VOLUME 1, ISSUE 2
F R E E
NEW AND OF INTEREST EWAND OF
Robert Frost: Speaking on Campus
One of America’s master poets, speaking in prose Page 9
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holms
Holmes’s world is big enough for all of us Page 12
Expanded Halloween Section Page 16
Moms of all creatures are always there for you
Searching for Whitopia
The downfall of Jim Crow Page 22
By Carolyn Cimi, Illustrated by John Manders Candlewick Press, $7.99, 25 pages
Where’s My Mummy? By Carolyn Cimi, Illustrated by John Manders Candlewick Press, 25 pages, $7.99 Bedtime is a difficult part of the day for most kids. There’s always that one last show they want to watch, or just a few more minutes to play with their toys. Little Baby Mummy just wants one more game of Hide and Shriek. He runs off into the woods waiting for Big Mama Mummy to come find him. Along the way he hears many strange
and spooky noises. They turn out not to belong to anything scary, at least to a mummy. Bones the skeleton and Drac the vampire are just a few of the “people” to tell Little Baby Mummy he should go to bed. At a resting spot he hears more scary noises, and this time it really is coming from something he should be scared of (I won’t say what it is or it would ruin the surprise) so he screams for Big Mama Mummy and she scoops him off and wraps him into bed. See MUMMY, page 2
Fighting Cancer with style! Page 28
139 Reviews INSIDE!
Technology My New iPhone: 52 Simple Projects to Get You Started By Wallace Wang No Starch Press, 464 pages, $29.95 Apple’s iPhone continues to be one of the most popular smart phones on the market, yet few people use it beyond the most basic functions. My New iPhone is less a user’s guide (see iPhone the Missing Manual for that), but delivers some of the same functions through a series of easy-to-do projects, teaching new tricks by showing instead of telling. The table of contents is well organized, with an overview listing just the project titles, and a second TOC detailing each of the lessons learned in each project. You can just dive in almost anywhere that strikes your fancy, from the basics of setting up the iPhone to using Skype for free phone calls on your wifi network. As stated in the title, this book is more for a new user than an experienced one, but the various lessons learned here will move the quickly into the experienced category.
iPhone the Missing Manual By David Pogue O’Reilly Media, 416 pages, $24.99 There is a reason why this series is subtitled “The book that should have been in the box;” these manuals are more helpful than the actual technical manuals included with the latest phone/computer/software package. Here, David Pogue really does provide a comprehensive overview of the latest iPhone releases (the 3.0 software and the 3GS iPhone) that goes much further than turning it one, adding contacts or finding apps in the App Store. Pogue is the a technology columnist for the New York Times and has not only an expert understanding of the iPhone and related technology, but also has an engaging writing style needed when trying to wade through tech manuals. The chapter on taking pictures and managing them is probably worth the cost of the book itself. He shows ways to use the camera part of the phone to its best advantage, from adjusting the light to sending them via MMS. The iPhone might be the most popu-
lar smart phone out there, and most people just use it for the phone and texting capabilities. With iPhone the Missing Manual you’ll quickly be using this hand held computer to its fullest extent, and managing your life, time pictures and music better. And maybe one of these days, Apple will include it in the box when you buy a phone. Until then, you’ll need to buy the manual (also available as an eBook download to put on your iPhone to carry with you).
MUMMY, Con’t from page 1 What a wonderful treat just in time for Halloween! Where’s My Mummy uses characters that young children are typically scared of around this holiday and makes them not scary at all. Carolyn Crimi does an excellent job with her use of witty dialogue while still making it completely understandable for kids between 4 and 9 years old. John Manders’ fun and playful illustrations bring the story alive. This is a great book for a bedtime story and will get your children in the Halloween spirit. Reviewed by Jennifer LeBrun
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Book Review The San Francisco Book Review is published monthly by 1776 Productions. The opinions expressed in these pages are those of the individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the San Francisco Book Review or San Francisco Book Review advertisers. All images are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders. All words © 2009, 1776 Productions. October 09 print run - 10,000 copies. Printed by Wesco Graphics. Distributed by Reliable Distribution Services.
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IN THIS ISSUE Technology.....................................................2 Historical Fiction............................................4 Poetry & Short Stories....................................5 Young Adult....................................................6 Horror............................................................7 Modern Literature..........................................8 Books About Books.......................................10 Science & Nature..........................................11 Religion........................................................11 Mystery, Crime & Thrillers...........................12 Local Events..................................................13 Business & Investing....................................13 Romance....................................................... 14 Filipino-American Awareness.......................15 Halloween.....................................................16 Travel...........................................................18 Philosophy....................................................19 Reference......................................................19 Popular Fiction.............................................20 Crafts & Hobbies..........................................21 History.........................................................22 Popular Culture............................................23 Music & Movies.............................................24 Parenting......................................................24 Tweens.........................................................25 Biographies & Memoirs................................26 Children’s Books...........................................27 Sequential Art..............................................28 Current Events.............................................29 Classics.........................................................29 Role-Playing Games......................................30 Health, Fitness & Dieting.............................31 Art, Architecture & Photography.................32
EDITOR’S NOTES Welcome to the second issue of the San Francisco Book Review. We had some very flattering comments from our delivery drivers from store clerks almost snatching the September issue out of their hands to put out for customer pick-up. We’ve also received a number of congratulatory emails from readers in the Bay Area and a few new book reviewers and local authors or publishers whose works you should start seeing in upcoming months. We have a special section of Halloween and horror-related books for the month, in addition to all the other great categories of books we have reviewed this month. Hopefully there should be something for everyone of all ages in this issue. In addition to Halloween, October is Filipino-American Awareness month. Our associate editor, Kaye, went to town finding some great Filipino books for the section, and we’d also like to thank the businesses that took out ads to help us put that section and this issue together. This month is also Lit Quake here in San Francisco. Hundreds of book events in all parts of the Bay Area, with many great authors. Look them up at litquake.org and attend a few. If you have a book event you’d like us to promote, please email it to us at calendar@ sanfranciscobookreview.com. We should have the website up and running pretty soon and have it filled with hundreds of reviews, local events, author interviews and more. In the meantime, you can visit the SacramentoBookReview.com website for previous reviews and our Book-A-Day Giveaway. Thanks again for picking us up, and when you are done, please pass the paper along to another book lover you know. --Ross
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Historical Fiction Emily’s Ghost By Denise Giardina Norton, 335 pages, $24.95 This is a story of the loves and limitations that defined the life of an extraordinary woman. Emily Bronte loves her home and the moors that surround it, but the climate of northern England is relentlessly bleak and her father’s parish is hopelessly impoverished. Emily also loves free striding independence, frank, intelligent conversation, but these characteristics and her iconoclastic preferences prevent her from marrying the man she loves. If you know Wuthering Heights, you recognize both Catherine and Heathcliff in Giardina’s Emily. And there is nothing to do but be swept away by the love story. Strong-willed and cynical, Emily is nonetheless devoted to her family and sympathetic to the plight of the truly destitute of the parish. She and her sister are creative writers of tremendous imagination. Into the mix comes a dashing young clergyman to assist with parish duties and his commitment to social justice matches Emily’s and the growth of love between them is a well-told story. The Bronte family has fascinated readers since the sisters divulged their authorship of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. We are not disappointed as the characters of Charlotte, Anna, and Bramwell emerge against the play of Emily’s life. Emily’s story is told by her love for her sisters, her devotion to her father, her frustration with Bramwell, and the family climate that allowed for encouraged and respected women’s intelligence, religion’s weaknesses, and society’s injustices. This is like reading a love story designed around people we already know using all the best ingredients: windswept moors, passion unrequited, triangulated affection, love enduring past death. It’s really good. Reviewed by Marcia Jo Daughter of Kura By Debra Austin Touchstone Simon Schuster, 302 pages, $25.00 The book opens with a woman distracted from digging root vegetables by a rumble of thunder and a sense of danger. Without warning, she is attacked by a leopard. She, the woman, first “roars” then “bellows,” and finally konks the saber toothed cat on the head with her potato bucket. Her arm
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is deeply scratched in the fight, so she must roll herself about in the dirt to cover the scent of blood before limping back home. Home is a place where here family, (Thump, Whistle and Baby) await. It is a challenge, most certainly, to compose a novel that takes place 500,000 years ago. Creating historical fiction in an era before spoken language is one of the difficulties that Debra Austin’s book cannot surmount. Her solution is to have complex paragraphs of thoughts in the character’s head that are communicated in signs or grunts. It just doesn’t work. It’s a coming-of-age story involving a young woman named Snap who is destined to lead her matriarchal clan. Much is made in the first 100 pates of the Bonding ritual at which the Kura women select mates. So, the story tells of Snap’s participation in the ceremony of her tribe, backing up to an assigned male (Bapoto). She sort of grunts her assent and pleasure. They marry, Snap becomes pregnant. The clan is threatened by natural and unnatural disasters, several people die. Bapoto leads a rebellion against matriarchy. Snap is cast out of the clan, and must fight unthinkable battles to prove herself and return. Could be good, but the translation from grunts and bellows to delicate and complex conversation is impossible, descriptions are flaccid, the story unbelievable. I recall enjoying “The Clan of the Cave Bears” and “Mammoth Hunters many years ago. So, if you want historical fiction of this period, go there, not here. Reviewed by Marcia Jo White as Bone, Red as Blood: The Fox Sorceress By Cerridwen Fallingstar Cauldron Publications, 355 pages, $22.95 Cerridwen Fallingstar’s second historical novel, White as Bone, Red as Blood: The Fox Sorceress, is by far one of the best reads to come along in a while, historical fiction or otherwise. The novel takes place in twelfthcentury Japan during the Gempei Wars and is told from the perspective of Seiko Fujiwara, daughter of the High Priestess of Fukushima Shrine, who inherits her mother’s healing powers. When both her parents die at a young age, Seiko rushes into the marriage of her dreams until it turns into her biggest nightmare. When her husband is murdered, she is forced to leave her daughter behind as she departs her mother-in-law’s home. Eventually, Seiko mercifully finds her way to Japan’s court at Kyoto, where her best childhood friend, Tokushi, is now the Empress. Seiko finds her place as the court healer and Tokushi’s right-hand lady while finding love in unlikely characters along the way.
With action from page one, The Fox Sorceress is an engaging tale with awing intricate historic detail. Though character and plot drive, the book has what any reader wants in a story: love, loyalty, deceit, betrayal, murder, passion, and even erotica. The ending will leave readers thirsty for the sequel, The Storm God, due early next spring. Reviewed by Elizabeth Kalfsbeek A Separate Country By Robert Hicks Grand Central Publishing, 418 pages, $25.99 Many a Confederate young man was slaughtered serving under General Hood in the last months of the Civil War. A combination of strategic mistakes, over-bearing ego, a climate of desperation and relentless bad luck combusted with disastrous consequences; the war was lost, soldiers were disillusioned, Southern gentry was shocked, and General Hood’s left arm and right leg were blown off and left to disintegrate on the field of battle. A Separate Country is the story of General Hood’s acceptance, repentance, and reconciliation with these experiences. The setting is New Orleans, 1879. General Hood’s wartime reputation was well known in the post war South, though he is never sure just how he will be received. He knows he dreads facing family members of the men he recklessly sent into ill-conceived battles. He composes his war memoirs in defense of himself and his decisions and sends them for publication. From Anna Marie’s letter to her daughter after describing how she took food to some social misfits living in the woods outside New Orleans ”Do not think your mother was a particularly kind or charitable girl. The people in the woods were my playthings, my amusements. My father never caught me carrying off supplies into the woods, but I’m sure he suspected. This was the way we maintained civility amid cruelty: we’d rather not know, and we wished there was nothing to know in the first place.” Anna Maria Hennen, a beautiful New Orleans aristocrat, is captivated by the General, woos and wins him, marries him, and bears 11 children during the course of their life together. This marriage, the new South, his children, his friendships, and time passing all contribute to General Hood’s commitment to re-writing his memoirs, this time telling the larger truths. The story is told using these revised memoirs, placed side by side with journal entries and letters from Anna Marie. Thus, do we learn the individual stories of the General
and Anna Marie, as well as the story of their marriage. We also meet Rintrah, Father Mike, Eli Griffin, and miscellaneous strange and wonderful Creole’s who participate in a story of mystery, menace and cruel mistakes. The book is crafted by the sure hand of a seasoned historian who has previously demonstrated his knowledge of the Civil War era (New York Times bestseller The Widow of the South). This new book is a satisfying story imbued with intrigue, romance, and redemption. The characters are unforgettable; haunted people in a steamy, mysterious and pestilent city, careening from pain to grace, and back again. Reviewed by Marcia Jo <<Listen>> Audible Authors interview with Robert Hicks -Sacramentobookreview. com/robert_hicks.php
Poetry & Short Stories Lucifer at the Starlite By Kim Addonizio Norton, 89 pages, $23.95 Kim Addonizio’s voice lifts from the page, alive and biting, in her newest collection of poems titled Lucifer at the Starlite. From the pop of the gun, Addonizio tears fervently from the gates, unleashing wit with a ruthless observation. The nightlife motif spreads through each chapter, seducing the reader from Happy Hour to the humbling haze of I Am Going To Have To Take Your Keys. Her voice is spiked in irony, almost a slight resignation to the catastrophes of the world and the souls of those residing in it, but not quite, as a second and third read reveals the compassion and haunting effort it takes to try to make sense of the things we will never understand as it was meant to be: death, politics, suffering, and love, and our guilt in relation to them. “Fairy-handed, reaching in/ to skim the soul’s fat.” Her words can serve up quite the cocktail of dichotomies, read Hansel. Her language and tone flits from fun and feeling good to unease in the conditions in which they are surrounded. “Happiness After Grief...feels like such a betrayal.” Reading this collection feels a bit like that. Reviewed by Sky Sanchez A Poetry of Remembrance By Levi Romero University of new Mexico Press, 159 pages, $19.95 Poetry is a hard thing to evaluate. There is no overarching narrative or characters to cling to, or judge. Only the author’s words, the attempt to evoke images and emotions in the reader. Levi Romero’s A Poetry of Rea vivid image of the Northern New Mexico he so clearly knows and loves. Its people, its culture, its poetry, even, are captured in the weaving of his words. Romero evokes: low-riders, Spanglish, blue-collar workers, low-income families, the brokendown America that is passed over by progress, and the ever-present yearning for something better and new, without having to give up our connections to the past, to a place that we know and are connected to, the places that accept us. Especially touching were “Diablitos” and “Yellow,” which draw you in to a world that, despite its foreignness, is beautiful and enchanting. Reviewed by Jonathon Howard
A Village Life By Louise Glück Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 72 pages, $23.00 In Louise Glück’s eleventh poetry collection, death takes center stage, flanked by quiet villages, aging families, and the natural world that both requires hard physical work and provides immeasurable beauty. Each poem conveys an awareness of endings and goodbyes, and the insistent changing of seasons accompanies the loss of innocence, the lure of leaving home, and the longing— and defeat—of return. The rhythms of village life, including summer’s bountiful harvest and the decay that winter brings, root these poems’ characters to established patterns, even as they make their own discoveries about life, love, and death. Symbols from the natural world—mountains, hills, peaches, figs, the sun and moon, burning leaves, snow— spill from one poem to the next, threading the poems together in a way that connects the lives, thoughts, and observations that fill them. The poems’ titles, such as “Twilight,” “Before the Storm,” “Harvest,” and “Midsummer,” reflect this focus on nature and the passing of time. Repeated titles—there are three poems titled “Burning Leaves” and two titled “Bats”—emphasize life’s rhythmic, cyclical nature, and ultimately Glück leaves us with powerful images of fading seasons and dwindling days. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell Unrest: Poems By Joanna Rawson Graywolf Press, 80 pages, $15.00 A current of panic runs through Joanna Rawson’s newest poetry collection, Unrest. It is felt in the long, packed lines careening out of control across the page. It peeks from between the branches of dense foliage and wild gardens that frame her poems. Nature here is not bucolic or pastoral. It grows rampant, thorny and dangerous, threatening to overtake civilization. Rawson uses this wild imagery as a way to mirror the ills of civilization. A hive buzzes and a bomb explodes. A man plays the cello in the midst of a war. Fireflies blink manically as test pilots veer through the sky overhead. Rawson’s world—our world—is a beautifully deadly place. Rawson has an uncanny ability to pinpoint the world’s anxiety, which makes for a sometimes uncomfortable, yet insistent read. This is an important book, felt in the gut, at a time when the urge to retreat to easier entertainments can be seductive. To enter Rawson’s poems can indeed be dangerous, but the rewards are undeniable. Reviewed by Katie Cappello
Poems About Horses By Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets; Carmela Ciuraru Alfred A. Knopf, $13.50, 256 pages Once again, Pocket Poets has created another beautiful book of poetry for the collector. Poems About Horses is about four-and-ahalf inches by six-and-a-half inches, making it the perfect gift or stocking stuffer. The cover, with a lovely reproduction of an 1801 George Stubbs painting, “A Bay Thoroughbred in a Landscape,” is a treat to own by itself, but combined with the lovely gold accents and the ribbon bookmark this book is truly an elegant addition to any library. There is a wonderful history of the horse and his impact on the human race in the pages of this book, from factual historical moments to celebrated mythical lancers we’ve fancied in childhood. While you read through the sometimes mystifying yet always alluring poetry found within the pages of this book, you will also be traveling through time. Your journey begins with poems that speak to the innocence and beauty of a foal entering the world and the extraordinary bond between a mare and her newborn. Next you’ll be joined with the horse and rider on adventures which take you over the hills and through the snow! As you read on, you’ll acquire an enhanced appreciation for the bond between horse and rider--a sense of companionship and love that is exclusive to the horseman/woman. As the pages turn, tales of the mighty huntsman towering over their prey on the back of their trusty steeds will capture your imagination. These history-filled writings bring memories of war horses, the cavalry and bowlegged cowboys riding off into the sunset. As an appropriate end to a collection of poems that chronicle the life of the horse in the words of legendary poets, lastly you are taken on a journey of celebration and remembrance of these magnificent creatures. You will have had a laugh or two, shed a few tears and even stopped to daydream once or twice. Poems About Horses is a wonderful read and a terrific time traveling adventure. From Homer’s 8th century B.C. “Achilles Over the Trench” to “The Rescue” by Robert Creeley, who just passed away in 2005, poets throughout our history will draw you into their world as they muse about the world of horse and rider. This is a must have for horse lovers of all ages. Reviewed by Doreen Erhartdt The Maples Stories By John Updike Everyman’s Pocket Classics, $15.00, 256 pages Updike is most famous for showing ordinary life as being something worth writing about. Between 1956 and 1985, Updike re-
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visited the lives of a northeastern couple, Richard and Joan Maples, as they assumed their middle-class responsibilities and struggled with the bounds imposed on them by marriage, children and a changing society.||Likely because the author aged with these characters, the emotional lives he portrays become more complex as one reads through the collection. The reader is aware of Updike’s selfdescribed “unforced energy” in the earliest pieces. But even the later work in //The Maples Stories// is written in such a way as to create empathy with the characters, who grow quite despicable during the course of the series and then emerge again as simply ordinary, flawed, and honest. ||They drink too much, have too many affairs, grow cold and yet are still special to one another. Updike portrays this in poignant and sometimes very funny prose. As always, it is the precision of his descriptions, and his attention to the details the characters notice, that emphasize his mastery as a storyteller. To reveal Richard and Joan’s differences and Richard’s struggle, he writes: “This spring, they attacked the tangle of Nature around them with ominously different styles. Joan raked away dead twigs beneath bushes and pruned timidly, as if she were giving her boys a haircut. Richard scorned such pampering and attacked the problem at the root, or near the root... he began to prune some overweening yews by the front door and was unable to stop until each branch became a stump. The yews, a rare Japanese variety, had pink soft wood maddeningly like flesh. For days thereafter, the stumps bled amber. (155)”||This series of linked tales first appeared in paperback in 1979, without the final one, “Grandparenting,” which was written in the mid ‘80s. This hardcover edition emerges just as the generation depicted in the stories, the first generation of rampant divorce, modern sexual liberation and mainstream psychobabble, begins its demise. In this way, it is both timely and important for all readers to reacquaint themselves not only with the late John Updike in his glory, but also with a generation of Americans. Reviewed by Robin Martin
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Young Adult Punkzilla By Adam Rapp Candlewick Press, 244 pages, $16.99 Join fourteen-year-old Jamie (also know as Punkzilla), a modern day Holden Caulfield on his travels from Portland to Memphis. This teenage story of angst, rebellion and misunderstanding unravels through a series of letters between Jamie, his parents and his brother (some of which never get mailed!). His mission is to reach Memphis in time to visit his older brother before he dies of cancer. As I read through the novel, I and action. He is by no means the sympathetic lead, having dropped out of school, and fraternizing with petty criminals and prostitutes – all while trying to find his way to self-discovery. But as we dig deeper, we are drawn to Jamie’s honesty and naivete, which has you glued to the book. Towards the end, you find yourself cheering for him and hoping he makes it to his brother in time. “In your letter you asked me what I want to do with my life which is a mad serious question--the kind of question that makes you want to lie down and take a nap. I could be in the middle of a busy street and get asked that and I’d fall asleep because of the pressure.” This book would appeal to a dominantly male audience. The words flow easily off each page, stream-of-consciousness style, appealing to younger readers. Sprinkled with some profanity, the writing style is intentionally raw and sincere. This could just as well be this generation’s latest coming-of-age novel. It’s a classic tale of a young man with inner turmoil, struggling to survive in the conflicting harsh world of reality and idealism. Reviewed by Auey Santos My Name is Phillis Wheatley: A Story of Slavery and Freedom By Afua Cooper Kids Can Press, 150 pages, $16.95 My Name is Phillis Wheatley is a highly informative, descriptive part of the Slavery and Freedom series; however, this is not necessarily a good thing. While being very educating on the ways slaves were treated and providing a substantial historical account of colonial Africa, I found that it has only two modes which are fairly drastic in difference. The first mode is lightly boring, only concerning the trifles
