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Fall Books Guide

    Our second in what we hope to be an annual review of books

 


Last fall, we introduced Cityview’s debut Fall Books Guide partially out of necessity (the office needed purging of unsolicited titles that were piling up) and mostly out of service to our readers (some of you had asked). But because so many readers responded so positively about last year’s guide, we decided to bring it back for a second year with the idea that it might become an annual affair. Of course, that depends on how much you like it.

With that said, if you’re looking for reviews of the latest Oprah Winfrey Book Club title or an opinion on a New York Times Bestseller’s book you might not find exactly what you are looking for, but we encourage you to read on nonetheless. The following reviews are a mix of novels, nonfiction, music and politics. Most are independent releases that might not garner the kind of national attention a Rachel Ray cookbook does, but they are worthy selections easily found at your local bookstore or online. Also included in the mix, as was the case last year, are a handful of titles by Iowa authors.

With autumn approaching now is a popular time for publishers to flood the market with new releases. As you turn the pages of our second (though not necessarily annual) Fall Books Guide, we hope you find one you can’t put down. — Michael Swanger

Religion

“An Expose of Satan’s Schemes”
By Dr. Ken Olson
Trafford Publishing; 222 pp; $21

I, too, scoffed at the title of this book upon first glance, but upon reading the first chapter decided to give psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Ken Olson a chance to prove to me whether the United States government operates under satanic beliefs. In the end, I wasn’t convinced, but Olson makes some entertaining (though laborious) arguments along the way. He claims that Satan has retreated to the shadows where modern man doesn’t believe he exists, and in his secretive role, Satan is able to rule a small group of powerful men known as the New World Order who act under his guidance. Among Satan’s followers, Olson claims, are secret societies like the Illuminati, Freemasonry, Committee of 300, The Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, the Club of Rome, the New Age Movement and other groups plotting to launch World War III and give rise to the New World Order. Olson, who earned a Masters in Divinity and doctorate in psychology, served as a Lutheran pastor for 11 years and now conducts religious healings, exorcisms and counsels victims of satanic cults. In his new book, he traces the history of these groups back to our country’s founding fathers and how they allegedly influenced the formation of the United States. Depending on your outlook, this book might make you laugh or it will scare the hell out of you. — Michael Swanger

Fiction

“Strip for Murder”
By Max Allan Collins
Berkley Prime Crime, 272 pp; $14

I admit, I haven’t been a fan of “whodunit?” mysteries for years, but this book brought me back to my childhood days of playing detective. Muscatine native Max Allan Collins, author of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel “Road to Perdition” — starring Tom Hanks in the movie, ups the ante in this breezy mystery full of dark humor. Set in Manhattan, N.Y., in 1953, Tall Paul, one of the most popular comic strips, has hit Broadway. Longtime rival Sam Fizer, creator of the boxing strip Mug O’Malley, is infuriated by the news but is soon found dead of an apparent suicide. Or is it? All evidence points to Rapp, but is he being framed? It’s up to detective Jack Starr to put the pieces together and solve the mystery. This one doesn’t fit in the innocent world of comic strips, as Terry Beatty’s illustrations add value to the mystery. Collins lays out the evidence; you just have to find out whodunit. — Matt Miller

“Iowa Terror”
By Mike Palecek
Seventh Street Press; 59 pp; $16

This short and snappy book was an interesting mix of true-life situations in a small Iowa town following the days after Sept. 11, 2001. The book is a short, quick read and Russell Brutsche, Alison M. Healy, Benjamin Heine and Ian Ward introduce the opening of each chapter with amazing illustrations. Also starting each chapter is a quote mostly from two opposite sources — former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and comedian Bill Hicks (who starts the book out with a doozy of a quote) as well as a few from writer Charles Bukowski. Palecek has a strong pen and is not afraid to speak his mind. The flow of the book had the feeling of a mad man writing random stories (topless women mowing yards, mad town folk covered head-to-toe in orange) and using quotes, creating something inside his head and giving the reader a sneak peek. The one problem I had with it was it was too short. Once I got into the fast-paced chapters, the book was over. I guess it’s what you would call a sucker punch to your thought process. — Jared Curtis

