Monthly Archives: December 2011

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Woody Guthrie, American Radical’ Explores Transformation of Legendary Oklahoma-born Singer Famous for ‘This Land Is Your Land’

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Woody Guthrie. American Radical' Explores Transformation of Legendary Oklahoma-born Singer Famous for 'This Land Is Your Land'

With the centennial of his birth on the horizon, Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie (1912-1967)  is undergoing a revival, with his songs being performed by his son Arlo, his friend and colleague Pete Seeger and others at the Occupy Wall Street site and other Occupy locales and a foundation controlled by one of Oklahoma’s richest men, George Kaiser of Tulsa and San Francisco, planning a permanent Woody Guthrie museum in Tulsa. Guthrie is finally getting a measure of respect from at least some people in his native state, although Oklahomans have long ago turned their collective backs on the radical socialism that characterized early 20th Century Oklahoma.

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/28/MNR51MHETU.DTL   That aspect of Oklahoma surprised me, as the state is now one of the most conservative places in the country. It’s a “red” state, but not the kind of “red” it was when Woody was growing up there, when voters for agrarian socialist candidates turned out in force. And I’m willing to bet that most of the “Occupy” folks don’t have a clue about the significance of Woody Guthrie or Arlo Guthrie or Pete Seeger, for that matter.

The publication of Will Kaufman’s “Woody Guthrie, American Radical” (University of Illinois Press, 304 pages, 21 black and white photographs, notes, index, bibliography, $29.95) will provide readers with the context needed to understand this complex and conflicted man, who invented much of his life for public consumption. The book is part of the U of I’s enormous Musicians in American Life series, with a list of the books in the series printed at the end of the volume.

Will Kaufman

Will Kaufman

If you’re looking for a full-scale biography of Guthrie, you’ll be disappointed, because many of the details of Guthrie’s personal life, including his marriages and affairs are only hinted at in this book. Where Kaufman shines is his narrative of the transformation of a middle-class kid who had a father  who was a real estate speculator and oil man  in their hometown of Okemah, in east central Oklahoma. Contrary to Woody Guthrie’s later “recollections”  Charles Guthrie was a racist and may have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as one biographer cited by Kaufman asserts. Woody, born July 14, 1912, was named for the then governor of New Jersey and later president of the U.S. Woodrow Wilson, whose racism and hatred and harsh treatment of “radicals” during the 1919-20 “Red Scare” have been amply documented.

Kaufman doesn’t point out the irony of the so-called progressive Democratic Party  bookending Woody Guthrie’s life with twin “Red Scares” as he and his friends, including Pete Seeger having their patriotism questioned by that most un-American of committees, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the administration of a Democratic president, Harry Truman, whom Guthrie hated for his anti-Communist stance and alleged betrayal of the union movement.

Woody was a stalwart in supporting unions, especially the CIO variety — including the coal miners — which ended up as Woody’s “God That Failed” as they turned conservative, tossing out their “radical” members.  Woody joined a union during his service with the Merchant Marine during World War II. (When his tour of duty in the Merchant Marine ended, Woody was drafted into the Army). The unions, including his own National Maritime Union (NMU),  ended up disappointing Guthrie as they purged their far-left and Communist members to comply with the witch-hunt Post-WW II climate.

Kaufman leaves open the question of whether Woody Guthrie was a “card-carrying” member of the Communist Party, but he says there is no question that Guthrie supported the party through its many twists and turns, including the Soviet Union’s pact with Hitler’s Germany in 1939, when many leftists departed the party in disgust at what they viewed was a pact with the devil. Guthrie, Kaufman writes, was a lifelong fan of dictator Josef Stalin and went from opposing any efforts to supply the Allies when the U.S. was technically neutral to supporting those efforts after Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941. Leftists had to be quick on their feet in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Kaufman traces Guthrie’s political awakening and activism throughout the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights struggle, and the poison of McCarthyism. He writes that far from being a civil rights backer, Guthrie through the 1930s shared the racism of his father, playing a virulent anti-black song on a radio station in Los Angeles in 1937. A college educated black man called the station to complain, starting the purported “Dust Bowl Troubadour” on the road to being a strong supporter of the rights of black Americans. The “Dust Bowl” myth was part of the Guthrie legend, as he was not part of the migration so movingly noted by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath” and WPA writers and photographers like Dorothea Lange.

Kaufman devotes considerable space to this transformation, including a description of white racist rioting in the summer of 1949 at Peekskill (Westchester County) NY, protesting the appearance of black singer Paul Robeson, Guthrie and other artists, including Seeger and fellow members of the Almanac Singers and the Weavers. Kaufman, who is not only a university professor in the U.K. but a performer of folk music himself,  examines Guthrie’s role in the development of a workers’ culture in the context of radical activism spearheaded by the Communist Party of the USA, the Popular Front, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Kaufman also establishes Guthrie’s significance in the perpetuation of cultural front objectives into the era of the “New Left” and beyond, particularly through his influence on the American and international protest song movement.

Kaufman’s book draws on a wealth of previously unseen archival materials such as letters, song lyrics, essays, personal reflections, and other manuscripts. The Woody Guthrie that emerges is a much more realistic, complex man than the legend portrayed in his novel “Bound for Glory” (1944) and other writings.

Devotees of Guthrie will also be drawn to the section describing fans of the singer like “Ramblin'” Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan and others who carried on his tradition and kept him relevant as he lay in a psychiatric hospital deteriorating from the effects of Huntington’s disease, which he most likely inherited from his mother Nora Belle Guthrie. Huntington’s disease —  also incorrectly called Huntington’s chorea — is a debilitating brain disease that causes shaking like Parkinson’s disease. Bob Dylan’s mannerisms while performing were mocked by many of his early critics as mimicking Guthrie. Most of the early critics changed their views on Dylan and Elliott, giving them credit for keeping the legacy of Guthrie alive through the era of the Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell and other true commercializers of “folk” music. (For more on Huntington’s disease — for which there still is no cure — click: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001775/).