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of an American woman who cares very much about appearances and her poetry book being published, while the other setting is extremely gory and frightening, the stuff of nightmares. While it is an admirable undertaking to try to show how difficult and unfair African life was at that time, any sympathy the reader may feel is jaded by an overwhelming sense of horror and disgust. The book is simply too eager to speak of and illustrate violence – the harmless-looking cover does not warn you that you will see bleeding corpses and deranged children biting off fingers. The author captured the actual sense of Phillis Wheatley with the wonderful poetry that she wrote and how she came to accomplish it, but unfortunately, the poetry bits are brief and lost among the African toil. It does not center itself on Phillis as a person and a poet as much as a poor, lost slave like so many others who suffered. It may be in author Cooper’s interest to forgo such gore and violence in his future tomes, particularly if he hopes to gain a young adult readership. Reviewed by A. Masri Wild Girl By Patricia Reilly Giff Wendy Lamb Books, 160 pages, $15.99 At the age of twelve, Lidie moves from Brazil to America to join her father and brother, who moved there a long time ago after the death of her mother. She soon discovers that they still think of her as the little girl they left behind. Lidie’s father trains horses; Lidie loves to ride, but her family has no idea of her abilities. But when they acquire a new filly, a spirited horse named Wild Girl, Lidie becomes determined to tame her and to show her family just what she is capable of. Patricia Giff’s Wild Girl is more than just the story of a girl and a horse. It’s about immigration, about fitting into a new world, and more than anything, it’s about the importance of family. Lidie is a lively, multi-faceted character who just wants to recreate that feeling of family and home she lost when her mother died. The book is told primarily from Lidie’s point of view, as an immigrant struggling to belong, but with snippets of Wild Girl’s story interspersed throughout, which gives this story a unique perspective. Wild Girl is a great read for any young girl. Reviewed by Holly Scudero The Treasure Map of Boys By E. Lockhart Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, 256 pages, $15.99 The Treasure Map of Boys is the third installment of E. Lockhart and, in this reviewer’s opinion, a good place to stop this series. The protagonist is Ruby Oliver, a sixteen-
Gifted: Out of Sight, Out of Mind By Marilyn Kaye Kingfisher, 222 pages, $7.99
The Gifted series revolves around a middle school group, instructed by Madame, whose students have supernatural powers. This book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, is centered on Amanda Beeson, the most popular girl in the school. She has a knack for slipping into people’s bodies (bodysnatching) whenever she feels sympathy for them. One day, she turns into Tracey Devon, and her life as a geek changes her personality and outlook forever. She experiences emotional, family-life problems, as well as tolerating--if not befriending--new outcasts, and finds out many secrets about the underbelly of the school. Amanda re-discovers compassion and friendship and is determined to change Tracey’s family problems. With her new band of outcasts, she also plots against an enemy, the elusive, hypnotizing Serena. She storyline is very exciting and gripping, but I have to say, there were many aspects of the book that did not fit well with the rest of the novel. The first part of the book was not very astonishing or compelling; rather, it just talked about the insipid details of the popular life. As the story moved on, it was interesting, but some parts were confusing and didn’t give a steady flow of character; rather, they were out of place in the supposed personality. To say it in short, fake. The end was also slightly disappointing: though it showed a new moral in the middle of the story, Amanda was back to her bratty, self-centered being in the end. If you conquer the beginning, and approach the thick of the story, it becomes very exciting and page-turning. There are several peaks, all leading up to a very dramatic climax. I enjoyed many of the bits in the middle, and without the slightly bland and inadequate endpoints, it would have made an excellent book. The series is perfect for light summer reading and has many more books coming to follow. Many readers will find it enjoyable, although not very good for contemplation and emotional depth. Kaye has done a marvelous job creating a good plot and I am quite sure that her next books will make a better, if not amazing, impression on me. Reviewed by A. Masri
year-old junior high school student who experiences panic attacks and general teen drama. She sees her shrink, Dr. Z, once a week. Only this time, Dr. Z tasks her with an assignment to create a treasure map of her relationships. So, she creates this Treasure Map of Boys, which ultimately leads to great heartache. In over-analyzing her relationships with boys, she alienates her female friends and decides who was a good friend to her, even though she wasn’t the best a friend could be to them. The story lacks character credibility and moral fiber. Ruby’s thoughts are often those of a vulnerable thirteen-year-old girl, but her actions are those of a self-centered, self-destructive t went y-three-yearold. The footnotes and lists are distracting, and the smaller storylines are often not followed through, leaving the reader hanging with too many loose ends. When it all ends, you are left swimming in thoughts of age-appropriateness, ethical harangues,
and what ever happened to the recipient of the thrown carrot cake—that one with cream cheese frosting on the back of her head? Reviewed by M Chris Johnson Malice By Chris Wooding Scholastic Press, 377 pages, $16.99 Malice. Even the word is chilling to the marrow. The book is just that more creepy. A comic, unbelievably terrifying, that sucks you into its frightening world if you say the chant and burn the odds and ends. It is a world that can attack you from every end, ruled by the mysterious Tall Jake, with monsters so scary they can drive the weakhearted to insanity. The real world is even sane compared to the freakish jaws of Malice. When Seth and Kady’s friend, Luke, disappears with only the comic as evidence, they set out Con’t next page
to find him. Inside the deadly comic, they find that surviving is the one thing, the only thing. They are fighting against impossible odds, trying to get out and at the same time searching for what they really want inside. If you are looking for a creepy, flashlightunder-bed-sheets story, then Malice is the perfect book for you. Filled with eerie comics and suspense enough to make you shake, it will be a book to remember. It impresses even the sturdiest of readers (at least I hope I am). I know the author’s intent is to chill the reader, but please lighten up. There is almost no humor, a very strange romance, and it is depressingly sad and gruesome. For a young adult book it should have at least some happiness. I honestly do not look forward to the next book (Havoc) but rather, am dreading even to see it on the shelves. A teen book should not be this frightening. I suggest it only to those who cannot have dampened spirits or who are in need of a good scare. Reviewed by A. Masri
Personal Effects: Dark Art By J. C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman St. Martin’s Griffin, 320 pages, $24.95 Zach Taylor is an art therapist at the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital in New York City where he uses art to get into the minds of his patients and bring resolution to their hidden problems. His newest case is Martin Grace, an accused serial killer who is psychosomatically blind. As Zach works to determine if Grace is competent to stand trial, it becomes apparent that both men have some deeply hidden secrets in their pasts involving a Dark Man, who may be a figment of imagination or a supernatural force. Throw in Zach’s father who is a district attorney, his fiancée Rachael who is a computer whiz, his hyper younger brother Lucas, an uncle who doesn’t exist, and various hospital personnel, and you have an explosive situation. Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman is a compelling novel that gets into your mind and causes you to draw upon your own imagination. The enclosed package of “personal effects” – letters and documents – may further expand a couple of areas, but are unnecessary. You’re not sure what’s going to happen until the very end, and then you still don’t have all the loose ends tied up. Read the book. Reviewed by Douglas McWilliams
Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel By K. A. Holt Random House Books, 263 pages, $15.99 Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel is a winner! This original story with surprising twists begins uncompromisingly in the future, depicting the protagonist as a typical, intelligent teen struggling with school and the reputation of his parents in the community. His mom’s and dad’s work whisks them and Mike suddenly off to Mars, only to find conspiracy and mayhem around every corner. With his sister Nita left behind, Mike befriends a strange new girl named Larc and notices his mom and dad behaving strangely, only to find out that his horrifying teacher has also joined this mission to space. Nita disappears soon after they take off, but he reaches her by com-bracelet only to have her broken message reveal what he thinks is Nita accusing their parents of sabotaging the prior mission and killing many people! Mike has to use everything he knows about terraforming planets, computer hacking, and plasma propulsion to survive this mission and save the day with Larc by his side. This is K. A. Holt’s first book for children, and she delivers. This reviewer is anxious for more Mike Stellar adventures and impressed with Holt’s exceptional grasp of teen angst and desire for respect and ultimate freedom. M Chris Johnson The Bag of Bones By Vivian French Candlewick Press, 248 pages, $14.99 The Bag of Bones has got to be one of the most fun books I have read in a very long time. Designed just like a fairy tale, the evil characters are of the nastiest sort, while the
good, not being purely perfect of course, are courageous, brave, and most importantly, have a sense of humor. Although not particularly deep or fiercely tragic, French’s world deserves a standing ovation. I enjoyed the zany hilarity of Gubble, the dull-minded but lovable troll, the determination of Gracie Gillypot and Marcus, the prince, the softspoken, strange Loobly, and the perfectly horrible, greedy Mrs. Hangnail. When Truda Hangnail visits the land of Wadingburn, with plans to overthrow the current Queen Bluebell, she casts spells on the nearby witches and traps them into her plan. The scene is shown from different points of view, which eventually merge into French’s version of happily-ever-after. This is a great book for all ages, and all seasons, not necessarily October. As an emerging tween writer, Vivian French has made amazing progress so far, and I look forward to her upcoming books. It is an exceptionally good book. Reviewed by A. Masri Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris By R.L. LaFevers Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin, 389 pages, $6.99 Theodosia Throckmorton is back, and she’s in a fix. When stolen mummies appear at her father’s museum of antiquities, placing him under suspicion, she must use her wits to get to the bottom of the mystery. Of course, being only eleven years old in the Edwardian era, she has to outwit not only her grandmother--who tries to set her up with the proper governess--but the manners and mores of the day, which opined that children should be seen and not heard. Because the book is narrated by a young girl, both Egyptology and the Edwardian era are given a fresh spin, and the mystery in which Theodosia is embroiled is fun, spooky and very complex. LaFevers’ writing is bright and buoyant, and at no time does Theodosia “sound” like an adult (though at times, she sounds like a modern pre-teen), and her fears and concerns are very age-appropriate. The best thing about Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris is that for a children’s book, the concepts of ancient Egypt are just right for the targeted age group, yet leave just enough to inspire a budding Egyptologist to seek more information. Reviewed by Angela Tate
23 Hours By David Wellington Three Rivers Press, 320 pages, $14.00 Cop and expert Vampire Slayer Laura Caxton had given up everything to avenge her partner. She’d been successful, eradicating every single vampire but one. Then Laura got in way too deep and now she’s paying the price. Sentenced to five years in maximum security prison, Laura is now surrounded by thousands of most hardcore murderers, rapists, death row inmates, mistrustful prison guards, and now a 300-plusyear-old enemy. Justinia Malvern, the oldest and now only living vampire, has plenty to be ticked about. Over the last ten years Laura has killed every single member of Justinia’s vast army until only Justinia remains. Now the vengeful vampire wants Laura to pay-with her humanity. As an ex-cop Laura is viewed as an enemy and traitor by inmates and guards alike; now she’s their only hope. With a prison full of vampire minions, a traitorous warden, and the smartest, most dangerous vampire in existence, Laura has 23 hours to save the prison, save herself, and save her lover, hostage Claire Hsu.
23 Hours is the fourth volume in the Laura Caxton series of vampire novels by David Wellington. Though I was previously unfamiliar with Wellington’s work, this book has inspired me to read the earlier volumes. Although he doesn’t name names, it’s clear David uses firsthand realistic accounts of both police procedure and prison life and it shows in his concise prose, an incredible mix of fantasy and realism. If early Laurell K. Hamilton and W.E.B. Griffin mated, 23 hours would emerge as the illegitimate offspring. The fast-moving pace and realistic details make the reader forget--it’s only a story. Reviewed by Lanine Bradley Universal Studios Monsters By Michael Mallory Universe, 252 pages, $40.00 This is a well done, though not spectacular, overview of the many Universal Studios horror movies released from the 1920s into the 1950s. The well known and obvious ones like Dracula with Bela Lugosi, Phantom of the Opera (Lon Chaney), and Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) are covered in depth, with plenty of behind-thescenes photos, movie posters, and production background. The nice part is the coverage of many of the lesser know films Monster on Campus, anyone? The downside to the book is that there aren’t many new tidbits of anything - pictures, gossip or background. For the horror aficionado, this may not be a good purchase (either for themselves or as a gift), but for a more casual film buff, or newer classic horror fan, this could be a good introduction to the classic monsters, and the personalities behind the masks and makeup.
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Modern Literature The Undiscovered Island By Darrell Kastin Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 411 pages, $25.00 The Azores is an archipelago hundreds of miles west of the coast of Portugal, located in the mid-Atlantic. It is a relatively unknown (or unexploited) area that is not often discussed in the media—or in literature. This will change, however, if Darrell Kastin and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture has any say. Kastin, who descends from Azores natives, has used his knowledge of the islands, their culture and their history to weave, in The Undiscovered Island, a skillful tapestry of myth, history and personal revelation that is nothing short of fascinating. The story focuses on Julia Castro, who travels to the Azores from her home in California to seek out her father, who has mysteriously gone missing. Through her search for him, Julia encounters legends and superstitions that pervade the islands, colorful locals, local history and historical fantasy, and the magic of her roots and of herself. What Kastin has done with The Undiscovered Island is bring all of the color and quirk of this beautiful and underappreciated area to the world’s attention— and we should thank him for that. Reviewed by Ashley McCall Past Imperfect By Julian Fellowes St. Martin’s Press, 416 pages, $24.99 Julian Fellowes is a gem of a writer. Fans of his sly skewering of the British upperclass in his previous novel, Snobs, will find much to admire in Past Imperfect, which alternately reveals and sarcastically comments on the morals (or lack thereof) of British high society in the 1960s. The unnamed narrator begins the novel relating his surprise at having been contacted by Damian Baxter, a long-ago foe from his own days hobnobbing in the exclusive circles of society. Damian is very rich and very ill. He wants his erstwhile enemy to track down rumors of a child he possibly fathered forty years earlier by running to ground all of the ladies he consorted with during that time period. A tall order, indeed, especially when the quest brings the narrator back to some memories of things he’s tried hard to forget.
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The beauty of Mr. Fellowes’ humor is that it is so delightfully and unapologetically British – it is subtle, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes downright oblique. It’s not laugh-out-loud humor, but rather the sort that makes your neurons tingle with appreciation. No one can top Mr. Fellowes in parodying the pretensions, weaknesses, and failures of the British upper-class, and Past Imperfect is a perfect example. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns A Friend of the Family By Lauren Grodstein Algonquin Books, 304 pages, $23.95 Pete and Elaine Dizinoff and Iris and Joe Stern have been friends since their college days. Since Pete fell in love with, but couldn’t quite get Iris, he settled for her sorority sister, Elaine, instead. They vacation together; their children have grown up together. And both couples, in their own way, are happy. But when Pete and Elaine’s only son Alec is targeted by Laura, the beautiful, much older daughter of the Sterns, Pete is determined to push the two apart, even if it means tearing his entire life apart. “If people keep asking me, look deep into my eyes to see if there are any secrets left in my stubbly soul, I tell them, “Listen, life goes on.” And I’m not just feeding them formula, pap. Life really does go on. That’s what I’ve learned. It goes. You’d be surprised.” A Friend of the Family is told from Pete’s perspective in quietly lovely prose. At first, the story seems to bear all the earmarks of a Thomas H. Cook-esque oh-if-only-I-hadknown tale, but Ms. Grodstein’s sophisticated weaving together of all the alternate strands of Pete’s life – his silent but not dead longing for Iris; his fear of what really happened in Laura’s past; his close friendship with Joe; his envy over his son having a woman he could never have – make the narrative soar. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns The Arms Maker of Berlin By Dan Fesperman Alfred A. Knopf, 384 pages, $29.95 The Arms Maker of Berlin is an historical thriller, based on a colorful cast of characters, featuring an initially disappointing but eventually endearing protagonist in the character of Nat Turnbull, a professor of history who has allowed himself to stagnate professionally and personally. It is only with the arrest and death of his mentor that Turnbull finds himself on a life-changing— and at times life-threatening—quest to find out the truth about his mentor and, just as importantly, about the past.
What author Dan Fesperman has accomplished with this novel is an intelligent, compelling thriller featuring some real-life characters, an engaging fictional cast, and a real resistance group that far too few people in the United States are familiar with. By setting The Arms Maker of Berlin in both the 1940s and this decade, Fesperman is able to get into the heads of his characters, not only to reveal the potential perspective of certain people, Germans and Americans alike, during the Second World War, but different elements of East Germany’s stifled communist recent past—and the effect it had on many who lived through it. A must-read for fans of thrillers—and people interested in an engrossing historical read. Reviewed by Ashley McCall An Underachiever’s Diary By Benjamin Anastas Dial Press Trade, 160 pages, $13.00 William is the polar opposite of his charismatic, athletic, charming twin brother Clive. Often sick, rarely knowing the right thing to say and perfectly average in every way, he lives in the shadow of the person in the world whom he is also most like. In Benjamin Anastas’ debut novel An Underachiever’s Diary, he explores the life of William, a classic underachiever as exposed the contrast of his overachieving twin. We follow the boys from infancy to adulthood seeing the world through William’s eyes as he tells the tale of being a colossal disappointment. From a therapist who gives up on him to a girlfriend who often forgets his name, William populates his life with those who just don’t see him— and that’s the way he prefers it. Written in first person through the droll eyes of William, the book offers quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and hilarious insights, coupled with a steady dose of wanting to shake the narrator for being so pathetic. In the end, audiences will likely split over this book. Coupled with a razorstraight character arc, it’s a dry humor that some will get and love, and others simply won’t appreciate. Reviewed by Albert Riehle A Map of Home By Randa Jarrar Penguin Books, 292 pages, $15.00 With brutal honesty and humor, Randa Jarrar tackles the coming-of-age genre from a unique perspective. Nidali narrates her story, starting with her birth in Boston to
her Palestinian father (Baba) and EgyptianGreek mother. Expecting a son, her father names her Nidal (meaning “struggle”) but adds an “i” to feminize her name. When she is a toddler, they move to Kuwait, where her brother is born and where the bulk of the story takes place. Though Baba encourages Nidali to secure an education and not marry young, he clings to other traditional views of family roles. The resulting struggles between father and daughter serve as the central conflict in this story, and these tensions increase when they are forced to flee Kuwait after Iraq invades, first to Egypt and finally to Texas. While the ground covered is typical of the genre, Jarrar’s sharp observations and Nidali’s wit make the story fresh. Given this, Jarrar’s decision to provide shorter sections on Nidali’s life in Egypt and in Texas is disappointing. “It turned out that everyone here was half one thing, half another. I thought this would make me feel at home, but instead I was sad that I was no longer special.” Nidali deserved more pages at those crucial times in her maturing. A terrific debut from a writer with an original voice. Reviewed by Deb Jurmu Putrefaction Live By Warren Perkins University of New Mexico Press, 243 pages, $21.95 James Claw has spent his entire life feeling somewhat out of place. His mixed blood ancestry, half Navajo and half white, always left him a little apart from others, and he’s never had much ambition to accomplish anything with his life. James has recently moved into his parents’ empty house on the reservation in an attempt to figure life out. Now he spends his days working as a tour guide, delivering an inaccurate history of the Navajo relationship with a local “hero”; improving his metal band; and trying to make things work with Angie, an old friend from high school now trapped in a loveless marriage. Putrefaction Live is an intriguing novel that delves deep into some of the issues surrounding Navajo youth and reservation culture. James is an amazingly intricate character, full of personal conflicts that give this story Cont’d next page
depth. Running throughout the narrative is James’s love of metal music, by which he defines his life; this concept will be wellreceived by anyone truly “into” music. The story kind of meanders, and at the end, the purpose of the book is still not entirely clear, but this book is a well-written novel nonetheless, worth venturing into. Reviewed by Holly Scudero That Old Cape Magic By Richard Russo Knopf, 272 pages, $25.95 The latest installment from Richard Russo is a great book to accompany you to the beach, and for Russo, that’s not necessarily a compliment. While That Old Cape Magic does contain a good deal of that old Russo magic, it clearly falls short of his previous masterwork, Empire Falls. Jack Griffin is a man not completely happy or unhappy with the life he leads as he drives out to Cape Cod without his wife at the beginning of the story. Little does he know that the Cape has some black magic in store for him that, within a year, will turn his life completely upside-down. We are drawn to Jack’s story, and while he is not an entirely sympathetic character, we find ourselves compelled to see if he’ll manage to figure things out by the end of the book. Of course, Russo won a Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, so he was permitted to take a break afterward. But while thoroughly entertaining and compelling, That Old Cape Magic lacks the depth and characters that we are used to in a Russo book. It’s almost like we’re only getting half of the book Russo usually writes—but then, that’s still better than most, if not a little disappointing. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell Perfect Life By Jessica Shattuck W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 315 pages, $24.95 In Shattuck’s second novel, she re-examines modern suburban life. The narrative shifts between four college friends – Jenny, Laura, Elise, and Neil – who are now thirtysomethings. After an awkward prologue, the story opens at the christening of Jenny’s baby, whose biological father is Neil, her former boyfriend, and is not invited to the event. She sought him out as a sperm donor because of her husband’s infertility. While the three women have seemingly happy lives with families and successful careers, Neil has been struggling and ends up returning to Cambridge. As Laura and Elise try to keep this news from Jenny, he convinces himself that he should be involved in his child’s life.
