Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bookviews - January 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

The one book you must read as the new year begins is Murray Holland’s A Nation in the Red: The Government Debt Crisis and What We Can Do About it ($28.00, McGraw Hill) for its chilling message about the economic collapse of America and the steps that must be taken to avoid it. In recent years I have received a number of books on this subject, but Murray’s stands out, not only for the facts it cites, but for the way it can be easily comprehended by someone who has little to no grasp of our economic system. “The national debt can never be paid off. It is like a cancer we will have to live with for the rest of the life of the nation,” says Holland and the facts about the size of our debt, the matrix of socialist programs that contribute to it, and the explosion in spending and borrowing that is driving the nation to collapse. The debt stands at $19 trillion and may be over $33 trillion in just ten years. The nation’s Gross Domestic Product—how much we take in for the sale of goods and services—is less than what it is paying out for its many socialist programs (Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment, student loans, and housing). The financial problems that European nations that embraced socialism are a clear warning sign that it can and will happen here without a significant reduction in the federal government’s spending and borrowing. Murray calls it a Debt Trap and the implications for Americans, now and generations to come, are frightening. For eighty years since the Great Depression, Americans have been adopting socialist programs precisely as its enemies have wanted. The bill is coming due. Another recent book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, by John A. Allison ($28.00, McGraw Hill) is also worth reading.

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. has been engaged in a military conflict in Afghanistan since 2001. For most Americans it has been a war to which little attention was paid unless one had a son, daughter or loved one stationed there. Now the noted photographer Robert Cunningham, along with Steven Hartov, has captured the lives, the dedication, the sacrifices, and service of our military that served there in Afghanistan on the Bounce: Boots on the Ground with the U.S. Military and the International Security Assistance Force ($40.00, Insight Editions), a large format book that will fill your heart with pride. Cunningham was embedded with our troops over the course of 132 missions, photographing all aspects of the military operation there, including photos of Afghans old and young. The book is a real treasure and beautifully produced as page after page testifies to their courage, humor and humanity.

A book you are not likely to hear about in the vast leftist media of the nation is by a former CIA espionage officer, Kent Clizbe. It is Willing Accomplices: How KGB Covert Influence Agents Created Political Correctness, Obama’s Hate-America-First Political Platform, and Destroyed America ($18.99, softcover, $5.99 Kindle, and $21.95 audio, Andemca Publishing, available from Amazon.com.) Clizbe tells how, shortly after Lenin was able to seize control of Russia and establish communism there, he instituted a program to undermine America under the direction of the KBG, its security service. While historians have written about Russia and its massive espionage program, they lack Clizbe’s background and thus have not made the connection between its program of political correctness, the infiltration of the media, academia, education and entertainment. The result is an educational system that falsely depicts our Founders, our history, and our values of individualism and, of course, capitalism. In these major factors of our society, America is constantly depicted as racist, sexist, and imperialistic. The result is generations of Americans who have been encouraged to loath the greatest nation in the world. Clizbe documents who the major players in this effort have been and are. His book explains much of Obama’s agenda. We are dangerously close to being destroyed as a nation by at least half the population that has been corrupted by political correctness, a hatred of America.

The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty by Timothy Sandefur ($$24.95/$12.99 ebook, CATO Institute) combines law, history and political philosophy for a powerful defense of the Constitution. Like many Americans, I came late to reading the Declaration, response to the arrogant actions of the British crown and parliament to colonies that had ruled themselves for a century and had grown weary of taxation without representation. Sandefur notes that the word “democracy” does not appear in the Declaration, but “liberty” does and that it should set the framework for interpreting the Constitution, a governing instrument notable for putting limits on a central government while ensuring that the states and citizens retain their rights, not granted but acknowledged by it. “Liberty comes first, and order arises from it. We have gone astray in our constitutional understanding because we have upended that relationship.” As the current administration demonstrably limits our liberties—Obamacare is a prime example, requiring Americans to purchase something they may not want or need—current polls indicate that they have begun to awaken to the danger and are swinging back to a more conservative interpretation and practice. This book will interest anyone who takes a serious interest in the subject.

In an era in which we are all constantly being manipulated by government, special interest groups, and others, Push Back! How to Take a Stand Against Groupthink, Bullies, Agitators, and Professional Manipulators by B.K. Eakman ($14.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover) examines scenarios of mass indoctrination and demonstrates how to recognize and counter them effectively. An educator and international and national human rights advocate, Eakman, provides a guide to spotting how professional manipulators exert power over a room and steer discussions back to their agendas without ever answering audience questions or addressing their concerns. They often employ techniques to ostracize those who challenge their assertions, questioning or criticizing them. This is an extremely useful book when hoaxes and deceptions are advanced by such people.

For anyone who loves films, both old and new, there is a special treat to be had in The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies by David Thomson ($18.00, Farrar Straus Giroux, softcover) because this British-American film critic and historian has written a fat volume based on his encyclopedic knowledge of movies. It is a sweeping history of cinema that an enthusiast will enjoy in every respect. One cannot talk of film history without noting the legendary director John Ford ($22.95, Lake Street Press, softcover) by Joseph Malham who takes us into the life of the six-time Oscar winner for classics such as “The Grapes of Wrath”, “How Green Was My Valley”, and “The Quiet Man.” He is perhaps best known for his Westerns, “Stagecoach”, “The Searchers”, and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, all made with his longtime friend, John Wayne. The book is subtitled the “Poet in the Desert” and Malham provides interesting insight into Ford’s faith and Irish roots, that both contributed to his portrayals of families, communities, and history.

I am born and bred in New Jersey, so when I received Lynda L. Hinkle’s new book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney ($12.44, Amazon.com, softcover), which, though it is focused on New Jersey law, is filled with excellent advice even if you live elsewhere. As she makes clear, divorce is one of the most stressful situations one can encounter. What I found notable was the tone of the book. It is clear-headed, the kind of advice one needs to receive. Hinkle is a divorce attorney and has been through her own divorce. If I were getting a divorce, I would want her in my corner. Her book will put her there for you.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

There are a number of books devoted to achieving success in business and we can count on many more to come in the year ahead.

