a bluff high above the river. Though they come from very different backgrounds and times, the two men are connected by the land of the Delaware River Valley. This is deeply felt history as lived by the people who call the land home. I have lived in the area where the Leni Lenape Indians lived and some of the major roads of my home were formerly trails they blazed, so I felt a special attachment to the novel.

Lawyers seem to have a particular knack for writing fiction. In the case of Larry S. Kaplan, a practicing trial attorney since 1975 and author of When the Past Came Calling ($10.56, available from and as an ebook) his novel begins in 1989 and a key government scientists has gone missing. He has made a genetic discovery that turns Darwinism on its ear and could pose a threat to world security should it land in the wrong hands. Personal injury lawer, David Miller, is the FBI’s unlikely recruit to help solve the disappearance. When he was just 16, he had falling in love with a girl whose father is the FBI’s prime suspect, a cult leader named Philip Montgomery, but his trail has gone cold. The FBI wants to know what David can recall of the girl and his bizarre father. As he delves into old memories, revising people and places left behind long ago, a new riddle confronts him and it involves the assassination of JFK and his girlfriend’s conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t acting alone. Ah, circles within circles and sure to please.

Lee Kronert is a chiropractor and a math teacher as well as an advocate for divorced men’s rights. When he isn’t tend to those other things, he writes and his two latest—yes, two—novels published by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, are Don’t Blame the Messenger ($13.95, softcover) and Mental Cruelty ($19.95, softover). In his fictional narratives, he merges fact and fiction to paint a realistic picture of the controversial educational and judicial systems with which we all must cope. In the former novel, he taps his experiences as a teacher to take on school policies, state Department of Education leadership, bullying, and his view that a teacher’s tenure should be maintained. If these issues ring a bell with you, this might be a novel to read. In the latter, Kronert uses his characters to relay the turmoil he experienced as his marriage dissolved into a painful divorce. Through the life of his main character, he speaks out on behalf of all fathers in opposition to the legal system. I tend to take a pass on novels that have an agenda, but I admire the author’s hard work in the writing of these two novels.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) is a very creative idea involving Joe Talbert who has been given a writing assignment for an English class. He is to interview and write a brief biography of a stranger and, with deadlines looming, he visits a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam veteran—and a convicted murderer! With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to the nursing home after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder. As Joe writers about Carl’s life, especially his valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism with the despicable acts that followed. And Joe has his own problems at home as he unravels the story of Carl’s conviction, but by the time he discovers the truth, it is too late to escape the fallout. This is a very compelling novel and I recommend it.

That’s it for October! You’ve got November and December to pick out some great books to give as gifts. Tell your family, friends and coworkers about so they can find the perfect book for someone special or for themselves! And come back in November.