Unfortunately, the clunky structure of the novel inhibits an interesting premise from developing to its potential. Besides the thorny issue of defining a parent, Shattuck tackles the subjects of creativity and intellectual property rights and pharmaceutical marketing. While the skewering of corporate America can be amusing, the story needs stronger character development. Neil’s and Elise’s sections have energy, but Laura is too passive, and Jenny is too much of a caricature. She becomes more fleshed out late in the novel, but some readers may not wait around long enough to discover whether or not Perfect Life is a perfect novel. Reviewed by Deb Jurmu In the Heart of the Canyon By Elisabeth Hyde Alfred A. Knopf, 316 pages, $25.95 Take 15 people (mostly strangers), pack them in rafts, spin them through rapids on the Colorado River, and see what happens over 13 days. Elisabeth Hyde does this in her second novel. She creates an interesting set of characters—including an elderly couple, Ruth and Lloyd, who are river veterans on their last trip, and Amy, an obese seventeen-year-old daughter dragged along by her mother—and sets them under the wideopen sky but where they cannot get away from each other. JT Maroney, the trip leader, is making his 125th run and believes he has seen everything— until he finds a dog after day one. As Lloyd keeps saying, “Dogs aren’t allowed down here.” While Hyde paces the novel well, propelling the reader on a page-turning ride, she includes a late plot point that borders on melodramatic. Astute readers will pick up the clues early but some will find the surprise jarring. Unfortunately, the setting of the Grand Canyon may have pushed Hyde to think she needed a “big moment.” The realistic tension of group dynamics that Hyde had drawn throughout the rest of the story would have carried it to the end. Overall, an entertaining read that capsizes late. Reviewed by Deb Jurmu LOCAL AUTHOR Her Fearful Symmetry By Audrey Niffenegger Scribner, $26.99, 416 pages A simple ghost story, that’s what Her Fearful Symmetry is. It’s the story of a woman, a twin, who dies and leaves her home and possessions in London to the twin daughters of her estranged sister. The late Elspeth’s flat is located next to the dramatic Highgate Cemetery, which, itself, serves as a major character in this novel. Based on this summary, a reader would not expect this to be a significant work. The reader would be wrong, because this ghost
Robert Frost: Speaking on Campus
Edited by Edward Conery Lathem Norton, 199 pages, $25.95
What can a poet have to say outside of verse? A great deal, based on Robert Frost: Speaking on Campus, which excerpts his university talks given between 1949-1962, edited by Edward Connery Lathem, a scholar who prior to his recent death was also the editor of The Robert Frost Reader and several volumes of his poetry, as well as having been the poet’s dear friend. Lathem’s affection shows not just in the design of this handsome volume, but also in the care he took in choosing which excerpts from Frost’s lectures to include. The talks cover an array of topics. Of course there are those on poetry, almost meditations on the beauty of language laid in verse, as well as Frost’s views on the role of the poet in society. If Lathem had limited this collection to these topics, Robert Frost: Speaking on Campus, while interesting, would have at best a narrow audience among poets and poetry enthusiasts. The topic of poetry, however, makes up only a portion of the included lectures. Frost discusses politics. The state of culture in the simmering 50s. What it means to be an American. Foreign policy. Science. Evolution. The election of 1960. Kennedy. The Supreme Court. A reader cannot help but get a sense of the enormity of Frost’s interests, the depth of his thinking, his honest humility. In one particularly evocative speech, he discusses the need for society to reconcile science and the humanities. “It is [science] our enterprise. Very grand thing… but it doesn’t mean that that enterprise will ever tell you anything about our personal relations with each other, our passions and our loves and hates and all that. That will never be touched by science.” Reading such words, one is forced to remember that Frost dwelled not out in the periphery of academia, but was among America’s most celebrated intellectuals, at a time when this nation could actually broadly praise a man of letters without spews of partisan rancor or accusations of elitism. Thinking of how the United States currently lacks such a figure – indeed that one can hardly imagine anyone broadly admired even existing – this fact is, to say the least, disheartening. What, then, are the book’s shortcomings? Mostly, that it could have been so much more. Readers unfamiliar with Frost’s biography will find themselves running to Google. The basic facts of Frost’s life would have been a great help to many readers. David Shribman’s introduction is a magnificent requiem, but beyond the praise he heaps, it offers little in the way of biographic details. Even more unfortunately, Lathem chose not to include the text of poems in places where Frost recited as part of a talk, instead making only a reference; this leaves a black hole in these lectures, limiting what a reader can take from the work and making Frost’s intent clear only to those most familiar with the poet’s verse. I’ve no doubt that those interested in poetry, intellectual history, and America of the 1950s will find they can gain much from this collection. That said, I regret that a work which might have offered so much to a far broader audience was made so unnecessarily narrow. Reviewed by Jordan Magill story was written by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), one of the best writers of our time. Niffenegger creates a small, magical world where every thought, every word, every action of the main characters has significance. Reading Symmetry is like watching a film shown in slow motion; her style is so arresting that it’s a challenge to look away. What Sacramento’s Joan Didion is to nonfiction writing, Niffenegger is to the world of fiction. Both are masters of icy realism, and it hardly matters what it is they write about. Niffenegger may not convince you to believe in ghosts or time travel, but you will believe in her writing talents. A perfect gift for a future novelist. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano
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S F B R Oct 09
Books About Books A New Literary History of America By Edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1128 pages, $49.95 It’s natural to have high expectations of a book with the lofty title A New Literary History of America. What isn’t natural is for the book to live up to, and exceed, those expectations. Comprised of more than two hundred essays, the book begins with the first mention of America on a map in 1507, and strides confidently and enthusiastically through American history until President Obama’s election in 2008. Scarcely any voice, movement, medium, author, poet, or people is left out. Edgar Allen Poe’s invention of the detective story hobnobs with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Hank Williams’ country music is only a few pages from Zora Neale Hurston. It’s as glorious a melting pot as America.
Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading By Lizzie Skurnick Avon A, 448 pages, $14.99 Remember Flowers in the Attic? Go Ask Alice? Forever? Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret? For girls growing up in the early 1960s to the late 1980s, these books, along with a truckload of others, formed a sort of Adolescent Girl curriculum. For the first time, stories emerged that “dealt with the lives and dramas of adolescent girls on their own terms, in their own worlds.” If you’re a lady of a Certain Age, you’ve probably read all, if not most of them. Now is the time to give them another glance – but don’t do it without Ms. Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery by your side. Shelf Discovery is made up of witty and astute essays/thoughts on over seventy books beloved to the teenage girl set. They aren’t just thought-provoking – they’ll make you positively pine to curl up with a copy of Harriet the Spy or Jacob Have I Loved. Ms. Skurnick’s writing is as breath-
lessly enthusiastic as two girls on an unlimited credit shopping spree in the mall. But just because the book is fun to read, don’t think it’s lightweight. These books elevated the experience of the adolescent girl; Ms. Skurnick’s evaluations elevate them into literature worth thinking seriously about. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns The Story About the Story By J. C. Hallman Tin House Books, 432 pages, $18.95 Hallman has given the literary world an insightful book about the concept of “creative criticism” penned in clever and often humorous prose by a variety of talented authors. Front and center is the Creative Writer vs. The Critic in a historical, celebrity death-match of intellectual literary debate. “…and perhaps even debate is too highfalutin a word,” Hallman writes, “… to describe what has amounted to a decades-long pissing match between creative writers and critics.” His premise is simple: the ideal solution is a fusion of the two. Using examples of past great writers writing about writing, Hallman successfully touts that wielders of the pen make the best critics; they cannot overlook the anguish/joy of writing, the sweat and toil put into each piece… yet they fervently forbid their fellow writers to pollute the face of literature. Not only do writers generally find something good to say about the piece being criticized, the review itself is more enjoyable to read, versus the wry platitudes of the non-writing professional critic, who “writes up his report in hideous prose, making sure to flatter himself a bit, and then goes home to a well-deserved drink.” As a novelist, I found this argument both logical and appealing. Hallman is not alone in his crusade for creative criticism; he builds a decent fortress around his points with a collection of highly entertaining and thought-provoking
opinions by excellent writers. The essays (if they can be given such a dry, reprehensible name) are truly a joy to read, ranging from Virginia Woolf— bending a slightly exasperated eye over Hemingway’s work-to Sven Birkerts lyrically philosophizing on the baffling beauty in Keats’ ode, ‘To Autumn’. Denoted very well throughout this book is this concept: compared to professional critics—who are expected to produce succinct reports--creative writers cannot stop penning words until all of what they mean to say has been conveyed. After each fullbodied opinion, one is compelled to go out and read—or re-read—the piece being critiqued. This merely bolsters Hallman’s theory, that good reviews and literary critiques should be—and can be—written to inspire readers to peruse the books themselves. Reviewed by Meredith Greene
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“...this is the story of a made-up nation that in many ways preceded its society. Its literature was not inherited but invented, as if it were a tool or a machine, and discovered, as if it were a gold strike or the next wonder of the Louisiana Purchase. American history--literary, social, political, religious, cultural, and technological--has been a matter of what one could make of it, and of how one got across what he or she meant to say to his or her fellow citizens, as they no less than the speaker struggled to define themselves as individuals, and as part of a whole.”
Since the book is as much history as literary commentary, if you’re pining to read more Emily Dickinson or Ernest Hemingway, you’re better off just reading them, and then returning to this tome later. But, if you’re an American literature lover, you’ll probably sink luxuriously in, not to emerge for hours, days, weeks. And, if you’ve found yourself envying Britain her Shakespeare, Dickens, and Austen, this book will bring you back to America and make you fall in love with her confidence, her innovation, her sheer pluck, all over again. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns
Science & Nature The World in Six Songs By Daniel J. Levitin Plume, 358 pages, $16.00 Music has played a decisive role in the evolution of the human brain and the creation of civilization, and psychology has a prominent part too. Grasping these concepts could be daunting, but not the best teacher who’s very cool and connected to the subject—a role author and McGill University professor Daniel Levitin fits to a T. His career path included music production (several gold records) and performance before he settled into academia. Levitin is the author of This is Your Brain on Music, and The World in Six Songs is his second book, an enlightening and entertaining work in which he combines meaningful life
experiences with music to illustrate each of the six songs (friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge, and love). The songs he has chosen as examples represent a wide array of musical genres. An added touch are the discussions between Levitin and singer/ songwriters/performers who he counts as friends/coworkers within the music industry—most notably Joni Mitchell and Sting. These elements have the combined effect of giving the reader a front-row seat in a wellorchestrated learning session. Be prepared to pay attention while reading this book. The payoff will be well worth the effort. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them By Brad Spellberg, M.D. Prometheus Books, 264 pages, $26.00 In the early 1940s, penicillin seemed like a miracle drug. After only a few doses, peo-
ple dying from severe infections recovered. Since then, we’ve become complacent in the belief that for every bacterial infection, there will be an antibiotic to take care of it – we can’t conceive of a time when fatal infections may once again gain the upper hand. But that is exactly what Dr. Brad Spellberg argues in Rising Plague: the presence of antibioticresistant bacteria is on the rise, while the medical community’s ability to fight these microbes is diminishing. “...just because we are in an ‘antibiotic era’ now does not mean that we will always be. People tend to project their own experiences forward in history.... But antibiotics are unique. There is no
Religion Images of Muhammad By Tarif Khalidi Doubleday, 342 pages, $27.00 The images of the Prophet Muhammad that have been presented throughout history have been many and have changed over time. Tarif Khalidi presents the many different Images of Muhammad over the centuries from the first known biographies to modern times. He also examines the variety of ways people have turned to Muhammad over time, whether to advance political arguments or gain an understanding of everyday living or to help the biographers themselves in overcoming obstacles. The image of Muhammad has changed a great deal from the early years of Islam, where every event was catalog. In the present day, certain writers even use Muhammad for certain political ends. Mr. Khalidi has a commanding knowledge of the topic, and his expertise is amazing. His ability and to move between different authors and identify their nuance arguments is impressive, and example being in the way he smoothly moves from the Qu’ran and the Hadith to Shiite and medieval scholars. He paints a picture that biographies are not just static – they they change with the times, none more so than Muhammad’s. The sources are vast and innumerable, and Mr. Khalidi only focuses on the major works of each era to show how they both created and shaped that era. Hopefully, this book will encourage more research in this area that is equally informative and impressive. Reviewed by Kevin Winter
Pocket Guide to Sainthood By Jason Boyett Jossey-Bass, 219 pages, $12.95 Pocket Guide to Sainthood is an irreverent, humorous look at the lives of officially recognized saints. Boyett delivers an endless stream of funny quips as he tells the highlights of each saint’s life. Did you know that Saint Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of airline pilots and mentally handicapped people? Aside from the chuckles, the book educates the reader about Catholic traditions and the process of canonization. Boyett implies that after death, a saint’s accomplishments were often embellished by their followers for personal gain. This Protestant reviewer found the stories about bizarre miracles, levitation, and bilocation (being in two places at once) to be disconcerting. The reader will learn that some saints wore animal hair shirts, went barefoot, put ashes in their food, slept on a hard floor, locked themselves in a room for years, and engaged in selfflagellation. Fortunately, others led simple inspiring lives. Saint Francis of Assisi was compassionate to the poor, rejected a wealthy inheritance, and was kind to animals. The Gregorian chant is named after Saint Gregory because of his contributions to liturgical worship. Many saints suffered horrific martyrdom, and some of Boyett’s attempts to humor-up those violent events fell flat. This book is not for the extremely devout with a strong reverence for the faith. The soul of the book is the statement that sainthood had as much to do with how peo-
ple acted after you died as it did with how you acted before you died. An entertaining and informative read. Reviewed by Grady Jones The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual By Jonathan Kirsch HarperOne, $26.95, 296 pages “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Like many of you, this line from Monty Python’s Flying Circus was my introduction to the Roman Catholic’s 700-yearold institution of the Holy Office of Inquisition into Heretical Depravity, which incidentally still exists, though under the more benign title of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” The institution was recently headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until he was called to a higher office. The version of the Inquisition portrayed by cross-dressing British comedians and other modern farces is rather more hysterical than its historical counterpart. The actual Inquisition remains obscure to the average citizen, as do its sickening crimes, mindset, and the progeny it midwifed into existence in our modern world. Jonathan Kirsch’s The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual attempts to remedy the historical gap in our culture as well as elucidate how the Holy Office blazed a trail that too many tyrants, despots, fascists, and even liberal democracies have been happy to travel down.
other technology that becomes less effective the more it is used....And it is entirely conceivable that we will reach a time when our precious antibiotic resource is exhausted.” Dr. Spellberg explains how both antibiotics and bacteria function, and makes the case for our need to develop new antibiotics. He explains why, despite the obvious need, fewer and fewer of these drugs are being developed, and offers three solid solutions. Rising Plague is clear and concise, with a good mix of dramatic (and, at times, tragic) examples and hard statistics. Dr. Spellberg’s writing avoids the impenetrable sciencespeak that infects many medical-themed books without dipping into hyperbolic pop-culturese talk. The book ends with an admonition to take the threat of drugresistant bacteria seriously; when you’ve finished reading, you’ll find it impossible to disagree. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns
Kirsch provides a thorough (if generalized) account of the Inquisition’s history, from its inception to deal with the Cathar “problem” of France in 1207 to the last victim of the Spanish Inquisition in 1834. The incidents and details Kirsch highlights not only shed some light on oft-skimmed part of Western history, but they stand out in their modernism; surely, with a simple change of cast, these scenes would be familiar to our own century. Kirsch explores how the ideas and methodology of the Inquisition lived on after its demise in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, two obvious candidates, but also in the United States (McCarthyism, the pursuit of draft dodgers, post-9-11 interrogations, and internment of “enemy combatants”). Even the simple tools of club and stone used in jungles or deserts in a systematic hunt for a constructed, arbitrary enemy play heir to the legacy of the Inquisition. Kirsch’s book is convincing even in its brevity of the horrors that the Inquisition brought to Europe and the horrors its ideology continues to deliver today. Reviewed by Jonathon Howard
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Mystery, Crime & Thrillers Treasure of the Golden Cheetah By Suzanne Arruda Obsidian/Penguin Putnam, 357 pages, $24.95 Treasure of the Golden Cheetah is the fifth book in Arruda’s Jade del Cameron series, but it doesn’t read as such. There are a few details dropped into the narrative that would require a new reader to pick up the previous four books, but the mystery and adventure in each book is anchored firmly and securely by the brave and intrepid heroine, Jade. Arruda has a difficult job with this series--how to realistically portray 1920s East Africa while not regurgitating colonialist narratives of Africa--but she is a more than capable writer, and the East Africa painted in this series is both nuanced and lovingly drawn. The characters are excellent as well, each showcasing the varying roles Europeans and Americans played during the colonial era, yet remaining incredibly likeable. The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah begins with an intriguing murder among the hedonistic group of American filmmakers who have come to Africa to shoot a movie--and for more nefarious purposes. This purpose leads Jade right into danger as co-leader of the filmmakers’ safari, much to the chagrin of her possible fiance Sam Featherstone, and the delight of her former rival and would-be suitor. Mix this danger with a fascinating account of Kikuyu spirituality, and Arruda has written one of the best entries into the Jade del Cameron series. The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah is a must-have for fans of African history, tightly-plotted mysteries and of course, Jade del Cameron! Reviewed by Angela Tate Bloodborn By Kathryn Fox Harper, 336 pages, $7.99 Dr. Anya Crichton, the brilliant forensic pathologist from Without Consent and Malicious Intent, returns with her most chilling case yet. Two young girls have been brutally attacked: one is left dead, the other raped and abused, barely surviving. Crichton is pulled into the case, and the reader soon learns that the doctor will stop at nothing, due to her care for anyone abused and victimized, but also drawing in some history involving herself in an abusive situation. Crichton must work with the young girl, making sure she full recovers to tes-
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tify against her attackers, the ones who murdered her sister. Now the girl must face a courtroom and the dreaded Harbourn brothers. This is a family that is used to breaking the law and getting away with it; they’ve been doing it for years, know their way around the law and how to string the courtroom along, and expect to do the same with this case. But Crichton isn’t going to let them get their way. Author Kathryn Fox, who is a medical practitioner with a special interest in forensic medicine, knows how to keep a reader hooked from start to finish. Anya Crichton is similar to Patricia Cornwell’s Kaye Scarpetta, but because of her background, there is more depth to her character, as readers see she is a pathologist for a reason: to stop whoever it was that abused her, and to prevent others from getting away with their crimes. Fox employs a gritty, descriptive writing style, not holding back on garish, bloody details. At the same time Crichton is a very human character, caring for others, with friends and emotions, as well as an extracurricular habit of playing drums. Bloodborn is a medical thriller that will satisfy any fan of Patricia Cornwell or Kathy Reichs, as well as addicted viewers of TV shows like C.S.I. or Bones. Bloodborn is a great place to start in discovering the impressive Dr. Anya Crichton, and afterwards readers can move onto Fox’s other books featuring Crichton in her debut with Malicious Intent and Without Consent. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander Collision of Evil By John J. Le Beau Ocean View, 325 pages, $25.95 I am certain that John Le Beau wasn’t the first person to think of the idea of weaving the twin villainies of Nazism and Islamic Jihad into a single narrative. That said, Collision of Evil successfully eschews the obvious absurd premises – South American Nazi super spies teaming up with swarthy terrorists, or Hitler clones working recruiting in Pakistan – and Le Beau creates a story both cogent and gripping. His storytelling borrows from both the Ludlumesque spy thrillers and solid formula mysteries to create a work that, if not inspired, will certainly be solidly entertaining to many readers. Moreover, as a former CIA clandestine operations officer, Le Beau more than makes up for his workmanlike prose by offering interesting insights into that world in which he long worked, what I suppose is referred to as tradecraft. That Collision of Evil reads particularly well in the scenes involving intelligence matters, like interrogation, decision making, and bureaucratic infighting, doubtless owes a great deal to the author’s professional experience.