A lot of people are stuck in jobs they don’t like or battling hopelessness as the seek employment these days. For them, Sander A. Flaum’s book, written with Michele Flaum, The Best Thing That Could Ever Happen to You: How a Career Reversal Can Reinvigorate Your Life ($16.95, Big Shoes Publishing, softcover) should be at the top of their reading list. With a foreword written by former astronaut, Senator John Glenn, it is an easy-to-read, how-to guide that moves readers out of their no-win employment rut and gets them back in charge of their job search. Flaum, who is chairman of the Leadership Forum at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration, shows how to work harder and smarter to come out on top in the interviewing process. The bottom line is that the book teaches readers how to deal with their fears and shortcomings, get passed their inhibitions, and find the job that is right for them. The author really knows what he is talking about and, if you’re seeking a new job, this is the book for you.

An interesting book about a classic case of what happens when a corporate leader plunders his corporation is found in Taking Down the Lion by Catherine S. Neal ($28.00, Palgrave Macmillan) as she examines the rise and fall of Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski. He had grown a little known New Hampshire conglomerate into a global giant, but in a stunning succession of events, he suddenly lost his job and was indicted during the post-Enron era.  He was convicted of wrongfully taking $100 million from Tyco to engage in a lifestyle that put him in jail. He is due for release soon.

The 25th anniversary edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey ($30.00/$17.00, Simon & Schuster, hard and softcover) is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring books ever written and been read by leaders of business and industry, as well as students preparing to enter the employment marketplace. More than twenty million copies have been sold. Covey presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. This is a book devoted to fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity. In sum, no matter your age or status, this book can give your life a boost.

Totally beyond anything I understand or know about is data science, so I will trust those who recommend John W. Foreman’s Data Smart: Using Data Science to Transform Information Into Insight ($45.00, Wiley, softcover). The book shows you the significant data science techniques, how they work, how to use them, and how this will benefit your business, no matter if it is large or small. And the best part says the author is that anyone can learn how to do this. The author is the Chief Data Scientist for MailChimp.com where he leads a data science product development project. As an analytics consultant, he has created data science solutions for the Coca-Cola Company, Royal Caribbean International, the Department of Defense, the IRS and the FBI, among others. Sergiusz Prokurat, an economist and historian, takes a look at the way work is changing and, in some cases, disappearing as robots replace people, in his book, Work 2.0: Nowhere to Hide ($9.99, Kindle $4.99, softcover). It is an intellectual examination of how the introduction of new technologies, particularly the computer and the Internet, has begun to transform the way work has been defined in the past and, in addition to the skills required to be connected to the world, how work is increasingly about knowledge and the provision of services needed to convey it in the digital age. Gone are the days one gets hired by a corporation and stays there for his career. Mobility, flexibility and other traits will play an important role in the new age. This is a book that anyone involved in organizations large and small as well as a young man or woman coming out of college will benefit from reading.

Mental States

Some publishers specialize in various topics because it interests them and presumably might interest a lot of other people. The world of the mind is a topic about which Prometheus Books has a number of titles that, if you find yourself thinking about what you’re thinking, you might want to read.

Let’s start with Think: Why You Should Question Everything by Guy P. Harrison ($16.95. softcover) which challenges everyone to think like a scientist and embrace the skeptical life. This book will help you improve your critical thinking skills, see through most scams at first glance, and learn how your own brain can trip you up.  It shows you how to navigate through the maze of biases and traps that are standard features of every brain. As a result, we often trick ourselves into thinking, remembering, and believing things that are not real or true. It is an upbeat book that’s fun. Are you moody? Who isn’t? Maybe you should pick up a copy of Patrick M. Burke’s Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others ($18.95, softcover). The author is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona and his book is a comprehensive developmental approach to understanding mood and the role that it plays in determining our outlook on life and our ability to cope with its challenges. We all know people who are generally happy and others who always seem to be in a bad mood. Most of us fit in somewhere between the two poles. Mood, says the author, is the way we are tuned into the world and begins early in our lives as relationships play a central role in shaping our moods. Security or insecurity, loss or the fear of loss of key relationships, especially in childhood can have lasting effects on the way we view the world. If you’re in a mood to learn more, this book will prove of interest.

Believing: The Neuroscience of Fantasies, Fears, and Convictions by Michael McGuire ($19.95/$ll.99, softcover or ebook) asks and answers the question what are beliefs and how have evolution and culture led to a brain that is seemingly committed to near endless belief creation? Once established, why are most beliefs difficult to change? The author is professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the University of California, LA. He takes the novel approach of focusing on the central and critical role of brain systems and the ways in which they interact with the environment to create and maintain beliefs. This is fairly heavy duty reading, but for the inquiring mind, it will prove quite satisfying. It seems like “fairness” is the being spoken of all the time these days, particularly in a political context. Fairness has intrigued philosophers and social thinkers in both Eastern and Western societies for millennia. L. Sun, a professor of biology at Central Washington University, trained initially at East China Normal University in Shanghai before pursuing further studies in the United States. The result of that is The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality and Our Biological Nature ($24.95/$12.99, hardcover and ebook). Sun examines the innate sense of fairness displayed by human beings in all kinds of societies throughout history and argues that it is an emotion and behavior rooted in our DNA rather than a product of ideology or convention. He cites studies that show that even monkeys react negatively to patently unfair treatment.  While we generally regard fairness as a good thing, Sun shows that there’s a down side when it plays too great a role in leveling inequalities, producing rigid social structures where only mediocrity is condoned. Well worth the time to read.

Many books on the subject of leadership have crossed my desk in the many years I have been a reviewer. The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed by Mark Divine, Commander, U.S. Navy SEALs (retired) with Allyson Edelhertz Machate ($21.99, Reader’s Digest) examines those attributes of military life that can be translated to the civilian world with exercises, meditations, and other techniques to train your mind for mental toughness, emotional resilience, and uncanny intuition. Divine served in the SEALs for twenty years and has led a number of multimillion-dollar business ventures since his retirement. His book distills the fundamentals of success into eight powerful principles that impart his experience to teach you to think like a SEAL in order to take charge of your life at work, at home, and in life.