“A Tomb on the Periphery”
By John Domini
Gival Press, 198 pp; $20

On the heals of last year’s “Earthquake I.D.,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Des Moines author John Domini continues his successful writing this year with “A Tomb on the Periphery.” The fiction book is the second in a three-novel series set in Naples, Italy, picking up with Fabbrizio, a renegade living outside the laws all his life. After a catastrophic earthquake, Fabbrizio finds a valuable piece of funeral decoration in an ancient grave on the outskirts of Naples and soon becomes involved in dealing counterfeit jewelry. Torn between helping his financially burdened family and keeping it for himself, Fabbrizio is caught between his morals and impulses. Add in Shanti, an American archeologist, who has a vast knowledge of Southern Italian criminal life, and Fabbrizio seems to be in over his head. Domini, who has had his works published by the New York Times, GQ and Ploughshares, treats his readers to a fast-paced crime novel with a little romance. — Matt Miller

“Crusade”
By Robyn Young
Plume; 498 pp; $15

I’m going to be up front and tell you that I picked this book because of its cover. There is nothing like a badass knight charging forward on a horse with flames rising behind him to draw me into a book. So I was disappointed to find out that this was the second book in the “Brethren Trilogy,” because I’d never read the first “Brethren.” I was a little lost when I first dove in, but soon I was engulfed in the mystical world this book created. Creatively written passages kept my attention, and the maps at the beginning of the book created a visual setting in my mind. Brave knights battling on the field with honor, war horns sounding in the distance, metal against metal, the sounds were all there (thanks to a lifetime of watching fantasy/lore films). Don’t get me wrong, it’s no “Lord of the Rings,” but for fans of Middle Ages and the crusades, it’s a fun and interesting read. I liked it enough to start from the beginning before the third book, “The Fall of the Templars” comes out in 2009. — Jared Curtis

“Central Park, In The Fall”
By M.S. Sutton
Orange Moon Publishing; 279 pp; $12.95

I love a post apocalyptic story if it’s done right. “Central Park, In The Fall” isn’t on the level of Cormic McCarthy’s “The Road,” or even half as entertaining as a film like “The Road Warrior,” but it’s interesting nonetheless. The book begins with one of the main characters hunting cats for food (“rats were good roasted, but Pap didn’t want rat”) and never lets up, continually putting the struggle for survival into the reader’s head. A group struggles to survive the ghosts of past sins as well as killing “the traders” and “rescuing Baby Sister.” Vivid passages of slashing throats and human-like (“two arms and two legs”) things fighting in the distance kept my attentions, but I got a little lost in the story telling with the added mystical twist. The title of the book comes from a place of happiness and I could see it in my mind. You would hope when the Apocalypse comes that you could just hunker down and ride out the storm. But in Sutton’s tale, you can’t. You have to fight every day for another day of meaningless survival, which kind of relates to life as we know it. I think that is the scariest part of all. — Jared Curtis

Business

“Rock to the Top”
By Dayna Steele
Brown Books Publishing; 136 pp; $17.95

Award-winning rock radio personality, entrepreneur and author, Dayna Steele doles out business advice based on what she learned from working for years as a top-rated disc jockey in Houston and working with artists like Aerosmith, Van Halen, David Bowie and KISS. Her “11 Rules of Business” (an ode to Spinal Tap) might not be groundbreaking, but they are solid advice perhaps for someone with no business training and only a dream. Steele peppers stories of backstage adventures throughout the book to keep the reader enticed. But before you dismiss her as just another disc jockey dropping names, Steele also shares practical advice on how she developed and sold her successful business TheSpaceStore.com, giving the reader some real-world advice. — Michael Swanger

Self-Help

“This Old Spouse”
By Sharyn Wolf
Hudson Street Press, 260 pp; $23.95

Has the flame of love that once burned so brightly, now turned into just embers? If so, your relationship doesn’t have to end in separation or divorce. Sharyn Wolf, author of five books on relationships, provides a step-by-step guide to rekindling the flame in “This Old Spouse: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Restoring, Renovating, and Rebuilding Your Relationship.” In this humorous, yet witty read, Wolf addresses marriage issues in four segments, including the topic of “Sex: If It Isn’t Hot, You Should Be Bothered.” Wolf puts it simply, “And so it is that women and men fall in love with a spouse much the same way that they fall in love with a house. They know (or they think they know) that marriage, like home ownership, will take work, but they never really know how much. The truth is: when it comes to marriage, they’re all fixer-uppers.” — Matt Miller

