BOOK REVIEW: ‘Please Stop Helping Us': Black Conservative Deconstructs Unintended Consequences of Affirmative Action, Minimum Wage Laws, Public Schools


Ever since it was published in June, Jason L. Riley’s “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 184 pages, index, $23.99) has been attacked by the liberal establishment and black talking heads who continue to deliver the “It’s not our fault, it’s white racism” argument as an explanation for lack of progress for African-Americans. They pour boiling oil on Bill Cosby and Riley and others who call for an end to destructive black culture that despises intellectual activity and extolls the gansta hip-hop culture.

please-stop-helping-us-how-liberals-make-it-harder-for-blacks-to-succeedAt the end of this review, I’m including a HuffPost Live interview of Riley; I’m doing this to make this review as fair and balanced as possible. I say this as I argue that I’m 100 percent with Riley, who has also been attacked because he’s married to a white woman, New York Post columnist Naomi Shaefer-Riley. I haven’t seen similar attacks on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s married to an African-American.

I’ve often wondered about liberals — including Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — extolling the benefits of inner city public education — while sending their own children to private schools like Sidwell-Friends in Washington, DC. Riley makes this point, too, in arguing for more education choices for urban African-American parents and their children.

African-Americans deserve as many choices as affluent liberals who tell blacks to support public schools and then go and send their kids to expensive private schools, Riley argues. He tackles the argument — made by liberals who support teachers’ unions because the teachers’ unions — both the AFL-CIO one, AFT, and NEA — support Democratic candidates — that charter schools and voucher programs harm the traditional public schools that most minority and low-income students attend. This argument says that charter schools and voucher programs siphon off from public schools the best and the brightest. Riley says that most inner city schools are staffed by union members who care more about job security than educating their students.

What about other unions? Riley gives his readers a historical look at unions and how the traditional AFL craft unions refused to admit blacks and came up with minimum-wage laws and legislation like the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act (–Bacon_Act) were originally intended to prevent the employment of cheaper non-union African-American workers from the South.

What about affirmative action programs? Don’t they help blacks? No, says Riley, who says that well-intentioned affirmative action programs for higher education designed to address past discrimination actually results in mismatching black students to highly selective schools like the University of California-Berkeley, where they are destined to fail because of the poor education they received in inner-city public schools. The result is fewer black college graduates than would otherwise exist. Too, he writes, affirmative action isn’t working in highly selective public universities because Asian-American students outperform whites, blacks and Hispanic students.

In a particularly touching example of how much of black culture denigrates learning as “acting white,” Riley quotes basketball great Kareen Abdul Jabbar — back when he was still Lew Alcindor — describing his experiences as a studious kid at a predominantly black Catholic school in Philadelphia in the 1950s (Pages 42-43):

“I got there and immediately found I could read better than anyone in the school. My father’s example and my mother’s training had made that come easy. I could pick up a book, read it out loud, pronounce the words with proper inflection and actually know what they meant. When the nuns found this out they paid me a lot of attention…when the kids found this out, I became a target.”

Riley describes how, when living in his hometown of Buffalo, NY and living and working in the DC area, he was profiled by police. He says he understands the profiling, because of the overwhelming disproportionality of blacks committing crimes. He says that abolishing stop-and-frisk laws and being soft on crime makes crime-ridden majority black enclaves even more dangerous.

To those who believe that Jason Riley is another black mouthing white racist ideology, I say read the book and look at the facts. As the saying goes, “you are entitled to your opinions, but not your facts.”

Jason L. Riley



About the author

Jason L. Riley is an editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, where he has worked since 1994, and a Fox News contributor. He lives in suburban New York City with his wife, New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer-Riley, and their three children.

Jason Riley on Huffington Post discussing his book:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rumble': Ellen Hopkins Returns with Young Adult Novel in Verse That Lays Bare Virtually Every form of Social Problem, Family Dysfunction

If there’s a social problem or addiction that isn’t dealt with in “Rumble” ( Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, 560 pages, $19.99), Ellen Hopkins’ young adult novel set in the greater Eugene, Oregon area, I was hard pressed to find it.

Rumble jacketHopkins — the New York Times’ bestselling author of “Crank” and “Smoke” and several other Y.A. titles — focuses on the Turner family, specifically Matthew “Matt” Turner, an 18-year-old high school senior in Cottage Grove, OR, who’s still grieving over the suicide of his younger brother Luke.

Luke, a standout freshman basketball player and sweet kid who idolized Matt, hanged himself after being outed as gay on social media and was subsequently bullied by his high school classmates (don’t get me started on the horrors caused by the improper use of Facebook, Twitter and all the other electronic forms of poisoning the air! And don’t get me started on the inherent meanness of many teens!)

Matt’s dad, Wyatt Turner, was a standout basketball player for the University of Oregon (the “Ducks”) and now teaches science and coaches the basketball teams. Matt believes his dad’s homophobic comments contributed to Luke’s suicide, but he blames his former best friend Vince for posting the photoshopped pictures that outed Luke.