When Charles Hirter, an American tourist hiking through scenic high pastures in Bavaria, is brutally murdered, the local police are baffled. Who would do such a thing? And why? After Charles’s brother Robert arrives, we quickly learn that the murder has something to do with a secret mission carried out by an SS unit in the last days of World War II, and while it takes a while, we know from the cover that the mystery of that mission will somehow be folded into a plot by Islamic terrorists. The plot moves along at a fast clip, and while the characters at times feel a bit wooden, they will be pleasantly familiar to fans of the genre. My favorite character, Kommissar Franz Waldbaer, the German detective investigating the murder, reads like a
Mickey Spillane detective, if Mike Hammer spoke with a Bavarian accent. The other protagonist, Robert, is the quiet competent man who plainly has much to hide. To his credit, none of Le Beau’s characters are supermen, leaping about like Spiderman or solving mysteries with a glance like Sherlock Holmes. Instead they have to puzzle everything out, just like ordinary people, which is more than a little refreshing. Collision of Evil won’t revolutionize the world of spy mystery novels, or even the post-9/11 subgenre of characters thwarting Islamic terror plots. It is, however, a suspenseful, entertaining read, at times I dare say even a page-turner, which fans of this genre are quite likely to enjoy. Reviewed by Jordan Magill
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holms By John Joseph Adams Night Shade Books, 454 pages, $15.95
It has been over a hundred years since Dr. Watson first chronicled the exploits of the World’s Only Consulting Detective, and the demand of the devoted for Sherlockiana of all kinds hasn’t subsided in the slightest.But despite Holmes’s confidence in his famous axiom, in the pages of The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the intrepid detective and his faithful companion tackle puzzles both improbable and impossible. From murder and kidnapping to theft and fraud, the crimes and conundrums detailed within these pages include everything from pirates, ghosts, legends, and scoundrels to Lovecraftian horrors, crop circles, alternate realities, and the embodiment of death itself. Tales merely alluded to in earlier adventures are fully realized for the first time, and new insights abound, as Mrs. Hudson, Irene Adler, and Professor Moriarty each take center stage in various stories. Holmes even crosses paths with the likes of Jack the Ripper, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself! In addition to a great deal of new material to entice newcomers and please devotees alike, this compendium covers many of the best stories from other Sherlock compi“Once you eliminate the imlations (particularly from Shadows Over possible, whatever remains, Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, no matter how improbable, earlier anthologies with more of a supermust be the truth.” natural or sci-fi bent). As with all short story collections, not all of the contributions are up to snuff – I found both “The Spectre of Tullyfane Abbey” and “The Adventure of the Death-Fetch” very unsatisfying – but most are worth your time. Here are brief summaries of three such stories: Tony Pi’s Dynamics of a Hanging is set during the time after Holmes’s apparent death at Reichenbach Falls, as Watson and a famous associate may have discovered the key to bringing Moriarty’s cohorts to justice. Bradley H. Sinor’s The Adventures of the Other Detective provides a rare glimpse of an alternate world, where Watson didn’t survive his sojourn in Afghanistan, and another detective rose to prominence in Holmes’s place. Chris Roberson’s Merridew of Abominable Memory finds an aged and afflicted Dr. Watson regaling his physician with a lost adventure of Sherlock Holmes, leading both men to question the very nature of why certain memories linger and others slip away. Editor John Joseph Adams (of The Living Dead and Federations) has a knack for assembling truly eclectic and satisfying collections, and considering some of the names involved -- Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Baxter, Anne Perry, and Anthony Burgess, among many others -- he’s done it again with The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
12 Geoff Knight, author of Riddle 22 Monte Schulz - 7pm – 8pm of the Sands October 12, 2009 7:30 PM Books Inc. The Castro, 2275 Market Street, San Francisco
14 Kathleen Kent, author of The
Heretic’s Daughter October 14, 200 7:00 PM Books Inc. , Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco
15 The Masonic Myth -
Jay Kinney - 8:00pm – 9:30pm Fields Book Store, 1419 Polk Street San Francisco
19 Marc Barnett, author of Billy
Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem 10am Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera Ken Reed, He Flew Too High 7:00 PM Books Inc. Palo Alto•Town & Country Village
23 Kay Redfield Jamison -
Nothing was the Same - 7:00 PM Books Inc. , Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco
24 Keith Raffel - The Smasher -
10:00 AM Books Inc. Palo Alto•Town & Country Village David Corbett - The Outer Limits of Inner Life - 10:00-4:00 pm & Sun. Oct. 25 • 10:00-1:00 pm • $195 Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
20 Alicia Silverstone - 6pm – 7pm 25 Katy Butler • Setting, Scene Book Passage, 1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco Holly Payne, author of Kingdom of Simplicity - 7 pm Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
& Story: Craft Secrets for Magazine Writers 10:00-4:00 pm • $105 Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera Katherine Ellison, author of The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes You Smarter - 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
26 Tom Brenner, author of And
Then Comes Halloween ($16.99), a lively journey of the familiar rituals. - 10:00 am Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera Kid Lit Salon • Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Salon • Led by Lissa Rovetch • 4th Monday each Month - 7:00-9:00 pm - $120 per year Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
27 John Grogan, author of The Longest Trip Home - 1:00 pm Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
John Freeman, author of The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox - 7 pm Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
28 Michael Chabon, author
of Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son - 7 pm Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
Chef Maria Helm Sinskey reads and gives a cooking demo - 7:30 pm PEGASUS BOOKS DOWNTOWN 2349 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley
29 Sharon Robinson, author of
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson - 10 am Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera An Evening with David Sedaris A benefit for scholarships for California College of the Arts Thurs., Oct. 29, 2009, Marin Center Auditorium 5:30 pm • Donors’ Cocktail Party -- 8:00 pm • Author Event Reading Only • Tickets $35 -- Donors’ Cocktail Party & Reading • Tickets $250 Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
30 Robert Swan, author of
Antarctica 2041: My Quest to Save the Earth’s Last Wilderness- 7 pm Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
31 Market to Table, San Francisco
Ferry Building 11:45 am -- Laura Stec discusses Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming ($24.99) and presents a cooking demo
Business & Investing Who Are You? What Do You Want? By Mick Ukleja Perigee Trade, 153 pages, $19.95 Who Are You? What Do You Want? Do you know? What would you do today if you knew that you would not fail? In their book, of the same title, Mick Ukleja and Robert L. Lorber invite readers to ask (and answer) themselves the hard questions that can, ultimately, force us to stretch from simply thinking to action application. For without action, dreams cannot become reality. In this thin volume, they promote inspiring and practical advice with encouraging reallife stories. “If you know who you are, then what you want tends to show up.” Readers are inspired to seek out more than what has been. They ask four important questions, each detailed individually in separate chapters. This thin volume provides writing space as a personal workbook, ques-
tions to ponder, ranging from “What are three things I do well?” to “What are five nonnegotiable values in my life?” to “Who are my allies?” “How can they help me accomplish my goals?”. Residing in these 153 pages are personal assessments, guided exercises, and a personal retreat suggestion, all promoting a lasting success. This is more than a self-help credo, it allows readers to take control over their own circumstances, to feel empowered, and achieve direction over the writing of their life. This leaves only one question at the end of your read: “What will you create for yourself now that you know?” Reviewed by Sky Sanchez
A Colossal Failure of Common Sense By Lawrence McDonald with Patrick Robinson Crown Business, 351 pages, $27.00 The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers is now one year behind us. It was the first in a series of bank and institutional failures linked to the housing bust, and marks a low point in the history of Wall Street. Former Lehman vice president of trading, Lawrence McDonald, and veteran professional writer, Patrick Robinson, have painstakingly portrayed the intellect, honesty and caring at the heart of the Lehman trading groups that tried valiantly to warn upper management of the impending doom. This one hundred and fifty-eight-yearold institution was leveled by a small clique of men at the top who lacked the restraint and manners that were the key to traditional corporate culture at Lehman. The arrogance, greed, weak egos and excesses (think Dynasty on TV in the 1980s) are similar to
the behavior exhibited by members of the clique. We view the action from McDonald’s perspective starting with his early yearning to work at a major player on Wall Street. If you think every aspect of the real estate bubble and bust has been examined and reported on, think again. This hefty book is written from an insider’s perspective. Credit is given to whomever it is due at both ends of the spectrum of good and evil. The reader can feel the suspense building as the story develops. This book became a real pageturner by the end, even though the outcome is known. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano
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Romance Haunting Beauty By Erin Quinn Berkley Sensation, 354 pages, $15.00 Danni first sees Sean in the middle of the night when he materializes in her kitchen and beckons her through a portal where she witnesses a horrific murder. The next morning, the doorbell rings, and Sean is standing on her stoop with plane tickets to a tiny Irish island, claiming her long-lost family wants to bring her home. Danni, abandoned as a child, ignores her misgivings and succumbs to her desire to know her roots—and the mysterious and handsome Sean. Danni ends up on the island, albeit not by any conventional means. Instead, she and Sean find themselves there twenty years in the past, masquerading as a married couple and coming face to face with themselves as children. As they scramble to understand the mystical island where unexplainable occurrences are the norm, Danni and Sean fall in love. Haunting Beauty is an exciting paranormal romance told alternately from Danni’s and Sean’s points of view. The book will keep you on your toes, trying to solve the mystery, and cheering for Danni and Sean as they discover their metaphysical capabilities that will enable them to reverse the events of the past that keep them from being together in the future. Reviewed by Megan Just Spider-Touched By Jory Strong Berkley, 384 pages, $15.00 Rarely is a novel non-stop fantastic from start to finish, especially in the supernatural or fantasy genre. Usually the storyline ebbs and flows like the sea, from the slow introduction of alien worlds or supernatural characters with a quick jump to fast-paced action. Spider-Touched breaks this mold, rushing at the reader from the very start and not letting up until the last page is turned. While the main characters, with their trials and tribulations, are the main focus, the true star of this novel is the back story, the setting. Main characters Arana and Tir live in changed world in the near future, one where supernatural beings intermingle with pure humans in post-apocalyptic Oakland, California. Arana is a young woman who’s been possessed since birth. Branded and alone, her touch brings immediate death to friend
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and enemy alike. Tir is an immortal, captured and shackled centuries ago by selfish mortals. Arana frees Tir and together they find freedom, vengeance and love. If this reader has any complaint, it’s that author Jory Strong is often brash and harsh when a lighter touch would have better served. While the desire between Arana and Tir is utterly believable, if crassly described, the relationship, the love between the two characters is suspect, even at the conclusion. As a fantastical novel I give Spider-Touched a thumbs up; as a romance a thumbs down. Reviewed by Lanine Bradley Laid Bare By Lauren Dane Berkley Heat, 322 pages, $15.00 He’s a clean-cut policeman, she’s the tattooed and dreadlocked guitar player next door. Their worlds collide in a supernova of lust, lust so unfamiliar to him that he turns her away and goes on to marry one of the good girls he’s been raised to treat so tenderly. Ten years later he’s back in town. He’s divorced, he’s matured, and he finds himself wanting what he had before. Can he reconnect with the girl who refused to be his dirty secret? This book is a blatant sexual fantasy, its formula and its lexicon as suggestive of an unoriginal mind as any of its less PG themes. Full chapters of heavy-handed erotica are strung together by a plot that, while halfway decent, seems to highlight the superficiality of the story’s emotional spread. A fan of such material may find it acceptable to tickle their less rational sensibilities, though the occasional gauche wording should keep your intellectual side very rudely reminded that there are better things you could be reading. Reviewed by Micah Kolding Wicked Little Game By Christine Wells Berkley Sensation, 309 pages, $7.99 The set-up for Christine Wells’ Wicked Little Game is riveting from page one: an impoverished scoundrel offers his wife to the wealthy nobleman who has loved her from afar--but for a price. Lady Sarah Cole is the woman up for trade, and her plight is harrowing, a testament to a time when a woman belonged completely to her husband and a bad marriage could lead to destruction. Fortunately, Lord Vane is honorable and upstanding, despite his passion for a married woman. Wells draws all of her characters with a warmth and sympathy that imbues even Lady
Sarah’s terrible husband Brinsley with compassion. There is no black and white in this book, merely shades of gray, as Wicked Little Game strives to pull out all emotional stops to tell the story of a twisted love triangle. And the author largely succeeds, though with the swift introduction of the suspense plot, the story begins to falter. The culprit of the murder is very well hidden, but in their pursuit of answers, the romance between Lady Sarah and Lord Vane turns unnecessarily angsty, and the conflict that separates them is drawn out far too long to ring realistic. Wells’ writing is more lyrical than most authors, and many a unique turn of phrase lifted many of the somewhat colorless scenes from the mundane. A bigger disappointment is that for the sensual premise and the promise of a psychological conflict, the tension between Sarah and Lord Vane dissipates after they give into temptation. However, Wicked Little Game is an excellent way to pass the time and Wells obviously has a bright future ahead of her. Reviewed by Angela Tate
Filipino-American Heritage Month Filipino World War II Soldiers: America’s Second Class Veterans By Photography by Rick Rocamora Veterans Equity Center, 84 pages, $45.00 One of the more unfortunate legacies of US military policy over many of our wars and police actions overseas has been the breaking of promises of future help and support to indigenous soldiers. The Hmong from Vietnam, the Kurds during the first Gulf war, are some of the more recent groups that threw their support to America and then found their promised rewards unfulfilled. One of the oldest living groups of these veterans is the Filipino soldiers from World War II. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, more than 200,000 men, young and old, fought alongside the American forces, served as guides and soldiers, in regular and guerrilla units. More than half died during the war, in combat, including many thousands during the Bataan Death March. These men were promised citizenship and veteran’s benefits for their service, but soon after the war was over, those promises were rescinded, reduced to naturalization and immigration to the U.S., but without the benefits. Many thousands of them immigrated with their families here after the war, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the promise of American citizenship was finally delivered; still without the VA benefits. Photographer Rick Rocamora has been documenting the lives of many of these aged veterans in the Bay Area since the early 1990s. Most of them live in extreme poverty, sending part of the money they do get from SSI or collecting cans for recycling back to family still in the Philippines, dependent on their still ongoing sacrifices. The images in Filipino World War II Soldiers: America’s Second Class Veterans are heart-wrenching in an extreme—from pictures of the men in their usually sparse living quarters, waiting in line at the food bank, sitting together playing checkers. Yet these men and women (widows of the soldiers) still have pride in themselves, their service, and their adopted country. The cover image is of a Filipino wearing the army uniform he purchased at Goodwill for $1.50 that he plans to wear at his funeral. Entirely in black and white, the pictures earn their comparisons to Dorothea Lange’s work during the Great Depression; but these are from today, a wealthy America that honors its own veterans from that war as the Greatest Generation. Not just portraits, but slice-of-life photographs of the lives, often juxtaposed against other compelling images of street and city life. Not all great war photography takes place during or after combat. Some of it takes years or generations to happen, and this is one example of not only documentary photography, but also investigative journalism and activism. This
group of vets may never have a movie or HBO series made about them, but Rocamora has made sure they will not be forgotten. Rocamora has also been active in campaigning for recognition of these men, and it has slowly been coming. Former President Clinton signed a proclamation honoring them in 1996, and 2009 stimulus bill included some long-overdue payments. Reviewed by Ross Rojek Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM By J. Neil and C. Garcia The University of the Philippines Press, 536 pages, $47.00 Gays in the Philippines are everywhere. They are easy to find. And while Filipino gays are mostly tolerated, they are often misunderstood. J. Neil C. Garcia’s Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM, spanning a 30-year study and analysis of gay literature as well as the author’s own experiences, is an intellectual exercise in grasping the cultural essence of the Filipino gays. This makes available, for the very first time, “a serious academic inquiry into the field of knowledge and mode of being which is Philippine gay culture itself.” It uncovers rich and diverse thematic Philippine gay narratives on the stereotypology of the funny gay, gay theatrical discourse, the church and homosexuality, swardspeak (gay lingo), and the sexual subculture, among many others. “All three decades of gay culture, as far as the many themes and motifs which constitute them are concerned, may actually be taken as one.” This book originally outed, quite ceremoniously, in 1996. Its second coming, an updated edition which came out more than a decade after, upholds much of the original text, blue-pencilling only the author’s stylistic writing in few places. The only other significant change is the addition of a hefty new final chapter reinforcing the contentions of the original, making it more fresh and just as relevant as it first came out. J. Neil C. Garcia’s Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM is a personal but scholarly work that is a must-read for anyone who aims to grasp the essence of the blooming gay culture in the Philippines from the 60s to the present. Reviewed by Dominique James
Culture Shock! Philippines By Alfredo Roces; Grace Roces Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 352 pages, $15.95 Culture Shock! Philippines is one in a series of guides for travelers and would-be residents, emigrants and the like. This is the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide I have ever seen for traveling to the Philippines. As an American who is often embarrassed by the behavior of other Americans in foreign lands, I would recommend this guide to all who plan to travel to the Philippines. For that matter, a guide this comprehensive should be required reading for all Americans traveling to any foreign lands, and I might even go so far as to suggest a test for them prior to stamping their passport and allowing them out of the USA. Culture Shock! Philippines holds countless useful insights into local culture, cuisine, traditions, and more. It gives very valuable advice for those wishing to blend in (as much as that may be possible) to the local environment, and goes as far as detailing the things one might need to consider when planning a longer-term residence in the Philippines, including business considerations. I imagine that many countries’ version of the Culture Shock! guide was easier to produce than the one for the Philippines. After all, the Philippines is a rich, diverse nation comprised of more than 6000 islands with major Islamic, Catholic and Christian religions, dozens of regional dialects, colloquialisms and traditions. The amount of information packed into this volume is truly amazing, and I must say it was written with just the right touch of humor, sensitivity to and respect for the traditions of the people and the nation. In my opinion the Philippines is a kind of “Asian Melting Pot,” similar to America in that it has been colonized repeatedly over the course of centuries prior to gaining its independence, and an incredible array of folk from all over the world have settled there and call the place home. This guide takes into account much of that history and deals with it in a very respectful way. The politics of the region, and even some of the behaviors there which judgmental Americans might otherwise find objectionable are all treated and explained in a way that allows one to understand the culture at its root and ultimately embrace it. An example is the discussions of a “Querida” system in which Filipino men appear to be empowered to have multiple mistresses and grow multiple families. This behavior is a part of society that is more complex than it appears on its surface, and the guide does a fine job of describing it in both positive and negative terms without judging it. This style of writ-
ing tends not to beg the reader to judge the culture too quickly or harshly, a tendency for which we Americans may be unaware. There is much humor in this guide and reading it along with my Filipina wife, we found that there are many details, quotes, and suggestions as well as analysis of the culture which are truly entertaining to each of us. I’m sure much of the stuff we find so entertaining is not intended to be that way to the uninitiated, but having been to the Philippines and now having family there, the guide takes on a whole new light for me and is really worthy of repeated browsing. I can wholeheartedly recommend Culture Shock! Philippines to anyone planning to travel there, in fact I recommend you re-read it after you return – you’ll be surprised at how helpful and accurate this guide was for your journey – and this guide will definitely be with me when I return again, lest there were any details I’d forgotten over time. Reviewed by John Cloutman <<Listen>> Audible Authors interview with Alfredo Roces: www.Sacramentobookreview.com/ alfredo_roces.php Soledad’s Sister By Jose Dalisay Anvil Publishing, 194 pages, $39.99 Every year, more than 600 overseas Filipino workers return as corpses. One casket that arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila is a body of a See FILIPINO, page 19
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Halloweeeen Extreme Halloween By Tom Nardone Perigee Trade, 95 pages, $14.95 With a subtitle that reads “The Ultimate Guide to Making Halloween Scary Again,” you can bet that I was really thrilled to get my hands on Extreme Halloween. The coloring (black and orange) and texts (blobs here and there) helped a lot in building more anticipation. With the first project being a creepy millipede made out of pumpkins and carrots, my excitement grew. But then, a couple more pages in, I began noticing that the only “extreme” idea (to me, that is) that the author is offering is by means of the pumpkin sculptures. (It turns out that Tom Nardone previously authored two best-selling books of pumpkin carving and sculpting.) True, there are pages dedicated to drinks and food, to sounds and lighting, to other Halloween staples such as coffins and tombstones—but the ideas are not really original. Except for one food arrangement trick—I must agree that cooked meat and sausages arranged in the form of a decomposing body for dining buffet-style look really gross, Halloween-style—all of the other tricks and techniques are available on the internet … meaning: they’re not new and not at all tricks that I would describe as “extreme.” Reviewed by D. Harms A Practical Guide to Vampires By Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer Mirrorstone, 80 pages, $12.95 Before Twilight fans get themselves excited, be warned. You won’t find any sparkling vampires here. Instead, this book is dedicated to revealing the world of the traditional vampire. The hardened bloodsuckers with superhuman strength, speed, intelligence who sleep in a coffin and burst into flame when exposed to sunlight. Vampire anatomy, skills, weapons, helpers, history; it’s all contained in this book. Presented as a guide to help the aspiring vampire hunters, it also offers tips on how to become a vampire yourself (should you be so ambitious). The one flaw of this “guide” is that it is presented as being set in our world, but is written to complement a medieval fantasy world of castles and magical objects. Thus all the practical advice becomes more of a story and less of a guide. However, any disappointment in the content of the book is made up for the magnificent design. Filled with magnificent illustrations, charts, and graphs, even the pages are printed to look
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old and weathered. Overall, it’s great choice for the vampire aficionado, and a fun read for the Halloween season. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller The Banshee By Eve Bunting and Emily Arnold McCully Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 32 pages, $16.00 Terry is just falling asleep when he hears the wailing screech outside his window. He’s convinced the sound is coming from a banshee, the legendary Irish ghost-woman who wails outside houses where death is looming. Terry’s mom tells him that the sound is just a cat or an owl, but he doesn’t believe her. Could it really be a banshee? And if so, why is she near their house? Although the story technically takes place in the cold winter month of December, the subject of this book makes it perfect for this time of year. The illustrations of Emily Arnold McCully really complete the ambiance and make up for the somewhat lackluster writing. The pictures have a washed-out, murky appearance, which is a perfect complement for the story. A great book for Halloween, but don’t read this right before bed lest you also hear the screech of the ghostly banshee. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller The Science of Fear By Daniel Gardner Plume, 351 pages, $16.00 Daniel Gardner, author of The Science of Fear, curiously titled his prologue with a single number: 1,595. This is the number of increased traffic fatalities in the year following 9/11 when people stopped flying and took to the roads, despite well-established safety statistics to the contrary. But this seemly irrational trend was not an isolated incident, and The Science of Fear explains how the culture of fear can manipulate your brain. “But how do people choose which risks to worry about and which to ignore? Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers constantly supply us with judgments that are a major influence. The media provide us with examples—or not— that Gut feeds into the Example Rule to estimate the likelihood of a bad thing happening. Experience and culture color hazards with emotions that Gut runs through the Good-Bad Rule. The mechanism known as habituation causes us to play down the risks of familiar things and play up the novel and unknown.”
Societal fears are non-stop these days: salmonella, kidnapping, shark attacks, road rage, and guns in schools, to name a few. The Science of Fear teaches us that fears are rooted in the physiology of our brains, but are made irrational through many psychological factors that are only exacerbated by the media, ad campaigns, and the opinions of others. The Science of Fear is carefully researched and packed with scientific studies, yet has a subtle sense of humor and reads as effortlessly as fiction. It is the book media-hype naysayers have been waiting for. After a good, enthusiastic read, these naysayers will surely want to share it with timid spouses and co-workers who are tiptoeing through life, armed with a facemask (H1N1) and pepper spray (crime on the rise). Reviewed by Megan Just Boo Who?: A Foldout Halloween Adventure By Lola Schaefer ; Michael Frost Little Simon, 12 pages, $7.99 Give your kids a fun read this Halloween! With all sorts of riddles making them guess what spooky character they are about to see, Boo Who? can definitely be a tricky treat for your little one! This cute fold-out book gives away more clues as you open each flap one by one, revealing the Halloween guests who are gathering in front of your doorstep. Children will truly be delighted by the fun rhyming words of Lola Schaefer, and Michael Frost is to be commended for effectively capturing the joyous emotions children feel whenever they play “the dress-up game”. Reviewed by Kaye Cloutman I ride my broom through the October sky, and cackle at the moon that’s hanging high. Boo! Who am I? Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire By Tommy Donbavand Candlewick, 160 pages, $5.99 The main character in this book is a boy named Luke Watson who turns out to become a werewolf. Luke Watson and his family are sent to Scream Street by the faceless men of G.H.O.U.L., or Government Housing of Unusual Lifeforms, since he was beginning to be a threat to the “normal” neighborhood. One little problem though--his parents are terrified with the new neighborhood since it is filled with monsters of all kinds. Luke wishes to bring his parents back to their old home but faces challenges throughout the whole story. The only way that he will be able to do this is to find six
relics, which he realizes won’t be a very easy task, but his new friends, a young vampire named Resus Negative and a young mummy named Cleo Farr, help him out. The young monster trio gets constantly attacked by Poltergeists caused by Sir Otto Sneer, who doesn’t seem to want to send Lucas and his parents back home. To top it all off, Eefa Everwell, a young witch whom Luke is in love with, does not help either when she casts spells to stop them from doing their mission. “In the tunnel, through the slime, the vampire lies for all of time; down where all is constant night, the source of power here will bite.” Children will enjoy reading this humorous and entertaining book. I also think grown ups that were fond of watching classic TV shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters will find Scream Street Fang of the Vampire a good read. It was cool how the illustrations depicted frightening stuff that came out in a charming manner. Kids, don’t be scared to read Scream Street Fang of the Vampire, because you will find yourself laughing a lot--especially when you get to the part of the farting goblins! Reviewed by Amber Guno Cloutman Dark Night By Dorothée de Monfreid Random House Children’s, 40 pages, $14.99 When little Felix sets out for a walk in a dark nighttime forest, we understand that no good can come from his adventure. Sure enough, a series of scary noises heralds the arrival of several frightening beasts— a wolf, a tiger, and a CON’T next page
crocodile—leaving Felix to hide in a hollow tree trunk. Unsure how to escape, Felix discovers a door inside the tree, which leads to the cozy home of a rabbit. Hatching an ingenious plan, the rabbit promises to help Felix traverse the beast-filled woods and get home. Working together, Felix and the rabbit turn the tables on the beasts, leaving them cowering behind trees—and, finally, seeking help from Felix himself. De Monfreid’s simple, bold illustrations charmingly portray the darkness of the forest and the toothy terribleness of the nighttime beasts, while Felix’s red pajamas set him apart as a child who’s found himself somewhere he’s not supposed to be. His mastery of the beasts, and the hot-chocolate reward he gives himself and his rabbit friend after their achievement, suggests that with a little bravery, creativity, and lucky acquaintance, even the scariest nighttime fears can be held at bay. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell The Curse of the Romany Wolves By S. Jones Rogan Alfred A. Knopf, 304 pages, $16.99 Young Penhaligon Brush – half fox/half wolf – is doing well as an apothecary at Ferball Manor until one of his adopted children, a Romany wolf cub, comes down with a mysterious illness. Penhaligon soon diagnoses the illness as febra lupi – the curse of the Romany wolves – a deadly disease with no known cure. Until now, the disease has appeared only in wolves, but this time it seems to have mutated and is infecting other animal children in the village. An ancient book gives clues to a possible cure, but ingredients for the cure can only be found on Howling Island – a place inhabited by ghosts or perhaps something worse. Penhaligon must reach the island, but can he get past pirates and a sea dragon? And what dangers will he face when he gets there? The Curse of the Romany Wolves by S. Jones Rogan is an excellent book and her second story featuring Penhaligon Brush. This is an old fashioned children’s story touching on trust, loyalty, and courage, and is somewhat in the vein of The Wind in the Willows. The book is targeted at children aged nine to twelve, but younger children would enjoy having it read to them. Reviewed by Douglas McWilliams What Was I Scared Of? By Dr. Seuss Random House, 25 pages, $11.99 Sometimes we can be scared of things for no rational reason. Usually it’s fear of the unknown. We may even scare someone
without ever saying a word to them. Dr. Seuss’ What Was I Scared of? address that very issue. There are a pair of pants roaming the neighborhood and the main character is deathly afraid of them and begins to live his life cautiously for fear of running into the pair of empty pants. One night while picking Snides, he accidently runs into these scary pair of pants when all of a sudden they start to cry and tremble. He realizes that they are just as scared of him as he is of them. A friendship ensues once they realize there was never anything to be scared of. This is a valuable lesson for children to not be scared of someone they never even gave a chance to. They may end up the best of friends. I think Dr. Seuss used a pair of pants to show how quick we can judge and how silly our unfound fears can be (like an empty pair of pants). One of the coolest things about this book is that it’s glow-in-the-dark. This would be a great book to read by flashlight with your child. Reviewed by Jennifer LeBrun There Was An Old Monster! By Rebecca, Adrian, and Ed Emberley Orchard Books, 32 pages, $16.99 There Was An Old Monster! by Rebecca, Adrian, and Ed Emberley is a variation on the cumulative rhyme “There Was An Old Woman.” It introduces us to an old monster, and an ugly fellow he is, too – purple in color, with crazed and mismatched eyes, orange horns (or maybe that’s ears), and a yellow fang. The first action that he takes is to swallow a tick (we don’t know why), which makes him sick. Then he swallows some ants to catch the tick, but that doesn’t help, so he swallows a lizard to catch the ants. Next he swallows a bat to catch the lizard. Then he swallows a jackal to catch the bat. We can pretty much see which way this is headed as the monster proceeds to swallow a bear (who appears to be sort of surprised) to catch the jackal and then one tough-looking lion to take care of the bear. This is a funny takeoff from the traditional text, although the rhyming is perhaps a little uneven. The illustrations are busy and explosive and in brilliant colors. The book is targeted at younger children, some of whom may enjoy the rhyming but could find the illustrations unsettling. Reviewed by Douglas McWilliams Eerie Archives, Vol. 2 By Various Contributors Dark Horse Comics, 240 pages, $49.95 Produced by Warren Publications in the 1960s as a bi-monthly companion to Creepy, guaranteeing a horror comic every month on the newsstand, Eerie had a great run of
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about 17 years and 140 issues. The first 11 issues were edited by Archie Goodwin and included a who’s who of artists. This collection of issues 6-11 had covers by Grey Morrow and Frank Frazetta, and stories from Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan, among others. The art is all black and white, except the covers, and the stories are original (as opposed to future issues, when most of the content was reprints). These early issues can be hard to find in good condition, so this archive fills a need for horror comic fans and collectors. Whooo’s That?: A Lift-the-Flap Pumpkin Fun Book By Kay Winters; Illustrated by Jeannie Winston Harcourt Children’s Books, 14 pages, $9.95 Whooo’s That? Join our witchy owl friend as she prances around the pumpkin patch to uncover our favorite creepy Halloween characters and reveal what they’re doing when you lift the flaps within the pages of this fun book. You’ll see a witch scowling with a frown, skeletons rattling their bebop bones, Dracula and Frankenstein brewing a savory stew and the whole gang trick-or-
treating too! Children will definitely enjoy this not just because they will keep guessing whooo’s going to be hiding behind their next pumpkin in this interactive book but the fun treat that awaits in the end. Reviewed by Kaye Cloutman My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie) By David Lubar Starscape, $5.99, 160 pages In My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie) by David Lubar, Nathan Abercrombie, a 5th grade nobody, goes through a literally life-changing event when he is the victim of a freak accident in an experiment. He is left half-dead! No longer feeling pain or hunger or exhaustion, he becomes immensely better at sports than he has ever been, which leads to new-found recognition from his 5th grade peers. Written in a light and easy-to-read fashion, My Rotten Life is perfect for its target audience, the young reader, and still can be found a worthwhile read to a more mature audience, who will find a level of nostalgia in the silly things that seemed ever-so-important back when they were in 5th grade. Reviewed by Jordan Dacayanan
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Travel Cycling Britain By Etain O’Carroll Lonely Planet, 380 pages, $24.99 Often when traveling people, can overlook a more relaxing view of another country, away from the busy streets and roads around the shops and tourist locations - taking a leisurely bike ride from place to place. Lonely Planet’s Cycling series combines the best of their country guides places to stay, eat and see - with a guide to bicycling around the country. The maps aren’t as good as one might want (they even recommend getting a more complete one for the regions you want to visit) but a majority of the routes are detailed turn by turn with some GPS coordinates for reference. The occasional “left at unsigned road” might leave you watching closely, but they also provide a mileage count for each change of direction. Compact enough to fit in a side pocket, helpful enough to make the short list of necessary weight.