Politics

“The Samaritan’s Dilemma: Should Government Help Your Neighbor?”
By Deborah Stone
Nation Books, 327 pp; $25.95

As the presidential election continues to heat up this fall, much of the media is focused on the candidates’ positions on policy issues. Yet, author Deborah Stone of “The Samaritan’s Dilemma: Should Government Help Your Neighbor?” believes the most important factor in choosing a leader ought to be his or her moral vision. Based on the parable of the good Samaritan in the Bible, Stone’s writing is a blend of political essays and reporting, featuring a number of “good Samaritan” anecdotes. Unfortunately, she does an unsatisfactory job in explaining why everyone benefits when the government helps those in need — a.k.a. the title of her book. Stone, a research professor of government at Dartmouth College and founding editor of “The American Prospect” may believe she has the answer to why people have been losing faith in government, but this book is not it. An interesting read for some, a bore for others. — Matt Miller

 

“Rock ‘n’ Politics: A State of the Union Address”
By Jason Stonerook
iUniverse; 189 pp; $17.95

If you haven’t noticed, music and politics have become increasingly intertwined during the last 40 years, though some might argue — including author Jason Stonerook — that both are mere shadows of their former selves thanks to the commercialization of both entities. It’s one of several good points the political science instructor at Luther College in Decorah makes in his smart and hip examination of the cultural link between rock music and political action titled “Rock ‘n’ Politics: A State of the Union Address.” To Stonerook’s credit he touches, but doesn’t dwell on obvious artists of the 1960s like John Lennon and Bob Dylan, updating the discourse of the connection between rock and politics (and the problems that ail them both) by including newer artists like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Green Day and OutKast. Along the way, Stonerook writes how rock music and politics are founded on some of the same principles: freedom of action, daring individual initiative and bold public ambition, making for a good read, especially with the upcoming presidential election. — Michael Swanger

“How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy”
By Mark Engler
Nation Books; 362 pp; $16.95

Talk about eye opening. Even though I didn’t understand some of it (hey, I’m a pop culture guy), journalist and foreign policy analyst Marlk Engler dissects two distinct visions of globalization that have characterized the last two American presidential administrations and examines what likely is to come next. According to Engler, “cooperation globalization” as enacted by the Clinton presidency, advocates a transnational, corporate controlled world economy, while the “Imperial globalization practiced by the Bush presidency is based on solidifying U.S. military interests.” That’s a lot to chew on, but Engler does back up his statements with facts and references galore. I’m always fascinated by out-of-the-box ideas that could lead to the truth, and if you’re the same way then this book is for you. Sure the economy is screwed up, everyone knows that. But after reading this book, I got a better idea of what was going wrong and what needed to be changed, even if I didn’t understand some of it. — Jared Curtis

 

“Rescue Plan for Planet Earth: Democratic World Government through a Global Referendum”
By Jim Stark
The Key Publishing House Inc.; 199 pp; $19.49

Thanks a lot fellow citizens of the world. According to this book, you have doomed us all with an upcoming (human caused) extinction. As other countries continue to develop nuclear weapons and the climate slowly changes, the end is near. But according to author Jim Stark, who has a plan to save the world, a democratic world government (DWG) could save us all. Stark is not the first man to promote this theory; he mentions that smarty-pants, Albert Einstein was also a DWG idealist. Stark goes through a multiple layer of steps to fix the planet using political tools and the Internet to build a corruption-free, less-taxed world running on singular “world constitution.” Well good luck with that Mr. Stark. As I mentioned before, I’m the first person to listen to solutions on how to fix our messed up planet, but by the time anything is done I’ll be an old man without social security waiting for death. Thanks for the heads up, though, Mr. Stark. — Jared Curtis