Matt’s atheism has become public with an essay he wrote for an English class that has gone viral. Even his therapist has a copy of an essay Matt believed to be private. In the document he writes that Luke’s death proves that there is no God: “There is no God, no benevolent ruler of the earth, no omnipotent grand poobah of countless universes. Because if there was…my little brother would still be fishing or playing basketball instead of fertilizing cemetery vegetation.”

Despite his lack of belief in a higher power, Matt is in love with a believing Christian classmate, Hayden. He’s also attracted to Hayden’s former best friend Alexa. Matt discovers that his disintegrating family is even more dysfunctional that he thought, with his dad having an affair with the woman he was in love with before he met and impregnated Matt’s and Luke’s mom. His mom, a real estate agent, is clearly an alcoholic, as is his dad. Matt’s uncle, Middle East war veteran Jessie Turner, who operates a gun range, has a veteran customer who suffers from PTSD. This customer, Gus, plays a pivotal role in the novel.

Everybody tells Matt to let go, to put the death of his beloved little brother behind him, to pick up the threads of his life. But it’s easier said than done for the troubled teen.

While “Rumble” is squarely aimed at Y.A. readers, I believe adults — particularly parents of teens — can benefit from reading it. Hopkins has the understanding of a therapist and the skill of a bestselling writer to put issues before readers. She’s a baby boomer, but she thoroughly understands the younger demographic groups. Plus, the book is a page turner! Don’t let the big page count scare you: Hopkins keeps the narrative moving quickly.

About the Author

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Louise Hopkins (born March 26, 1955) is a novelist who has published several New York Times bestselling novels that are popular among the teenage and young adult audiences. Hopkins began her writing career in 1990. She started with nonfiction books for children, including Air Devils and Orcas: High Seas Supermen. Hopkins has since written several verse novels exposing teenage struggles such as drug addiction, mental illness,and prostitution. She has also written novels in verse for adults, including “Collateral” and “Triangles.” Her next adult novel, “Tangled,” is slated for Spring 2015 publication.

Her website:

For my review of “Smoke”:

For my review of her adult novel, “Collateral”:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Supreme City': Wonderfully Readable Account of Contributions Manhattan Made to U.S. Architecture, Engineering, Culture

“Don’t give the people what they want. Give them something better than they expect.” — Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel (1882-1936), American theatrical impresario and entrepreneur

* * *

Roxy’s axiom fits the scores of people profiled in Donald L. Miller’s “Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America” (Simon & Schuster, 784 pages, in-text and photographic inserts, notes, bibliography, index, $37.50) as well as the book itself. It’s the kind of big book a fan of architecture, city planning, politicians and gangsters (often the same people!), the birth of radio, show business, tabloid newspapers, book publishing, music, fashion and just about everything that emerged from New York City in the Roaring Twenties doesn’t want to end.

Supreme City jacketMiller leads off with an account of New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, who wanted to be a song writer and ended up resigning in disgrace over his corruption.

Miller’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, is part of the story in his account of pioneering publisher Horace Liveright, founder (with Albert Boni) of Boni & Liveright. BL was the publisher of Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Hart Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson, among many other authors. Max Schuster’s friend, Richard L. Simon — father of singer-songwriter Carly Simon — was a book salesman at Boni & Liveright. They joined forces to form S&S. Their first book was a collection of crossword puzzles and it was a bestseller. The company was saved when the crossword puzzle craze fizzled by the publication of Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy” which was a bestseller.
Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House, also worked at Boni & Liveright. As a book reviewer and avid reader, of course I’ve heard of Boni & Liveright. I didn’t know that Horace Liveright’s name is pronounced “Live Right”, not “Liver Right”. Like many of the people Miller writes about, he was Jewish and his father anglicized the name from the German “Liebrecht” — which translates to “Live Right.” Cerf and his partner, Donald Klopfer, got off to a grand start at Random House with their purchase of Boni and Liveright’s Modern Library for $210,000, a poor decision on Horace Liveright’s part, but a brilliant move on the part of Cerf and Klopfer.

Much of “Supreme City” describes of how Manhattan’s development arc moved from its historic downtown birthplace — the area around City Hall — to Midtown, especially around Grand Central Terminal, completed in 1913. The New York Central rail yards at Grand Central were roofed over, creating Park Avenue, which quickly became one of the prime residential areas of the city. The gigantic mansions on Fifth Avenue were demolished by real estate developers — many of them Jewish — and luxury co-operative apartments were built there and on Park Avenue in one of the biggest building booms in the city’s — and America’s — history.

Miller describes the building of the George Washington Bridge, connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, with upper Manhattan. The bridge — in the news lately over N.J. Gov. Chris Christy’s alleged “BridgeGate” — was the creation of a young Swiss immigrant Othmar Ammann, who later went on to build other several bridges in the city, including his last one, the Verrazano Narrows bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island. The story of the Holland Tunnel is also part of Miller’s book.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, from a wealthy Washington, D.C. African-American family, called the city “the capital of everything.” His connection with Jewish music publisher Irving Mills led to his success in records, radio broadcasting and his performing at Harlem’s Cotton Club, owned by gangster Owen “Owney” Madden, a native of Leeds, England. Only white audiences were admitted to the club, which featured black musicians.