Cycling Italy By Ellee Thalheimer Lonely Planet, 380 pages, $24.99 Known for its down-to-earth travel books, Lonely Planet now has a series dedicated specifically towards touring by bicycle. In this particular one, Ellee Thalheimer informatively describes some of the best ways to cycle through Italy. Its contents are divided into touring by region, with additional chapters concerning costs, planning, packing, other means of transport, history, bicycle maintenance, health and safety. Packed with all sorts of maps and charts, this guide also includes tips on language, weather, restaurants, places to stay, cycling facilities, visas and any applicable contact info. Though not meant for the casual tourist, this handbook could be a solid investment for those who prefer to hike or travel by motorized vehicles. For adventure by bike off the beaten track, regardless of ability level or focus of interest, it would be indispensable. Reviewed by Richard Mandrachio
500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late By Jane and Michael Stern Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 448 pages, $19.95 Jane and Michael Sterns’ latest book, 500 Things To Eat Before It’s Too Late, is a fantastic guide on where to eat across America. The Stern’s angle on food writing is unique in that it is based heavily on off-the-beatenpath eateries scattered throughout the U.S. Their tales have appeared for years as a monthly segment in Gourmet magazine, as well as in numerous books. For this book, the Sternses have compiled a “best of” list made up of the foods and dishes that they have most enjoyed in their years of travel. From small town dives to restaurants in big cities, this book covers the gamut. If you’re looking for the best lemon chess pie in the country or find yourself in Gering, NE, and aren’t sure where to eat, this book will tell you. In addition to the exhaustive collection of food and restaurant listings, the book also has numerous sidebars that include things like trivia bits, tips for places to visit that
aren’t food related, and a few well-chosen recipes. If you’re traveling in the U.S., pick up this book for definitive instructions on where and what to eat along the way. Reviewed by Andrea Rappaport
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Philosophy In Praise of Doubt By Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld HarperOne, 177 pages, $23.99 In Praise of Doubt attempts to lay down an ethical perspective of tolerance and openmindedness as an antidote to any sense of religious, social, political (etc.) certainty or fanaticism. In a language clear and simple (if often articulated on the intellectual level of a child), Berger and Zijderveld advocate a moderate perspective whilst making a (weak) stand against the tyrannies of the age: Fascism, Fundamentalism, (non-democratic) Socialism, Post-modernism and (extreme) Relativism. This may all seem noble, but nothing expressed within these pages can be granted as new, fresh, or revolutionary. In-fact, the book’s failing point is that its near 200 pages aim only to defend the basic position of the “liberal” West. Naively, the authors seem to think that we have reached the very end of political and moral history: nothing else can be done, there is nothing better than the viewpoint that we should accept the multicultural attitude of the time, whilst acting against fundamental evils. Explicitly: on the surface, one should act as if he accepts and understands all modes of life; but underneath, he will still act upon the unquestioned, unchanged, ideology of the (post)modern age. This is no exposé. Berger/Zijderveld have simply epitomised the attitude of modern intellectualism: stale and stagnant, it spends its days chasing its own tail in an attempt to gratify its own, now out-dated, ideas. Reviewed by Dylan Popowicz What is Man? and Other Irreverent Essays By Mark Twain, edited by S.T. Joshi Prometheus Books, 229 pages, $16.95 For readers acquainted only with Mark Twain’s fiction, the series of essays and excerpts included in What is Man? will provide an entertaining and thought-provoking new perspective on Mr. Twain’s ideas about God, religion, and the nature of man. In the book’s introduction, the editor, S.T. Joshi, argues that although a number of modern literary scholars portray Mr. Twain as a deeply religious man who disliked the hypocrisy of the organized religion of his day, his writing clearly indicates he was an agnostic, skeptical about many parts of the Bible. Joshi then steps out of the way and lets Mr. Twain make the case himself.
I have been scientifically studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result profoundly humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that that theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals. In the book’s main piece, an excerpt from “What is Man?” Mr. Twain uses a detailed discussion between an old and young man to contend that man is incapable of free will. The rest of the pieces are shorter, bitingly sarcastic, and focused on various aspects of religion. In one, “Thoughts of God,” Mr. Twain humorously ponders the wisdom of God in choosing to create the fly. Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Twain’s beliefs, these pieces are some of Mr. Twain’s wittiest, most clearly reasoned works. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns Heroes and Philosophy By Edited by David Johnson Wiley, 320 pages, $17.95 In an attempt to bring to the table examples from the hit TV series “Heroes” that both embody and explain time-honored philosophical ideas, Heroes And Philosophy: Buy the Book, Save the World, edited by David Kyle Johnson, does a mediocre job at the very best. Though it is obvious that the book was put together by people with a competent and working understanding of both subjects, “Heroes” and basic philosophy, it seems simultaneously sloppily thrown together and as if it is trying too hard, much like its obvious and lazy subtitle “Buy the Book, Save the World.” Different sections deal with different societal, philosophical, ethical, moral, and interpersonal questions and then attempt to link them into characters and situations from the “Heroes” universe. The problem is that each section ends up reading like a community-college psychology 101A textbook, offering often meek, unsatisfying, and speculative explanations on the actions of characters, as opposed to using their actions to explain a philosophical ideal (which is what the title of the book suggests). A novelty that would really only appeal to one interested in not-too-in-depth or specific speculation on possible motives and ideals held by “Heroes” characters, Heroes and Philosophy: Buy the Book, Save the World begs the question of who would want to save the world if it meant having to buy this book. Reviewed by Jordan Dacayanan
FILIPINO-AMERICAN AWARENESS Cont’d from page 15 woman manifested as Aurora V. Cabahug. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she is not dead. The real Aurora V. Cabahug is very much alive. Answering to the nickname of Rory, she is a karaoke bar singer in the distant town of Paez. The woman in the box is Solidad, Rory’s sister, who used her identity to secure a job in Saudi Arabia. No one knows for sure how Solidad died but the body, waiting to be claimed at the airport, bears signs of foul play and abuse. Rory is accompanied by a Paez policeman, Walter, to drive out to Manila to pick up the body. Rory and Walter vaguely know each other, but find their lives redefined by the sudden return of the dead. Walter has been left by his wife and son for a new life in England; Rory feels herself standing on the brink of great prospects, ambitions that her sister never achieved. Somewhere on its long way home, the body gets stolen, and well,
things—a lot of strange things, happen. “In cases like these--unless they happen to be royals or people of consequence-we keep the body for three days, then let them go. Just like that.” This is how the intriguing story of Jose Dalisay’s second novel, Solidad’s Sister, begins. The Man Asian Literary Prize Jury noted that it is “full of narrative surprise, artfully put together and richly observed. It offers an unillusioned, compassionate portrayal of contemporary society from a Philippine perspective, and is utterly compelling. The characters engage us in an epic yet very local nature of their quest for dignity and justice. A work of warm humanity and confidence.” Reviewed by Dominique James
Reference The Sibley Guide to Trees By David Allen Sibley Alfred Knopf, 467 pages, $39.99 Who needs another guide to trees? They are frustrating to use and often require that the user already know quite a bit about the tree in question. I was prepared for this book to confirm my frustration. After all, the guidebook problem rests in the very nature of the subject: the sheer number of tree species, their endless variation, the number of hybrids, and so on. But nothing short of a revolution has occurred! In a triumph of end-user compassion, Sibley arranged his tree book not by leaf shape, as is the frustrating custom, but by taxonomy. This allows the user to browse images to find a match. (Sort of like browsing through pictures of small yellow flowers for a match rather than having to know the precise structure of the petals to begin the search.) The introduction sets the stage for the book’s logic. Sibley reviews the basic hierarchy of the plant kingdom that many of us learned in 10th grade Life Science and promptly forgot. After this refresher, the subsequent structure of the book makes sense in spite of the formidable Latin names. Additional clues for the tree sleuth are provided by more than 500 maps depicting the regions where natives of the particular species flourish. Fine line illustrations show details of bark, frond, acorn, needle and bud. Finally, a species checklist and comprehensive index help you find again what you looked up last time. So we need another Guide to Trees because it is a fundamentally different approach, well suited to the weekend botanist. Reviewed by Marcia Jo
Flags of the World By Sylvie Bednar Abrams Children’s, 187 pages, $19.95 Who would believe it takes almost 200 pages to show the flags of our world? This is a children’s reference book that has delightful full-color illustrations of hundreds of different flags, most with at least few sentences about the meaning of the colors and symbols chosen. Some flags have more complete descriptions. For example, did you know that the Danish flag (white cross on red background) fell from the sky during the time of the Crusades, when the Danes were losing an important battle with the Pagans? The Danish soldiers hoisted the flag, and won the war. It is the world’s oldest national flag, having flown since 1625. The book is organized by regions: Europe, The Americas. Oceania, Africa and Asia. There is a clear and simple description of the larger countries of the region including quick summary of its language, currency, and size. A map of the world shows the region in context and a complete index allows for a quick search. Children are often fascinated by the beauty and color of flags, and they provide a perfect gateway into conversations about variations among people and places. Sylvie Bednar is a fashion designer who became enchanted by the multicolored beauty of flags, then developed an increasing curious about their symbolism. She very successfully shares her fascination in a way that will captivate readers of all ages. Reviewed by Marcia Jo
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Popular Fiction Now & Then By Jacqueline Sheehan Avon Harper Collins, 386 pages, $13.99 A charming tale about Anna O’Shea; a lawyer who has failed at marriage and family relationships, and her 16-year-old nephew, Joseph who find themselves thrown more than one-hundred years back in time. The story begins in present day, when Anna returns from an exhausting visit touring Europe and learns that her brother, Joseph’s father has been critically injured and is hospitalized. Without any sleep or time to pack, she rushes to her brother’s bedside only to be asked to drive another several hours to release Joseph from police custody. Joseph has a rocky relationship with his father, whose own father was physically abusive, and as a young teen who lost his mother has his struggles with growing up. Getting into trouble is not something Joseph wants to do, but he needs more from his father than he gets and feels lost and alone. Anna rescues her nephew from the police station and they arrive back at her apartment where they spend the night before making the long trip back to the hospital. That is where Now & Then changes course. These two characters, in the middle of the night, find themselves being spit out of the ocean on the beaches of Ireland in the year 1844. Anna and Joseph washed ashore nearly eighty miles from each other, both rescued by very different families and neither having much memory of their previous life, though they do remember who they are and that they don’t belong in 1844. The story continues with the reader going back and forth between Anna’s life with a family of Irish smugglers during an English occupation and Joseph’s experiences living with an English lord who offers the teen all the luxury wealth can offer. The author included the Irish Wolfhounds as part of this tale; however they play a very small role in the tale until the last couple of chapters. Now & Then would have been better received by the reader if the author had given a bit more clues as to how and why the main characters traveled back in time and to another country. This act happens early in the story and very suddenly. There is no effort by the author to share hints about how these two people were pulled into an entirely different storyline, until around Chapter 30. Though I love a good mystery, unfortunately the story wasn’t written as that genre, so the reader finds themselves a little bored and anxious for the characters to make progress in their quest to find each other and ultimately return home. Reviewed by Doreen Erhardt
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Benny & Shrimp By Katarina Mazetti Penguin, 224 pages, $14.00 An atypical love story, Benny and Shrimp serves as a graphic illustration of the differences between romantic and practical love. Benny and Desiree (Shrimp) started their relationship in less than auspicious of circumstances, Shrimp at the grave of her dearly departed husband and Benny paying homage to his deceased parents. Week after week, they spy each other over grass and gravestones, initially openly disparaging of the other. Benny notes to himself, “And then she’s there. Faded, like some old color photo that’s been on display for years.” However it’s not long before contempt turns to interest and Benny and Shrimp find themselves embroiled in a torrid love affair. Both revel in the open-hearted, freeing passion they share. Shrimp thinks to herself, “He hadn’t just turned my head, he’d rotated it so many times that it came off and I had to hold it on a string like a balloon.” Yet relationships are built on more than what happens in the bedroom and as polar opposites, this couple seems doomed to fail. Benny, a stereotypical dairy farmer, is up at dawn with the cows, working hard all day, and is in bed by sundown. According to Benny’s traditional upbringing, a woman serves as a helpmate, in the house and out. Shrimp is anything but his ideal. A widowed librarian, Shrimp is ready to play, to go to the theater and plays, read novels, have children. Even their homes further illustrate their core differences. She lives an organized life in her modern, austere apartment, while he lives in an over-stuffed, chaotic, conservative farmhouse. Eventually, as reality intrudes, the affair begins to unravel like a badly knit sweater. Despite the apparent hopelessness of the relationship, I found myself rooting for this couple. I wondered if somehow, despite all indications to the contrary, would they manage to cross the great divide from romance to real love? Reviewed by Lanine Bradley How Perfect is That By Sarah Bird Pocket Books, 301 pages, $15.00 Divorced, desperate, and financially destroyed, Blythe Young is quickly running out of options. Though she was once the trophy wife of Henry “Trey” BiggsDix the III, an ironclad pre-nup has left the Austin socialite with few options and even fewer friends. Pulling herself up by
SBR REVIEWER SPOTLIGHT
Joseph Arellano Joseph Arellano is a newer member of the Sacramento Book Review team. He grew up not far from Sacramento in Stockton, where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts from the University of the Pacific (UOP). Joseph quit the Pacific debate team in order to thoroughly enjoy himself spinning records for KUOP-FM. He produced the weekly rock album reviews for the radio station and for the campus paper, The Pacifican. Joseph moved to Los Angeles for graduate school and somehow never learned to dislike the area (Southern California Book Review, anyone)? After completing law school, he pretty much decided that he wanted to do anything but boring legal work, and accepted an interesting job with a state agency. He quickly became entrenched in state service and has worked as a public servant including teaching in the Criminal Justice Department at Sacramento State - for many, many moons. Joseph also expresses himself via his blog on which he focuses on books (yes), music (naturally), beer, running, health news, cats and other essentials. He plans to eventually start a new one, with just book and music news and reviews, which will be located at http://josephsreviews.wordpress.com. He’s also begun to try his hand at some pre-publication editing work for a technical publisher. He currently lives in Elk Grove with his wife Ruta and Norwegian Forest Cat, Munchy. He spends his time being confused about exactly what books he’s supposed to be reviewing, which tends to frustrate Heidi to no end. What is it Heidi says about supervising the team of reviewers? Oh, yeah: “It’s like herding cats!” her Christian Louboutins, Blythe squares her shoulders and plunges back into the fire, reopening Wicked Xcess, an exclusive catering company. With an army of creditors on her tail, including the big Kahuna himself, the IRS, Blythe has no choice but to hide out until the heat dies down. After drugging her clients and even worse, passing off club store appetizers as haute cuisine, Blythe finally hits bottom and has no choice but to turn to an old friend, Millie Ott. Millie is Blythe’s polar opposite, an almost minister still living in a housing co-op, Seneca House, serving others to the detriment of her own needs. Eschewing most modern conveniences including a vehicle, Millie serves the homeless twice daily, using a modified bicycle. Millie opens her arms wide and welcomes Blythe back into the fold. Despite Blythe’s obvious character defects, including but not limited to loose morals, addictive behavior, lack of ethics, inherent self-centeredness and general inhumanity, she’s an incredibly likeable character. Almost against my better judgment, this reader finds myself rooting for her, praying she grows emotionally and finally succeeds at relationships, at life, at something. Less enjoyable were the 80s sitcom hijinks. All must band together to save Seneca House, not with a fashion show but a spa event in which only Blythe can navigate and
coach the ingenuous housemates through the minefield of upper-class Texan trophy wives. Through their efforts everyone grows a new appreciation for Blythe and the society wives emerge from the experience humbled and renewed. How Perfect is That is smartly written, with tongue-in-cheek irreverent irony. As a longtime Texas native, author Sarah Bird is well positioned to provide a firsthand anthropologic account of Austin high society. In summary, a worthwhile read. Reviewed by Lanine Bradley
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Crafts & Hobbies The Alchemy of Color Knitting By Gina Wilde Potter Craft, 144 pages, $24.95 Remarkable is the inspiration that a few well-taken photographs can provoke, the sheer force of which can induce one to pick up long-abandoned knitting needles with renewed fervor. Even more noteworthy are this book’s lessons in color scheming, an art in itself. Included are informative sentences on how good colors pair, along with the names of various categories. “We celebrate the colors of the natural world, find hues that reflect our inner landscape, and fulfill our creative expression in the colors we choose to knit.” Wilde has excelled where few others have succeeded--in making a knitting book interesting to not only past knitters, but also complete strangers to the craft. Aside from the stunning pieces depicted, the lessons are thankfully wellspaced to be as readable as possible whilst juggling threads and multiple needles. The author’s proficiency in hues and tones is immediately apparent; the becoming woolen socks pictured fairly beg to be worn; the blue-green scarf holds the watery grace of a Monet painting as it falls elegantly from a young woman’s shoulders.
The notion of one-color sweaters is led to the public square with flair and promptly ended via the decisive blade of Artistry. The concept of pairing complementary colors to create a fabulous piece is presented with such ease as to enable even the most old-school knitter to try something new, to experiment with the most eye-pleasing of all things: fetching colors. Reviewed by Meredith Greene Paperie for Inspired Living By Karen Bartolomei Potter Craft, 159 pages, $24.95 Paperie for Inspired Living is a beautiful book packed with ideas and instructions to create breathtaking suites of details that are sure to transform an ordinary event into one that is unforgettable. Author Karen Bartolomei is the founder of Grapevine, a couture paperie and invitation design studio in Boston. The photographs of Bartolomei’s creations are reason enough to buy the book, but the detailed instructions for each of the items and the bonus sections covering resources, party planning etiquette, and design principles make the book both inspirational and practical. Paperie is organized by type of event, ranging from a casual Oscar-viewing party to a formal wedding.