Maybe it’s politically incorrect to point out what Kaufman, a Jew,  failed to do, but many of the devotees of Guthrie’s music, including performers on the Almanac Singers and  The Weavers (Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman), were themselves Jewish. Guthrie’s wife Marjorie, the mother of Arlo, was the daughter of Aliza Greenblatt, a prominent Yiddish song writer and poet and sometime collaborator with Woody. Woody and his mother-in-law got along just fine! Jack Elliott (born Elliott Charles Adnopoz) was Jewish,  as are Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978), famous for “Little Boxes.” Kaufman does emphasize that the white rioters at Peekskill targeted both blacks and Jews with their hatred and rock throwing — and   the participation in the rioting by police officers who were pledged to protect peaceful citizens but ended up aiding the racist attackers.

If you’re into music, Kaufman’s book is invaluable. If you’re into this nation’s radical past, it’s eye-opening. I recommend it to all readers as one of the best books of 2011.

About the author

Will Kaufman is a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire, England. He is the author of three previous books, most recently American Culture in the 1970s. Also a professional folksinger and multi-instrumentalist, he has performed hundreds of musical presentations on Woody Guthrie at universities, music festivals, and folk clubs throughout Europe and the United States.

Woodland Press becomes ‘Recognized Publisher’ by ITW

  • By David M. Kinchen
Woodland Press becomes 'Recognized Publisher' by ITW
Chapmanville, WV (HNN)  — Woodland Press, an independent book publishing firm located in Chapmanville, has recently been recognized by the International Thriller Writers Association and meets all ITW criteria for a commercial publisher.

“We are pleased to be associated with this prestigious organization,” said Woodland Press CEO F. Keith Davis. “Our organization continues to place an emphasis on Appalachian themes, exceptional storytelling and literary excellence. It is a great honor to be recognized nationally for these efforts.”

Woodland Press national and regional book titles include the Bram Stoker Award-winning title Writers Workshop of Horror; Legends of the Mountain State series; Full Bone Moon; Tale of the Devil: The Biography of Davil Anse Hatfield; Specters in Coal Dust; Shadows and Mountains, The Mothman Files, The Feuding Hatfield and McCoys; The Secret Life and Brutal Death of Mamie Thurman; Arch: The Life of Gov. Arch Moore, Jr.; and many others.

The International Thriller Writers is an honorary society of authors, both fiction and nonfiction, who write books broadly classified as “thrillers.” This would include (but isn’t limited to) such subjects as murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, adventure and myriad similar subject areas.

For additional information, see www.thrillerwriters.org or www.woodlandpress.com.

Editor’s note: David M. Kinchen, HNN’s book reviewer, congratulates Woodland Press on this achievement. He says: “I’ve reviewed many books — fiction and fact —  from Keith Davis’ shop and have enjoyed them all. His editing is of the highest level and West Virginians should be proud that Woodland Press is an important part of the arts scene in the Mountain State.”


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Innocent’: Vanessa ‘Michael’ Munroe Returns to Rescue a Teen-Age Girl From a Cult in South America

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Innocent': Vanessa 'Michael' Munroe Returns to Rescue a Teen-Age Girl From a Cult in South America

It’s hardly a secret that with the publication of Stieg Larsson’s  “Dragon Tattoo” novels and subsequent Swedish movies — and now the David Fincher directed “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” movie — writers the world over have been scrambling to come up with a protagonist with the popularity of Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander.

Earlier this year with the publication of both the hardback edition and six months later with  the trade paperback edition of “The Informationist” Texas-based novelist Taylor Stevens created Vanessa Michael Munroe, an androgynous action hero who relies on her computer skills and information gathering abilities, as well as her skills as a fighter. Normally Munroe  deals in information, expensive information, and works as an independent contractor for corporations, heads of state and anyone who can afford her expensive rates.

In the second entry in the series, “The Innocent” (Crown Publishers, 352 pages, $24.00) Vanessa temporarily abandons her policy of working for people who can afford her and organizes the rescue of 13-year-old Hannah, the daughter of Charity, the lover of her very good friend Logan, who can’t afford her services. When Munroe learns that Hannah is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she realizes that rescuing Hannah will be the challenge of her career.

The cult called The Chosen led by a mysterious man called The Prophet is well connected with the mob in the Argentinian capital, which has a large Italian population. There’s even a district called Palermo, named after the Sicilian capital. Argentina, like the U.S., is a European oriented nation of immigrants — a far cry from the African settings of “The Informationist.” Munroe relies on her friend Miles Bradford of Capstone Consulting, who promises to be a continuing character in Stevens’ series.
Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens
The bare facts of Hannah’s kidnapping from her parents by The Chosen are simple: She was simply walked out of her school and taken over the Mexican border. Logan and a group of former cult members have hired Munroe and want to go along on the attempt to free Hannah, an idea that Munroe instantly dislikes. She’s persuaded on the condition that they all must obey her as the leader. As the story develops, Munroe accepts the reality that Logan was right, that those who’ve searched the longest for Hannah know where to find her.
  Still, Logan’s friends are loose cannon, in Munroe’s opinion, and although they may end up making the rescue mission a true “Mission Impossible” (The iconic theme for the TV series and subsequent movies was composed by Buenos Aires native Lalo Schifrin) in the end she finds uses for them. Munroe is the sharpest knife in the informationist drawer! Both books are gripping thrillers and fans of Vanessa “Michael” Munroe will be happy to learn that Taylor Stevens is currently writing the third book in what promises to be a long-running series.

About the Author

Taylor Stevens was born into the Children of God cult, raised in communes across the globe, and denied an education beyond the sixth grade,  Stevens broke free of the cult in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas. Check out the HNN site for my review of “The Informationist”. Find out more about Stevens on her website: www.taylorstevensbooks.com.