If there is one recurring them in Miller’s supremely readable book, it is how people from elsewhere — like Chicago-born Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr. and Philadelphian William Paley, founder of CBS — became successful in New York. His arch rival, David Sarnoff of NBC, was a Russian-Jewish immigrant. They were joined by many talented NYC natives.

The list of out-of-town successes is lengthy: Baltimore’s George Herman “Babe” Ruth; Coloradan boxer Jack Dempsey; Texas-reared sports entrepreneur Tex Rickard, who promoted Dempsey’s fights with Firpo, Gene Tunney and other boxers; Waco, Texas-born speakeasy hostess Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan; Kansas-born auto manufacturer Walter P. Chrysler, who used his own money — not his firm’s — to build the iconic Chrysler Building at 42nd and Lexington. (The Panama Smith character in the 1939 movie “The Roaring Twenties”, played by Gladys George, is based on real-life “Texas” Guinan.)

The list goes on: Chicagoan Joseph Medill Patterson, cousin of Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, came to the Big Apple in 1919 — a city with more than a dozen dailies — to start his own tabloid, New York’s “picture” newspaper, The Daily News. It quickly became the city’s largest circulation newspaper and survives to this day.

Cosmetics and fashion figure prominently in “Supreme City.” Canadian farm girl cosmetics specialist Elizabeth Arden and Polish-born cosmetics innovator Helena Rubenstein — who never talked to each other — set up their businesses on the new commerce driven Fifth Avenue. Thanks to building efforts by visionary developers like Abraham Lefcourt, Seventh Avenue became the center of ready-to-wear fashions, while fashion driven department stores like Bergdorf Goodman moved to Fifth Avenue with great success.

“Supreme City” is an important book by a renowned historian about a remarkable decade that saw the spectacular rise of Manhattan. It’s written with such engaging prose that most readers will agree with my assessment that I didn’t want it to end!

Donald L. Miller

Donald L. Miller

About the author

Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College, Easton, PA. He hosted the series A Biography of America on PBS and has appeared in numerous other PBS programs in the American Experience series, as well as in programs on the History Channel. He is the author of eight previous books, among them the prize-winning City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, The Story of World War II, and D-Days in the Pacific.

OP-ED: Inaccuracies of Cable TV Reporting Continue With Gaza Coverage

arthursolomonBy Arthur Solomon

Big story news coverage is supposed to be the hallmark of cable TV. Now it’s the protests in Ferguson, Mo. But for the past several weeks it was the reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war that once again showed big story reporting is also cable’s Achilles heal because getting it first is often more important than getting it right.

Journalism has always had its share of inaccurate reporting, sometimes because of rushing to meet a deadline, sometime because “reliable sources” that reporters trusted proved unreliable.

For decades erroneous reports were swept under the rug by newspapers. It is only recently in the journalistic time line that corrections are now promptly published.

But the same is not true of cable TV reports. Too often the rush to get it first instead of getting it correct is the result. Unlike newspapers, where at least one editor reviews stories before they are published, live TV reports of major stories are what cable TV news is about, resulting in viewers hearing reports often colored by the biases or fears of on-the-site reporters losing access to interviewees, like Amnesty International that managed to equate what is happening in Ferguson to the Gaza situation as the reporter remained mute.

It’s a little early for media watchers to detail all the wrong information and biased reports that will emerge from the Ferguson reporting.

Not so the examples of faulty reporting from anchors and front line correspondents covering the Gaza war. Tough questions are continuously asked of Israeli spokesmen by the reporters and condemnation of Israel’s army conduct is a constant. Scant mentions are uttered that the destruction of the Jewish state is in Hamas’ charter and that Israel is fighting for its survival.

The biases of cable TV reporting on the conflict are seen 24/7. Footage of the devastation of Gaza is continuously repeated on CNN. Instead of just reporting the news, CNN continuously provides a propaganda platform for Palestinian and Hamas supporters. Missing are the tough

questions by CNN reporters and their challenging erroneous statements.

United Nations spokespersons also are allowed an open anything goes mike by CNN, resulting in additional anti-Israel propaganda. Missing also are the tough questions by CNN asking why the U.N. permits Hamas to store its rockets in U.N. schools. (CNN is now focusing on Ferguson, at least for a while, but that is sure to change the moment things calm down there.)

While the latest examples of shoddy reporting are from Gaza, cable TV has a history of journalistic errors on important stories.

Example: Less than a year after misreporting the Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s health care legislation on June 28, 2012, CNN (no longer the most trusted name in news) and Fox News Channel(never fair and balanced) co-opted Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again”and mistakenly reported that either an arrest was made or a suspect was in custody for the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013. So much for the reliability of their trusted inside sources.

Example: During the wall-to-wall coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, after so much inaccurate reporting on April 18, the race to report unconfirmed news continued the following day with reports that a woman tipped off the police to the hiding place of the younger bomber. Wrong again. It was a man who noticed something amiss with the boat in his back yard after the police had issued its “all clear.”

