Monthly Archives: August 2012

REALTYTRAC: Houses in Foreclosure Accounted for 23% of All Residential Sales in Q2 2012

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTYTRAC: Foreclosure Houses Accounted for 23% of All Residential Sales in Q2 2012

RealtyTrac released its Q2 2012 U.S. Foreclosure Sales Report on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, which shows that sales of homes that were in some stage of foreclosure or bank-owned (REO) accounted for 23 percent of all U.S. residential sales during the second quarter — up from 22 percent of all sales in the first quarter and up from 19 percent of all sales in the second quarter of 2011.

Although foreclosure-related sales as a percentage of total sales increased, the raw number of foreclosure-related sales in the second quarter (224,429) decreased 12 percent from the previous quarter and was down 22 percent from the second quarter of 2011 — the first annual decrease in foreclosure-related sales after five quarters of increases, according to the Irvine, CA-based firm. 

The average foreclosure-related sales price in the second quarter ($170,040) increased 6 percent from the previous quarter and was up 7 percent from the second quarter of 2011 — the first annual increase in average price since Q2 2010 and the biggest annual increase since Q4 2006.

 

“The second quarter sales numbers provide solid statistical evidence of what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from real estate agents, buyers and investors over the past few months: there is a limited supply of available foreclosure inventory to choose from in many markets,” said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac Vice President. “Given this shortage of supply and the seasonally strong buyer demand in the second quarter, it’s no surprise that the average foreclosure-related sales price increased both on a quarterly and annual basis.”

“Three straight months of increasing foreclosure starts through July may ease the inventory shortage somewhat in the coming months when many of these foreclosure starts translate into listed short sales or bank-owned homes,” Blomquist added. “The increase in short sales of properties that have not even started the foreclosure process indicates that lenders are moving further upstream to deal with their distressed inventory, thereby avoiding the increasingly complex and lengthy foreclosure process altogether.”
Homes in foreclosure or bank-owned sold at an average price that was 32 percent lower than the average price of a non-foreclosure home, up from a 30 percent discount in the first quarter and also a 30 percent discount in the second quarter of 2011.
The gap between bank-owned (REO) sales and pre-foreclosure (short) sales continued to shrink in the second quarter, with bank-owned sales outnumbering pre-foreclosure sales by 9,833, the smallest difference since the third quarter of 2007. Pre-foreclosure sales outnumbered bank-owned sales in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
As a supplement to the report, RealtyTrac analyzed nationwide short sale transactions occurring on properties not yet in the foreclosure process and found that those increased 18 percent on a year-over-year basis for the period of January through May. These non-foreclosure short sales accounted for 14 percent of all sales during this time period, a bigger percentage than either pre-foreclosure sales or bank-owned sales.
Third parties purchased a total of 107,298 pre-foreclosure homes — in default or scheduled for auction — during the second quarter, a decrease of 10 percent from the previous quarter and a decrease of 9 percent from the second quarter of 2011. Pre-foreclosure sales accounted for 11 percent of all sales during the second quarter, up from 10 percent of all sales in the previous quarter and 8 percent of all sales in the second quarter of 2011.

Despite the national decrease, pre-foreclosure sales increased on a year-over-year basis in 16 states, including Michigan (42 percent increase), Illinois (35 percent increase), Connecticut (27 percent increase) and Massachusetts (27 percent increase).

Pre-foreclosure homes, which are often sold via short sale, sold for an average price of $185,062 in the second quarter, up 5 percent from a record low for the RealtyTrac report in the previous quarter but still down 1 percent from the second quarter of 2011.

The average sales price of a pre-foreclosure home in the second quarter was 26 percent below the average price of a non-foreclosure home, up from a 24 percent discount in the first quarter and a 18 percent discount in the second quarter of 2011.

Pre-foreclosure homes that sold in the second quarter took an average of 319 days to sell after starting the foreclosure process, up from from an average of 306 days in the previous quarter and up from an average of 245 days in the second quarter of 2011.

REO sales decrease 31 percent from year ago, average prices rise 10 percent

Third parties purchased a total of 117,131 bank-owned (REO) homes in the second quarter, down 13 percent from the previous quarter and down 31 percent from the second quarter of 2011. REO sales accounted for 12 percent of all sales in the second quarter, the same percentage as in the first quarter but up from 11 percent of all sales in the second quarter of 2011.

REOs sold for an average price of $155,892 in the second quarter, up 6 percent from the first quarter and up 10 percent from the second quarter of 2011. The average sales price of a bank-owned home in the second quarter was 37 percent below the average sales price of a non-foreclosure home, the same percentage discount as in the first quarter but down slightly from a 38 percent discount in the second quarter of 2011.