BOOK REVIEW: Mixed Messages Emerge in ‘Solidarity Politics for Millennials’

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: Mixed Messages Emerge in 'Solidarity Politics for Millennials'

I’m suffering from “Compassion Deficit Disorder” — one of the snappy phrases in Ange-Marie Hancock’s “Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics” (Palgrave Macmillan, 224 pages, $85.00, discounted on Amazon.com).

Why? I can’t find it in my soul to have compassion for those poor Arab-Americans that Hancock says are racially profiled at airports as the news reverberates this Christmas Day about Muslims bombing Christian churches in Nigeria, killing dozens of worshippers (the group that claimed responsibility for the latest atrocities has killed almost 500 Christians this year). Strange that most of the people who are being strip searched at airports turn out to be little old white ladies from Boca Raton, FL — not Arabs or Muslims!

Hancock would probably respond, as do most college professors (she’s a political science professor at the University of Southern California) that the so-called “Nigerian Taliban” bombers aren’t true Muslims, that they’ve hijacked the “religion of peace.”  Let’s get this straight at the beginning: Islam is not the “religion of peace.” There is no exiting Islam, you can’t leave…It’s like the Hotel California of the Eagles.

The term “Oppression Olympics” isn’t original with Hancock, as she says in the beginning of this sometimes brilliant, often bewilderingly confused little book. Why is it list priced at $85.00, instead of say $26.99? It’s priced for the 1 percent, not the 99 percent that most Millennials are! The book is addressed to members of the so-called Millennial Generation, those born between 1981 and 2000, and I believe makes assumptions that are unsupported by factual evidence  about this demographic cohort of 84 million members.

Ange-Marie Hancock

Ange-Marie Hancock

Hancock says at the beginning that Millennials “are far more engaged politically and have far more  progressive views on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation issues than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers.”   Later in the book, she provides evidence that many Millennials are just as stuck in the old ways as Boomers or Gen-Xers. If they’re Hispanic or African-American, when it comes to same-sex marriage, they voted for California’s 2008 Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, in statistically greater numbers than Asians or whites. Hancock, who has a white mother and a black father, readily admits that many African-Americans, especially those who go to church, are vehemently opposed to gay marriage.

Hancock is probably correct  when she states that Millennials responded to Barack Obama by voting for him in droves. At least the Democrats among them. Are all the 84 million Millennials Democrats? That doesn’t sound possible. And of the Millennials who voted for Obama, she posits that many of their parents — especially their mothers — really wanted Hillary Clinton to be the Presidential candidate, not Obama.

I agree with Hancock that most Millennials are fed up with the way politics operates in this country. I’m a pre-Boomer, born 8 years before the first Boomers appeared in 1946. I’m fed up with the way things are going, but I don’t see any solution in the “politics of intersectionality” that Hancock introduces to the general public — as opposed to academics — for the first time. I wasn’t impressed with the so-called Occupy Movement, which I see as an elitist, mostly white effort, and we all can see what the so-called Arab Spring has turned out to be in Egypt, for instance, with women protesters being stripped and abused by the country’s military long after the end of the Mubarak regime. African immigrants are being abused in post-Gaddafi  Libya and look at the daily massacres in Syria, where the “religion of peace” prevails.

I read the book carefully, but this theory — the political theory of intersectionality — what Hancock and her colleagues call “the most cutting-edge approach to the politics of gender, race, sexual orientation, and class” troubles me. I think it’s an academic oversimplification — I could be wrong — of the actual political landscape. Millennials are influenced by popular culture — as are other generations — and much of today’s popular culture is homophobic and sexist. This is especially true of Hip-Hop music.

Still, the book is worth reading, if you can afford it!  $85.00! Wow! Her use of popular culture includes extensive examinations of two TV series, neither of which I’ve seen: “Battlestar Galactica” and “Dora the Explorer.” I agree with Hancock that popular culture, including the TV shows, reflects the real world to a remarkable degree.

About the author

Ange-Marie Hancock joined the Department of Political Science at USC Dana and David Dornsife College in 2008 after five years as Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Yale University. Prior to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Hancock worked for the National Basketball Association, where she conducted the preliminary research and wrote the original business plan for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steve McQueen’: The Troubling Real Story Behind the Legend of The King of Cool

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Steve McQueen': The Troubling Real Story Behind the Legend of The King of Cool
Ransom Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott? 
 Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. — “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” 1962

Wouldn’t it be great if the image we have of Steve McQueen in, say “Bullitt” or “The Great Escape” or “The Sand Pebbles” or “The Thomas Crown Affair” — the ultimate Mr. Cool —  matched the reality of a man who was unable to remain faithful to his first two wives, Neile Adams and Ali MacGraw and who beat them, relates Marc Eliot in “Steve McQueen: A Biography” (Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group of Random House, 368 pages, photos, filmography, index, $26.00).

 It was OK for McQueen to openly flaunt his infidelities, but he literally pounded out the admission from MacGraw that she had had an affair while they were married. After all, he had stolen MacGraw, the number one female star in the world,  away from her husband, producer and actor Bob (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”)  Evans, while they were filming “The Getaway” (1972).

Eliot says although McQueen was born the same year  1930 (in Beech Grove, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis)  as Clint Eastwood(also the subject of a biography by the prolific Eliot), he was obsessed with a fellow Midwesterner born in 1925, Paul Newman, from Cleveland, Ohio. They were on screen together in “The Towering Inferno”  (1974).

The story of the credit placement of the names of the two superstar actors on the theater poster shows how important these matters are to the ultimate narcissists of Hollywood. Why — and how —  would anyone become a movie star if they weren’t a narcissist!   Think about it: McQueen, who died of the complications of mesothelioma in 1980, was a contemporary of Eastwood, who is still active. Eliot says that Eastwood kept his eye on the franchise prize, especially with the Harry Callahan  series which began with “Dirty Harry”, directed by Don Siegel in 1971.