Moving on from Prometheus Books, there’s Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart by Trista Sutter ($24.99, Da Capo Books). Twenty-six million viewers watched ABC’s first Bachlorete get swept away in a fairytale romance and many wished they could be as lucky as the author. Courted by a handsome, poetry-writing firefighter in some of the world’s most luxurious destinations, the match was for read, Trista and Ryan celebrated their ten-year anniversary in December of last year. They now have two children, a dog, and a fulfilling family life. In her book, she shares her thoughts on the importance of living a thankful life while chronicling her personal journey and including stories from friends as well as experts. I have no doubt this book could help someone hoping their dream of lasting love come true and wondering, perhaps, why it hasn’t yet.

Alan C. Fox’s People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity ($16.95, SelectBooks, softcover) is filled with good advice on how to deal with many of life’s many problems such as having the same argument with a sibling, parent or child, deciding whether to end a relationship, determining if it’s time to make a career change or whether a business partner is trustworthy, to name just a few of the topics addressed in this book. At age 72 Fox has university degrees in accounting, law, education and professional writing. Along the way he has had his own law firm and founded a commercial real estate company in 1968 that manage more than seventy major income-producing properties in eleven states. With more than seventy years of experience, he shares it in a way that can help the reader avoid life’s pitfalls and develop successful relationships.

To Your Health (Books)

Americans more be more obsessed about their health than any other people. The books devoted to it keep coming and here are some of the latest that have arrived.

The media is filled with images of beautiful bodies, but in real life, a lot of the people we encounter are overweight or just not the “hard bodies” we’re told should be a goal. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to lose weight and get gorgeous, then you should consider Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto ($27.00, Harmony) who has worked in the fitness industry since 1989, including 14 years as a personal trainer. He promotes all-natural, healthy strategies. The book is not about becoming a fitness model or a body-builder, but rather how to use the same techniques they employ to improve your own health and fitness. It’s a big book and it has plenty of advice that answers pretty much the answer to every question one might have and lots of information you may have encountered. He makes sense on every page. I
If you’ve been wondering about the reason you are seeing more gluten-free foods for sale and wondering if it is just the latest trend, you should read Toxic Staple: How Gluten May Be Wrecking Your Health—and What You Can Do About It by Anne Sarkisian ($17.95, Max Health Press, LCC, New London, NH, softcover). The author notes that true celiac disease, the body’s inability to process the wheat protein known as gluten, is only found in a small percentage of the world’s population, but she regards them as just the tip of the gluten iceberg, estimating that at least 10%, but perhaps as many as 40%, of Americans may be sensitive to gluten. That sensitivity results in chronic health conditions from arthritis to zits, asthma, cancer, fatigue, migraines, memory loss, and osteoporosis. The test for such sensitivity, however, is rarely used in the U.S. Since I lack the knowledge to verify or dispute the author’s assertions, the best I can suggest is that, if the subject interests you, this book will surely prove helpful. As she says, “Eliminating it from the diet is the easy part. The hard part is getting doctors to take gluten sensitivity seriously and test for it adequately.” Judging from the praise the book has received from health professionals, she is clearly onto something.

What to Do When You Can’t Get Pregnant by Dr. Daniel Potter with Jennifer Hanin ($18.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) is now in its completely revised and updated second edition as “The complete guide to all the options for couples face fertility issues.”  For those couples struggling with fertility issues, navigating the clinical medical jargon while trying to communicate with partners, doctors, friends and family can be a challenge. Dr. Potter was named one of 2012’s top reproductive endocrinologists by the U.S. News and World Report. Team with Ms. Hanin, a freelance journalist and the mother of twin girls conceived through in vitro fertilization, their book walks the reader through the various aspects of fertility procedures. For those couples dealing with the issue, they will take comfort in known they are not isolated and without direction in facing their problem.

At the other end of the spectrum, postpartum depression, This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression by Karen R. Kleiman, the founder of The Postpartum Stress Center, and Dr. Valarie Davis Raskin, a psychiatrist ($17.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) us also in its second edition, revised and updated. It is a condition that affects in in five women and the authors who both spent two decades working with women who experienced it have written a book that anyone encountering it or who knows someone encountering it should definitely read. The healing process involves combatting negative thoughts and taking the time to take care of oneself, including if needed medications and therapy. The good news is that one can recover if they take the right steps. Another aspect of motherhood is discussed in The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock ($19.95, Prometheus Books, softcover) by Tanya Selvaratnam as she confronted the biological clock that determines childbirth and, as she points out, biology does not bend to feminist ideals and science does not work miracles. A self-described feminist, the author learned this the hard way. Part personal account, part manifesto, Salvaratnam dispels myths about women’s biological clocks, the difference between being child-free versus childless, and the many other aspects of fertility and infertility involved. She wants a wider discussion about delayed motherhood and she has filled her book with valuable information to advance that goal.

Greg S. Pergament is a clinical associate at the Las Vegas Recovery Center and an ordained Zen Buddhist and Taoist priest who has written Chi Kung in Recovery: Finding Your Way to a Balanced and Centered Recovery ($14.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover). Chi Kung is the art of cultivating life force energy and the book describes a selection of exercises that are designed to boost health, enhance vitality, and increase mind-body-spirit consciousness. An ancient Chinese health care system, it integrates physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused attention. Westerners are more inclined to want to pop a pill or embark on some strategy to quickly get to recovery. If that’s not working for you or someone you know, this book unlocks the ancient secrets that may ensure that recovery becomes a long term solution.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Every day novels arrived here at Bookviews and, while they provide a bit of entertainment, one wonders what compels their authors to write them. This is particularly true of the self-published ones which have been a growing trend in recent years. My job is just to let you know about some of those that have been received.