Each event has five to eight paper elements. For example, the suite for a wine tasting series includes photos and instructions for: gate-fold invitations, reminder postcards, tasting notebooks, blind-tasting bottle covers, wine glass tags, wine-tasting program kiosks, and coasters. The elements in the suites can be re-created exactly as-is or can be used as a jumping-off point for endless combinations and variations in function and style. Reviewed by Megan Just Adventures in Cartooning By James Sturm, Andew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost First Second New York & London, 109 pages, $12.95 Whether you are the young artist who dreams of being a comic book artist, or the “what-do-I-do-now” recent retiree, if you love cartoons and have always wondered “Can I do that?” then you’ll get a kick out of Adventures in Cartooning. Author James Sturm is a cartoonist who opened a cartooning school, The Center for Cartoon Studies, which his two co-authors attended. These three artists hit it off and enjoyed the artistic journey--so much so that after graduation they reunited once again to collaborate on a book that teaches the beginning cartoonist the basics on how to turn their “doodles” into magic that will
make others laugh! This is not your typical “how-to” or art instruction book that you need to read, read, read and absorb the technical terms and details before even considering an attempt to apply what you’ve learned. Adventures in Cartooning is a cartoon story with a dragon, a knight, an elf and of course magic. As you read through the story, the elf will occasionally explain cartooning “know-how” by referencing techniques, such as how to show screaming verses whispering in a cartoon bubble, or how to draw motion and backgrounds. All of the lessons are simply written into the story while you go exploring to find the magical dragon. You’ll travel through water and over stone walls, through fire and caves all while you laugh and learn how to turn your own drawings into believable adventures that others will enjoy. This is a quick read for the adult and in my opinion an excellent choice for the young artist between the ages of eight and fifteen. I’m sure there are many books out there that do a much more thorough job of teaching cartooning, but Adventures in Cartooning might just be the most enjoyable! Reviewed by Doreen Erhardt
History The Greeks and Greek Love By James Davidson Random House, 789 pages, $45.00 The Greeks and Greek Love, by James Davidson, is an imposing and literally weighty but surprisingly engaging work of classical scholarship. Davidson’s topic is a broad one, and he defines it accordingly, examining dozens of myths, artifacts and historical personages to explore the many ways in which homosexuality was perceived and represented in ancient Greece. Davidson indulges in numerous digressions (on the Brazilian song “The Girl from Ipanema” for example) to illustrate his points, but his candid, personal and often downright hilarious style generally makes these excursions worthwhile. Davidson also provides an exhaustive (but hardly exhausting) account of the previous scholarship on this much-discussed topic, and adds his nuanced and considered views on many curiosities and misunderstandings in his discipline. He ventures a bit far afield, in some cases; for instance, his discussion of what he calls “the tragedy of Michel Foucault” is provocative, but only if you care about who Foucault was and what he thought. Davidson often sounds as if he is talking to a select audience of favorably disposed readers, but don’t be fooled: if you’re a curious reader just looking for insight into the fascinating ideas of the ancient Greeks, this book is for you. Reviewed by Brad Buchanan They Dared Return: The Untold Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany By Patrick K. O’Donnell Da Capo Press, 256 pages, $26.00 In this slim volume, author Patrick K. O’Donnell recounts the World War II adventures of a group of young Jewish men, largely immigrants from Germany, who enlisted in the U.S. Army and returned to Europe— most notably, Germany and Austria— as undercover OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) agents in order to obtain intelligence regarding Nazi plans in the area and the status of the war effort. Throughout They Dared Return, O’Donnell chooses to focus primarily on a group of five young Jewish men who participated in the OSS mission Operation Greenup, paying particular attention to Frederick Mayer, who was interviewed extensively for the book.
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Searching for Whitopia
With such promising, engrossing material, it is disappointing to discover that They Dared Return, aside from being very brief, is written in a somewhat convoluted and confusing matter, with facts and dates occasionally appearing from nowhere. Moreover, O’Donnell overdoes the use of Jewish colloquialisms like “chutzpah,” which detracts from the book and causes certain passages to feel slightly ridiculous. Too bad; it’s a great—and true—story. Reviewed by Ashley McCall American Indians-American Presidents By Clifford E. Trafzer Harper, 272 pages, $29.99 Relations between Native Americans and the United States have been long and violent. From treating Native Americans as uneducated children that needed to be cared for in every way, to forcibly removing them from their land to make room for white settlers, Native Americans have been on the short end of good news. In this groundbreaking work Clifford Trafzer and contributors take a look at relations between Native American nations and the United States with every president, starting with Presid ent Washington and going to President George W. Bush--from what they said and did, to how they actually treated Native Americans. This work reads like a textbook; it does not go into great detail about every administration, but it does cover every administration. It covers the major events that shaped and affected relations with Native American Nations. The chapters are split up timewise, with a different contributor taking each chapter, and they include a wide variety of writing styles. The main problem is one of formatting; the book has boxes off to the side that include additional information that tells the reader more about a specific event or person. These can be distracting, especially when they interrupt the flow of the story being told. A worthy text that provides a basic understanding of Native American relations with the United States. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered By Peter S. Wells Norton, 240 pages, $16.95 The Dark Ages conjures up images of a time of backwardness in European society, from the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire to the rise of Charlemagne and the birth of the Middle Ages. Most of us were taught early on that there was nothing special about the Dark Ages, and that nothing
By Rich Benjamin Hyperion, $24.99, 368 pages
In nine chapters, Rich Benjamin, a Ph.D. from Stanford and a Senior Fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan national think tank based in New York City, provides an assessment of a 26,909-mile journey through the heart of white America – to the fastest growing and whitest locales in America. By 2042, the author points out that “whites” will no longer be the American majority. Many whites, according to this scholar, are leaving the suburbs for small towns and exurban areas that are extremely white. Rich Benjamin, a brilliant scholar and journalist, reveals in the pages of this book what utopias are like and explores the social and political implications of this amazing phenomenon. This study has given the readers an analysis wherein one black man has gone to enclaves such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to those places where white Americans have fled to escape from the challenges of diversity. America has elected its first Afro-American President, Barack Obama, and Orlando Patterson, a renowned Harvard sociologist, in a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review (8/16/09), “Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama” indicated in his research that President Obama’s great and historic victory was made possible by two great forces that began near the middle of the last century. First, the Civil Rights Movement, and the changes brought out by the Immigration Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement, led by many blacks, including the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., forced a dismantling of Jim Crow and the inclusion of black Americans in politics, the military, the middle class and culture. Furthermore, the 1965 Immigration Act provided for vast demographic and social changes which have brought about a new and different ethno-racial landscape in America. Obama’s presidency, according to Dr. Benjamin, has raised awareness between two versions of America – one that is comfortable with diversity, the other involving the element of residential segregation (Obama Nation). Also, according to this study under review (Searching for Whitopia), this second group does not mind a little ethnic food and some Asian whizzes as long as these trends do not overwhelm the white dominant culture. I urge all Americans, whether black or of another ethnic group, to read this terrific journey to the heart of white America. Reviewed by Claude Ury important happened; that as a society we went backwards. But in his book Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered,Peter Wells argues that the Dark Ages were not all that dark, and people of that presumed melancholy era actually did just as well as they did during the Roman times and the Medieval period. While many written texts have not survived to the modern times, Peter Wells uses archaeological evidence—from the graves of important people to evidence of manufacturing and trade centers. These were not based in Roman territory and operated outside of Rome-centered areas. Mr. Wells makes a compelling argument, hopefully one that will be investigated by historians in the future and change our perception of the Dark Ages. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Cahokia By Timothy R. Pauketat Viking, 208 pages, $22.95 Journey back to the eleventh century, when North America was a wide open continent teeming with wildlife and nature, where the native peoples were in the minority, where natural resources were in abundance, and where life was different. Travel up the Mississippi and when you get to a place near to what would one day be the city of St. Louis, you will find great flat-top pyra-
mids reaching into the sky, and a place teeming with activity and people. You have reached the ancient and once great city of Cahokia. Excavations were begun in the area of what would turn out to be the city of Cahokia in the early twentieth century. As the result of some lucky guesses for sites, combined with the great revolution to map America with highways, crucial archeological digs were discovered. Cahokia is a short book filled with facts and details about a place that few know about, but through crucial research and discovery it has been possible to ascertain, through subsequent Native American tribes and populations, what this great city was once like. In this way, readers find out what the stories and mythologies of these people might have been, as well as why the pyramids were built, and why there was such large-scale human sacrifice going on. While there is a lacking in photos and pictures to aid and illustrate Pauketat’s narrative, Cahokia will still startle you and leave you in awe of what was once a great American city that remains relatively unknown. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander
Pop-Culture How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence By Karen E. Dill Oxford University Press, 306 pages, $27.95 If you’re ignorant, how do you know it? That’s what I kept asking myself while reading this book. Wouldn’t your ignorance be something you were ignorant about? By ignorant here, I simply mean, unaware. As Dill states, her book is about “…media influence—its power and our propensity either to deny that power or at least to fail in understanding fully how to deal with it.” She implies that while most people are cognizant that media tries to influence us, they also feel immune to that influence because it seems so blatant. But what about more subtle marketing, say a can of Coke (product placement) sipped by a sitcom actress? Or the apartment in a “family drama” rich in architectural details and furnishings? Dill suggests that “…watching idealized lives makes real lives seem substandard and can result in a personal sense of dissatisfaction or ennui. This dissatisfaction is a blow to our personal well-being, but a boon to advertisers…marketing the promise that their products will make us happy and fulfilled.” If the media weren’t so pervasive, it might be easy to dismiss its impact. But when everywhere you look (TV, Internet, magazines, movies) everyone is thin and beautiful and rich, how can you ignore it? Personally, I read a lot of men’s fashion and fitness magazines, because I find the information useful and entertaining. And it’s only natural that I compare myself (consciously or un) to the models with ripped physiques sitting by pools in palatial homes. Could there be collateral damage to my psyche, my self-esteem that I am unaware of? Dill covers a lot of ground here and includes interesting studies and statistics to back up her assertions. The information is fresh and accessible. Of particular interest to her are the ways in which video games can lead to violent behavior, advertising can lead to stereotyping and racial profiling, and the general blurring of the line between real journalism and “fake” news (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report). “The brain,” she writes, “responds very similarly whether you are doing something or watching someone else do it.” We have become a society obsessed with the ingredients, the calories and the fat content of our food. But what about our media diet? Dill asserts that we should be equally diligent about monitoring the media we (and especially our children) consume. But how? Well, reading this book would be a good place to start. Reviewed by Bruce Genaro
Love is a Four-Letter Word By Edited by Michael Taeckens Plume, 297 pages, $16.00 Our lives are full of good relationships and a few bad, Love is a Four Letter Word is a compilation of the latter. Twenty-two authors contributed their short stories of personal breakups and broken hearts. In general, the majority of the tales are mindnumbing and adolescent, though I contribute my reaction to the simple fact that real-life short yarns about breaking up and bad relationships need the human element present in order to evoke an emotional response. Though the contributors are all professionals in the field of writing and/or the arts, their experience and talent did not come through in pages of this book. There are no lessons to be learned in what the authors have to say, nothing newsworthy, no great words of wisdom, so reading ten or twelve pages about strangers just did not get the impact of their experience across to the reader. None of the accounts are long enough for the booklover to ‘get to know’ the characters, so it just does not hit home with an emotional response. There is no ‘ah factor’ in Love is a Four Letter Word. Vulgar language is also used too frequently in a few of the stories which just did not seem to add value to the chronicle of events. There is a big difference in hearing crude language as part of a dialog in a movie, where you have the inflection, sights and sounds of the environment to add to the drama being portrayed. Reading offensive words that are repeated over and over again in the same paragraph of the written word tends to make no sense, and causes the reader to lose interest in what is actually being told. Love is a Four Letter Word does have three cartoon and graphic essays inserted as tales that stand alone, which are mildly entertaining and a nice distraction from some of the otherwise boring anecdotes. These types of tales seemed better suited for the cartoon strip genre and perhaps would have been a better choice for the style of the book as a whole. Love Is A Four-Letter Word is a waste of time for the average reader. A better choice would be to get together with a group of friends and sit around reminiscing about your own true stories of breakups, bad relationships, and broken hearts. Reviewed by Doreen Erhardt The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture Edited by Yoshio Sugimoto Cambridge, $29.99, 413 pages Professor Emeritus Yoshio Sugimoto has assembled a scholarly and in-depth examination of all things Japanese. The language
Empowered Filipina Marie Ir ving Romero From being a book aficionado to b e c o m i n g a b o o k s e l l e r… It all started 15 years ago when she looked for Filipino books as reading materials for her children. Based in the Bay Area, Marie found there were limited places where one could find such literature and, more often than not, when she did succeed in finding Filipino-themed titles, she would be disappointed because they did not represent the culture well; books contained pages that were falling, crusty and of very poor quality. This prompted her to order books straight from the Philippines instead, and what started as a desire to teach her children about their native roots resulted in a demand from her friends, colleagues, and relatives to order and provide Philippine books for them as well. Thus, Arkipelago bookstore was born. ARKIPELAGO The Filipino Bookstore, is your source for the finest in Filipino heritage materials. This bookstore is a full-service, community-based specialty bookshop that serves as a resource center for all Filipinos and for those desiring to learn more about the Philippines. It is a center where emerging artists and writers can showcase their works as well as a gathering place and showcase for other community related events. It is also bridging the gap in the community by providing resources to educational institutions, libraries, and, of course to individuals from educators to students. Marie truly established herself in the SOMA community in San Francisco and is an active member of the groups The Filipina Women Network, Northern California Independent Booksellers, American Booksellers Association and heads the business department for The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. This cozy and quaint little From (L-R) Marie Irving Romero, owner of shop now holds hundreds of titles Arkipelago bookstore, Luisa Antonio of Veterans by Philippine-authors with subjects Equity Center, and Sacramento / San Francisco and topics that cater to children, Book Reviews Associate Editor Kaye Cloutman families, literary people and students needing reference materials for their Asian studies. Very recently, Marie teamed up with Luisa Antonio of the Veterans Equity Center and Tancinco Law Office to release a book that documented the life stories and challenges of Filipino-American Veterans. Filipino World War II Soldiers; America’s Second-Class Veterans by Photographer Rick Rocamora and journalist Rene P. Ciria Cruz is available at ARKIPELAGO The Filipino Bookstore, and proceeds from the sales of this book provide funds for these unsung heroes many of whom reside in some of San Francisco’s toughest neighborhoods. Visit the bookstore at 1010 Mission Street San Francisco CA 94103 or their website at www.arkipelagobooks.com
in all the segments of this painstaking collection is that of dry academic statistics, anthropology, history, sociology, and linguistics. While not a casual read, It is certainly a valuable reference work. The Japanese cultures of language, religion, family, schooling, work, outcastes, literature, and the growingly popular and profitable Manga and Anime are covered exhaustively. There is a fine overview by the learned editor, an examination of the circular nature of some Japanese social self-examination, and everywhere a sense that the writers are aware of examining a dynamic and shifting subject of real complexity. A bonus is a history
of sushi that a reader could almost smell. I came away from this dense reading richer in knowledge and disabused of some preconceptions I had not even been aware of holding. Also, with a sense of the complex interactions with their governments which have so profoundly shaped the Japanese and their myriad cultures. I earnestly recommend this anthology to anyone interested in the realities of Japan. Reviewed by David Lloyd Sutton
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Music & Movies Precious Metal By Albert Mudrian Da Capo Press, 365 pages, $18.95 Precious Metal: Decibel Presents The Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces is a montage of 25 interviews compiled by its Editor-In-Chief, Albert Mudrian, which appeared in the magazine’s monthly “Hall of Fame” segment. For heavy metal and/ or death metal fans, Precious Metal is a must read. Mudrian’s anthology includes classic heavy metal artists, such as Black Sabbath and Diamond Head, and includes more recent artists ranging from bands such as Slayer and Napalm Death to Eye Hate God and Opeth. Metal enthusiasts, particularly those who are musicians, will find this book to be enlightening and entertaining. Being a lover of all types of music, I especially enjoyed the
Black Sabbath, Diamond Head and Slayer interviews and the accounts of how particular songs came to be. It brought back many high school memories, as these artists ranked high on the list in mid to late 80’s, influencing many other metal artists. Metallica, for example, one of the more popularized heavy metal bands, performed and recorded many Diamond Head songs, including the very popular “Am I Evil.” Most people haven’t even heard of Diamond Head, yet their influence on the band members of Metallica caused their music to be renowned. The interview with Black Sabbath was interesting as well, as it was performed at the time Ronnie James Dio took over as lead singer for Ozzy Osbourne due to Ozzy’s substance abuse problems, among other things. Although this genre of music can be a bit rough on the ears, for many musicians Precious Metal is a good read. The influence that classic rock musicians had and how they perpetuated the heavy metal genre, along with music that came after it, is clearly seen
when reading through the interviews. Thus, music lovers would certainly enjoy The Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs When We Get to Surf City By Bob Greene St. Martin’s Griffin, 368 pages, $15.95 Bob Greene has written several fine books that look back at the 1960s. When We Get to Surf City is an account of the four summers he spent singing and playing guitar with Jan and Dean. For music fans, this is a tale of a dream come true as Greene both travels and performs with a pair of childhood idols. The author did well enough to sing lead on “Little Honda” for both Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys.
“Jan just seemed so full of contentment. We were nearing the end of the performance, into the final bars of “Surf City,” and as Jan took in the scene in front of him he appeared to be a man who might be allowing himself to believe: maybe my life has been a success.” Yes, this is one joyful tale, and Greene’s writing style radiates his happiness. He is one lucky man. Yet the tale is appropriately balanced with some sadness. As we join Greene, he gets to know not only Dean Torrance but also Jan Berry, a near-genius who came close to being killed in a real life “Dead Man’s Curve” automobile accident. In this account, Berry hobbles and has memory problems, each day having to re-learn the songs he wrote. But it’s clear that Berry was a strong man, the foundation of Jan and Dean. He died in 2004, of a seizure, at age 62. His fans will always miss him and in this book they have one marvelous tribute to his memory. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano
Parenting & Families Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict By Irene Vilar Other Press, 240 pages, $15.95 This is a very complex, disturbing, and important book. It is disturbing and important because it is a story of a woman who intentionally becomes pregnant, aborts the pregnancy, and does it again. What most people do not realize is that this is a pattern for millions of American women. Most women aborting their pregnancy have been pregnant before, and know how to prevent a pregnancy if they are truly motivated to do so. Why some do not is the story Vilar tells and, in doing so, opens the door to what is always missing from the abortion discussion: a frank exploration of the power, ambiguity, oppression and opportunity very often associated with women’s sexuality. The first 200 pages of this memoir chronicles the life of a very disturbed woman whose family circumstances and life choices bring her wave upon wave of misery. Multiple pregnancies and abortions are not the focus of the stories; rather they are described simply as components of the flotsam and jetsam that crash together in her ocean of despair. The reader becomes a weary partici-
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pant about halfway through, and I thought editing might improve these reminiscences. But it is possible that Vilar wants us to be weary, as she was. It is finally the abject misery born of this weariness that compels her to get well. The essay that comprises the last 30 pages of the book is outstanding: the insights she shares are very important. Similar to bulimia, repeat pregnancy and abortion use the body as the battlefield for the war if a divided self. She describes her chronic sense of inadequacy, helplessness and disorder building to a tension relieved finally by a pregnancy. For a time then, she could experience euphoria, excitement, and hope. Then, after varying lengths of time, she could only feel disgust and shame for herself and her condition. Leaving the abortion clinic, she experienced a calm respite and surrender. “Each time I got pregnant I was sad. Each time I discovered I was pregnant I was aroused and afraid. Every pregnancy was a house of mirrors I lost myself in…tension would gradually build until…I felt nothing but disgust and shame. When I left the abortion clinic I felt a calm respite, surrender. It was a violent, intensely emotional drama that kept me from feeling alone.” Vilar’s experience may be extreme: fifteen abortions in fifteen years. But millions of women in America have several abortions (several meaning five, six, or more) between the ages of 16 and 25. This book tells their
stories too: stories of trauma, suffering, selfhatred and tragically misguided attempts to find comfort. Vilar takes a great personal risk exposing her chaotic and brutal decisions. Women who have had multiple abortions will most certainly see themselves with new insights. And the people who want to comfort them will be better equipped to do so. But we will gain the most from Vilar’s bravery if we see in her story the sequela of suffering that are the widespread consequences of sexual ignorance, social injustice, and personal trauma ignored. Reviewed by Marcia Jo Liking the Child You Love By Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. Da Capo, 236 pages, $14.95 Every parent has had one, but few are brave enough to admit it. Yes, I’m referring to having a bad thought about our own kids. We love them to bits, that’s the easy part, but why are our children so difficult to like? If you have ever had a bad parenting day, or week, or month – you might already be suffering from Parent Frustration Syndrome. Liking the Child You Love can help you recognize the symptoms and help you cope with and stomp out those negative thoughts, which could inadvertently harm our children. The book opens with assurance that we
can be good parents and still have negative thoughts towards parenting. Author Jefferey Bernstein, PhD has a twofold strategy to stomp out the negativity of toxic thoughts. Chapters 1-3 lay the groundwork for understanding what a toxic thought is and discovering its source: emotional upheaval, poor communication or stress. Chapters 4-7 offers relaxation tools and outlines methodology to extinguish these thoughts. The desired results are a better relationship between a relaxed parent and beloved child. Parenting is hard work, but it’s a job you can’t quit. Parenting is difficult, that’s for sure. The mere concept of caring for and raising a child in today’s anxietyladen, competitive world is daunting and overwhelming. Although the following may not hit an all-time high on the profundity scale, I’m going to say it anyway. Once you have kids, there is no longer the option to stop being a parent. As a mother of two kids under the age six, and one having been diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have found myself near tears many times, begrudging my role as caregiver and mother. One conviction that struck a chord with me is the need to take care of oneself, before you can take care of another effectively. Our children are reflections of ourselves. They feed off our energy and our weaknesses. The one pearl of wisdom I take from this book is the reminder to fuel ourselves with positive energy to become the parent our children deserve. Reviewed by Auey Santos
Tweens Magic Tree House #42: A Good Night for Ghosts By Mary Pope Osborne Random House Books for Young Readers, 128 pages, $11.99 Jack and Annie, the intrepid time-traveler siblings of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House book series fame, are off to 1915 New Orleans in A Good Night for Ghosts, their latest Merlin Mission. Merlin the Magician has asked the duo to take on four new tasks, all involving encouraging a particular person to “give their special gifts to the world.” In this mission, Merlin wants them to visit fourteen-year-old Louis Armstrong in New Orleans and to convince him that he must not abandon his talent for music. Along the way, Jack and Annie learn what life was like for black people in the early 1900s and about some of New Orleans’ most famous ghosts, including the French pirate Jean Lafitte. “Heck, yeah, you can make music any way you want,” said Dipper. “Just listen to the world: There’s church bells, the washerwoman singing about her wash, the ragman blasting his tin horn for folks to bring out their rags. Folks selling things, like that pie man. Listen to him.” While adult readers may find the story’s nebulous plot irksome, young readers – especially if they are already Magic Tree House aficionados – will welcome another chance to travel with Jack and Annie. Ms. Osborne does an excellent job weaving details of New Orleans history into the narrative, and of portraying the young Mr. Armstrong as an incredibly talented, optimistic, and likeable young man destined for greatness. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns Magic Tree House Research Guide #20: Ghosts: A Nonfiction Companion to A Good Night for Ghosts By Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce Random House Books for Young Readers, 128 pages, $4.99 The nonfiction research companion guides written to accompany Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books are one of the best aspects of the entire Magic Tree House series. The fictional books featuring Jack and Annie spark an interest in the subject matter; the nonfiction guides provide further information on that subject in a way that makes books and research seem like great fun.