That was fully three years after “Bullitt”, which directly inspired Eastwood’s franchise, even to the setting in San Francisco. It also made possible chase films like “The French Connection” (1971) and “Duel” (1971) Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut.    Instead of following up with more “Bullitt” movies, beautifully directed by Peter Yates with a great cast and a magnificent score by Lalo Schifrin, McQueen jumped around in genres, often coming up with critical and box office duds.

Eastwood in those days was all about the money, Eliot says, while money to McQueen was something to be spent on lavish estates, along with more than 20 cars, 100 motorcycles and scads of motoring memorabilily that was auctioned off in Nov. 1980 by his third wife, Barbara Minty.   McQueen was the ultimate Method actor, studying with Method teachers in his New York stage and TV years. Maybe this is why the relatively short (5-8) actor used his blue-eyed, blond physical beauty, his soft-spoken manner, his tempered roughness, and his aching vulnerability had women swooning and men wanting to be just like him.
His life was an act  and during his lifetime public relations specialists managed to keep it that way. Thirty-one years after he lost his battle against cancer  McQueen remains “The King of Cool.” Yet, few know the truth of what bubbled beneath his composed exterior and shaped his career, his passions, and his private life. In this very comprehensive biography Marc Eliot accomplishes this goal.

About the Author

Marc Eliot is the “New York Times” bestselling author of more than a dozen books on popular culture, among them the highly acclaimed biographies American Rebel: The Life of Clint EastwoodCary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart; the award-winning Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark PrinceDown 42nd Street; what many consider the best book about the sixties, his biography of Phil Ochs, Death of a RebelTake It From Me (with Erin Brokovich); Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce SpringsteenTo the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles; and Reagan: The Hollywood Years. He has written on the media and pop culture for numerous publications, including Penthouse, L.A. Weekly, and California magazine. He divides his time among New York City; Woodstock, New York; Los Angeles; and the Far East. His website:  www.MarcEliot.net

REALTORS: Existing Home Sales Rose 4% in November; Median Prices Continue to Drop

  • By David M. Kinchen
REALTORS: Existing Home Sales Rose 4% in November; Median Prices Continue to Drop
Existing home sales rose again in November and remain above a year ago, according to a report released Wednesday, Dec. 21 by the National Association of Realtors(NAR). The trade association also readjusted benchmarks  with downward adjustments to sales and inventory data since 2007, led by a decline in for-sale-by-owners.

The latest monthly data shows total existing-home sales — completed transactions that include single-family houses, town houses, condominiums and co-ops — increased 4.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.42 million in November from 4.25 million in October, and are 12.2 percent above the 3.94 million-unit pace in November 2010.

Although the readjusted benchmarks resulted in lower adjustments to several years of home sales data, the month-to-month characterization of market conditions did not change. There are no changes to home prices or month’s supply, NAR reported. The new independent benchmark was discussed with government agencies and outside housing market experts, and will allow for annual revisions in the future.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said more people are taking advantage of the buyer’s market. “Sales reached the highest mark in 10 months and are 34 percent above the cyclical low point in mid-2010 – a genuine sustained sales recovery appears to be developing,” he said. “We’ve seen healthy gains in contract activity, so it looks like more people are realizing the great opportunity that exists in today’s market for buyers with long-term plans.”

The national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 3.99 percent in November from 4.07 percent in October, according to Freddie Mac. The rate was 4.30 percent in November 2010; records date back to 1971.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said housing affordability conditions have set a new record high. “With record low mortgage interest rates and bargain home prices, NAR’s housing affordability index shows that a median-income family can easily afford a median-priced home,” he said.

“With consumer price inflation rising by more than 3 percent this year, consumers are looking to lock-in steady payments by taking out long-term fixed-rate mortgages. However, the problem remains that some financially qualified families who are willing to stay well within their means are being denied the opportunity to buy in today’s market by the overly restrictive mortgage underwriting situation,” Veissi said.   Total housing inventory at the end of November fell 5.8 percent to 2.58 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 7.7-month supply in October. “Since setting a record of 4.04 million in July 2007, inventories have trended down and supplies are moving close to price stabilization levels,” Yun said.

The national median existing-home price  for all housing types was $164,200 in November, down 3.5 percent from a year ago. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales typically sold at deep discounts – accounted for 29 percent of sales in November (19 percent were foreclosures and 10 percent were short sales), compared with 28 percent in October and 33 percent in November 2010.

All-cash sales accounted for 28 percent of purchases in November; they were 29 percent in October and 31 percent in November 2010. Investors make up the bulk of cash transactions.

Investors purchased 19 percent of homes in November, little changed from 18 percent in October and 19 percent in November 2010. First-time buyers accounted for 35 percent of transactions in November, up from 34 percent in October and 32 percent in November 2010.

Single-family home sales rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.95 million in November from 3.78 million in October, and are 12.9 percent above the 3.50 million-unit level in November 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $164,100 in November, down 4.0 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 470,000 in November and are 6.8 percent higher than the 440,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price6 was $164,600 in November, which is 0.2 percent below November 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 9.8 percent to an annual pace of 560,000 in November and are 7.7 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $240,200, which is 0.1 percent below November 2010.

Existing home sales in the Midwest rose 4.3 percent in November to a level of 960,000 and are 15.7 percent higher than November 2010. The median price in the Midwest was $133,400, down 4.0 percent from a year ago.

In the South, existing home sales increased 2.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.74 million in November and are 12.3 percent above a year ago. The median price in the South was $143,300, which is 2.1 percent below November 2010.

Existing home sales in the West rose 3.6 percent to an annual level of 1.16 million in November and are 11.5 percent higher than November 2010. The median price in the West was $195,300, down 8.4 percent below a year ago.