REOs that sold in the second quarter took an average of 195 days to sell after completing the foreclosure process, up from 178 days in the first quarter and also 178 days in the second quarter of 2011.

Foreclosure sales accounted for 43 percent of all residential sales in both Georgia and Nevada in the second quarter, the two highest percentages among the states despite decreasing foreclosure-related sales activity in both states.

California foreclosure-related sales in the second quarter decreased 10 percent from a year ago, but still accounted for 40 percent of all residential sales in the state — the third highest percentage of any state. The average price of a foreclosure-related sale in California during the second quarter was $248,676, an increase of 4 percent from the previous quarter and also an increase of 4 percent from the second quarter of 2011.

Other states where foreclosure-related sales accounted for at least one in five sales in the second quarter were Michigan (35 percent), Arizona (33 percent), Illinois (27 percent), New Hampshire (24 percent), Colorado (22 percent), Wisconsin (22 percent), Minnesota (22 percent), Oregon (21 percent), and Florida (21 percent).

Advertisements

REALTORS: July Pending Home Sales Rebound to Highest Level in More Than Two Years

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTORS: July Pending Home Sales Rebound to Highest Level in More Than Two Years

Pending home sales rose in July to the highest level in more than two years and remain well above year-ago levels, according to a report issued Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 2.4 percent to 101.7 in July from 99.3 in June and is 12.4 percent above July 2011 when it was 90.5. The data reflect contracts but not closings.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said the index is at the highest level since April 2010, shortly before the closing deadline for the home buyer tax credit. “While the month-to-month movement has been uneven, more importantly we now have 15 consecutive months of year-over-year gains in contract activity,” Yun said.

Limited inventory is constraining market activity. “All regions saw monthly increases in home-buying activity except for the West, which is now experiencing an acute inventory shortage,” Yun added.

The PHSI in the Northeast increased 0.5 percent to 77.0 in July and is 13.4 percent higher than a year ago. In the Midwest the index grew 3.4 percent to 97.4 in July and is 20.2 percent above July 2011. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.2 percent to an index of 111.7 in July and are 15.6 percent above a year ago. In the West the index slipped 1.7 percent in July to 109.9 but is 1.3 percent higher than July 2011.

Existing-home sales are projected to rise 8 to 9 percent in 2012, followed by another 7 to 8 percent gain in 2013. Home prices are expected to increase 10 percent cumulatively over the next two years.

“Falling visible and shadow inventories point toward continuing price gains. Expected gains in housing starts of 25 to 30 percent this year, and nearly 50 percent in 2013, are insufficient to meet the growing housing demand,” Yun said.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Why Normandy Was Won’: Operation Bagration: The Russian Contribution to Operation Overlord

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Why Normandy Was Won': Operation Bagration: The Russian Contribution to Operation Overlord

“Invading Russia. It is always a bad idea.” — Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Britain’s top commander in WW II, when asked to compile a list of military blunders to avoid, put this at the top of the list. It was an obvious reference to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Winston Churchill on the German boast that they had the Italians on their side in WW II: “It’s only fair. we had to have them in the last war.”

Even if you’re a novice World War II history buff, you’ll recognize the designation Operation Overlord as the preparations for and invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 by the Allied Forces — mainly the U.S., Great Britain and Canada.

How about Operation Bagration?

Perhaps if you’re a regular reader of World War II magazine, which comes out six times a year, you’ll recognize the massive Soviet assault on June 22, 1944 against Germany’s Army Group Center in Byelorussia, now the independent country of Belarus.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Why Normandy Was Won': Operation Bagration: The Russian Contribution to Operation Overlord

WWII Deuce and a Half Studebaker  with Katyusha rocket mortars, nicknamed “Stalin’s Organ”

As Kenneth C. Weiler writes in “Why Normandy Was Won: Operation Bagration and the War in the East 1941-1945” (Ostfront Publications, Hanover, PA, 488 pages, photos, maps, glossary, bibliography, index, $24.95, available from the publisher or Amazon.com) “Germany lost more than 300,000 men in twenty-two divisions in just five weeks; this was a blow from which the Ostheer (the German Army in Russia) never recovered. In order to stabilize the front, the German command was forced to transfer forty-six divisions and four brigades to Byelorussia from other sectors, taking some of the pressure off the British and American troops in France.”Weiler says he started out to write a technical treatise on Operation Bagration, coming a few weeks after D-Day, calling it Stalin’s “somewhat reluctant support to assist the Allied landings at Normandy, by presenting the Germans from transferring combat units from Russia to France to repel the western Allies.” As he wrote about Bagration, timed on the third anniversary of the German invasion of Russia, he decided to broaden the scope of the book and make it a primer on the war in Russia in general and a discussion of Operation Bagration in particular.”All the experts on the subject told me I was wrong, that I should focus, focus and focus,” he wrote me. “The present book is my attempt to fill in the knowledge gap in the younger reading population — many of whom didn’t even know about the Soviet Union’s role in World War II. Recently books have been written on specific, individual battles in Russia but none of these examine the entirety of the war in Russia, especially the connection with D-Day.”