Repeating information from “reliable” sources, which turns out to be unreliable, can have unfortunate consequences for individuals.

Example: On April 21, 2013, the New York Times reported that a young man, who some news organizations mistakenly thought looked like one of the bombers, resulted in his sister receiving 58 harassing telephone calls from reporters between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4:11 a.m.

The excuse that cable reporters give when disseminating inaccurate information is that everyone has “reliable sources” that have to be trusted when reporting on a fast-breaking story. However that does not excuse shoddy journalism. Journalism’s mission should be to get it correct, not get it first, which seems to be the rule that NBC’S Pete Williams follows.

In my opinion, he is the best in both reporting the news and putting it into context. Chuck Todd’s The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, which he’s leaving, served the same purpose for political junkies. But unfortunately he kept silent when an Israeli spokesman on his show said that an inaccurate report by an NBC reporter regarding the Gaza conflict merited a correction. Todd ignored the request without replying. Not good journalism.

The “Opinionators” – print columnists and TV pundits – show their anti-Israeli biases by bemoaning their fear that if Israel continues to defend itself the country will surely evolve into a war-like society resembling Sparta, the ancient city-state of Greece (or maybe the U.S.–- that has never seen a war anywhere that was not in our national interest –- and Palestinians?)

But these journalistic worriers fail to mention that there would not be an Israel if it didn’t continuously fight off attacks by Arab countries since its founding in 1948, or that the Hamas charter calls for the elimination of Israel.

The biased TV coverage of the Gaza conflict is also evident on none news show. Jon Stewart, long an Israeli critic on his The Daily Show, once again showed his biases by faulting Israel’s defense of its citizens. His mockery of the situation, which resulted in thousands of deaths over decades, showed how lame his take is compared to the master of political satire Charlie Chaplin, whose movies are still available on TCM.

What is especially interesting is that when French and India TV provided footage that Hamas was launching its rockets right next to supposedly “off-limits” humanitarian targets the resulting media coverage was similar to a twig falling off a Redwood.

Getting it wrong doesn’t seem to be the only problem with cable TV’s reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war. Lack of asking tough questions by journalists is important in order to prevent their networks from being nothing more than a propaganda outlet. But that’s TV show biz.

* * *

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles on national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at HYPERLINK “”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Words for Pictures': Exhaustive, Entertaining Look at the Writer’s Role in Creating Comics and Graphic Novels

In one of those strange coincidences that often occur in my life, the review copy of “Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels” by Brian Michael Bendis (Watson-Guptil Publications, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC; foreword by Joe Quesada; large format paperback, $24.99, index, profusely illustrated) arrived in the mail the same day I saw the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
words for pictures cover

Bendis has written for the Marvel comic book series “Guardians of the Galaxy”, as well as “The Avengers,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “All-New X-Men,” and more. After describing how a comic book obsessed kid growing up in Cleveland became first an artist and finally a writer for comics and graphic novels, Bendis describes the role of writers in the extremely collaborative genre.

I’m guessing that most people think the artist writes the words in a comic or graphic novel, just as many people still believe actors make up the dialogue in movies and plays. I’m probably exaggerating about the latter part of the previous sentence, but Bendis says that — with a few exceptions — writers and artists engage in a collaboration that Bendis says — somewhat tongue in cheek — that is a lot like dating!

“Words for Pictures” takes readers step by step through the creative methods of a writer at the very top of his field. Bendis guides aspiring creators through each step of the comics-making process—from idea to script to finished sequential art. He even reveals the word processing program — Final Draft — that he uses, noting that it is one of the most popular screenwriting software products in use today.

One of the best parts of the book are the conversations Bendis elicits from many artists and writers in the graphic novel and comic book genre. I found these passages — often very emotional — full of useful information for both the aspiring writer and the fan of comics and graphic novels. I’ve reviewed a number of graphic novels and have often wondered about the creative process.

There are many illustrations in this beautifully printed — in China — book. There are also many scripts, notes and other products of writers engaging their artist collaborators. The reader is also presented with examples of artwork that Bendis created early in his career. He’s overly modest about his artistic abilities: I think he could have done very well as an artist.

While not specifically a how-to book, “Words for Pictures” will help both writers and artists in the creative process. It’s ideal for the beginner, but it’s also useful for the experienced practitioner, too. The section about the business aspects of Jinxworld Inc., Bendis’s business, is vital, too. Jinxworld is headed by Alisa Bendis, Brian’s wife. In the interview with her, she says her husband is a wonderfully gifted writer, but not the world’s greatest business manager. Alisa Bendis provides valuable information on the business/legal aspects of the process.

Both entertaining and supremely informative, “Words for Pictures” is a must-read book for brian michael bendiswriters, artists and the many fans of comics and graphic novels. It was an eye-opener for me.