An elevated level of contract failures continues to hold back a broader sales recovery. Contract failures were reported by 33 percent of NAR members in November, unchanged from October but notably above a year ago when it was 9 percent.

Contract failures are cancellations caused by declined mortgage applications, failures in loan underwriting from appraised values coming in below the negotiated price, or other problems including lower conforming mortgage loan limits, home inspections and employment losses.

The benchmark revisions  to historic existing-home sales released on Dec. 21 reveals that there were 4,190,000 existing-home sales last year, a 14.6 percent downward revision from the previously projected 4,908,000 sales. For the total period of 2007 through 2010, sales and inventory were downwardly revised by 14.3 percent. The revisions are expected to have a minor impact on future revisions to Gross Domestic Product.

“From a consumer’s perspective, only the local market information matters and there are no changes to local multiple listing service (MLS) data or local supply-and-demand balance, or to local home prices,” Yun said regarding the “rebenchmarking”.

A divergence developed over time between sales reported by MLSs and sales determined by a U.S. Census benchmark; the variance began in 2007. Reasons include growth in MLS coverage areas from which sales data is collected, and geographic population shifts. “It appears that about half of the revisions result solely from a decline in for-sale-by-owners (FSBOs), with more sellers turning to Realtors  to market their homes when the market softened. The FSBO market was overwhelmed during the housing downturn, and since most FSBOs are not reported in MLSs, national estimates of existing-home sales began to diverge based on previous assumptions,” Yun said.

NAR consumer survey data in 2000 showed FSBOs accounted for a 16 percent market share, which fell to a record low 9 percent in 2010.

“In essence, Realtors began to capture a greater market share. In addition to a decline in FSBO transactions, more builders began marketing new properties through real estate brokers that weren’t completely filtered from the existing-home data,” Yun said. “Some property listings on more than one MLS, and issues related to house flipping, also contributed to the downward revisions.”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘El Gavilan’: Nuanced Crime Thriller Explores Tensions Between Latinos and Anglos in Ohio Town

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'El Gavilan': Nuanced Crime Thriller Explores Tensions Between Latinos and Anglos in Ohio Town
It’s difficult to find a good book that explores the tensions in the nation’s heartland fueled by both legal and illegal immigration, but I think Craig McDonald has aced it in “El Gavilan” (Tyrus Books, a division  of F+W Crime, 432 pages, $24.95), a novel that the author has said was inspired by true events,

New Austin is a fictional south central Ohio town that is roiling in the clash of cultures between Latinos and Anglos. Horton County Sheriff Able Hawk (Hawk is “gavilan” in Spanish) is a complex character who is Joe Arpaio  — the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona, the greater Phoenix area — tough on gangs and illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America. He blogs about illegal immigrants and sends bills to the federal government for reimbursement of expenses incurred when illegals are jailed. But the widowed Hawk is fiercely protective of the county’s legal immigrants of Hispanic origin.

When Ohio native and former California based Border Patrol officer Tell Lyon arrives in New Austin as the city’s newly appointed police chief, the two dance briefly around in a macho display but soon agree to cooperate in law enforcement in the county, if only because the corrupt sheriff in neighboring Vale County  make cooperation mandatory. Tell got his name from a character, Tell Sackett, by Louis L’Amour, a writer his dad loved. This is far from unusual: My insurance agent got his first name, Kench, from a character in an Elmer Kelton novel.

Lyon, a fluent Spanish speaker, quickly gains the trust of most of the county’s Hispanic community, and is dubbed “El Leon” — the lion. His Mexican-American California-born wife and their daughter were murdered by Mexican criminals and Lyon is still mourning their deaths in a house-firebombing when he meets lovely Patricia Maldonado, 15 years younger, ambitious for education and the daughter of the couple, Kathleen and Augustin, who run the county’s best Mexican restaurant. Tension increases when Patricia ends her brief but torrid relationship with Shawn O’Hara, editor of the town’s weekly newspaper.

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald
The novel toggles back and forth with “Now” and “Then” chapters, providing context for the events. For instance, we learn how Thalia Ruiz, a New Austin resident and a widow with a young daughter after her husband died in a propane gas explosion, fared in the deadly journey from her home in Mexico to “El Norte” the now greatly diminished promised land for Latinos.    When the now grown up Thalia is brutally raped and murdered and her body dumped near a sports field close to the county line, Able “El Gavilan” Hawk is faced with a jurisdictional dilemma when the corrupt and brutal sheriff of adjoining Vale County, Walt Pierce, says the body is in his county. Thalia was one of the Hispanics under Able Hawk’s protection and he vows to bring her murderer — or murderers — to justice.To give readers an idea of the powerful and lyrical writing of McDonald in “El Gavilan” I’m quoting — from the author’s website —  an excerpt  about Thalia Gómez Ruiz:

THEN

Her grandmother was the first to die of thirst crossing the Sonoran Desert.

Holding her hand as the old woman passed, little Thalia looked off across the heat-shimmering sand and wondered again why they had left home.

Thalia’s family went back seven generations in Veracruz.

Veracruz was lushly tropical and sodden with rain. There the Gómez family lived close by the Gulf Coast beaches—palm trees and fruit to pick and eat; the Atlantic Ocean, full of fish. At least, her mother said, they could never starve there.

Though they were getting along, they had no prospects for more.

After much arguing, the Gómez family set out for the distant border.

The farther north they trekked, the uglier and emptier Mexico became for Thalia.

Her grandfather had been a Zapatista when he was only twelve. Consequently, Alfredo Gómez fancied himself more the vaquero than he had right to claim. Still, Alfredo had a plan. They invested a portion of their meager funds in two old horses and a mule. Alfredo loaded the mounts with jugs of water.

The unsuccessful crossers set out with too little water. That’s what everyone always said. Alfredo meant to see his family well supplied for their border crossing. Thalia’s grandfather set off a day’s ride ahead of his family with the notion of depositing the water jugs at strategic points to see his family safely across the desert.