Weiler put the technical material in footnotes — which are actually at the bottom of each page — and created glossaries, appendixes, a comprehensive index, a bibliography, and a chronology, making the narrative flow more easily for the general reader. His book serves a dual audience — general readers interested in WW II history, and specialists who want all the facts and technical details on the tanks involved and other armament. If you’re a tank fan, you’ll overdose on the descriptions of the various German, Russian and U.S. tanks, since the battles depended on tanks. You may be surprised to learn how much the Germans and Russians also depended on horses. The armies weren’t as motorized as people think today and relied on original horsepower.

Ken Weiler

Ken Weiler

I was familiar with the Lend-Lease program, where the U.S. shipped huge amounts of vehicles and arms and other supplies to the Russians to fight the Germans, but I didn’t know how much the Russians loved the sturdy, reliable Jeeps and the Studebaker trucks that were sent. What a time, when American vehicles were the ne plus ultra in reliability! In fact, Studebaker became the generic Russian term for “truck!” And the Russians, who loved to say they invented everything, claimed that the Lend-Lease Jeeps, with English instrument lettering and mph instead of kph speedometers were “export models” made in Russia!

Younger readers might not recognize the name Studebaker, based in South Bend, Indiana, because the company, founded as a wagon maker in 1852, built its last car in December, 1963, but it was an independent manufacturer of quality vehicles (My first car when I was in high school in Illinois in 1955 was a 1941 Studebaker Champion rescued from a junkyard) and was part of the “arsenal of democracy” during WW II. Link to article about Studebaker’ model US 6 2 1/2 ton “deuce and a half” trucks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studebaker_US6.

The Germans weren’t alone in staffing their army; they had no choice given that the country’s population was less than 70 million in 1939 — compared with 190 million for the USSR and about 130 million for the U.S. — compelled them to seek allies. Weiler deals extensively with countries like Italy, Finland, Hungary and Romania that fought alongside the Germans, as well as individuals from dozens of occupied countries, including France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, etc. and even prisoners of war from Russia.

Speaking of World War II magazine, I found this story in the magazine about Germany’s axis allies:
http://www.historynet.com/united-nations-the-axis-allies.htm

Weiler emailed me about this article and Germany’s Axis allies:

“Germany’s Ost Einheiten, those units made up of troops from Germany’s Axis partners, is a great unknown story of the war in the East for the American readership. The ability of Germany to continue to recruit these significant numbers of men, especially after 1943, was based simply on the fear of their parent governments had of the wrath of the Russians, quickly approaching their eastern borders. Another unknown aspect of the Axis allied nations was the misnomer of their poor performance in battle with the Red Army. This is just now being addressed, for example, with an excellent recent work on the Italian divisions with Hope Hamilton’s Sacrifice on the Steppe.

“Sympathy for these ‘little nations’ allied with Germany, which were both somewhat opportunistic (land grabs) and seeking revenge for actual or perceived losses/insults over the centuries, is an issue that is also needing extensive review and scholarship. They saw the power of the German army in Poland and when the worlds most modern mainland European army collapsed, the French, they saw an opportunity to expand their national wealth at the expense of the U.S.S.R. As Citino points out, there was no love lost amongst the Baltic nations after the big red neighbor to their east annexed them in 1940.

“The article is a typically well written piece by a noted author on the German army. I have every book Citino has written and have learned a lot from him, although David Glantz is, to me, the dean of Eastern front American authors and experts. He was kind enough to have me visit him at his home twice to review my book when it was in manuscript form and was very helpful in providing direction and guidance.”

Blame the Cold War, 50 years of bloodless, mostly, conflict between the Soviet Union and the West, for the lack of knowledge about Russia’s role in the war. There were no Uncle Joes or Grandpa Bills coming home and telling about the war as there was with those fighting in Western Europe, Weiler says. There’s also the aspect of not wanting to offend the defeated Germans, now — at least those in West Germany — important allies — about their atrocities in Russia. The killing squads and murder factories killed Jews and others deemed by the Nazis to be subhuman, but they also treated captured Soviet soldiers and the general populace with similar disregard for basic humanity. Captured prisoners and other “subhumans” were slave labor fodder for factories run by Wernher von Braun and other Nazis.(for more about the man who aimed for the moon but hit London, and was honored by West Germany and the U.S.:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun)

Weiler even presents a brief counterfactual scenario about what might have happened had the Germans treated the conquered countries and their people humanely. The Germans might have been considered freedom fighters, liberating Ukrainians and others from the Communist yoke.