The husband and wife team of Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have authored the second installment in a lighthearted historical mystery series set in the early days of San Francisco’s nineteenth century. It is The Spook Lights Affair ($24.99, Forge) and it stars a former Pinkerton operative, Sabrina Carpenter and her partner, ex-Secret Service agent, John Quincannon. It is a sequel to “The Bughouse Affair.”  Each is pursuing a case, one of which involves a socialite’s mysterious suicide while another is the pursuit of a bank robber. The reader is treated to a tour of the city’s gaming houses and brothels, taking them back to that era. It is a lively, entertaining read.

Jason Porter makes his debut with Why Are You So Sad? ($15.00, Plume, softcover) whose main character is Raymond Champs, an illustrator of manuals for a home furnishings corporation. Raymond is unhappy. He can’t sleep. He can’t communicate with his wife. And his job provides no inspiration beyond a paycheck. No one seems to understand him, including himself, which surely explains why he is sad. Raymond concludes that everyone he knows and maybe everyone on the planet is suffering from severe clinical depression and is equally convinced that something major has gone wrong. This may not sound like an amusing story, but Porter brings a lot of talent to examining Raymond’s problem and, in the process, will make you laugh as you join in a search for why life in America today provides “things” but not purpose. J. Alec Keaton makes his debut as a novelist with When Love Never Ends ($16.00, Two Harbors Press, softcover). Sam has never gotten over his one true love, Sara, but he walked away amidst racist threats from her bigoted father. They went their separate ways. Sara got married and Sam threw himself into work, becoming a successful lawyer for a prestigious firm. A decade later they meet again when Sara seeks legal help and they spend three whirlwind days today, but her jealous husband ends the reunion with a single shot. Wild with grief Sam seeks consolation with a grief-ridden college professor who lost his wife four years earlier and who has been obsessed with time travel, trying to help him give up his fantasies while he seeks to cope with his own loss. It is a mix of romance and science fiction.

For a story filled with different characters involved in triangular love, art and its future of the Jazz Age. It is 1924 in New York and Lillian Moore, a painter, and Leon Shaffer, an accountant, narrate The Bohemians ($14.95, Black Heron Press) and take you back to an era of early cars and telephones, silent movies, sham medical cures, speakeasies, gangsters, and jazz. Lillian’s desires and needs, as well as Leon’s attraction to her form the plot. Published in July of last year, it got lost in the stacks, but is well worth reading if you enjoy a historical novel.

Seventh Street Books is an imprint of Prometheus Books and has sent along three softcover novels that offer some interesting reading experiences. Styx & Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery ($15.95) by James W. Ziskin is built around a comment by Sgt. McKeever, “If you were a man, you’d make a good detective.” Ellie is sure he meant it as a compliment, but she bridles at the thought that she is a woman trying to do a man’s job as a reporter. She is adrift in her career, living in New York City when she receives news that her estranged father, a renowned Dante scholar, is near death after a savage bludgeoning in his home. The police suspect a routine burglary, but Ellie has her doubts. When a second attempt on his life is made when he is in the hospital, she embarks on her own investigation that holds the prospect of redemption in her father’s eyes and the risk of loving him forever. White Ginger by Thatcher Robinson ($15.95) introduces the reader to Bai Jiang who combines Buddhist philosophy with wicked knife skills. When a girl goes missing in San Francisco’s Chinatown, she is called upon to track her down. The trail leads to wannabe gangsters, flesh peddlers, and eventually to those who have marked Bai for death. It is a cocktail of wit, charm, sex, and violence. In E. Michael Helms novel, Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery ($15.95), the recently retired U.S. Marine hooks a badly decomposed body while enjoying a leisurely fishing vacation in the Florida panhandle and then discovered a bag of rare marijuana is found stashed aboard his rental boat. He realizes someone is setting him up to take the fall for murder and drug smuggling. Along with Kate Bell with whom he has struck up a promising relationship, the two must butt heads and match wits with local law enforcement officials, shady politicians, and strong-armed thugs. It’s a story you won’t want to put down until the last page.

Three novels are written for young adults and will evoke a keen enjoyment of reading. Phoenix Island is by John Dixon ($19.95, Gallery Books) and is the inspiration for the CBS-TV show “Intelligence” that premieres this month and introduces the reader to a world where orphans are sent to boot camp and forced to fight for their lives.  When 16-year-old boxing champ Carl freeman jumps in to defend a helpless stranger, he is sentenced to a two-year sentence at an isolated boot camp for troubled orphans. He is determined to tough it out, earn a clean record, and get on with his life. But then kids start to die.  Realizing that Phoenix Island is really a Sparten-style mercenary organization turning “throwaway kids” into super-soldiers, Carl risks everything to save his friends and stop a madman bent on global destruction. The book is based on real-life stories in his home state of Pennsylvania. In Jennifer Walkup’s Second Verse ($15.95/$11.95, Luminis Books, hard and softcover editions) Lange Crawford’s move to Shady Springs, Pennsylvania, lands her in a group of awesome friends, a major crush on songwriter Vaughn, and life in a haunted 200-year-old farmhouse. It also brings The Hunt, an infamous murder mystery festival where students solve a fake, gruesome murder scheme during the week of Halloween. Well, supposedly fake. It is a mix of suspense and romance with a supernatural element that is sure to entertain readers from age 12 and up. Lastly, there’s How to Lose Everything by Philipp Mattheis that is “a mostly true story” ($14.99, Zest Books) about a summer in 1994 in which a group of four teenagers find a small fortune hidden inside a mysterious abandoned house and what starts out as a blessing soon turns into a curse as stress, drugs, criminal behavior, dwindling funds and even death raise serious questions about their choices and their futures.

That’s it for January and the year ahead promises to be filled with many new non-fiction and fictional books that are sure to inform and entertain you. Tell your book-loving friends, family and coworkers about Bookviews.com, a unique, eclectic report. And come back in February!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bookviews - December 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

One book you must read if you are feeling unhappy with the nation’s present and future is Josef Joffe’s The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies ($26.95, Liveright Publishing). A Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the publisher of Die Zeit, as well as a frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, Joffe was educated at Swarthmore College and Harvard University. He is not only comfortable with real facts, but also has the talent to present them in an entertaining fashion that makes for easy and compelling reading. He points out the many times predictions have been made that America is in decline over the past half century and explores why they have been proven wrong by both our free market capitalist system and our national culture that continues to attract people seeking real freedom. In my lifetime and his, pundits have claimed that the U.S. would lose ground to Russia, Japan, and, of late, China. He dubs this “declinism” and describes how and why such claims were and are wrong. The good news just keeps coming on every page, along with insights to the rise and fall of empires and nations in the past. One can read these predictions all the time, but to give you optimism for America’s future, I recommend you read this excellent book.