Brian Michael Bendis

About the Author

Brian Michael Bendis is an award winning comics creator and one of the most successful writers working in mainstream comics. For the last twelve years, Bendis’s books have dominated the top of nationwide comic and graphic novel sales charts. As a leading writer for Marvel Comics, he works on their best-selling properties like The Avengers, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy. In addition, his original projects include Scarlet, Brilliant, Powers (currently in development as a TV series at FX), Torso (being developed as a film by Circle of Confusion), and the Hollywood tell-all Fortune and Glory. The winner of five prestigious Eisner Awards, Bendis lives with his family in Portland, where he writes and teaches comics and graphic novel writing at Portland State University and the University of Oregon.

For more on Bendis:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Free to Fall': Dystopic Thriller Should Appeal to Young Adult, Teen Readers — If You Can Get Them to Read a Book

If you think today’s teens are welded to their smart phones and never seem to do anything but text, behold the dystopian future portrayed by Lauren Miller in her young adult thriller “Free to Fall” (HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 480 pages, $17.99) and be grateful.

Free to Fall jacketIn the near future — about a decade and a half from now — Apple and Google and Samsung and all the rest have been replaced by Gnosis, a gigantic corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision-making for the best personal results. I see Lux as a lot like the drug soma in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel “Brave New World” in its almost universal use and its power to take away decision making.

The heroine, Aurora “Rory” Vaughn, 16, is a brainy, introverted girl who has never known her birth mother. Her mother died giving birth to Rory, who lives in Seattle with her father and stepmother.

Like just about everybody in the world and almost everyone else, Rory believes the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. Her best friend, Beck, is old school, declining to use the Lux app on his handheld device. He limits his cell phone use to texting and phone calls.

When she’s accepted in the class of 2032 at the elite boarding school Theden Academy in Massachusetts, Rory’s future happiness seems assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. She discovers her mother was a Theden student who left before graduating. She wants to discover more about the woman who left her with a baby blanket — and nothing else.

Rory learns more about the school and her mother from hacker North Pascal, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. He has a big list of wealthy clients, but he keeps busy as a barista in the town’s coffee shop.

Not long after arriving at Theden, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore—a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.

Rory is an outstanding student, but she discovers hostility toward her from one of her teachers, Dr. Esperanza Tarsus. Rory’s roommate, the beautiful Hershey, is also an enigma to Rory. There is something about Hershey’s behavior that unsettles Rory.

With its complicated plot and appealing characters, “Free to Fall” should be a perfect match for its audience, teen-age girls. All that’s necessary is to convince these members of the short-attention Twitter and texting generation to immerse themselves in a relatively large book. I think once the target audience starts “Free to Fall” they’ll discover the old-school joys of reading a big book. Adults can enjoy the novel, too, for its insights into the thought processes of teens.

Lauren Miller





Lauren Miller
About the author

Lauren Miller wrote her first novel, “Parallel,” while on maternity leave from her law firm job and blogged about it, an experiment she called “embracing the detour” (also the name of her blog). Many people told her she was crazy. When she realized they were right, she told no one and kept writing. “Free to Fall” is her second novel.

Born in New York City and raised in Atlanta, Lauren now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You can find her online at


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Catch': Taylor Stevens’ Shape-Shifting Heroine Vanessa Michael Munroe Gets More Than She Bargains for in East Africa

Savvy readers know that — even before they open a novel by Taylor Stevens — you’ll find her androgynous heroine Vanessa Michael Munroe in the thick of action in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

The Catch jacket
That designation describes Djibouti, capital of the eponymous small (about 9,000 square miles with 810,000 people) nation fronting the Gulf of Aden, and the seaport city of Mombasa, Kenya, two of the settings of “The Catch” (Crown Publishers, 368 pages, $24.00, also available in Kindle eBook form).

The novel opens in Djibouti, where Munroe, in her male guise, is working as a fixer and interpreter for a small maritime security company headed by Leo, with his wife Amber Marie and soldier of fortune security guard Natan rounding the list of employees. Leo wants Munroe to accompany him aboard the old freighter Favorita to Mombasa, to protect the ship and the cargo — bags of rice headed for South Sudan by way of Kenya.

At first Munroe is reluctant, wondering why Natan doesn’t go along on the voyage. Leo convinces her that her knowledge of the region and especially her knowledge of the languages, Somali and Swahili, will help him on his apparently humanitarian mission. Leo is also appreciative of Munroe’s fighting skills, especially with knives.

Not long into the voyage through the pirate-infested Indian Ocean, Munroe discovers that the bags of rice are merely window dressing for a cargo arms and ammunition, part of a gunrunning operation of which she wants no part. But it’s too late, and when a team of pirates attack the ship, Munroe manages to escape with the unconscious captain on an inflatable boat to the Kenyan coastline.

I won’t go into all the details of Munroe’s actions in Kenya. Suffice it to say that the Slavic captain was the main target of the attack. She uses all her skills to help Amber and Natan plan a mission to get the ship back. Anyone who underestimates Munroe does so at his or her peril.

Taylor Stevens continues her saga of Vanessa Michael Munroe, begun in “The Informationist” (see my review: with a fast-paced action thriller that vividly shows why Munroe is probably the best new action hero.