Why read Weiler’s book? It’s a companion work to all of the books written about Operation Overlord. Connecting the two major fronts in Europe, “Why Normandy Was Won” explains the importance and interdependence of the Eastern Front and the events of D-Day. Weiler stresses that Operation Bagration in no way diminishes the heroism of those fighting the Germans in Normandy, but it would have been far more difficult if they had to face the battle-hardened frontline troops that were fighting a losing war in Russia.

About the Author

Ken Weiler, a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army with the Department of Engineering and Military Science at Fort Belvoir, Virginia also was the legislative liaison NCOIC with the Army’s SAFEGUARD anti-ballistic missile program at the Department of Defense at Arlington, Virginia. He has written several learned articles on historical writing and artifact preservation, is on the Board of Directors of the Hanover Historical Society (Pennsylvania), and is a Trustee with the Eisenhower Society in Gettysburg, PA. He holds degrees from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He lives with his wife in Hanover, Pennsylvania. His website:www.ostfrontpublications.com.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Last to Die’: Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles Fight Mysterious Organization That Wants Three Orphaned Children Dead

  •  Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Last to Die': Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles Fight Mysterious Organization That Wants Three Orphaned Children Dead

Some detective pairings seem to last forever, with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson probably the best example. A new TV series, “Elementary”, airing on CBS on Sept. 27, pairs British actor Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. JOAN Watson. It has a contemporary setting in New York City.

 

Sherlock Holmes can survive just about any kind of adaptation, and I look forward to seeing these two talented performers — along with Aidan Quinn, another favorite actor of mine, playing an NYPD detective.

 

I’ve only watched a few of the “Rizzoli & Isles” shows on TNT, but I don’t think the series has anywhere near the longevity of Holmes and Watson. And — after reading Tess Gerritsen’s latest Rizzoli & Isles novel “Last to Die” (Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $27.00) — I think Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles may be better off going their separate ways. I wouldn’t blame them, given the PTSD-inducing circumstances of their work as a detective (Rizzoli) and medical examiner (Isles).

 

In “Last to Die” someone or some organization obviously wants Teddy Clock, Will Yablonski and Claire Ward dead.

 

For the second time in his young life, Teddy has survived a massacre. Two years ago, he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered. Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family’s mass murder. The traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn — until the Boston PD puts detective Jane Rizzoli on the case.

Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen

Jane takes Teddy to the exclusive Evensong boarding school, once the estate of a robber baron in rural Maine and now a sanctuary where young victims of violent crime learn the secrets and skills of survival in a dangerous world. But even behind locked gates, and surrounded by acres of sheltering Maine wilderness, Jane fears that Evensong’s mysterious benefactors aren’t the only ones watching. Things get more complicated when Jane and Maura discover a connection between Evensong and the Mephisto Club, explored in Gerritsen’s “The Mephisto Club”. When Jane meets Will Yablonski and Claire Ward, Evensong students whose tragic pasts bear a startling resemblance to Teddy’s, it becomes obvious that Teddy isn’t the sole target.

Jane and Maura are determined to keep these three orphans safe from harm.

 

Gerritsen weaves in personal details from the lives of Jane and Maura, but they seem strained. I think it’s time for the partnership — however productive it may have been in the past — to be dissolved.


About the Author

Tess Gerritsen is a physician and an internationally bestselling author. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of suspense, the New York Times bestseller “Harvest”. She is also the author of the bestsellers “The Silent Girl”, “Ice Cold”, “The Keepsake”, “The Bone Garden”, “The Mephisto Club”, “Vanish”, “Body Double”, “The Sinner”, “The Apprentice”, “The Surgeon”, “Life Support”, “Bloodstream”, and “Gravity”. Gerritsen lives in Maine. Her website: www.tessgerritsen.com.

ETHICS: Can You Trust Online Book, Product Reviews?

  • By David M. Kinchen 

Do you believe the online reviewer or your lyin’ eyes? Wait a minute: you haven’t laid your eyes on the book or product under review, so they can’t be lyin’! A product review can be your best guide — or can it? I’ve contributed dozens of book reviews to Amazon.com, and I try to be as honest about the book as I can. I’ve even reviewed products like the now discontinued Flip video camera, a product I use. It has limitations, but all in all it’s a wonderful video camera.

I saw a story in the New York Times (link:www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all) about a man named Todd Rutherford who made a very good living a few years ago writing online book reviews for authors who went the self-publishing route.

From the above referenced story:

“A few years ago, Mr. Rutherford, then in his mid-30s, had another flash of illumination about how scarcity opens the door to opportunity.