Americans look at Israel and wonder why it has not been able to achieve peace with the Palestinians or why the Palestinians have not been able to form a state of their own. The answer can be found in Jonathan Schanzer’s new book, State of Failure, ($27.00, Palgrave Macmillan) an excellent review of the history of the two entities since Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1947. From the present day in which the Palestinian people must contend with two separate organizations, the older Palestinian Authority and the newer Hamas, claiming to represent them while being in a virtual state of war with one another, united only in their desire to destroy Israel. It is Schanzer’s view that the older group, formerly the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Yassir Arafat, never demonstrated the ability or even an interest in creating a formal government structure. In addition, Arafat controlled the millions that flowed to the PLO from donor nations, stealing much of it for his own use. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., has at least made an effort to create social services in the Gaza area it occupies. What becomes obvious is that the so-called leaders of the Palestinians have never been interested in statehood, preferring cronyism and corruption to that responsibility. The current PA president has not called for an election since 2005 when his term in elected office ended. Why does the world tolerate such behavior? You need to read the book to learn that.

Remember how the nation was fixated on the trial of George Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012? When police arrived at the scene, it was obvious that it had been act of self- defense and, moreover, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to protect people under attack rendered any further action unnecessary. Zimmerman was not initially charged, but then the politicians and race-hustlers got involved. The full story is told in If I Had a Son by Jack Cashill ($25.95, WND Books). Cashill is one of the best investigative writers I know, His book sweeps away all the media-generated stereotypes, particular those of Martin who was portrayed as the victim of a racially-motivated crime. Indeed, in addition to the prosecution who brought charges against Zimmerman despite the judgment of the local police, the media saw the trial as a way to advocate opposition to the Second Amendment and aggravate race relations in the nation. Even the President weighed in saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” A lawyer himself, Obama surely should have known better than to insert himself in that fashion. It took a jury to put an end to the travesty that unfolded, finding Zimmerman innocent. Cashill’s account of the events and the trial is well worth reading, particularly for the information he provides about Martin who approached, threatened, and then assaulted Zimmerman while he waited for the police to arrive. He had already amassed a record for involvement with drugs and petty crime, as well as having been suspended from school three times in the 2011-2012 year. In the wake of the trial, though, it would appear that Zimmerman has become unhinged.

One book I always recommend at this time of year is The World Almanac® and Book of Facts ($13.99) for the year ahead and the 2014 edition is a great compendium of facts that one can reach for at any time for information about the world, the nation, and data about the events that marked 2013, the U.S. economy, the States, science and technology, world history and culture, the U.S. government and so much more. The 2014 edition has new features that include “Marriage in America: A Changing Picture”, “Memorable Winter Olympics Moments”, and a “Voter Guide” you can consult for the forthcoming midterm elections. For a professional writer like myself, it is invaluable and for anyone else it will prove a useful tool to consult.

Dave Berg was a popular contributor to MAD Magazine and anyone who grew up enjoying the magazine will welcome news that his large body of hilarious cartoons from the 1950s to the 2000s has been gathered together in Dave Berg: Five Decades of “The Lighter Side of…” ($34.50, Running Press), a large format book that, it goes without saying, would make a great Christmas gift. It is part of a series “MAD’s Greatest Artists” and includes a rare 1970 interview and an essay by his daughter Nancy Berg. Organized by decade, the book starts with early cartoons that will be memorable to those who remained fans of the magazine. It’s like sitting down with an old, very funny, friend. Making people laugh for that long is truly an achievement.

Christmas is a time for gift-giving and receiving. For those who love books, there is a special attraction in classics that are beautifully  leather-bound, illustrated, slipcased and produced with an eye to they’re becoming treasures that can be passed on from generation to generation. With this in mind, I will direct you to The Folio Society whose leather-bound, often slip-cased, selections will please the connoisseur and the beginner alike. Among its latest titles are The Great Gatsby with illustrations by Sam Wolfe Connelly that make it a special treat. Indeed, Folio Society books feature the work of great, contemporary illustrators. There’s Pride and Prejudice, and for the young and young at heart, The Princess and The Goblin. A gorgeous children’s book is Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Other Stories.

Reading History

George Washington has become a mythic figure in American history. We know he led the Revolution to victory and then served two terms as our first President. Beyond that, however, Washington is largely unknown as a living, breathing person or as the astonishing leader, a man of often astonishing integrity, and most certainly qualities of leadership that took him through eight years of war with the greatest power of his time, Great Britain, and then as the man who shaped the presidency into the one we have to this day. We owe Harlow Giles Unger, a prodigious historian, a debt of gratitude for the latest of his more than twenty books, Mr. President: George Washington and the Making of the Nation’s Highest Office ($25.99, Da Capo Press). When he assumed the office, it has virtually no defined powers and an almost complete lack of power to influence events. By the time he left the office, he had established the seven pillars of presidential power that we take for granted today and that often remain subject to controversy when misused or abused. It was Washington that established the presidency’s powers to control foreign policy, military affairs, government finances, and federal law enforcement as well as “executive privilege.”  Along the way as he recounts those years, we come to know Washington as a man who is aging, suffering from arthritis and other physical ills. We learn that he accepted public service even though he longed to return to his life as a successful farmer at Mount Vernon. Don’t miss out the pleasure and knowledge this book imparts. Another book inspired by the first President is George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger ($27.95, Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Press). Most histories of the revolution have overlooked the full story of how Washington put together a remarkable network of spies, knowing he would be leading a long war of attrition against the British and would need the best information possible on their maneuvers. Best known as being on “Fox and Friends”, Kilmeade and his co-author have put together a fascinating story on the way his network gathered intelligence and spread false information. In particular it is the story of the Culper Ring led by Robert Townsend. Together they had achievements that uncovered all manner of schemes and, in particular, prevented Benedict Arnold from surrendering West Point to the enemy. The outcome of the revolution often hung on the work of these patriots. Anyone who loves American history will want to read this book.