Non-Fiction

“Proclivity”
By Bonnie Kern
PublishAmerica, 188 pp; $27.71

Captivating from the beginning, “Proclivity” peers into the life of a woman who was physically and psychologically abused as a young girl growing up in a dysfunctional family. Stories like this run rampant all over the country with tales of drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse, but many go untold. Bonnie Kern’s heart-wrenching story is unique though because she had the guts to tell it. Born in 1945, and raised in rural Iowa, Kern survived child abuse, the loss of her daughter and mother, numerous marriages and divorces and incarceration in mental hospitals and prisons. Although marked by a tumultuous past, Kern is an example of success through life’s trials and tribulations, which culminated in a degree in sociology from Drake University in May 2000. This book is an easy read, but shows readers some of the hardest issues our society faces today. — Matt Miller

“The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War”
By Asne Seierstad
Basic Books; 352 pp; $25.95

The timing of the release of this book by international journalist Asne Seierstad is coincidental as the world watches Russian troops occupy Georgia. Seierstad, best known for her international bestseller “The Bookseller of Kabul,” shares harrowing first-hand accounts of the fighting in Chechnya. To recap, Russian troops rolled into Chechnya on New Years Eve 1994 launching a bloody war that has since killed more than 10 percent of the population. Today, Chechnya continues to be an unstable, violent region as the Russian government bans Western journalists from reporting on the conflict. The Norwegian Seierstad worked as a foreign correspondent during the early days of the war in 1995-1996. Later, she moved on to cover other war-torn regions including Afghanistan and Iraq, but returned to Chechnya in 2006 under disguise and at great personal risk to live with and report on war-ravaged Chechnya children and orphans. In “The Angel of Grozny,” she tells first-hand stories of children who become criminals and those who die from their criminal acts or become victims of the region’s violence. Seierstad tells stories with a reporter’s keen eye and a novelist’s compassion to lend some insight into the events of Chechnya of the last 13 years, and possibly some understanding of Russia’s latest actions against Georgia. — Michael Swanger

“Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships”
By John Price
De Capo Press Books, 266 pp; $25

Growing up in Fort Dodge, John Price’s “Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships” highlights the first 40 years of the Midwesterner’s life arranged in 17 essays. One of the essays, “Man Killed by Pheasant” is a 10-page story about Price’s unexpected encounter with a bird that entered his driver’s side window on Highway 30 between Belle Plaine and Cedar Rapids. Dumping his car in the ditch, the near-fatal accident is just one of many adventures that shaped Price’s love for the environment and his transformative experiences. Price, author of “Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into American Grasslands,” is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his nonfiction work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. His elemental day-to-day detail in this memoir is a testament to his conservationist’s eye and proves he is well deserving of the award. — Matt Miller

 

Music

“Promoting Your Music: The Lovin’ of the Game”
By Tom May and Dick Weissman
Routledge; 200 pp; $37.95

Anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a professional singer-songwriter but doesn’t know how, or perhaps needs a refresher course, can learn something from “Promoting Your Music.” Folk musicians Tom May and Dick Weissman share with the reader their wealth of experience and the insights of their peers in a practical way so that the lessons become an indispensable reference for beginning and seasoned performers. The book’s nine chapters span from the first steps a performer has to take to secure gigs, to how to record an album and market it, to advice on what equipment to use and how to build an audience. Each section includes philosophical and practical advice. A bibliography and musician’s resource at the end of the book is equally helpful. Though the book is aimed at folk musicians and singer-songwriters, much of what May and Weissman write about applies to musicians across the board. — Michael Swanger

“Skydog: The Duane Allman Story”
By Randy Poe
Backbeat Books; 316 pp; $16.95

Slide guitar master Duane Allman was raised on the full range of Southern music — gospel, soul, blues, R&B, rock, country and jazz — and it influenced his work with his brother Gregg in the Allman Brothers Band and the session work he did for artists like Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Boz Scaggs. By the time of his death in 1971 at the age of 24, following a motorcycle accident, he had already helped define the role of lead rock guitar. In the years since, his massive legacy has grown to that of rock guitar god status whose recordings stand the test of time. “Skydog” not only captures the essence of Allman as a musician, but also as a man. Hardcore fans will appreciate the book’s thorough discography and chapter on Allman’s gear. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons writes a colorful foreword. — Michael Swanger