“The Informationist” will be brought to the big screen by Canadian director James Cameron (“Avatar”, “Titanic”). From a story by Ben Child in the Oct. 24, 2012 edition of The Guardian:

The Canadian film-maker has optioned the rights to Taylor Stevens’s bestselling novel, which centres on the information specialist Vanessa Munroe. The story sees the character, described by producer Jon Landau as a “mix of Lisbeth Salander and Jason Bourne”, finding herself back in the Africa of her childhood after being hired by a Texan oil billionaire to find his missing daughter.

“Vanessa Munroe is an intriguing and compelling heroine with an agile mind and a thirst for adventure,” said Cameron. “Equally fascinating for me is her emotional life and her unexpected love story. I’m looking forward to bringing Vanessa and her world to the big screen.”

Landau added: “This is one of the most cinematic books I’ve ever read. And it’s got all the classic Jim Cameron elements – a female protagonist who is smart, physically adept and skilled, great action, and an unexpected love story.”

Summing up, if you fell in love with Munroe in “The Informationist” and the subsequent novels “The Innocent” and “The Doll”, you’ll love “The Catch.”
About the author

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of “The Informationist”, “The Innocent” and “The Doll”. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in twenty languages. “The Informationist” has been optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.

Born in New York State, and into the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult spun from the Jesus Movement of the ’60s, Stevens was raised in communes across the globe. Separated from her family at age twelve and denied an education beyond sixth grade, she lived on three continents and in a dozen countries before reaching fourteen. In place of schooling, the majority of her adolescence was spent begging on city streets at the behest of cult leaders, or as a worker bee child, caring for the many younger commune children, washing laundry and cooking meals for hundreds at a time. In her twenties, Stevens broke free in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and is at work on the next Munroe novel.

Her website:

David M. Kinchen review of “The Innocent”: and “The Doll”:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Real Murder': Volume 2 of Lovers in Crime Series Explores Family Dynamics as Joshua Thornton, Cameron Gates Investigate Cold Case Deaths

If you thought the first entry in Lauren Carr’s “Lovers in Crime” series, “Dead on Ice”,  was full of twists and turns and plot complications (my review: I have to say you ain’t seen nothing’ yet when you pick up the second entry, “Real Murder” (Acorn Book Services, 302 pages,  trade paperback, $12.95; available from and other online sources; also available in a Kindle eBook edition).

Real Murder jacket
A passage from my Nov. 19, 2012 review of “Dead on Ice” is worth repeating, to introduce Cameron and Joshua, who are now a married couple:

There are so many characters and red herrings in this artfully plotted comic mystery that I’m grateful that Carr has included a cast of characters in the front of the book. I had to refer to this list frequently as I read this page-turner, to make sure I had the right character. Every mystery and thriller that I’ve come across could benefit from a cast of characters.

Joshua and Cameron met for the first time in Carr’s “Shades of Murder” which I reviewed earlier this year (Link: It was love at first sight for the widower with five kids and the childless widow. Even though they’re not married — yet — their banter reminds me of the famous “Thin Man” couple created by Dashiell Hammett, Nick and Nora Charles. There’s even a counterpart to the Charles’s dog Asta, in Admiral, an Irish Wolfhound/Great Dane mix who owns Joshua. Cameron has Irving, a Maine Coon cat with the coloring of a skunk, a gigantic cat who can’t stand to be apart from Cameron — and who is no friend of Joshua.

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Joshua Thornton is the prosecuting attorney of Hancock County, West Virginia, the northernmost county of the state, wedged in between Ohio on the west and Pennsylvania on the east. He’s a widower, with one son at home, Donny. He’s now married to Pennsylvania State Police homicide detective Cameron Thornton.

As the novel opens they’ve been married 45 days. This is completely copacetic with sixteen-year-old Donny, but not so much with Joshua’s twenty-something daughter Tracy, who’s home for the summer from her studies at the C.I.A. No, not the spy shop in suburban Virginia; the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. She’s a gourmet chef who is unhappy with her dad’s decision to marry the attractive Cameron, whose husband was killed in what seems to be a hit and run accident. The tension between Tracy and Cameron is palpable.

On medical leave from her job after injuries suffered in a spectacular successful capture of a murder suspect, Cameron is intrigued by Dolly Houseman, the little old lady who lives across the street from Joshua’s and Cameron’s house in Chester.

Dolly wants Cameron to investigate the death of one of her “girls.” Cameron has been warned about the apparently senile blue-haired old lady, but she persists; if there’s one thing about Cameron, it’s her persistence!

As is the case with all of Lauren Carr’s mysteries, I don’t want to spoil the book for readers by divulging the spoilers; there are so many in this book that it would be a shame to ruin the book for fans of Carr’s books — and I’m at the top of that list.

When the squad car of Josh Thornton’s boyhood friend, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Gardner, is hauled out of a lake, with Mike in it, the past becomes personal. Was Gardner’s death an accident or was he murdered? Complicating factors include Mike’s son Hunter, who’s training to become a police officer. Hunter and Tracy are an item: Their casual dating has become serious and they’re engaged to be married at the end of the book.