Ever since 9/11 Americans have had to get up to speed on Islam as a virulent form of Islamo-fascism has forced them to address the terrorism that accompanies it. Another iconic figure, Thomas Jefferson, is famed for having an English translation of the Quran, the Islamic bible, which he purchased in 1765, eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was no fan of Islam, nor were other Americans who had any knowledge of it. Historian Denise A. Spellberg has authored Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders ($27.95, Alfred A. Knopf) which The Daily Beast has described as “essential reading in these troubled times.” Like the other Founders, Jefferson was an avid reader and that informed many decisions he would make in the years in which he rose to fame. As President, Jefferson had to deal with Barbary pirates that were raiding American merchant ships and taken sailors hostage. That led to the creation of the U.S. Marine Corps and a mission to Tripoli to put an end to the raids. What we learn in this intriguing book is the hostility to Islam that was widely shared among early Americans. “Europeans and Americans after them, tended to be quite hostile to Islam,” writes Spellberg as we discover that the feelings modern Americans may feel were held by those who preceded them. The Constitution’s abolition of a religious test to hold public office is the reason a Muslim was sworn into office as a U.S. Senator in recent years. In Jefferson’s times, they were outsiders whose inclusion represented the furthest reach of toleration and rights in the new nation.

For anyone seeking to learn more about Islam, Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumranian, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq, ($32.00, Prometheus Books) explores the evidence of the many influences from religious sources outside of Islam, incorporating stories in the Koran about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other characters from the Bible that were drawn from the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospels. Ibn Warraq is a scholar who has authored “Why I Am Not a Muslim”, “Defending the West”, and “Virgins, What Virgins? And Other Essays.” He is also the editor of “Leaving Islam, What the Koran Really Says” and other books that represent a great body of knowledge that anyone interested in Islam should most certainly read. Most Americans have not read the Qur’an (Koran) and would be astonished to discover its hostility to all other faiths can Islam. There is a reason for the turmoil in the world today that we trace to Islam and it is the call to jihad or holy war until all submit to Islam.

Honor and Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Navy SEALS Who Captured the “Butcher of Fallujah”—and the Shameful Ordeal They Later Endured by Patrick Robinson ($26.99, Da Capo Press) is a case history of why morale in our armed forces today has been savaged by the “political correctness” that has been imposed on all the services. It is the story of a daring nighttime raid in September 2009 in which the SEALs grabbed the notorious terrorist, Ahmad Hashim Abd Al-Isawi, the mastermind behind the 2004 murder and mutilation of four American contractors. Instead of being hailed for their bravery and a successful mission, those in the chain of command gave greater weight to the claims of Al-Israwi that he had been abused, claiming he had been punched and given a bloody lip. What followed was pressure on the SEALs to sign confessions to “lesser charges”, but instead they each demanded a court martial to prove their innocence. When Americans became aware of this outrage, more the 350,000 signed petitions demanding that they be exonerated. Even U.S. congressmen petitioned the Pentagon to drop the charges. This is a story worth reading as a lesson of how far our military have strayed from its values under the pressure of an administration that gives greater credence to the word of a terrorist than to its own heroes.

Many Americans are unaware of the millions who have died under communist regimes. One instance of this was the great Chinese famine from 1958 to 1962 and it is told in Yang Jisheng’s book, Tombstone, ($17.00, Farrar Straus Giroux, softcover). An estimated thirty million lives were needlessly and intentionally destroyed as the result of the megalomania of China’s leaders at the time. This is not easy reading because Jisheng has selected 121 internal reports from local officials to their bosses. They are frank, grisly, and specific portraits of the horrors. We need books like this to remind us that communism has no heart and never did. The astonishing thing about this book is that that author, a long-time journalist who worked for the Xinhua News Agency until his retirement in 2001, still lives in Beijing with his wife and two children. The fact that this book has been allowed publication suggests some greater flexibility by the current Chinese leadership.

A curious aspect of history is the fifty members of the 27 Club, famed musicians who died at age twenty-seven. The story of six is told in 27 by Howard Sounes ($26.00, Da Capo Press) who focuses on Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. For anyone with an interest in the music scene, this has to be ‘must’ reading as Sounes examines first their lives and, second, their deaths. All six had troubled childhoods, fast-paced lifestyles, and mental issues that led to depression and substance abuse, though Sounes argues that the most recent member, Winehouse, was different from the others because she had a stable, supportive family. Even someone like myself who did not follow their careers nor pay much attention to their music found this a fascinating book.

One of the best series of books filled with information about all manner of topics is Visible Ink Press’s “Handy Answer” series, particularly as regards history. Just out this month is the latest addition, The Handy African American History Answer Book by Jessie Carney Smith, PhD ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover). It is an extraordinary collection of data that highlights the history of black life in America, from those renowned to the lesser-known who made barrier-breakthroughs in the arts, entertainment, business, civil rights, education, government, military, journalism, religion, science, sports, music and so much more. It is filled with fascinating things such as who was Ringling Brothers’ first black woman clown? What is the oldest, non-church, published black newspaper? What was the first national Catholic black fraternal order? It is perfect for browsing and history buffs will love it.


Reading memoirs and biographies is a great way to learn life’s lessons through the experiences of others. We only get to live our own lives and must do so day by day. A memoir takes one to other places and can be read at one or more sittings.