“He was part of the marketing department of a company that provided services to self-published writers — services that included persuading traditional media and blogs to review the books. It was uphill work. He could churn out press releases all day long, trying to be noticed, but there is only so much space for the umpteenth vampire novel or yet another self-improvement manifesto or one more homespun recollection of times gone by. There were not enough reviewers to go around.

“Suddenly it hit him. Instead of trying to cajole others to review a client’s work, why not cut out the middleman and write the review himself? Then it would say exactly what the client wanted — that it was a terrific book. A shattering novel. A classic memoir. Will change your life. Lyrical and gripping, Stunning and compelling. Or words to that effect.

“In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site,GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

“There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.”

Is what Rutherford did ethical?

I didn’t have any fixed opinions — and I might even be guilty of a conflict of interest since I’m an online reviewer myself — so I turned to a good friend, who has both a law degree and a master’s in religion for his views on the ethics of the relationship.

Here’s his response:

 

“In this intriguing New York Times story we see a natural, if unethical, outcropping of the zany world of online reviews, in this case book reviews. Mr. Rutherford saw a wide open market, a felt need for positive reviews for aspiring authors, and filled the gap. According to the story, here’s Rutherford’s spin on his services for unknown writers:

 

“Mr. Rutherford’s insight was that reviews had lost their traditional function. They were no longer there to evaluate the book or even to describe it but simply to vouch for its credibility, the way doctors put their diplomas on examination room walls. A reader hears about a book because an author is promoting it, and then checks it out on Amazon. The reader sees favorable reviews and is reassured that he is not wasting his time.

 

“That is not ‘Mr. Rutherford’s insight.’ That is his justification for inventing fake reviews. Human beings have an infinite capacity for justification, especially when it comes to a project that enriches them personally. Rutherford knows that this is going to be controversial when discovered, so he has to come up with an excuse, in this case, that the purpose of book reviews had changed. They are now just marketing tools, which everyone accepts, like the blurbs on the back of a book cover, promoting a given book. In short, no one takes them as actual endorsements by an actual human being.

 

“What poppycock! Neither Rutherford nor the publishing world can just change the age-old definition of a book review. Maybe the publishing world wants to pretend that blurbs on the back of book covers or ‘reviews’ such as Rutherford cranked out like a Chinese factory worker are just marketing tools. However, the reader isn’t necessarily in on this scam at all. Many of them, especially the vast majority who have no connection to the publishing world, believe, however naively, that those who review or recommend a product, book, or film have actually absorbed its content.

 

“Rutherford’s reviews are not based on that kind of substantive absorption of the product. Like a student reading Cliff’s Notes, he reads just enough to “look” authoritative in his “reviews.” But even the lazy student reading Cliff’s Notes doesn’t have the moxie to hold themselves out as someone whose opinion of a book you should heed. They just want to scrape by and pass a test.

 

“Rutherford has been busted, clean and simple, and now gets to contemplate his intellectual dishonesty and temporary roaring success by selling RVs. When anyone in his region starts to see online recommendations from ‘satisfied customers’ about his RVs, they are right to ignore these reviews, too, and laugh.”

 

* * *

OK, what do you think? Are online reviews useful or are they seriously suspect? Feel free to email me atdavid.kinchen@gmail.com or comment on this site in the place provided.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: The Joy of Non-connectivity: For a Few Days I Found Freedom Without the Internet

  •  By David M. Kinchen

Truth be told, I’m not the most wired person, although I’ve been on the Internet since it became common in the 1990s. I don’t have a smart phone, only two pay-as-you go Motorolas; I don’t text; I post to my Facebook account only rarely, leaving my WordPress blog to link my book reviews and other content to Facebook; I don’t Tweet, although I have a Twitter account.

For a few days recently — thanks to losing my Internet connection under circumstances beyond my control — I experienced the classical stages of grief, but I occupied my non-wired state waiting for the cable guy to come with a new modem that has state of the art Wi-Fi, so all my Macintoshes — and my iPad — are connected, by reading more and trying out some of the manual typewriters in my collection. Yes! Typewriters! I love the feel of the classic writer’s medium and still use them for addressing labels and envelopes — and writing old-fashioned letters, signed with a fountain pen.

It was liberating!

I’m not alone. Thanks to my newly rewired state, I found a story online from the New York Times online site about another writer, Jenna Wortham, who discovered the freedom of not always being available: link:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/technology/cutting-the-digital-lifeline-and-finding-serenity.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha26_20120826

Wortham discovered the joy of non-connectivity when she went to a public swimming pool where cell phones are banned. The horror!

She writes: “The ban threw me into a tailspin. I lingered by the locker where I had stashed my phone, wondering what messages, photos and updates I might already be missing.


“After walking to the side of the pool and reluctantly stretching out on a towel by the water, my hands ached for my phone. I longed to upload details and pictures of my leisurely afternoon, and to skim through my various social networks to see how other friends were spending the weekend. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some barbecue or summer music festival that we should be heading to instead.