Ghost stories have been around for thousands of years. Before books, television, and computers, nights could seem long. To entertain themselves, people sat around the fire and told stories. Scary stories were just part of the fun. The 20th Magic Tree House Research Guide, Ghosts, starts with an excellent synopsis of ghost tales and beliefs throughout history and cultures across the world. Next up, a nice, spooky collection of brief otherworldly sightings from New Orleans (“America’s most haunted city”), Washington D.C., and Great Britain. The stories are prime ‘round-the-campfire fare: scary, but in a good way. All are appropriate for young readers between 8 and 12. The book’s final chapter details a number of natural explanations for what may seem like supernatural phenomenon. For aspiring ghost-hunters who just can’t get enough shivers, a list of kid-friendly ghost-themed books, videos, internet sites, museums, and spooky landmarks is included. Ghosts is a great resource on its own, but even better when paired with its Magic Tree House book, A Good Night for Ghosts. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns Green Dragon Codex By R.D. Henham Mirrorstone, 256 pages, $9.95 Ten year old Scamp Weaver is in trouble—again. When the smoke clears, he finds himself in possession of a locked chest that he instinctively knows is very important. Along with his brother and his best friend Dannika, he takes to box to the village wiseman where he learns that the contents of the box are not only special—they are potentially evil and must be hidden from those who will undoubtedly pursue them at all costs! And it doesn’t take very long at all, until evil forces do, in fact, come calling. So begins the Green Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham, the latest in the series of followups to A Practical Guide to Dragons. It’s a fast-paced, riveting read in which the action and adventure are never more than a page away. With intriguing characters and a tight plot, Henham succeeds in quickly pulling you in and holding you fast throughout the book. In a story that blurs the lines between good and evil, young Scamp teaches us not to judge a book—or a dragon—by its cover and leads the reader on an adventure that will certainly leave you well satisfied. Reviewed by Albert Riehle
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The Doom Machine By Mark Teague Scholastic Inc., 365 pages, $17.99 Set in a slightly unstable time period, the famous Fifties, The Doom Machine eclipses the strange and wacky world at that time. In a realm where space and time held unlimited opportunities, Mark Teague captures the feel and emotions of a regular fifties sci-fi novel. He creates a series of worlds unbelievably strange, revolutionizing sci-fi novels, and prodding at the question of time itself. The story is filled with strange and wondrous characters; Jack and Isadora, the hobo Joe, Uncle Bud, a crazed “evil genius” out for self-glory, Commander Xaafuun, Pungo, and many others. After being kidnapped by aliens, Jack, Isadora, and some other humans (probably the only ones on the ship) set out in search of a way to get out. Along the way, they get strewn into various climates and worlds, including a world that contains all time, yet no time at all; the dangerous Arboria, filled with murky and deep creatures; and many others. They first come assuming their sole purpose is to get home, but eventually sidetrack into saving Skreepia, a planet ridden by the tyrant Skreep race, along with setting free dozens of other captives. Mark Teague’s unique illustrations add a thick flavor to each chapter or so, and really bring out the life that is in the book. I find this a fabulous sci-fi book, filled with adventure, strange humor, and extreme creativity. The drawings of various characters in wild and wacky worlds, some filled with white pods, others with a double sun, although in black and white, are as vivid as a color photo. His style is brought to life, I think, in this book more than any other he has written, and I believe that losing the drawings would mean losing the book. I enjoy the fact that Mr. Teague chooses to go back in time, and brings out a new flavor that has not been experienced in a very long time. It is perfect for the tween age group (except maybe for the bits of violence between the Skreeps), but can still be read and enjoyed by the older generation. Teague has made a huge leap from children’s to young adult books, and it is remarkably well written. There is some room for improvement, though; some of the characters are over exaggerated, and unfamiliar. The storyline flits from one thing to another, becoming confusing and warped. But faults aside, it is a great new book, with an original and individual feel, and I hope to read more of his budding novels. Reviewed by A. Masri
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Biographies & Memoirs Stitches: A Memoir By David Small W.W. Norton & Co., 336 pages, $24.95 The big challenge for graphic novel authors is how to get that balance between art and text just right. The best graphic novels aren’t just drawings with speech bubbles and narration tacked in: they derive their power directly from the interaction between the words and the pictures. Together, they are greater than the sum of their parts. David Small’s Stitches is one of the most stunning examples of this synergism. The story revolves around Mr. Small’s childhood in a quietly resentful, emotionally barren family. At fourteen, Mr. Small underwent a surgery to remove a “cyst” from his neck. He awoke to find his voice gone. Later, he discovered that his parents had concealed from him that he had had cancer; cancer that his radiologist father had most likely given to him with excessive X-rays performed when he was a child. Stitches would have been one hell of a tale in words alone. But it would have lost much of the emotional wallop that Mr. Small’s minimalist drawings bring to the telling. In fact, much of the story isn’t told in words at all. That’s the beauty of Stitches: even without words, you hear the tale – and the pain – loud and clear. Reviewed by Michelle Kerns American on Purpose By Craig Ferguson Harper, 268 pages, $25.99 “I see England, I see France, I see the first lady’s underpants.” Thus begins Craig Ferguson’s hilarious and poignant memoir. He takes the reader along memory lane as he starts from the beginning and being raised in 1960s Glasgow, in a rough and tumble suburb. Going to school where they still used corporeal punishment, and then dropping out of high school to do anything else. Mr. Ferguson then goes through the dark years of his life as a punk rocker, as a drummer, with the alcohol and drugs as they slowly ate away at his body, and then his decision to finally go into rehab. As he works his way through stand-up comedy, and finally landing in the United States with a part on The Drew Carey Show that helped him become a household name. He ends the work with his new job on The Late Late Show on CBS and his marriage to his third wife, which he says will be his last.
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The writing is like The Late Late Show-personable and hilarious, with a conversational style that makes you feel like he is telling you his story face-to-face. He is not afraid to write about his demons and what he did, and remembered doing, while he was drunk and on drugs. It is a work both moving and funny. There are parts that make you wonder how he ever survived New York, or even survived 1980s London. It is a remarkable journey, and this work is something that truly will move the reader. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Circular Passage: A Young Man’s 480Day Global Odyssey By Robert V. Hardy BookSurge, $18.99, 372 pages In 1966, at age 24, Bob Hardy walked away from a promotion at work, his girlfriend and the rest of normal life to pursue a internal call to see the world. In part inspired by the stories his grandfather had told of his own adventures, in part a need to go see what was out there, he embarked on a 16-month trip around the world. Purchasing a backpack and sleeping bag, and selling his car, Hardy went of with a friend of a friend, first on a cross-country drive to JFK, and then on to Munich. From there, he circumnavigated his way around the world, with stops in Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Jerusalem, and Afghanistan before heading into India, Southeast Asia, and eventually finding himself working at a car wash in Australia waiting for a job on a cruise line to take him home via Mexico. There, he met up with uncles on his grandfather’s side of his family and was able to go through an old trunk of his grandfather’s. Through the entire story, Hardy is also going through an internal journey, seeking the source of his restlessness and seeking inspiration from the people and cultures he meets and explores. Often listening to other people’s travels or viewing the pictures of their trips becomes an exercise in finding neutral expressions to let them know you are still paying attention, but not being so encouraging as to get them to continue much past the current story. Hardy is an engaging writer, and Circular Passage is an easy-to-read memoir of a young wanderer seeking something who’s willing to take pleasure in the world around him, even with an unexplained overnight stay in an Iraqi jail cell. The world was quite different thirty years ago, and this slice of life will bring back memories for anyone of that era that also spent time overseas. For younger readers, this will bring to life a different time, and possibly pass that wander-
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe By J. Randy Taraborelli Hachette, 545 pages, $26.99
How well do you really know Marilyn Monroe? When Norma Jeane Baker became famous as Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, she said her mother, Gladys Baker, was either dead or not part of her life, depending on the publicity campaign of the moment. The family dynamic that unfolded behind the scenes, as the star went from an actress to an icon, is a story that has never been told. For the first time, this heartbreaking mother-daughter story is fully revealed. Gladys Baker suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and Marilyn lived her entire life with the fear that she, too, would eventually succumb to it. J. Randy Taraborrelli exposes the shocking scope of Marilyn’s own mental deterioration and her desperate attempts to help both herself and her mother. When it comes to men, Monroe’s relationship with Jack and Bobby Kennedy is a source of endless speculation. Taraborrelli presents never-before-seen evidence about her relationship with the two men. At the same time, he reveals the shocking identity of the main person responsible for spreading those rumors—a revelation that has never been disclosed. It too, can now be told. Why does the FBI want to destroy Marilyn Monroe? The author—with access to newly released documents that have never been scrutinized in any previous biography—exposes exactly how and why Marilyn Monroe was hotly pursued by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and how such surveillance prompted the emotional destruction of a woman already diagnosed as borderline paranoid schizophrenic. J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe completely redefines the story of a legend. This book is based on a stunning amount of research that includes voluminous family and medical files, personal correspondence and notes, as well as interviews with FBI and Secret Service agents, Marilyn Monroe archivists, friends, family members, co-stars, and celebrities such as Andy Williams, Diahann Carroll, and Jane Russell. In addition, based on interviews conducted for his previous biographies, Taraborrelli includes the perspectives of friends of Marilyn who are no longer with us, including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Peter Lawford. The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe includes never-before-seen photos of Marilyn Monroe and those closest to her, and a comprehensive and detailed filmography, with astute analyses of every one of her films and anecdotes from those who were present when they were made. J. Randy Taraborrelli says, “Norma Jean was a great actress. But her best performance by far was in the role she’d created for herself: as Marilyn Monroe. In front of the cameras she gave the world what they wanted, embodying her alias, her pseudonym double like a second skin. Behind the cameras she kept her real life, her everyday life and all its facets and complexity a secret, lest the truth undo the Marilyn illusion, and set it free.” Explosive, revelatory, and surprisingly moving, it can now all be told, the final word on the life of one of the most fascinating and elusive icons of the twentieth century. J. Randy Taraborrelli, consistently sought after as an authority on celebrity culture, the New York Times bestselling biographer of Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace, the Kennedy women, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, exposes the myth of Marilyn Monroe—and uncovers the surprising truth about one of the world’s most enduring and mysterious sex symbols. Reviewed by Dominique James
er’s bug on to someone else. Sponsored Review A Million Miles in a Thousand Years By Donald Miller Thomas Nelson, 288 pages, $19.99 Donald Miller takes us on a journey as he re-examines his life and the choices he has made; and as he re-edits his life into a better story. After
one his best-selling books gets picked by two screenwriters to make into a movie, Donald Miller decides to look at his life like a movie character and the choices he has made. He feels that his life has not been the best story, in his words, and he feels he can make a better story; by going on trips and adventures that he normally he would not have done. He also reaches out to his father, whom he has not seen since his mother and father divorced from each other. As we follow his journey of self-discovery, he is conveying to the reader that they See MILLION MILES, page 27
Children’s Books When the Snow Fell By Henning Mankell Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, 256 pages, $15.99 The night of the first snowfall in his small Swedish village, Joel Gustafson makes his solemn New Year’s resolutions: He will toughen up to heat and cold so he can live strong and straight, not stooped and weak, like his father who is just forty, but seems much older; he will see the sea for the first time; and, he will see a naked woman. The third book in this middle-grade series by bestselling Swedish author Henning Mankell lightly addresses big issues faced by a boy going on fourteen: God, death, rock music, and of course, sex. He has some baggage that sets him at a disadvantage even in this small town in the 1950s: his mother abandoned him as a baby, and his father is depressed and often drunk. Joel feels like “mother to himself,” and often to his father, who he picks up in the late nights out where “the boozers” gather. Distinctly foreign in its lyricism, translated from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, When the Snow Fell is set a world’s distance and half a century from young American readers, in a time when families sat around the wireless, and eccentrics played along with phonograph records. The cadence of the sentences are often evocative of poetry: “They live together in that house, Joel Gustafson and his father. And both of them dream, in their different ways, about Joel’s mum, Jenny, who simply vanished one day. Packed a suitcase and went away. She is out there somewhere, but she’s gone, she’s left Joel and his dad to look after each other. Nobody knows where she is. The spruce forests are silent.” American young people, of perhaps thirteen years, might relate to the young man’s resolutions, or be impressed by his collection
of strange friends, including a thirty-yearold woman with no nose, and an old man everyone knows is “mad,” who lives in the wilderness and keeps chickens in his truck. In this book, a woman flashes a fifteen-year old boy and it is intended as strangely sweet and generous; unfortunately, in today’s environment, it translates merely as creepy. This book is not likely to become required reading, but would likely be enjoyed by sophisticated middle schoolers. Reviewed by Robin Martin Big Bear Hug By Nicholas Oldland Kids Can Press, 30 pages, $16.95 Sometimes all you need to fix a problem is the embrace of another person. Kids practice this more than anyone. The bear in this story was not a mean, scary bear, but instead hugged every creature he came across. Big or small, stinky or slimy, it didn’t matter to this bear. While walking through the forest on his usual rounds of hugs, he came across a man who was admiring the most beautiful tree in the forest. Big Bear stood there with him, happy to be with someone who appreciated the same things he did. Until…. he started chopping it down with his axe! Big Bear became furious, but instead of acting out in anger, he gave the axe man a huge bear hug. The man was so scared to be in the arms of a known dangerous animal that he ran away as fast as he could and never returned. Big Bear Hug emphasizes much of what we teach young children about showing kindness rather than aggression. Hugs are such a simple act, yet they can make a world of difference. This book is especially perfect for the younger child in your family. Author and illustrator Nicholas Oldland does an excellent job with both appropriate dialogue and simple, innocent drawings. This is a timeless book with a very valuable lesson; you won’t be sorry you bought it. Reviewed by Jennifer LeBrun
Snowy Sports By Per-Henrik Gurth Kids Can Press, 22 pages, $14.95 Snowy Sports opens with a menagerie of hearty winter animals awaking in their ski lodge and getting dressed for a day outside in the snow. The subsequent pages show the animals at play in 13 different snowy sports. A beaver chases a moose and a raccoon in a speed skating race. On a frozen pond, a ram passes a hockey puck to a black bear. A squirrel snowboards on a half-pipe. A polar bear skis down a black diamond slope. The words on the page are few, perfect for a very young child or an active preschooler (who will likely be inspired to race outside to his or her own snowy backyard to play ski jumping or luge). The illustrations are simple outlines filled with bright colors. Each page features an item of winter clothing like mittens, earmuffs, or snowpants. Snowy Sports is written by a Canadian author, so some of the sports covered in the book are sports many Americans will not be familiar with, like skeleton, curling, and sledge hockey. This is one of the most charming aspects of the book. Another nice touch is that one of the animals in the book is in a wheelchair. Reviewed by Megan Just Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals are Big and Little Animals are Little By Nicola Davies Candlewick Press, 61 pages, $14.99 Have you ever wondered why ants can carry pieces of food three times bigger than themselves, but humans often can’t even lift their own body weight? Or, why tiny little bugs can zoom through the air, but winged humans don’t exist, and even the largest birds can’t get off the ground? If so, then Just the Right Size will answer all of your questions! Davies has done a credible job trying to explain why some creatures can be really big while others remain tiny,
why different animals can eat different kinds of food, and even a little bit about evolution and why these differences came to be over time. Some of the concepts and terminology might be a little advanced for younger readers, but the author has tried her hardest to make it comprehensive and accessible to those interested. Just the Right Size might not appeal much to the imaginative child, but to those who are interested in science and asking why, this one is a winner. Reviewed by Holly Scudero The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies By Ammi-Joan Paquette Tanglewood Press, $15.95, 32 pages An outdoorsy guide to finding traces of fairies in your backyard or neighborhood, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies serves a useful tool to get fairy crazed children out of the house and exploring nature. It has a mix of illustrated fairies set within pictures of the outdoors, using natural items that children can look for in their own area of the world. Paquette’s artwork is charming, but has a cartoon feel that doesn’t quite fit into the real world photographs they are set within, but the target age group (pre-school/kindergarten) is not likely to notice Fun for a parent to read and then take their child out for an afternoon of fairy hunting.
MILLION MILES, Cont’ from page 26 can make their story better by just deciding to go and and do it. He feels that it is possible for anyone to make their story a better story. His writing style is similar to that of his earlier works, down to earth and does not use language that is beyond his reader’s comprehension. A way of writing to where you can read it out loud to other people, he speaks it as he writes it. Follow Donald Miller as he makes his story better, so you can make your story better as well. Reviewed by Kevin Winter
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Sequential Art Marvel The Expanding Universe Wall Chart By Michael Mallory Universe, 10 pages, $45.00 Not a book, and not really a poster, but a combination of the two, the Marvel Expanding Universe Wall Chart folds out to be a 12-foot-long, 4-foot-high breakdown of about 300 Marvel characters and the relationships between them. One side is strictly a visual of five major sections of the Marvel universe—the Golden Age characters, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and the Horror/Other-Worldly Universe. Each has a central figure, and then is surrounded orbit-like by other characters. Each is numbered, and on the flip side of the poster is a history of the Marvel Universe and a short bio of each character. The poster isn’t uniform in size, and the sheer length of it makes it limiting on where one could display it. The side with the text is probably is inefficient to find the information on without unfolding the entire thing, and there are even a few errors in the bios themselves (some detailing different characters with the same names). A nice concept, just not executed as well as it should have been. Nexus Archives Volume Nine By Mike Baron, Steve Rude Dark Horse Comics, 216 pages, $49.95 The Baron/Rude Nexus series was a longrunning science fiction story, first published by Capital Comics in black and white and then a color series; then First Comics picked it up. Several of the story arcs were done as a mini-series, but Baron and Rude maintained an overall direction to the story. Dark Horse comics has been collecting the series sequentially, in a well-reproduced set of hardcovers. The story here is from Nexus #53-57 and #2-4 of the Next Nexus mini-series (#1 having been included in Volume 8). Horatio Hellpop is Nexus, given powers by the alien Merk, that he uses to protect his home world of Ylum. His responsibilities for that power is to seek out and kill mass-murders, regardless if they know they were responsible for the deaths or had repented of them. The Merk show Nexus his next victim through graphic dreams, causing headaches and physical pain until he completes the assignment. By this point in the series, Horatio has given up the power of Nexus, and the Merk
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has passed it to the daughters of one of Nexus’ previous targets. The girls had accepted in order to have the power to kill Horatio, but two of the three quickly begin to revel in their new found powers so much it disturbs the third who leaves and eventually decides to face down the Merk, regardless of the consequences. Also included in this volume is part two of an interview with John Davis and Milton Griepp, the original publishers of Capital Comics. It is a nicely packaged collection, with maybe a caveat on the price. The original books covered by this series can easily be found in the $1 range, making this an expensive upgrade, but for a Nexus fan, this collection will easily fit on their bookshelf next to the DC archives or other hardcover collections. Cat Burglar Black By Richard Sala First Second, 128 pages, $16.99 Richard Sala has been doing creepy comics for a number of years, his Gothic stories and art earning himself comparisons to Edward Gorey or Gahan Wilson. His new book Cat Burglar Black is a departure from the more serious horror of his previous works, leading into something still Gothic, but more noir than horror. Kathrine Westree (prefers to be called K) is a retired teen cat burglar, and an orphan. Called by her aunt to come stay at the Bellsong Academy for Girls, where her aunt is dean. After arriving, K finds her aunt is bedridden and the headmistress, Mrs. Turtledove is running the school as a training academy for female burglars and searching for the academy’s founder’s lost treasure. And, through it all, K also finds herself coming to terms with her life and its unusual nature. Sala has moved from stark black and white illustrations to a soft water color that adds to the ambiance. The book is being recommended for middle grade readers, but adults who enjoy mysteries or the old Nancy Drew books will find much to enjoy here. Sala avoids direct violence, keeping most of it hinted at, or off the page, but keeps enough of it around to keep you on your toes (or see them nibbled on by piranhas as the case may be.) Northlanders Volume 2: The Cross & The Hammer By Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly Vertigo, $14.99, 144 pages Wood continues his powerful Northlanders series in this second volume with a look at two cultures fighting over one piece of land. The year is 1014; the place is Ireland. The Vikings have invaded, quickly taking over and subjugating most of the people, claiming what they consider to be
By Richard Sala Pantheon, $16.95, 212 pages Cartoonist Marisa Marchetto was 43 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was a typical New York City girl, obsessed with fashion and shoes, generally shallow, and about to get married. And then her life turned upside down. Marchetto underwent a lumpectomy followed by eight doses of chemotherapy, followed by additional radiation therapy (just to be safe). Cancer Vixen is about how these experiences changed her life and ultimately turned her into a better person. Every hospital visit, every doctor, every needle, every mood swing, even every pound gained is covered in here. And it is because of this detailed chronicle that Cancer Vixen is so effectively educational. Throughout it all, Marchetto remains a very three-dimensionally grounded person; it is because of this that the reader truly cares about what happens to the author. The brilliant artwork – at turns poignant, devastating, uplifting, and just plain humorous – makes this book readable and keeps the events truly real. Marchetto is an inspiration, and her story is one that is definitely worth reading. Reviewed by Holly Scudero
rightfully theirs. But there are some who disagree, including one hero, Magnus, who seeks to wipe out any Vikings he sees, while doing what he must to protect his precious daughter. Magnus is a powerful warrior, who seems unstoppable, yet his one failing may be that he has lost his mind. But Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson thinks little of this, stopping at nothing to end Magnus and clear the way for a full Viking conquest. In The Cross + The Hammer, Wood takes a brief break from his main character, Sven, to address another part of the world where the Vikings are making themselves known. Even with a different artist, the work is fresh and interesting, maintaining an acuteness to detail and accuracy, while Wood does his work in telling a story that may well have happened at some time in the eleventh century. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander A Family Matter By Will Eisner Norton, $15.95, 80 pages A rich patriarch is turning 90 years old, and all of his family are turning up for the birthday party to either give the man their best wishes and hopefully secure for themselves part of his substantial legacy or to show off how “wonderful” their lives are. Putting on their game faces and preparing to visit old friends and foes, these numerous relatives are preparing for A Family Matter by Will Eisner.
This slice-of-life graphic novel by the legendary Eisner is a prime example of his ability to make cartooning so real and raw. With realistic, flawed, and relatable characters going through a familial drama that is all too common, all too hush-hush, and all too true, Eisner captures a family in both despair and joy, and sheds light on the reality of many a family. Reviewed by Jordan Dacayanan
Current Events & Politics
Although this book’s aim is to illustrate the ways in which Keynesian economics has failed, Lewis is obliged first to present Keynes’s ideas in order to refute them, and I think he does this fairly. In fact, Lewis devotes an entire section of his book, “What Keynes Really Said,” to presenting Keynes’s own words along with explanations--holding back on commentary until later in the book. If we are purists, we should go straight to Keynes’s own written works, but apparently, Keynes’s writing was highly technical, numerical, and paradoxical. In the same way that Isaac Newton’s Principia was both a bestseller and unreadable at the same time, likewise Keynes’s writings are somewhat inaccessible to a lay audience. Lewis’s book helps to explain Keynes for those of us who are not economists.