I had expected Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From it All by Dan Bongino ($00.00, WND Books) to provide some insights to what it was like to be in close proximity to President Obama. If that would be your reason to purchase it, save your money. Bongino gives away no secrets (no pun intended). Instead, it is a fairly prosaic recounting of his life from his days as cop with the New York City Police and his ambition to climb a career ladder that led to twelve years within the Secret Service and ultimately the elite unit that protects the presidents. Bongino has the set of values that we admire and there is nothing here to criticize in that regard. The book does not tell you much about what life for any President is like beyond what you might imagine on your own. The President’s days are tightly scripted and he is the most scrupulously protected person on the face of the Earth, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Indeed, there is very little in this slim memoir that will surprise you. Bongino who is running for public office is making headlines these days decrying the Obama administration, but you will not find that in his book.

Perhaps only two percent of the U.S. population is composed of farmers and most Americans have little or no idea what it means to be one. I had never stepped foot on a farm until I began to travel widely in the 1980s as a photo-journalist. It is a very different lifestyle from the rest of us and One Woman Farm: My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle by Jenna Woginrich ($16.95, Storey Publishing) is a delightful introduction and insight to what it means to be a farmer. It is a finely crafted memoir of the author’s immersion into a life she had yearned for and how it differs from those in cities and suburbs. It is, as one might imagine, determined by the work of a farmer; one marked by seasons and the life cycles tending her plants and animals. There are days for gathering applies, for shearing, and for harvest as she chronicles a year running from October to October. It is hard work, but she enjoys it and you will enjoy this engaging memoir. Graced With Orange by Jamie C. Amelio ($24.95, Meadow Lane Publishing, Austin, TX) begins with a chance encounter in Cambodia with a little girl asking for a dollar so she can attend school. When Amelio visited the school she discovered a very different world from the one in which she had grown up. The visit to Cambodia turned into a mission to provide more schools and the creation of an organization, Caring for Cambodia.” CFC changed her life, made her marriage stronger, brought two Cambodian girls into her family, saved her son’s life, and is in every respect an inspiring memoir. At this point, the non-profit CFC has since 2003 helped change the lives of more than 6,400 Cambodian children. In our comfortable lives here in America, we are often blissfully ignorant of the challenges that those in other nations face.

Denis Healey, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, decided to take a year off and travel the world without any responsibilities. He wrote about that in Breaking Free and followed up with The Traveler ($12.95 each, Vingdinger Publishing, softcovers), He retired at 48 and is married with one son, Sean. They live in Warsaw, Poland these days. These two books chronicle the experiences, both exterior and interior, of a man in search of his own identity, facing his past and contemplating his future options. He relates some great encounters as he crossed Turkey, traveled throughout India, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, and Australia. He learns about spirituality and religion, love, poverty, and even met with Mother Theresa at one point. An interesting man in his own right, his two books are entertaining and thought-provoking. Good reading for the sake of good reading.

Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir by Millicent Monks ($18.95, Prospecta Press, Westport, CT, softcover) is subtitled “A personal tale of motherhood and mental illness in an iconic American family.” The family is the Carnegie’s, one associated with great wealth, but as the author notes, it also had a history of mental illness the affected four generations of women. It affected the author as well who searched for answers that led her to Jungian analysis, meditation, and sutras that enabled her to find a delicate peace which, having reached her sixth decade, she recounts. “If I can do something worthwhile to help people with children who are mentally ill,” says Monks, “I would think that was something worth accomplishing in my life.” Her daughter fell victim to it. Reading about mental illness can be disturbing, but the author puts it into a perspective that will help those who have encountered or are living through similar experiences and of the three women of the Carnegie family who endured it.

Books for Kids & Young Adults

Somewhere under the Christmas tree there should be a book or two. There is a vast selection of books for kids from the very youngest to the older teens.

A Tree’s Christmas: A talking tree’s story of its Christmas adventures by James Andrew Bowen ($9.95, Clearview Communications, Tampa, FL) is now in its fifth season of establishing itself as a story that will be indelibly associated with the holiday. Bowen has been a lifelong journalist. He grew up in the rural south and had many memorable Christmas’s to recall. The story draws on one of them in which the ritual of taking the decorations off the tree and removing it to the garden to become mulch for the next year’s vegetables. Laying there in the cold, the little tree draws the attention of other trees and begins to share its story as told by Anne, a 13 year old who wonders if it might have occurred in a dream. It is a touching, tender story and one I would heartily recommend.

Another tale is sure to become a favorite among the young set is The Christmas Tree Elf ($19.95, hardcover, $9.95 ebook, Valentine Sheldon Co.) by Valentine D’Arcy Sheldon and beautifully illustrated by Jeremiah Humphries. It tells a story about Mrs. Claus who always wanted a Christmas tree to decorate and Santa brings one home. They love the tree but become so busy preparing for Christmas that it is not until Christmas Eve that they realize they have not watered it. A Mysterious elf shows up to save the tree and teach them that all living things need care and attention. This book has garnered many excellent reviews and recommendations. You can add mine.

For any boy or girl who loves sports, I would definitely ensure they receive Sports Illustrated Kids – The Top Ten of Everything in Sports ($19.95, Time Home Entertainment) that ranks athletes, playing fields, rivalries, games, controversial calls, memorable moments and more. A large format book, it is extensively illustrated with photographs. The texts are short and crisp. It is amazing how much they packed into this book. It incorporate sports history and is filled with the kind of information that brings a wide range of sports to life, providing hours of reading that can be enjoyed in short bites. Some young adult fiction (age 12+) is served up in The Field by Tracy Richardson ($15.95 hardcover, $11.95 softcover, Luminis Books). Eric Horton is a standout player on his high school soccer team, but he has been having terrible dreams that wake him up at night. He also has eyes for Renee, the hot new student from France. Could his prowess on the field, his feelings for Renee, and some strange experiments Renee’s dad is cooking up in the physic lab at the university be connected? This is a combination of the real world of soccer and the mystical world of the Universal Energy Field. This is a very imaginative novel.