“Eventually, the anxiety passed. I started to see my lack of a digital connection as a reprieve. Lounging in the sun and chatting with a friend without the intrusion of texts and alerts into our lives felt positively luxurious. That night, I even switched off my phone while mingling at a house party, content to be in one place for the evening and not distracted by any indecision about whether another party posted online looked better.

“My revelation — relearning the beauty of living in the moment, devoid of any digital link — may seem silly to people who are less attached to their devices. But for many people, smartphones and social networks have become lifelines — appendages that they are rarely without. As such, they can sway our moods, decisions and feelings.

“One side effect of living an always-on digital life is the tension, along with the thrill, that can arise from being able to peep into people’s worlds at any moment and comparing their lives with yours. This tension may be inevitable at times, but it’s not inescapable. It’s possible to move beyond the angst that social media can provoke — and to be glad that we’ve done so.”


Wortham adds that writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash calls this phenomenon the “Joy of Missing Out” or JOMO, saying that “JOMO is the counterpoint to FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out,’ a term popularized last year by Caterina Fake, an entrepreneur and one of the founders of Flickr, the photo-sharing Web site.”
Of course, lacking the smart phone that my friends have, I was limited in posting stories to this site, although I could have gone to the public library with my MacBookPro laptop and send stories via the free Wi-Fi offered at the library. In fact, I did go to check my emails. I responded to a few of the more urgent kind, but left the library with a book. Not that a book reviewer needs to read a library book when all those review copies are calling to me “Read me! Read me!”

 

Now that I’m once again connected to the hilt, I’m thinking about having a day or two every week when I leave the computers and iPad off…Call it Internet Takes a Holiday, recalling the classic movie “Death Takes a Holiday.” It sounds like a good idea.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Innocent’ By Taylor Stevens: Now in Paperback: Vanessa ‘Michael’ Munroe Returns to Rescue a Teen-Age Girl From a Religious Cult in South America

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Innocent' By Taylor Stevens: Now in Paperback: Vanessa 'Michael' Munroe Returns to Rescue a Teen-Age Girl From a Religious Cult in South America

Note: “The Innocent” is now available in a trade paperback edition (Broadway Paperbacks, 352 pages, $14.00, on sale Aug. 28). I recommend it without reservation. Here’s my review of the hardcover edition, published last year:


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

 

For my review of “The Informationist” click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/11908

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Admirals’: U.S. Blessed With Four Supremely Talented Five-Star Admirals During WWII

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Admirals': U.S. Blessed With Four Supremely Talented Five-Star Admirals During WWII

If you’re thirsting for a readable and comprehensive history of how the U.S. won the war at sea against the Japanese and Germans, I can’t think of anything better than Walter R. Borneman’s “The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King: The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea” (Little, Brown and Co., 576 pages, notes, bibliography, index, glossy photo insert, in-text maps and photos, $29.99).

It’s both a joint biography and a narrative of the only four men in American history to have been promoted to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet — the navy equivalent of General of the Army or the British Field Marshal rank: William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. Borneman offers ample reasons why these four radically different men were the best and the brightest the navy produced, and together they led the U.S. Navy to victory in World War II, establishing the United States as the world’s greatest fleet.

 

It’s also an account of how the navy made the transition from battleships to aircraft carriers and naval aviation and submarines, enabling the U.S. to outgun the mighty Imperial Japanese Fleet that caused so much havoc at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Japanese fleet relied on carriers and naval aviation to destroy most of the battleships lined up on that fateful Sunday in December, but no U.S. aircraft carriers were destroyed because they were at sea at the time. Drawing upon journals, ship logs, and other primary sources, Borneman tells the story of how the four — at once friends and rivals — revolutionized naval warfare.

 

He doesn’t paint over the faults of the admirals, including the decision by Halsey to twice fail to change course of his fleet in the middle of typhoons. Halsey’s decisions are detailed in Chapter 22, “Two Typhoons and Five Starts,” beginning on Page 404. Borneman makes the case (Page 417) that four-star Admiral Raymond A. Spruance “was no less deserving of five stars than Halsey. Indeed, with the exception of Spruance, it is difficult to imagine another of their contemporaries on the same level as Leahy, King, Nimitz and Halsey.”

 

Walter Borneman

Walter Borneman

 

Borneman says “My overriding goal in writing history has been to get the facts straight and then present them in a readable fashion. I am convinced that knowing history is not just about appreciating the past, but also about understanding the present and planning for the future.”

 

He accomplishes his goal in “The Admirals.” The book includes appendixes listing the ranks of the various armed services, the ships involved (boats in the case of submarines) and more than enough supplemental material to satisfy the specialist reader — although the book is clearly aimed at general readers. “The Admirals” is an eminently readable book that will be devoured by history buffs — and a work that I’m sure will win literary awards.

