I’ve had some questions from authors about my process. A new book submission form will be available on line soon. At any given time, I have 40 to 50 books (44 this month) waiting for review, so some will get reviews, some will get mentions. I hope to at least mention every book I receive at some point. As long as I have that much of a backlog, though, I will only consider books written or edited by Mensans (that is, the name of the Mensan appears on the front cover).
I don’t read on screen, I don’t print books, and I don’t order them on line. You’ll have to send me an actual copy, not just a reference. Several authors have sent me printed copies of their original manuscripts. That’s okay, if the book has been published and you just don’t happen to have a copy available.
I write my reviews six weeks in advance of publication, so at the very best, it will be two months before you might see something in the column. Hope for the best and I will too.
* * *
About one third of the books I receive are fiction. A novel that stood out this month is Left Field by Elizabeth Sims. It’s the fifth in a series of books about Lillian Byrd, an amateur detective. Probably the first thing you’ll need to know about Lillian is that she’s a lesbian, as are many of the characters in the book. These women are long past dealing with the problems of coming out of the closet though, so there’s little time spent on that issue. It’s just a murder mystery.
That being said, there are some love scenes that border on being a little more graphic than I care for, but “everyone to his own taste, said the old lady as she kissed the cow.” They’re not what the book was about, though.
Lillian freelances, taking on projects that appeal to her. While she’s on the roof of an employer’s house, she spots a body in the next yard. The victim, Abby, turns out to be a friend of a friend and a player on an amateur softball team. Lillian is soon up to her eyebrows in softball and clues. As with many good mysteries, you may think you know what’s going on, but you’ll be surprised over and over. I like a lot of the characters in this book besides Lillian, especially Lou. She’s a city animal control officer and so much more. And speaking of the city, it’s Detroit, and it’s as much a character in this book as the assorted people.
I enjoyed this enough to look for the other four in the series. Sims has written a second series of books, The Rita Farmer Mysteries, and a book on writing that I’ll review in coming months. Her website is www.elizabethsims.com.
* * *
We all have our guilty pleasures, and mine this month is “Saltiest Sailor” & Other Sketches: More Memories and Musings from a Life of Adventure by Corwin A. Bell. His first book was Sea Story. This is Bell’s second book of short essays, 37 in all, many of them autobiographical and most previously published in the San Diego Mensan. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you I have lunch with him once a week at a Mensa gathering.
Al is definitely not one to hide his light under a bushel. He has strong opinions about practically everything. He’ll tell you that human evolution may actually be human devolution, and that we really ought to invade Canada for our own good and theirs. You’ll also hear how proselytizers fared in trying to save his atheist soul. You won’t necessarily agree with much of what he writes—he is, by his own account, somewhat of a curmudgeon—but it is entertaining. As Al says, if you don’t agree with what he says, you can always write your own book, but you can’t do that until you read this one.
* * *
Only Read the Fine Print: And Other Things I Hope My Children Learn Sooner Than I Did by Thomas Briggs is a useful book. It’s the kind of book that as I read, I found myself saying over and over, “Oh, yes, that’s true.” It’s comprehensible, I think, by someone as young as an intelligent middle-schooler, and as he or she gains life experience, it will become even more meaningful.
Only 87 pages, it’s packed with ideas that support Briggs’s three basic premises: The point of life is to be happy; live in the present; and have no regrets. After Briggs establishes those three basic ideas, he follows up with chapters re. thoughts on excellence, money, practical advice, perspectives on reality, and words of wisdom. He closes the book with a list of suggested further reading.
My overall take on this book is that it’s a valuable guide for dealing with reality. These really are lessons we all wish we had learned earlier. I liked the book enough that I think I’ll buy copies for my grandchildren.
* * *
So here’s my bias. Even though I use computers many hours a day, I’m old enough that I still think that teaching should be done by live human beings. Even that can be deadly dull. I had one memorable professor who did nothing but read from his text book, which we all had to buy, for 50 minutes three times a week.
This book, Lecture is not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is written for those teachers who want to upgrade their skills a little. Another short book, actually a booklet of 24 pages, it lists the ten commandments of dynamic lecturing. Without banning all multimedia from the classroom, Lorenzetti reminds teachers of the basic steps in leading students to a new understanding of the material of the course. It might be summarized as: tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told them, but there are a lot more subtleties than that. A useful book.
* * *
is another useful book if you’re in that situation. So often we hear stories of children who have been thrust into the middle of a war between the parents. The old truism is that the parents are divorcing each other, not the children, but it’s often forgotten and children get the fallout.
Patrick Kennedy is the former chapter President of the Children’s Rights Council for Orange County and Long Beach. The CRC is an organization working to optimize co-parenting. He speaks with authority on the many problems that can arise and on possible solutions that benefit the child and ultimately the parents. His writing is clear, concise, and practical.
* * *
Since I’m writing about useful books, I have one more for you: Read Better! For Adults and Teens written by Linda Schrock Taylor and edited by Connie Geiger Norwood. Taylor writes that this book is intended for adults and teens “struggling to learn English at levels of greater skill.” The first third of the book covers the technical aspects of reading, including phonemes, phonics, phonograms, and six types of syllables. The remaining two thirds includes short practice stories and questions testing comprehension of what was just read.
The back of the book tells us that Taylor and Norwood together have more than 80 years of teaching experience at all levels from preschool through college. They want to make reading English “easier and more rewarding.” This is a good book to consider if that’s your goal.
* * *
And here are some books I won’t get a chance to review. Thanks to the authors of the following novels. The Slave Laborer by Albert W. Hanne, the story of a World War II American pilot shot down over Germany who survives by masquerading as a Polish slave laborer. Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander follows the romantic lives and misadventures of two immigrant women in early 20th century West Virginia coal country. The Journals of Thomas P. Cross by John D. Schutt is about what happens to a man when he assumes another man’s identity. Waiting for the Red Cow by Gerard Brooker is the third of a trilogy about Tyszka and Sarah, who meet at Auschwitz and live to participate in the establishment of Israel.
Nonfiction books I won’t get a chance to review are Counterintuitive Analysis by Stephen J. Schrader; Toward Utopia: Feminist Dystopian Writing and Religious Fundamentalism by Naomi R Mercer; The Vedanta Sutras: the Mafia Version by Andrew A. Kenny, a follow up to his previous book Chicago’s Gods; and two books by Sarah Condor Fisher, My America and Diet and Nutrition with a Special Focus on Swimming and Bodybuilding.
To follow up, you can read more about these books on line.