Carr presents us with a cast of characters (yes, there’s a front-of-the book list) that would be worthy of a much longer book. Take Congresswoman Rachel Hilliard, who was elected to her office after her husband, Congressman Roderick Hilliard, died in the mysterious crash of his private plane. It happened on a Friday the Thirteenth, as did many of the other deaths in “Real Murder.” What was her relationship with Dolly Houseman and does she have a past she’s trying to conceal?

Humor abounds in “Real Murder,” and the tension between Cameron and Tracy adds an extra dimension to the novel. Fans of Lauren Carr’s Mac Faraday series will find the second entry of her “Lovers in Crime” series a welcome addition to the rapidly expanding Carr mystery canon. Look for Volume 3 of the series, “Til Murder Do We Part” in June 2015.

Lauren Carr
About the Author

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, “A Small Case of Murder” was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A best-selling mystery author on Amazon, Lauren created the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which take place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. “It’s Murder, My Son”, “Old Loves Die Hard”, and “Shades of Murder”, “Blast from the Past” , “The Murders at Astaire Castle”, “The Lady Who Cried Murder”, and “Twelve to Murder” have been receiving raves from readers and reviewers. Lauren is also the author of the Lovers in Crime Mysteries, which is located in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, where she grew up. “Dead on Ice” features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates. The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also an independent publisher of both ebook and print books, spanning several genres, both fiction and non-fiction. A popular speaker, Lauren is frequently asked for advice about how to succeed as an author while running a business, cooking dinner, feeding dogs, and doing laundry. Authors in Bathrobes tells budding writers the truth about what it takes to be a successful writer today: determination, hard work, a dependable laptop, a full pot of coffee, comfy slippers, and a durable bathrobe. She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Her website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace': How Tradition, Architecture, Office Furniture Shaped Our White-Collar Workplaces

Not until I reached Page 247 of Nikil Saval’s “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace” (Doubleday, 368 pages, many in-text photographs and other illustrations, notes, index, $26.95) did I experience a full explanation of cubicle culture in all its ramifications. I expected this to be addressed earlier, judging from the book’s title.

Cubed jacket

Not that this diminishes Saval’s incredibly ambitious book on white-collar workplaces and how they were shaped by tradition, architecture and –of course — those ubiquitous office furniture manufacturers in west Michigan, Herman Miller of Zeeland and Steelcase of Grand Rapids.

I caught a glimpse of today’s cubicle farm from a photograph on Page 184 illustrating French director Jacques Tati’s 1967 movie “Playtime.” The walls of the little boxes housing the workers in the photo are taller than the average cubicle of today, but the message is clear: You’re boxed in, white collar worker! And Big Brother supervisor has his eye on you. I thought of the Malvina Reynolds satirical song “Little Boxes”. Folksinger Reynolds was writing about the tract houses of Daly City, south of San Francisco, in the 1960s, but I couldn’t resist this comparison to the boxes housing white-collar workers.

Saval frequently references popular culture, including novels and movies about white- collar workers: “The Best of Everything,” “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” Nine to Five” and many more in his discussion of office culture. This is a wide ranging book, as I indicated above, and Saval ran the risk of trying to get too much information in his book. I think he handled this situation quite well and I never got the feeling that he was padding out the book. On the contrary, his references seemed to me to be appropriate, especially the passages describing the role of architecture in creating the workplaces of today.

A pioneer in the transition of workplaces from the small, dank spaces called “counting-houses” — the places where Herman Melville’s fictional “Bartleby the Scrivener” and his fellow workers inhabited — to something much more inviting was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building in Buffalo, N.Y. Wright designed the building in 1904 and it was built in 1906 for the Larkin Soap Co. Saval writes that Larkin was in many respects a predecessor of Amazon, selling many products by mail other than soap.

Unfortunately demolished in 1950, the five-story steel-framed brick building incorporated many modern innovations, including air conditioning and built-in desk furniture (Wright loved built-in furniture in his designs for private residences).

From this pioneering effort by one of America’s greatest architects, we experienced a major change in how white-collar workers were perceived. Offices became rationalized, designed for both greater efficiency in the accomplishments of clerical work and the enhancement of worker productivity. Women entered the office by the millions, and revolutionized the social world from within.

Skyscrapers designed by Mies van der Rohe; Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill; Philip Johnson and many others changed the landscape of our cities — and later suburban areas. Not all of the buildings were as successful as Lever House designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and its neighbor on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, the Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van deer Rohe. A case cited by Saval is the Portland Municipal Services Building, designed by Michael Graves. One critic called the downtown Portland, OR structure “an enlarged jukebox”, while another said it was more suited to the Las Vegas Strip than “sober Portland.”

Visionary designers like Florence Schust Knoll and Robert Probst created office furniture and proposed major changes from the traditional offices with row on row of desks (think of scenes from Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”) to the cubicles of “Office Space” and the “Dilbert” cartoons of Scott Adams.