The money might have been better spent on professional guías. Thalia’s father, Francisco, did meet with a couple of guides, what would now be called Coyotes feigning interest in their services, but really only fishing for free tips.

Papa learned from the guías that they fed their clients, or “chickens,” cocaine to make them walk longer distances…and to make them walk faster.

After buying the horses, Alfredo and son Francisco bought some white powder.

All of them, Thalia, her mother and father and four siblings, her aunt and uncle and two cousins and her grandparents, took the cocaine and set off on foot a day behind her grandfather, aiming for the distant Arizona border.

For the first two days, Thalia brought up the rear, walking backward, waving a tree branch across their dusty path to erase signs of their passage, anything that might tip the Border Patrol. The cocaine made the little girl approach her task with furious intensity.

Long after, Thalia would wonder if the cocaine hadn’t been their undoing, clouding her father’s and grandfather’s minds from seeing the more sensible plan of her grandfather walking alongside them, keeping the mounts loaded down with water close at hand.

And she would later wonder if the drug-induced exhilaration had spurred her grandfather on to riding greater and greater distances out there alone and euphoric in the desert, the critical water jugs being dropped farther and farther apart by the old, wired Zapatista.

And if Alfredo was less the vaquero than he fancied himself, her father Francisco was even less the guide.

A two-day crossing stretched into four.

They found less than a third of the water jugs left behind by Grandfather.

Sister turned against brother for want of water. Husband and brother-in-law were crazed by the blow and the thirst and out of their heads from the heat.

The two men came to a knife fight over a jug of water.

Their horrified, dizzy and drugged children looked on as they slashed at one another.

Thalia, only seven, sat with her grandmother as the old woman died from dehydration and heat exhaustion, her lips and tongue black. Her eyes were shrunken back into her head. Abuela’s voice was a dry whisper. Sonya Gómez told her granddaughter, “You’ll see it for me, Thalia. El Norte, it will be paradise. Your life there will be like a dream, darling.”

They abandoned her abuela on the desert floor, already a mummy. They left Grandmother Sonya in the desert with Thalia’s gutted uncle, then, days deeper into their death march, they left behind a cousin, a younger brother and Thalia’s baby sister. The ground was too dry and hard to bury any of them.

When they reached the other side, it took two days to find Grandfather.

Alfredo at once set off with his horses and mule, headed back across the border to find and recover his wife’s and grandchildren’s bodies.

They never saw Grandfather again.

Chasing work and opportunity, the survivors of the Gómez clan kept drifting north across the decades. They became legalized citizens, picking fruit for stingy pay and cleaning hotel toilets and the houses of rich gringos.

Eventually they reached Ohio.

* * *

Actually, Veracruz is on the Gulf of Mexico, not the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a beautiful city — I’ve been there — that reminds me of New Orleans and Savannah, GA.   Tell Lyon acquires the nickname “Leon” when he gets into a fight with a non-Spanish speaking firefighter during a fatal house fire. He says first responders must learn enough basic Spanish to deal with the town’s growing Hispanic community. His influence grows when he translates for New Austin’s mayor at a Hispanic fiesta.”El Gavilan” is a nuanced thriller with very graphic sex scenes and equally graphic violence (I would give it a hard R or a NR if it were a movie, which I’d like to see made from this book). The novel is a reminder that Hispanic immigration — both legal and illegal — is a major element in the demographics of the Midwest and other areas far from the nation’s southern borders.

About the author

Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His debut novel, “Head Games”, was published by Bleak House Books in September 2007 and was selected as a 2008 Edgar®—nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author. “Head Games” was also a finalist for the Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel. His nonfiction books include “Art in the Blood”, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors which appeared in 2006, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, a second collection of interviews published by Bleak House Books in 2009. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime Writers, Sisters in Crime and a contributing columnist to Crimespree Magazine. His website: www.craigmcdonaldbooks.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Invisible Gorilla’: The Importance of Being Less Confident

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Invisible Gorilla': The Importance of Being Less Confident
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. — Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) 1835-1910, American author

If a person dressed in a full-body gorilla suit passed through a group of basketball players moving around and making shots, would you notice the “gorilla”? The chances are 50-50 that you wouldn’t, according to Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, authors of “The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us” (Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, 320 pages, $14.00) and the creators of the famous “Gorillas in Our Midst” experiment.

Christopher Chabris

Christopher Chabris

The experiment was conducted at the end of the 1990s when Simons had just arrived at Harvard and Chabris was a graduate assistant in the psychology department. Dan Simons manned the video camera and directed, with some of the student players dressed in black and others in white passing the ball and moving around. The tapes were edited and shown to volunteers who were asked to count the number of passes made by the white garbed players, while ignoring any passes made by players dressed in black. The experiment was repeated numerous times in the dozen years since it was devised and the authors say the results are the same: Half the people viewing the videos don’t notice the person dressed in a gorilla suit.

Simons and  Chabris say they wrote “The Invisible Gorilla” to make readers less sure of themselves, through the use of the gorilla experiment, published in 1999 in the psychology journal Perception and referenced many times since, including an episode of  the TV show “CSI” and the many other experiments and incidents described in the book.

Daniel Simons

Daniel Simons
In “The Invisible Gorilla” you’ll read about a cop in pursuit of a man failing to notice a fellow police office beating a black plainclothes cop; about Pittsburgh’s most famous motorcycle-car collision, the one in 2006 involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a Suzuki Hayabusa and Martha Fleishman in a Chrysler New Yorker. As a long-time motorcycle rider (I no longer ride, dreading the multi-tasking cell phone users in cars and trucks) who had a number of near-misses, I could appreciate the inevitable “I didn’t see him” statement from the car driver. Roethlisberger, 23 at the time, was lucky, especially since he wasn’t wearing a helmet (he was cited for that and not having the right license) and made a full recovery in time for the season opener in September 2006. Fleishman was cited and fined for failing to yield.