 

Borneman covers all the major naval operations of the Pacific War and he also details how the admirals who came in contact with General Douglas MacArthur handled what one of his biographers — William Manchester — called the “American Caesar.” It makes for entertaining reading today, although it was anything but during the war! For more about Manchester’s 1978 biography:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Caesar.

 

On July 30, 2012 I reviewed a book, “Fatal Dive”, (link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/40016) about the raising of U.S. submarine Grunion that sank with all hands in the Aleutians in 1942. The author, Peter F. Stevens, presents proof that the Grunion was the victim of its flawed Mk XIV torpedo system. On Pages 370-371 Borneman discusses the Mk XIV system — especially its Mark VI magnetic exploder. Admiral Nimitz in July 1943 “finally ordered his submarine commanders to do what some had already been doing on the sly: disconnect the magnetic component of the Mark VI exploder. That solved the problem of premature explosions, but it took more exasperated skippers and tests against the undersea cliffs off Oahu to pinpoint the weakness of the contact exploder crumpling before it could make contact.” There’s no mention of the Grunion in Borneman’s book, but he writes that in the wake of the destruction at Pearl Harbor “Nimitz looked to the submarine force — almost unscathed by opening hostilities — ‘to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy.'”

 
About the Author

Walter Borneman is the author of seven works of nonfiction. He holds both a master’s degree in history and a law degree. He lives in Colorado. Among his books: “Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America” (Random House, 2008), which won the Tennessee History Book Award and the Colorado Book Award for Biography, and “1812: The War That Forged a Nation” (HarperCollins, 2004). He lives in Colorado and has spent many days climbing its mountains.
His website: www.walterborneman.net

HUD/CENSUS BUREAU: New Home Sales Rise 3.6 Percent in July

  • By David M. Kinchen 
HUD/CENSUS BUREAU: New Home Sales Rise 3.6 Percent in July

Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000 units in July from an upwardly revised pace in the previous month, according to figures released by HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012.

“Sales of new homes in July returned to the same solid pace they set in May, which was the fastest sales rate we’d seen in more than two years,” said Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “This is further evidence that consumers are becoming more confident in local housing markets as they look to take advantage of today’s very favorable prices and interest rates.”

Noting that the three-month moving average of new-home sales has been edging up consistently since last September, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said, “Today’s good report is the latest indicator of a gradual, upward trend that we expect to continue through the remainder of this year.” However, he added that “The fact that the inventory of new homes for sale reached an all-time low in July is a worrisome signal that ongoing, unnecessarily tight credit conditions are keeping builders from being able to replenish supplies as consumer demand improves.”

Regionally, the Northeast posted the biggest gain in new-home sales with a 76.5 percent increase in July from an abnormal low in the previous month. The Midwest posted a 7.7 percent gain while the South and West registered marginal declines of 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

After trending downward for the past six years, the inventory of new homes for sale hit a record low of 142,000 units in July. This is a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace. 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘City of Scoundrels’: Riveting Account of a Dozen Days in 1919 That Helped Shape Modern Chicago

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'City of Scoundrels': Riveting Account of a Dozen Days in 1919 That Helped Shape Modern Chicago
“Be a Chicago booster! Throw away your hammer! Get a horn and blow loud for Chicago! — William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson (1869-1944), mayor of Chicago from 1915-1923 and again from 1927-1931.

 

 

Chicago didn’t get the nickname “The Windy City” because of breezes off Lake Michigan or arctic blasts from Wisconsin: It earned that moniker because of its endless (to critics) bragging about what a great place it was. In Gary Krist’s “City of City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago” (Crown Publishers, 368 pages, notes, bibliography, index, glossy photo insert, $26.00, also available in ebook and audio book form) Big Bill Thompson plays the lead role in an account of a fiery aviation disaster in the Loop; a series of bombings directed at real estate agents who sold blacks houses in white neighborhoods; one of the nation’s biggest race riots; a crippling transit strike and a sensational child murder in a city already on the edge of a precipice.

 

Krist notes that those dozen days in the summer of 1919 provided more excitement than most cities offer in years — but that’s how Chicago is, larger than life and twice as loud! Visitors from all over the world remark what a treasure trove of architecture and culture the city has — and much of it is the work of a man in love with his city, Bill Thompson, who was born in Boston and moved with his prosperous family as an infant to the boomtown that was Chicago in the 1870s. He grew up privileged, but longed to be a cowboy, which he did for several years as a young man. When most men sported bowlers, boaters or fedoras, Big Bill wore a ten-gallon hat, or maybe the five-gallon kind favored by Lyndon B. Johnson, reminding him of his happiest days on the range in the West.