It’s estimated that 60 percent of American white-collar workers inhabit cubicles — and that 93 percent of them dislike them. With the downsizing corporations have experienced in recent years, the cubicle dwellers of today probably consider themselves fortunate to have jobs at all.

“Cubed” is the first book I’ve encountered that brings all the elements of workplace design together, in all its variations and placed in proper context. It’s also a very readable account that will evoke laughter — and maybe other emotions — from those who’ve experienced cubicles and other types of office Nikil Saval 2layouts.

Nikil Saval
Photo by Katrina Ohstrom
About the Author

Nikil Saval is an editor at n+1; he lives in Philadelphia. “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace” is his first book. He is completing a Ph.D. in English at Stanford University. His family comes from India’s third largest city, Bengalura (Bangalore), India’s Silicon Valley.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty': Yes, Dave Barry Lives, Although Brazil is Dead


Why am I reviewing Dave Barry’s latest humor book “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About” (Putnam, 240 pages, $26.95) on the day when Germany defeated (that’s the understatement of the year) host country Brazil 7-1 in the FIFA World Cup? Especially since the book was published on March 4. It’s like this — and I’m not making this up — the folks at G.P. Putnam’s Sons didn’t send me a book to review. I had to check the book out at the local public library. I visited the library today with three grocery bags of books I’ve reviewed; I love to help out libraries in their hours of need — all 24/7 of them!

Dave Barry You can date boys when You're fortyActually, Barry knows as much as most men do about parenting: He has a son, Rob, in his 30s, from an earlier marriage and a teen-age daughter, Sophie, 13, from his current marriage to sportswriter Michelle Kaufman. Rob needs no understanding: Barry knows that as a guy he’s much like his dad. On the other hand, Sophie is almost a woman, creatures that Barry — along with the rest of us of the male persuasion — can never understand.

We males can’t understand why women made a monster bestseller out of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a porno book by a middle-aged British woman about a clueless American girl in love with the kind of man Barry hopes will never darken his South Florida doorway.

As I do with all Dave Barry books, I laughed so much the Brazilians must have thought I was laughing at their ridiculous performance on the pitch in Belo Horizonte.

No, dear Brazilians, and I include you, dear Evelyn De Wolfe, one of my former colleagues at the Los Angeles Times. You’re all fantastic and you live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. You make some of the best autoloading pistols on the planet, including my little .380 Taurus TCP. Just remember: Belo Horizonte means “beautiful horizon” and it’s always darkest before the dawn. Yeah, that’s easy for me to say, a clueless American male who doesn’t understand what the fuss with soccer — the “Beautiful Game” — is all about. Don’t get any ideas, Brazilians, about those wonderful Tauruses. It’s only a game!

Dave Barry, born July 3, 1947, is now 67, well past the age when we oldsters look forward to the mail. Yesterday I got a mailing from a hearing aid firm. At 75, I can expect to be getting mail from funeral homes, Medicare supplement insurance plans and at least two hearing aid providers a week until I really go deaf.

Barry doesn’t write a daily column anymore — more’s the pity — for the Miami Herald, where his wife, Michelle, is currently a sportswriter — and I’m REALLY not making this up — specializing among other things in soccer! Here’s a link to her story on the Germany-Brazil game:

Barry tackles everything from family trips, bat mitzvah parties and dating (he’s serious about that title: “When my daughter can legally commence dating—February 24, 2040—I intend to monitor her closely, even if I am deceased”) to funeral instructions (“I would like my eulogy to be given by William Shatner”), the differences between male and female friendships, and — the ultimate sacrifice for a maie parent accompanying Sophie to a Justin Bieber concert (“It turns out that the noise teenaged girls make to express happiness is the same noise they would make if their feet were being gnawed off by badgers”).

I’m guessing that Barry was an English major at Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia. If he’s not, the section in the book on mastering English grammar, is worth the price of the book all by itself. English grammar is boring? “No,” he writes, “English grammar is not ‘hard and boring’…all you have to do is learn a few simple, logical rules. Once you’ve mastered those, all you have to do is master nineteen trillion totally illogical exceptions to the rules because otherwise you will sound like an idiot.” Makes sense to this English major!

So pick up a copy of Barry’s latest tome and laugh your ass off: it probably could use it!

About the author

The New York Times has pronounced Dave Barry “the funniest man in America.” But of course that could have been on a slow news day when there wasn’t much else fit to print. True, his bestselling collections of columns are legendary, but it is his wholly original books that reveal him as an American icon. “Dave Barry Slept Here” was his version of American history. “Dave Barry Does Japan” was a contribution to international peace and understanding from which Japan has not yet fully recovered. “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys” is among the best-read volumes in rehab centers and prisons. Raised in a suburb of New York, educated in a suburb of Philadelphia, he lives now in a suburb of Miami. He is not, as he often puts it so poetically, making this up.

* * *

For a hilarious interview — is there any other kind? — with Dave Barry on

In this interview — and in the book — you’ll learn that Barry loves anagrams, including this one for Leonardo DiCaprio: “a ripe raccoon dildo.”



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