Clinton’s Secret Wars By Richard Sale Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin Press, 512 pages, $27.99 The foreign policy of President Bill Clinton could be described as incoherent, nonexistent, and unimportant. When Clinton was elected, he wanted to focus on domestic issues, foreign policy issues were not his forte. Consequently, foreign policy suffered from mistakes and missteps of an unconfident President. Richard Sale paints a picture of President Clinton who started off timid in 1993, but finished strong and confident in
2000. Most of the focus of the book is on the Balkans, there a few chapters on IsraelPalestine, Iraq, and al-Qaeda. President Clinton was more focused on public opinion to shape his foreign policy instead of educating the public that certain courses of action were important. In reality, this book should have been called United States Foreign Policy Towards the Balkans: 1993-2000. The main focus of attention is on the internal squabbles and battles over the situation in the Balkans and Clinton’s faltering steps to handle the situation. While that part is not badly written, it would have been nice to see more information on other areas such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, Israel-Palestine. It feels that the book is just about the Balkans. The book is well researched and uses interviews, because some of the information could still be considered top secret. A book for those interested in foreign policy. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Muslim Women Reformers By Ida Lichter Prometheus Books, 513 pages, $27.98 Essentially a compilation of mini biographies and curricula vitae for over one hundred women reformers. These range from devout Islamists who want to renegotiate the stringent limitations on women in increasingly repressive interpretations of sharia law, to vehement ex-Muslims like Ayan Hirsi Ali. Salafist women who wish to achieve “reform” through a worldwide
Classics Silent Spring By Rachel Carson Houghton Miflin, 368 pages, $17.95 A recent trip to Pelican Point at Pismo Beach moved this reviewer to read a book that has been described as the book that started the environmental revolution. On this trip, I noted all of the pelicans flying along that stretch of the coast. That was not strange in and of itself, but it was interesting for someone who had grown up on the California coast thinking that a pelican was a rare bird. I wondered if Silent Spring would help me
understand how the pelicans that were so rare in my childhood are so abundant today. I was not disappointed. Rachel Carson’s trail-blazing manuscript taught me a lot about what we were doing to the environment almost 50 years ago. At first I thought that all of her findings were no big deal. We all know the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment. Then I realized that this was published in 1960. The thought that man and his chemicals could damage Mother Nature was a pretty radical view then. The other eye-opening fact I learned was that the government agencies allowed many unproven techniques, even when a more targeted, safer approach would have worked better. One must surmise that, in those
days, the financial interests of the chemical companies took precedence over common sense! Even though the style was difficult to read at times (many long and/or run-on sentences), there was a huge amount of information in the book. I was also impressed by the documentation that was presented. However, the author is not saying that we should outlaw all chemicals. Rather, she is pleading for sensible use of pesticides only as a last resort. She also talks about how the pesticides actually made certain problems worse after application than they were to begin with. In short, this is still an interesting book. Anyone interested in the history of the “Green Movement” will enjoy reading it. Reviewed by Michael
caliphate have been excluded. The author has assembled her book like a doctoral dissertation. (Ida Lichter, M.D., is a psychiatrist residing in Australia.) There are references in the chapter notes for almost every quotation, and while thorough, that does not improve the reading flow. Admirably, the message is conveyed in the words and life experiences of the biographied women, not handed out by the author. That message, women as lesser beings, near-universal domestic violence, eternal infantilization, becomes coherent through, and is consistent in, sheer, soul-numbing repetition. The reader is struck with how many of these life stories have ended in murder by enslaving males, and how virtually all have involved threats of death. Liberty for Islamic women is not cheap, and these ladies have been and are paying the price, with little return to date. Divided into sections by country, with a (short) section on male activists, a glossary, appendices of worldwide organizations and meetings, websites, and so on, this is an essential reference book and emotional conditioning course for any student of world affairs. It makes evident the error of accepting true evil as a cultural variant. Reviewed by David Lloyd Sutton
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When governments, encouraged by Keynes, relentlessly dismantle and circumvent market pricing, it is because they find the truth to be unpalatable. But no economy can thrive very long on lies, half-truths, evasions, or even wellintentioned fictions.
According to Lewis, the basics of the Keynesian approach include government intervention in keeping interest rates low, printing money, spending rather than saving, and moving government toward partial ownership of otherwise private enterprises. In an economic crisis, the Keynesian solution is to print, lend, borrow, and spend. Hence, Bush’s tax rebate checks to get Americans shopping and his TARP bailout program and Obama’s bottomless treasure chest of stimulus money for Wall Street, banks, and the automobile industry. Bush and Obama seem quite like-minded after all when viewed through a Keynesian lens. But Lewis hopes to persuade the reader that the Keynesian approach to the economy is not the right one because it results in perpetual booms and busts, both of which are unnatural because of too much governmental tweaking of market processes. Lewis’s book is not as persuasive as it could be, partly because his rhetorical approach to revealing Keynes’s errors is almost scholastic in structure, resulting in some repetition and periodic choppiness. Nevertheless, the book is timely and relevant: Lewis is clearly questioning the validity of Keynesian economic practices, and he does so by countering Keynes with objections worth thinking about. Reviewed by Suzanne Christensen
o b e a b o ok t t n r wa
Where Keynes Went Wrong By Hunter Lewis Axios Press, 372 pages, $18.00 Former President Bush relied on Keynesian economic practices during his administration, and President Obama is resorting to Keynesian methods in an effort to battle the great recession of 2008. What is Keynesian economics, anyway? And the more relevant question here is, if one wants to understand Keynesian economics, should one read Where Keynes Went Wrong by Hunter Lewis? My answer is yes.
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Role-Playing Games Eberron Player’s Guide By David Noonan; Ari Marmell; Robert J. Schwalb Wizards of the Coast, 160 pages, $29.95 Eberron Campaign Guide By James Wyatt; Keith Baker Wizards of the Coast, $39.95, 288 pages The Eberron world setting for Dungeons & Dragons might be best described as fantasy noir, darker than usual, and less clear lines between good and bad. With the release of the Eberron Player’s Guide and Eberron Campaign Guide for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, gamers can update their old 3.5 Eberron campaign or find a new world to enter. From airships to the mechanical Warforged, there are plenty of new exciting elements for players to explore. The Campaign Guide gives DMs background on the world, its history and inhabitants, and tips for running campaigns with the noir setting. The Player’s Guide introduces players to the world, new races and classes to play, and also new Feats and for their characters. Eberron is one of the best recent campaign settings designed by Wizards of the Coast, and by updating it for 4th Edition, should provide players many hours of game time.
Monster Manual 2: 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons By Rob Heinsoo; Chris Sims Wizards of the Coast, 224 pages, $34.95 One of the problems when a company decides to update a game system and overhaul all the rules is that all the previous release becomes void, and a gamer wanting to stay with the most recent version finds themselves having to re-buy the books they already own. Another is when there isn’t much new in the updated books, causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth (or flaming on Internet bulletin boards.) The recent change from Dungeons & Dragons from version 3.5 to 4.0 has been one of those major overhauls that is either greeted with joy or pain. The new Monster Manual 2 threads between those two extremes well enough that most players buying the book won’t feel abused and find plenty to use within its covers. Old monsters are updated, some new ones are introduced. This is a supplement to the first Monster Manual, so it includes non-human races introduced in the Player’s Manual 2 and updates old one from previous editions—Centaurs, Half-Elves, Half Orcs, and more. Some of the more interesting creatures are the metallic dragons and the mechanical Warforged. The index in the back makes it easy to find monsters by level, and the encounter groups sprinkled throughout the book make it easy for a DM to create adventures on the go. Recommended for players and groups that have made the shift to 4th Edition.
Revenge of the Giants: A 4th Edition D&D Adventure By Bill Slavicsek; Mike Mearls; David Noonan Wizards of the Coast, 160 pages, $29.95 This is a WotC’s first “Super Adventure” for 4th edition D&D, and for it they used the WayBack machine to visit the popular Against the Giants series of the early 1980s. Then, like now, players will have to work their way through Hill giants, Frost giants, Fire giants and, eventually, Titans. The characters need to defend civilization from a pending invasion of giants, and during their quest, learn plenty about the care, feeding, and killing of giants. The module is almost entirely combat, which may be offputting to some gamers. The skill challenges are also limited in their use, but for adventuring parties looking to move through the story quickly to get to the resolution, may find their use as less distracting from the adventure part of the game. The packaging is a nice hardcover with an included fold-out map in the back. All the character and monster information is included in the book, so you can play with just this and the DM/Player’s Guides. Set for taking 12th level characters to 17th, Revenge of the Giants probably won’t go down in D&D lore like Against the Giants, but will give a group a good month or so of play time.
Health, Fitness & Dieting Every Patient Tells a Story By Lisa Sanders, M.D. Broadway, 276 pages, $25.00 The author, Dr. Lisa Sanders, has written a series of New York Times Magazine columns that led to the TV show House, and eventually this book. Dr. Sanders comes by her medical degree via an unusual route. Her professional life began as an on-camera television reporter. She became so deeply immersed in her subject that she obtained a medical degree and set aside the successful broadcast career. “The real problem is that there is all this tradition handed down to us and our poor medical students try to learn all of it... The truth is that there is a lot in the physical exam that turns out to be not terribly useful. But there are parts that are essential, even life-saving.”
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Dr. Sanders’ writing style is, of course, polished and smooth as one would expect. It is fascinating to read the scenarios in this book that highlight the truly important focus she places on the interaction between patient and physician in the all-too critical diagnostic process. Even with all the scientific tests and methods available to physicians today, there is a geniune need for a thorough and focused physical exam when a patient needs medical care. The obvious is not always correct. Ever yone- -patients and physicians--seems to be looking for absolute answers. When it comes to making a diagnosis, there’s no substitute for a practiced eye and a careful listener. Doctors are human, which means they make mistakes. Patients are an often overlooked
and valuable source of information, and need to be involved in arriving at a diagnosis. This requires that exams be conducted in an atmosphere of trust and respect. A medical appointment is often focused on updating an electronic chart and issuing prescriptions. This is an educational and patient-empowering book. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano Your Stomach: What is Really Making You Miserable and What to Do About It By Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. Praktikos Books, 150 pages, $15.00 The title of the book, Your Stomach: What is Really Making You Miserable and what to Do About It, is probably the best thing about this 145-page book. As someone who has tried both Western and Eastern medicinal approaches in dealing with my chronic stomach woes, I had really hoped that this book would have the answers on how to cope and live with them. What it had was
Adventurer’s Vault 2: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition By Rob Heinsoo; Eytan Bernstein; Logan Bonner; Peter Schaefer Wizards of the Coast, $29.95, 160 pages Adventurer’s Vault 2 is billed as having “Arms and Equipment for All Character Classes” and has pretty much lived up to that billing. It adds new equipment to character classes introduced in the Players Handbook 2 and also some new types of items useful to most of the standard players. There are also some concepts in magical items, and some well redone older concepts. In the redone items comes new and better game balanced ammunition for distance weapons. In the new category are Set items for individuals and for groups. These are magical items and weapons that combine effects the more items you have for your player or the more members of your party that have a part of the set. These can really combine both in game play and in the questing to find all the parts of the sets. Also included are magical tattoos, Lair items (stationary magical items), and holy symbols. As far as the book goes, the quality is quite good (even though short in page count from the original Adventurer’s Vault, and there are plenty of sidebars giving history of significant items that can also add into game play. WotC also included a well-thought-through index of all the items (though one wonders why they don’t also put one online that would include previous books as well). Helpful to both PHB2 characters and others. Plenty to seek, use, and lust after.
40 pages of text explaining the anatomy of a stomach and why we need acid stomach. It continues to explain why antacids may be the cause of most stomach problems. Its main premise is to make a case against antacids and link their use to stomach ulcers. The rest of the book, over 100 pages, is filled with notes and bibliography. The average person could probably find more resources on the internet by googling the key words “antacids” or “stomach problems.” There are probably better books out there with a more information on how to handle stomach problems. Skip this one. Reviewed by Auey Santos
Science Fiction & Fantasy Dark Road Rising By P.N. Elrod Ace Books, 389 pages, $15.00 Jack Fleming, club owner and Chicago’s resident vampire private eye, has had better weeks. In the aftermath of a brutal attack by the sadistic mobster Hog Bristow, Jack is strong-armed into keeping tabs on Whitey Kroun, a newly turned vampire and Bristow’s exceedingly dangerous boss. Someone wants Kroun dead, the New York mob wants answers, and a lot of people want Jack’s head on a platter. As he continues to run interference for his wounded gangland friend Gordy Weems, he’ll have to deal with Kroun’s secrets, his girlfriend Bobbi’s Hollywood aspirations, and the potentially deadly consequences of a dust-up with his partner. With shady dealings around every corner and myriad motives at play, Jack better stay two steps ahead of old enemies and new alike, if he doesn’t want to end up at the mercy of a conscienceless monster, or worse, become one himself. Less about the nuts-and-bolts of who shot who and why, and more about the reasons behind past and present mysteries, the twelfth installment of the Vampire Files series is at heart a story of survival and redemption. While lacking some of the humor of the earlier books, Dark Road Rising loses none of Elrod’s signature multi-character complications, emotionally driven plot twists, and dark-butnever-hopeless tone. Jack Fleming’s (un)life is rarely simple, but it is always enthralling. Fans of Elrod’s previous Vampire Files books are in for a few surprises, though. Up to this point, Jack has been our dedicated narrator, and it’s a major stylistic departure to indulge in numerous cutaway scenes featuring Whitey Kroun’s activities. While the cutaways are clearly indicated, they are a bit jarring at the outset. While Elrod’s latest is a strong and focused work, it doesn’t really satisfy as a stand-alone novel. That’s not to say the mythology of the series is so complex and labyrinthine that a new reader must devour every other novel in the series in order to enjoy this book. But the plotlines of Dark Road Rising are so intricately interwoven with those of the two previous installments -- Cold Streets and Song in the Dark, for the uninitiated -- that without having read them, the impact of several key scenes is diminished somewhat. Nonetheless, it remains a quick and engaging read, with plenty of genuine character evolution, and the resolution of a lot of lingering plot threads. I for one am definitely looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Jack and his motley circle of friends. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
Street Magic (Black London, #1) By Caitlin Kittredge St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 352 pages, $6.99 Pete Caldecott is a London police officer attempting to track down some missing children. Following a lead, she rediscovers Jack Winter, the haunting mage Pete watched die twelve years ago. Jack’s a heroin addict, a shadow of his former self, but it’s enough for Pete, who adds saving him and unearthing the mystery of how he survived death to the already too-long list of things she has to do. As she learns more about Jack, she realizes that his secrets are inextricably linked to the cases of the missing children. The first book in Caitlin Kittredge’s new Black London series shows a lot of promise, but feels uneven and rushed. My biggest complaint is the narrative voice and dialogue; Kittredge affected a slang-heavy English accent for both, as though she’s trying to remind the reader— in case they forget—that these characters are supposed to be thoroughly British. But it’s awkward at the best of times and distracting at the worst. This is unfortunate because beneath all the hokey Brit-speak are some great turns of phrase and a fine sense of humor. If the next installment showcases more of these strengths, this could become a series to look forward to. Reviewed by Amanda Mitchell Land of the Dead By Thomas Harlan Tor Books, 416 pages, $25.99 Out in the vast darkness between stars, in the Land of the Dead, something ancient has been found. It tore apart a fleet of starships, and has now drawn the attention of both humanity and the many alien races that share the galaxy with us. Now a group, consisting of a former starship captain who took the fall for the loss of a battle that wasn’t his fault, his former executive officer who now com- mands a starship of her own, a brilliant archeologist fighting the racial prejudices stacked against her, a prince who believes he can do no wrong, and the enigmatic priest who may or may not know more about what they face, will come together and try to uncover the secrets of the Land of the Dead. More than just Space Opera, Thomas Harlan’s Land of the Dead takes aspects of “the group of diverse characters going on a quest” from fantasy literature and mixes it with the historical investigation of a more modern adventure novel, as well as the hard hitting action of a military thriller, into a very satisfying combination. Reviewed by Jim Haley
Stalking the Dragon By Mike Resnick Pyr, 296 pages, $15.98 All private eye John Justin Mallory wants to do is take his partner Colonel Winnifred Carruthers out for a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day, but his plans with the former big-game hunter are waylaid when a breeder hires them to locate Fifi, his missing toy dragon. With the Eastminster pet show less than a day away and Fifi expected to win it all, it’s a race against the clock to track the dragon down and solve the mystery. Stalking the Dragon is the third novel in the Fable of Tonight series, and while not the strongest thus far, it remains an engaging and entertaining read. Featuring a native New York detective in a very strange version of Manhattan, Resnick’s latest follows the pattern established in the previous books -- Mallory’s long pursuit over the course of a single evening, assisted and hindered by various associates -- without feeling repetitive or growing stale. The often frustrated banter between Mallory and his motley crew, as well as the tongue-in-cheek references to Manhattan landmarks, carry you over the slower spots admirably, and all in all, Stalking the Dragon is a fun way to spend a few hours. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas On the Edge By Ilona Andrews Ace Books, 336 pages, $7.99 Rose Drayton lives between two worlds-the Broken, where there is no magic and people shop at Wal-mart, and the Weird, where nobles rule and the strength of your magic can change your destiny. Rose live in the Edge, where the mundane and the outrageous come together, yet those who live there never really belong in either world. Rose’s life becomes more complicated when Declan Camarine, a blueblood from the Weird, comes into her life. They must put aside their differences, when a dark force hungry for magic threatens the Edge and all those who live there. I enjoyed being in these worlds Andrews creates in On the Edge. Rose is a very likeable character; even with her flaws, I found myself rooting for her. The story gets a little slow in the middle and it takes some time for Rose to catch up on what is actually happening, but overall this is a great book for fans of fantasy and Ilona Andrews. Reviewed by Katie Monson
On sale October 27 , 2009 th
The New York Times bestselling series The Wheel of Time® continues….
Book Twelve of ® The Wheel of Time
A MeMory of Light was partially written by robert Jordan before his untimely passing in 2007. Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn books, was chosen by Jordan’s editor—his wife, harriet McDougal— to complete the final book. the scope and size of the volume was such that it could not be contained in a single book, and so tor proudly presents The Gathering Storm, the first of three novels that will complete the struggle against the Shadow, bringing to a close a journey begun almost twenty years ago and marking the conclusion of the Wheel of time®, the preeminent fantasy epic of our era. In Hardcover 978-0-7653-0230-4 Limited Edition (leather) 978-0-7653-2416-0
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Art, Architecture & Photography
Discovering the Great Masters: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Symbols in Paintings By Paul Crenshaw; Rebecca Tucker; Alexandra Bonfante-Warren Universe, 308 pages, $45.00 Inside many great masterpieces lie subtle imagery placed by the artist as either shoutouts to previous works of art or contemporary elements that meant something to the viewers of the day. Those images are often lost on modern museum goers who haven’t taken art history classes or read up on the works they are going to see. Discovering the Great Masters is an interesting overview of many of the common symbols used in classic art through the use of 60 paintings, starting with Di Bondone’s The Last Supper (1306) and surveying the field through the late 1800s with Gustave Moreau’s Jupiter and Semele. In between are plenty of favorites—Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, Titian’s Bacchanal of the Andrians, da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and Raphael’s The School of Athens. Through the use of cutout pages, Crenshaw highlights specific sections of each painting, explaining the placement and use of objects and figures in the historical and contemporary usage. There are also chapters explaining the use of animals, architecture, flowers and fruit, and the language of myth. This coffee table book has 60 of the finest classic paintings from 53 artists (several have more than one piece.) As an art book, this is a fine collection; with the lessons in art history, it becomes a great collection.
The Weeping Goldsmith: Discoveries in the Secret Land of Myanmar By W. John Kress Abbeville Press, 272 pages, $45.00 The destruction of this planet’s rainforests being an ongoing issue, it is really quite commendable that professionals like W. John Kress have taken up the cause through their lifelong work. A self-described “historian of nature, a Darwinian evolutionist,” Kress serves as Curator and Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution. This book is the culmination of his nine-year exploration of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. In the process of documenting natural history through its lush biodiversity, he discovered previously unknown flora. At the same time, Dr. Kress became swept up into Myanmar’s culture, an exceptional thing if you consider the country‘s social and political isolation. Its title derived from a new floral species, the legendary ginger flower called “the weeping goldsmith,” this volume includes color photographs of rare vegetation as well as images of people, architecture and landscapes encountered by Dr. Kress during his travels. Impressive quotes from the literature of Orwell, Maugham and other famous writers introduce each chapter with graceful precision. There is also a small field guide of indigenous plants at the very end. More pictorial than a reference, yet more informative than an average coffee table book, this is guaranteed to appeal to botanists, environmentalists and armchair explorers alike. Reviewed by Richard Mandrachio
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Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby By Craig Varjabedian University of New Mexico PRess, 144 pages, $45.00 There is a unique place in New Mexico where the line between life and death is blurred. It is here, at the Ghost Ranch, that it seems that they are not separate, but, in fact are one. This is evident and has been
evident to countless artists, writers, and everyday people, because of the unique characteristics of the preserve: It is dead in its seemingly empty vastness, yet living in the endless possibility that such a blank slate provides. Its mountains are dead and unmoving, daunting monuments of stone, whose curves and crevices come alive with closer examination. It is a graveyard for long-dead, fossilized, flora and fauna, whose entire species were wiped out, and a breeding ground for countless current forms of life. It is at the Ghost Ranch that the proverbial circle of life turns so observably and so it is no wonder that photographer Craig Varjabedian has captured some of the wonder of Ghost Ranch and presented it for the world to see in Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby. Packed with not only his stunning photography of the place, but also with assorted essays, notations, comments, and journal entries concerning the area by innumerable sources, including Georgia O’Keefe, Ghost Ranch showcases the simultaneously morbid and lively beauty of this national treasure. Reviewed by Jordan Dacayanan Architecgtural Photography: Composition, Capture, and Digital Image Processing By Adrian Schulz Rocky Nook, 213 pages, $44.95 Some people love nature, and they photograph it. As a result, we’ve seen many stunning landscapes of faraway exotic lands and seas. But then, there are people who love the city, and so they photograph it too. However, not everyone it seems can photograph the urban architecture with as much poetic majesty as nature photographers do. What to do? Brush up—on landscape photography, because there is an almost scientific method to it. Many books are out there, but one that stands just as tall as the man-made edifices is Adrian Schulz’ fascinating Archi-
tecture Photography: Composition, Capture, and Digital Imaging Processing. Why is it fascinating? Unlike many photography books, what he writes matches exactly with what you see. You may not know it but this is actually a hard feat to accomplish. Schulz, however, succeeds magnificently. He shows you amazing photographs, and he is able to tell you how exactly you too can do it—and quite surprisingly, in a way that is simple, plain, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-do. He tells you straight: how to capture amazing images of buildings, inside and out; what equipment to use and how to use it effectively; how to compose shots; what natural and artificial lights works best; and how to create an efficient workflow. And it’s all just like having a conversation with a friend.
“No other medium can demonstrate the visual appeal and effect of a building better than a masterful architectural photograph.” So you have lots of questions? Schultz has a lot of answers. You want to see how it will look? Schultz shows you what it will actually look like. This book is an inspiring step-bystep guide to what may be considered a rarified field of architectural photography. Reviewed by Dominique James