About that excuse of mine for giving up motorcycle riding, “cagers” (car and truck drivers) using cell phones, Chabris and Simons back me up, citing overwhelming evidence that people can’t multitask and maintain control, that even hands-free headsets don’t reduce the distraction. We notice when other drivers are distracted, but we don’t notice our own distraction because we think we’re superior. The central truth of the book, the authors say, is “Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.”

Childhood autism and vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)? The authors demolish the myth that vaccinations cause autism, a belief spread by an attractive blonde mom named Jenny McCarthy, not noted for scientific expertise, but rather for her Playboy photos. I recall a few years ago radio and TV personality Don Imus discussing the same subject. The result: many parents, for religious reasons and other excuses, are failing to have their children vaccinated, leading to an increase in dangerous childhood diseases and especially endangering children who can’t be immunized because of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy they’re undergoing.

Playing Mozart to make a baby smarter doesn’t make any more sense than the vaccination-autism connection, but parents continue to believe — because we’re tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement. The winners: marketers of such products. We think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the (usually false)  assumption that people will notice when something out of the ordinary happens right in front of them.

Confidence is a bad thing, a costly thing, when we subscribe to the belief that confident people are more likely to succeed. They often do, but not for the reasons most people believe. This misplaced trust in confident people contributes to false convictions in courts (when a rape victim, for instance, confidently identifies the wrong man) and to the deceptive power of con(fidence) men like Bernie Madoff.

If you haven’t cracked a psychology book since college, pick up “The Invisible Gorilla” and be entertained and enlightened. This book could provide material for an entire season — maybe even two seasons — of  one of my favorite TV shows, Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit.” 

About the authors


Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons met at Harvard University in 1997, where they began to collaborate on research. In 2004 they received the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology, awarded for “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think,” for the experiment that inspired “The Invisible Gorilla.”  Chabris  received his B.A. in computer science and his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University, where he was also a Lecturer and Research Associate for many years. He is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Simons received his B.A. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Carleton College and his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Cornell University. He then spent five years on the faculty at Harvard University before moving to Illinois in 2002. His scholarly research focuses on the limits of human perception, memory, and awareness, and he is best known for his research showing that people are far less aware of their visual surroundings than they think. Book website: www.theinvisiblegorilla.com.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘MWF Seeking BFF’: Memoir Chronicles Year-long Search for a Best Friend Forever, One Date Per Week

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'MWF Seeking BFF': Memoir Chronicles Year-long Search for a Best Friend Forever, One Date Per Week
“It’s friendship, friendship Just a perfect blendship When other friendships have been forgot Ours will still be hot” — Words and music by Cole Porter

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” — “Casablanca”, 1942 — Humphrey Bogart to Claude Rains

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog” — attributed to Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the U.S.

It’s a common dilemma. A woman — or a man — moves to a new city, leaving her/his friends behind and is lost and alone. What’s a gal/guy to do? If you’re Rachel Bertsche, a New Yorker transplanted to Chicago, you start a blog, convince your boyfriend  — and soon-to-be  husband — that what you’re about to do isn’t stalking and end up writing a  memoir:  “MWF Seeking BFF” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 384 pages, $15.00).

Growing up in Westchester County, north of New York City, Bertsche had plenty of friends from school, including a private high school in the Bronx, as well as summer camp friends. When the Windy City friend-quest begins she’s 27, a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, next door to Chicago, so she knows the territory, like trendy, upscale Lincoln Park where Rachel and Matt, her soon-to-be husband, find an apartment. She has friends at work, where she’s a web designer, but she’s missing gal pals, people she can call at the last minute for girl-talk over brunch or a favorite TV show, playdates for adults, with no ulterior motives beyond the simple joy of friendship.

Only it’s not so simple, is it? Not in today’s world, as she finds out, but Bertsche is persistent and uses a variety of techniques to achieve her goal of 52 friend-dates — one a week for an entire year. The dates are all with women, except for one guy, the gay potential BFF every woman needs, she reasons. There’s a list of her friend-dates at the end of the book, along with notes on how Bertsche met them.

Rachel Bertsche

Rachel Bertsche

In her  memoir, Bertsche combines  the story of her girl-dates  with the latest in social research to examine how difficult — and awkward — it is to make new friends as an adult. She asks why women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF. And she uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life, you’ve gotta have friends.

When I received an advance reader’s copy of the book, I wondered if I was the proper person to review this book. I even thought about telling publicist Ashley Gratz-Collier that I was the wrong guy to review it, but Ashley knows me better than I know myself when it comes to books! I thought it would best be reviewed by a woman, but I changed my mind as I read the book. Chicago was a familiar city to me, because after I graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1961 — yes, 50 years ago! — my first post-college job was in Chicago, the hometown of both my parents. I even lived in Lincoln Park. And I visit as often as I can.

I asked my sister Natasha Yuhas, who has lived in Chicago for many years, about Bertsche’s quest for friends. She responded in an email:

 “I think Chicago is an easy place to make friends, although I guess I was lucky to

meet my two best girlfriends at Marshall Fields when we were all working there. We still

see each other often and plan on spending New Year’s Eve at the new Radisson Blu hotel in

the Aqua, it’s very glamourous. I have met other friends like Pat and Marion, my neighbors [in our condo]   as well as the Library. Facebook has helped me reconnect with two old friends from Streator [IL] and Ottawa, [IL]…Mary who lives in Sarasota, FL and Victoria who lives in Irvine, CA. I also reconnected with a friend I made in Encino, CA. She lives in the hills and owns a medical supply store. I think having girlfriends keeps you sane. You have someone to compare problems with and often find out you don’t have it so bad after all.”