 

Gary Krist

Gary Krist

 

In the Epilogue, beginning on page 261 and covering 1920 and after, Krist describes Mayor Thompson presiding over the opening of the Michigan Avenue Bridge on May 14, 1920, billed as the “greatest event since the World’s Fair in 1893.” The $16 million double-decker bridge help create the Chicago we know today. As a resident of Chicago for three years in the 1960s and a frequent visitor since, I’ve noticed the inscription recognizing William Hale Thompson’s role in the bridge, part of reknowned architect and planner Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, an ultra ambitious scheme to turn a ramshackle collection of ethnic villages into a modern city — at least in the Loop and along the shore of Lake Michigan. Before the bridge opened, Michigan Avenue stopped at the river; the street across the river was called Pine Street and wasn’t anything like today’s Magnificent Mile.

 

Much of the book is given over to a discussion of Chicago and Illinois politics, including the rivalry between Thompson and Illinois Gov. Frank O. Lowden. Both were Republicans, but they couldn’t have been more different. It may be a surprise to some readers but when Big Bill ruled Chicago, African Americans were overwhelmingly Republican and he courted them and their votes. The only parade of returning veterans he presided over was one of segregated black veterans. Krist notes that the administration of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson was anti-black, as was the local Democratic party, including State’s Attorney (the Illinois designation for district attorney) Maclay Hoyne, who prosecuted far more blacks than whites in the aftermath of the race riots. Hoyne had been defeated by Thompson for mayor and was regarded by most of the “Negro” and “colored” (the 1919 designations) community on the South Side “Black Belt” as hostile to their aspirations.

When 1919 began, Big Bill’s plans for modernizing Chicago and turning the sixth largest city in the world with a population of 2.5 million into “the Metropolis of the World” — construction on the bridge and widening Michigan Avenue had begun in 1918 — seemed to be on course. Within a few months, everything changed, with the crash of the Wingfoot, the transit strike, the rioting and bombings and repeated attacks on the machine politics of Thompson’s machine. The city’s highest ambitions were suddenly under attack by the same unbridled energies that had given birth to them in the first place.
It began on a balmy Monday afternoon when a prototype Goodyear blimp called the Wingfoot caught fire and crashed throught the roof of a busy downtown bank, killing several of the clerks and customers. All told, 13 died and dozens were injured. Within days, a racial incident at a hot, crowded South Side beach spiraled into one of the worst urban riots in American history, followed by a transit strike that paralyzed the city. Then, when it seemed as if things could get no worse, police searching for a six-year-old girl discovered her body in a dark North Side basement.

Krist provides a delightful personal touch with the romantic tribulations of Emily Frankenstein, whose diary reveals conflicted feelings toward her many suitors, including returning veteran Jerry Lapiner. The sections dealing with Emily, Jerry and their families and friends are a welcome relief from the rioting, mayhem, death from the blimp on fire (it was fueled with the same hydrogen that resulted in the Hindenburg disaster in 1937; Goodyear quickly switched to nonflammable but more expensive helium) and “smoke-filled-rooms” politics Krist so ably describes.

 

The cast of characters in “City of Scoundrels” includes poet and newspaperman Carl Sandburg; fellow newspaperman and satirist Ring Lardner, soon to depart for the East Coast; Edna Ferber, plying her first trade as a newswoman covering the GOP national convention; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, black rights activist and journalist and friend of Jane Addams; Col. Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, who hated Thompson, calling him a traitor and agent of Germany for opposing America’s entry into World War I; and many more. I can see this book turned into a Ken Burns documentary. It combines all the elements made famous by Burns: civil rights, war and returning veterans, sports (the Black Sox scandal unfolded in 1919), prohibition, music, with jazz arriving from New Orleans and Memphis, etc.

 

If you want to understand how Chicago became the city it is today, with all its attractions — and problems — “City of Scoundrels is an excellent introduction.

About the Author

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with “The White Cascade” and his latest book, “City of Scoundrels”, Gary Krist wrote three novels — “Bad Chemistry”, “Chaos Theory”, and “Extravagance” — and two short-story collections–“The Garden State” and “Bone by Bone”. He has been a regular book reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and The Washington Post Book World. His satirical op-eds have appeared in The New York Times and Newsday, and his stories, articles, and travel pieces have been featured in National Geographic Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Playboy, The New Republic, Esquire, and on National Public Radio’s “Selected Shorts.” His stories have also been anthologized in such collections as Men Seeking Women, Writers’ Harvest 2, and Best American Mystery Stories. He has been the recipient of The Stephen Crane Award, The Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Travel Journalism, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

Publisher’s website: www.crownpublishing.com

Video promoting “City of Scoundrels”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_9rNuFMqqg