For all children, there is the question of what they want to be when they grow up and Wigu Publishing, Laguna Beach, CA,  is developing a series, starting with When I Grow Up I Want to Be…in the U.S. Army ($12.95) which will be joined by books on being a teacher, a firefighter, and in the U.S. Navy. They are written by Mark Shyres and illustrated by Debbie Hefke who uses a combination of artwork and photos. I would imagine they are aimed at ages 7 to 10. Having served in the Army, I can confirm that the text provides a realistic depiction of what life in the service is like and, for example, points out the many different occupations that exist from doctors and lawyers, to military police and firefighters, as well, of course, as combat units. “No matter what the job or rank, each soldier’s duty is to protect our country against anyone who wants to hurt us or our country’s friends, or allies.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Eric Shanower is an award-winning comic book artist with a love for the era of the Trojans and Athenians. His series The Age of Bronze is now into Book Two, “The Story of the Trojan War—Betrayal” ($28.99 hardcover, $18.99 softcover, Image Comics, Inc., Berkeley, CA) As the Greek and Trojan armies clash, the action begins immediately where the previous volume left off. It’s the first battle in a war that will last for ten long years. Achilles fights Hektor while the beautiful Helen watches the battle from high on the walls of Troy. Shanower’s artistry depicts the story with elegant pen-and-ink drawings that make the action seem to spring off the page. One usually associates graphic novels with the young set, but an older reader will enjoy this series with equal pleasure. History, its myths and legends come alive in this series.

Novels, Novels, Novels

In no particular order let’s look at just some of the usual monthly deluge of softcover books that have arrived.

Felix F. Giordano has created a great character in Sheriff Jim Buchanan who is patterned after his real-life uncle, Carl “Buck” Buchanan, who had a twenty-year career with the Maine State Police. Even fiction needs to be grounded in reality and you can enjoy three novels by Giordano, the latest of which is Montana Harvest ($14.00, softcover, available from Amazon.com for $12.52) that joins “Mystery at Little Bitteroot” and “The Killing Zone” in this series. Set in the fictional Cedar Country, Montana, Buchanan is approached by the FBI concerning a missing persons investigation, it turns out that not only his own life, but also the life of the person dearest to his heart is at risk as well. Told mostly with excellent dialogue, it’s one of the stories whose characters immediately intrigue the reader and you will be pleased when you read this and his other novels.

Making her adult fiction debut with The Sister Season, ($15.00, NAL softcover) Jennifer Scott is an award-winning young adult author under another name. This novel is generally called women’s fiction because it will have a strong appeal for women readers. It features three sisters who discover that coming home for the holidays isn’t as easy as it seems. Growing up, the holidays were joyous times with laughter all around, but the years have taken their toll on the family bonds as they went their separate ways. This time they have returned home to bury their father. As you might imagine, old conflicts surface and new secrets are revealed against the background of what should have been a happier Christmas. Readers will enjoy getting to know Claire, the youngest, Julia the eldest, and Maya the middle child. All have gone on to different lives, but ultimately, they have to answer the question, when you are a sister, aren’t you a sister for life?

Love is on the mind of Edith M. Cortese, the author of A Thousand Years of Johnny Von ($19.25, Trumpet Boy Press, Los Angeles) as she tells the story of Estella, a single, 33-year-old woman who happens to live on the same street as a rising movie star, Johnny Von, and would very much like to get to know him as she pursues her job as a Hollywood Hills dog-walker. She has her own dog, Moochie, and, despite being a bit shy, he is gorgeous enough for her to overcome her doubts and get to meet him and make him fall in love with her. She is filled with “what if” fantasies that draw on classic love stories that will surely entertain you as she seeks to turn fantasy into reality as her Cinderella figures out to capture the heart of Prince Charming.

Another romance is found in The Color of Home by Rich Marcello ($15.99, Langdon Street Press, softcover). Nick and Sassa are guarded, skeptical survivors who have skillfully buried the effects of tragic pasts. They are two New Yorkers who have a series of intimate conversations that cause they to fall in love and begin a remarkable journey toward their true selves, toward the healing that makes they whole again, toward finding home. This is a thoroughly modern love story about being willing to be vulnerable, to rise above loss, and to create and nourish a unique love for one another. You will enjoy the journey that Nick, a successful music entrepreneur, and Sassa, a free-spirited chef discover together.

For those who enjoy a good mystery, there’s the gripping Killer Weed by Michael Castleman ($14.95, MP Publishing, Petaluma, CA), a tour through a marriage under duress, forty years of pot dealing in America, and two murders, one contemporary, the other a cold case from 1968. The reader gets an interesting history of how marijuana was introduced, starting with importation from Mexico, then progressed to Colombian freighters, and was followed by growing in remove national forests, until it was grown indoors under solar-powered lights. Cannabis prohibition in the present day is also a theme of the book. You will go from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960’s and two murders that join the neighborhood to its Golden Gate Park. It is the fourth Ed Rosenberg Mystery set in that city. This is an emotionally complex, character-driven story that begins when Ed and his wife Julie are fired from their jobs at the San Francisco Foghorn (a fictionalized Chronicle) and, with two kids and a huge mortgage, turn to using drugs to cope.
There are thrills to be had in Harry Hunsicker’s The Contractors ($14.95, Thomas and Mercer, softcover). He is a seasoned novelist of three previous novels and is the former executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America. A fourth generation native of Dallas, he knows how to draw you in and keep you turning the pages. In this novel, he takes the reader into the shadowy world of private military contractors and the hypocrisies of the “War on Drugs”, featuring a disgraced former Dallas PD officer, John Cantrell. He and his partner/lover, Piper, make their living busting drug shipments along the U.S.-Mexico border for commissions. One such seizure puts them in possession of a star witness in an upcoming cartel trial. The cartel has other ideas and they soon find themselves in the crosshairs of the cartel, a group of competing contractors, and a corrupt Dallas police officer with nothing to lose.

That’s it for December and the year 2013 that was filled with some remarkable fiction and non-fiction that Bookviews.com has reported upon over the past months. Tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com, the most eclectic look at the current literary scene. And get ready to come back in January 2014 for more!


Friday, November 1, 2013

Bookviews - November 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading History

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

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

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

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

The Lives of Real People

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

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

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

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

Getting Down to Business Books

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

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

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

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

Advice, Advice, Advice

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

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

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

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

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

School Skills

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

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

Woof, Woof!

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

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

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

Kid Stuff

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

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

Novels, Novels, Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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