At first glance, Facebook would seem to be a way to find friends, but it’s actually a social network of people who are already friends, or at least acquaintances, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has stated in no uncertain terms, Bertsche notes. She found her girl dates at her favorite clothing store, at a restaurant where the waitress appealed to her friend-finding instincts, at a Second City improv class, of course at work and even on an airliner, where she gave her card to a likely seat mate. One of the more unusual ways of making friends Bertsche tried was at the friending equivalent of speed dating. The author grew up Jewish, but wasn’t observant. Despite this, she hooked up with Jewish groups and found some of her friend-dates that way.

At the end of the book (page 338) Bertsche describes how believes a year of friend-dates transformed her into a better Rachel:

“I’m still the same person. To a Callie or a Sara, I’d be perfectly recognizable. But I’m a happier, nicer version of myself. I talk to strangers instead of avoiding them.  I do the work to bring people together, personally or professionally. When I’m invited somewhere, I say yes and show up. I try not to interrupt, especially with stories about myself, and I don’t point it out whenever I go out of my way for a friend. I get a kick out of new people instead of just acting awkward around them. I get phone numbers, and I use them. In short I’m a better person.”

This book will mostly appeal to women of all ages — she deals with her widowed mother and her friends — seeking BFFs, and it’s also  an instruction manual — call it “Friendship: A User’s Guide” — revealing various ways to make friends. It will also appeal to those — women and, yes, guys — who already have maxed out on friends but enjoy a good read. And be sure and look at her website/blog (see below). It’s fun and will appeal to women and men. 

About the Author
Rachel Bertsche is an author, journalist and editor in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women’s Health, New York, Huffington Post, CNN.com, and more. Prior to leaving the office life for the comforts of working from home (and in her pajamas), Bertsche was a producer for Oprah.com and an editor at O, The Oprah Magazine.
Her website: www.mwfseekingbff.com Publisher’s website: www.ballantineBooks.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Getting Lucky’: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even Caper Novel Combines Comedy, Suspense

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Getting Lucky': Don't Get Mad, Get Even Caper Novel Combines Comedy, Suspense

The old saying “don’t get mad, get even” is the foundation for DC Brod’s new novel “Getting Lucky” (Tyrus Books, an imprint of F+W Crime, 336 pages, $24.95)  her sequel to 2010’s “Getting Sassy.”

Both novels fall into the sub-genre of crime fiction called comic caper novels and feature freelance journalist Robyn Guthrie who lives in a fictional far western Chicago suburb  named Fowler that sounded a lot like St. Charles, Illinois to me. (The author confirmed that Fowler is based on St. Charles, where she and her husband live, but with artistic license liberally exercised).

I read “Getting Lucky” in the standard book form and read “Getting Sassy” in a free Kindle download to my iPad2 (sorry, it was a limited time only deal!). Read “Getting Sassy” and you’ll discover the origin of the phrase “getting somebody’s goat.”  Robyn Guthrie is a likeable protagonist and — if there is any justice in the world of publishing (there isn’t!) — I predict a string of “Getting Even” novels from the computer of Deb Brod. Tyrus Books is a publisher new to me and I’ve got upcoming reviews of other books from the Cincinnati-based publisher.

DC Brod

DC Brod

When a young reporter named Clair Powell is killed in a hit and run accident, freelance writer Robyn Guthrie agrees to finish one of the stories the reporter had been writing for the Fowler News & Record, a weekly newspaper. What seems like a tragic accident morphs into a complicated plot as Robyn delves into the details of Clair’s death. A “Green” affordable  housing development named Cedar Ridge that Clair was writing about jumps to center stage, especially after a mysterious, sinister investigator asks Clair’s editor what the late reporter was working on.

Among the complicating factors are Robyn’s mother, Lizzie, who’s the queen (in her mind) of Dryden Manor, the retirement home where she’s living. Lizzie Guthrie wants to buy a house they can share, but Robyn cherishes her independence and her apartment above a picture framing store in downtown Fowler suits her fine. She’s within easy walking distance of her favorite coffee shop, the Twisted Lizard, as well as her favorite bar, Fingal’s Tap  — “not necessary in that order” Robyn tells us in this first person narrative.

I wouldn’t call Mick Hughes, Robyn’s sometime boyfriend and all-the-time accountant, a complicating factor, but sometimes he is. Freelance writers really need accountants to keep their finances straight, and Mick is a guy who knows everybody. Mick’s a former jockey who became a CPA after a horse crushed his leg.     Cedar Ridge quickly becomes the center of the plot, if only it’s being built on land formerly owned by a mobbed up guy. To reveal any more would be a spoiler on a grand scale, so I won’t.
 If you’ve missed the comic caper novels of the late, great Donald E. Westlake as much as I have, “Getting Lucky” and “Getting Sassy” will appeal to you. Brod’s writing is good and her characters jump off the page.
Speaking of which, another author suggested that I check out a website that allows armchair casting directors to pick out actors and actresses to play characters in the books they are reading. The site iswww.storycasting.com. Try it! If you’re like me, you often visualize who would best portray characters in a book that you’re translating in your mind to the big screen.

About the author   DC Brod, AKA Deborah (Deb) Cobban Brod,  says on her website (www.dcbrod.com)  “I was born quite a while ago. Sometime around the middle of the last century. Before President Kennedy was assassinated but after the bomb fell on Hiroshima. I grew up in LaGrange, Illinois. My husband, Don, and I live in St. Charles, Illinois. The Fox River runs through it. Nice place to live. Two cats live with us: Skye and Jura. My husband likes the convenience of cats. He is allergic to them, so he gets props for agreeing to two in the house. (The deal was two cats or one dog.)”  DC  has master’s degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.   Reviewer’s Note: Skye and Jura are two islands in the Hebrides group in Scotland, one of DC’s favorite places. George Orwell (real name Eric Blair)  wrote his novel “1984” while living on Jura after World War II.
Publisher’s website: www.tyrusbooks.com