 

 

 


Food

“Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin”
By Martin Hintz and Pam Percy
Globe Pequot; 272 pp; $16.95

Our neighbor to the northeast wins more national and international cheese awards than any other state. Badger chefs, like Sanford D’Amato, Adam Siegel and Stefano Viglietti have cast Iowa’s best in their shadow, as cheese mystique played a big role in their notoriety. Authors Hintz and Percy comprehensively cover the history of Wisconsin cheese-making, from the first Swiss artisans to the most recent Latinos, but the greater value of this ripe book is in the recipes they collected. D’Amato even turned over his legendary Carr’s Aged Gouda, Artichoke & Leek Tart recipe — which was personally chosen by Julia Child for her 80th birthday dinner. — Jim Duncan

Language

“Talk Dirty French: Beyond Merde: The curses, slang and street lingo you need to know when you speak Francais”
By Alexis Munier & Emmanuel Tichelli
AdamsMedia; 182 pp; $7.95

In the interesting and hilarious “Talk Dirty” language series, multiple authors take on the task of finding some of the foulest and filthiest words and phrases to filter in the conversations you’ll be having on upcoming getaways. “Talk Dirty French” is one of many in the “Talk Dirty” series (Spanish, Italian and Yiddish) and is a funny read even if you don’t speak French. Reading through some of the translations, “They ban us from smoking indoors, the bastards!” to “Every Saturday, the hillbillies come to sell their vegetables at the market,” had me laughing at the absurdity of phrases as well as the close-to-home truth they speak. My one complaint was some of the phrases were censored. Why title a series “Talk Dirty” and not deliver all the goods? But what really turns up the fun factor are the last two chapters (20 total) “Partners and their Private Parts” and “Dirty, Dirtier, and Dirtiest French.” Thanks to this book, I can now use “If you see Luke, ask him for a bit of hash” or “Did you really fuck 50 guys this summer?” in a French conversation. — Jared Curtis

“Talk Dirty Spanish: Beyond Mierda: The curses, slang and street lingo you need to know when you speak Espanol”
By Alexis Munier & Laura Martinez
AdamsMedia; 182 pp; $7.95

Another installment in the “Talk Dirty” language series (French, Italian and Yiddish) “Talk Dirty Spanish” does not disappoint on the filthy phrases and is a valuable tool, since an estimated 400 million people worldwide speak Spanish. Twenty chapters like “Beer before Liquor…” and “The Wrong side of the Law” are self-explanatory. After reading through them I picked up quite a few interesting phrases including “Every time we go to the Chinese restaurant, we steal the ashtrays” and “Daddy’s all wired up; looks like he snorted some cocaine.” In the final chapter, “Dirty, Dirtier and Dirtiest Spanish,” I continually laughed and added multiple phrases to my Spanish repertoire, although some phrases were even too dirty to translate, which irritated me. If you are writing a book series called “Talk Dirty,” don’t get shy on me. But aside from the censorship, two phrases I learned “You know what they say: all guys love hand jobs” and “I love my girlfriend’s body because she’s got junk in the trunk” ring true in any language. — Jared Curtis

Philosophy

“Why Can’t We Be Good?”
By Jacob Needleman
Tarcher/Penguin; 284 pp; $24.95

Bestselling author, philosopher and religious scholar Jacob Needleman returns with an intellectually engaging investigation of one of life’s most asked questions. To put it bluntly, “Why Can’t We Be Good” was kind of boring, and I continually scoffed at the ideas put forth. This was supposed to be a look inside humanity’s deepest dilemmas, but it was something I never really cared about. You’ve sinned, I’ve sinned, everybody has sinned at least once in his or her life, so what’s the problem? Needleman brings out the big guns referencing everything from Buddha to Socrates, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t find in a bargain book bin of interesting quotes and ideals. Murder, war and cheating spouses, it’s all happening and will continue to happen. There is nothing we can do about it. How hard is it to answer the question this book asks? Simply put; it just feels too good to be bad. — Jared Curtis

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