Monthly Archives: November 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Sweet Damage’: Enthralling Psychological Novel by Australian Writer Rebecca James

Two quotations separated by many decades reverberated through my brain when I read “Sweet Damage” (Bantam Books, 304 pages, $25.00), the sophomore novel by Australian writer Rebecca James.

Sweet Damage jacket
One was the famous first sentence of the 1938 novel by Daphne Du Maurier, “Rebecca”, made into an outstanding film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

The opening sentence in “Sweet Damage is: “I still dream about Fairview.”

The second quotation comes from the outstanding Showtime series “The Affair.” Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and his family are spending the summer at the Hamptons mansion of his father-in- law, Bruce Butler (John Doman), a best-selling novelist. Bruce manages to put down Noah, a teacher who has just published a novel and is working on his second book, by telling him: “Everyone has one book in them. Almost nobody has two.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Rebecca James has fulfilled the promise of her 2010 debut novel, “Beautiful Malice.” Here’s my July 15, 2010 review of “Beautiful Malice”:…

Tim Ellison is a twenty-something cook in his father’s restaurant in the Manly Beach area of Sydney, Australia. It’s convenient for him because he’s an avid surfer. What’s not convenient is that he sleeps on a sofa in the apartment of his former girlfriend, Lilla. Even more inconvenient is the presence of Lilla’s current boyfriend, Patrick!

Lilla goes to the Internet and finds what she thinks is a perfect new abode for Tim: for A$100.00 a week, it’s a furnished room with kitchen privileges in a large house convenient to the restaurant and his surfing spot. All he has to do is to be a companion to the mansion’s owner, Anna London, 20, who recently lost her parents in a freak motor vehicle accident.

I’m not going to spoil the suspense of the novel, told in alternating scenes by Tim and Anna. In this respect it’s much like “The Affair,” told in alternating scenes by Noah Solloway and the married local woman he’s having an affair with, Alison Bailey (played brilliantly by British actress Ruth Wilson). This literary form works for Rebecca James — and her readers– and it works for viewers of “The Affair.”

Tim settles in and slowly gets to know Anna London, seemingly stalled in her recovery from the deaths of her parents. She doesn’t want to travel beyond the grounds of her magnificent mansion. She spends much of her day in the attic. Tim does the shopping for the household and, using his culinary skills, shuns the canned goods (tinned in Oz-speak) in the pantry and prepares fresh meals for Anna and himself.

About the only friends Anna has are Marcus and Fiona, siblings who are lawyers in their own firm. But Lilla can’t let go of Tim and she works with Anna to have a birthday party for Tim. In the process, she manages to insult Anna in many ways, much to Tim’s disgust. Showing another side of her complicated personality, Lilla gives Anna a cosmetic and garment makeover, revealing a truly beautiful woman in Anna. Readers will quickly like Tim — and hate Lilla — or at least have ambivalent feelings about her.

I’ll call this a neo-Gothic novel, with mysterious appearances in the night in Tim’s bedroom, the writing on the wall and the loud noises in the night.

“Sweet Damage” should appeal to both women and men, particularly young women and men. But I’m guessing that most of the readers will be women. Too bad, because the author has great insights into the feelings of men. (Yes, believe it or not, we have feelings!) So guys, borrow your girlfriend’s copy of “Sweet Damage” and prepare to be surprised!
About the author

Rebecca JamesRebecca James is the author of “Beautiful Malice,” “Sweet Damage,” and the forthcoming “Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead.” She has worked as a waitress, a kitchen designer, an English teacher in both Indonesia and Japan, a barmaid, and (most memorably) a mini-cab telephone-operator in London. She lives in Canberra, Australia, with her partner and their four sons. Her website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Funny How You Say That!’: Philip Yaffe Pens a Fun Book on Idioms


You can always count on Philip A. Yaffe to produce an interesting, useful book, but with his new ebook, “Funny How You Say That!” ( Amazon Digital Services, Inc.. 192 pages, $4.79 Kindle edition) he raises the fun bar several notches.

I read the book from the attachment that Phil Yaffe sent me and found it delightful. For instance, the saying that a room is so small that there’s not enough room to swing a cat, definitely doesn’t refer to my favorite animal (yes, I’m a proud cat person!). It refers to a whip called the cat-o-nine tails. You need room to swing this instrument, especially if you have long arms.

51aSba4+QWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Yaffe’s book is about idioms, phrases we take for granted, like “once in a blue moon,” “it’s raining cats and dogs,” etc. It’s also about how a language, say French (which I took in college decades ago and still manage to understand much of it when I read a book or watch a subtitled French movie) forms itself. What works in English ain’t necessarily so in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Croatian, etc. and Yaffe gives many examples in his very readable book.

Here is the author in his own words, explaining how the book came to be written:

It is frequently asserted that learning to speak other languages helps you learn about other cultures and other ways of living. This is true, but only up to a point. For native English-speakers, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, learning to speak another language is virtually impossible because they live in big countries where English is so dominant that they hardly ever hear other languages.

A more profitable reason for studying another language, if not actually learning to speak it, is the effect it has on broadening the mind and improving effective thinking.

I was 24 years old when I first began thinking and speaking in a foreign language. It was like being released from prison. I saw my cell door swinging open and my mind flying free. That was nearly 50 years ago, but the picture is as fresh today as if it had just happened.

I grew up in Los Angeles. In addition to my native English, I have become fluent in two other languages and have a good working knowledge of three more.

I doubt that all of this effort has given me any insights into the cultures of the people who speak these languages. At least no insights that I couldn’t have acquired more easily in 30-60 minutes by reading a well-written essay or in a few hours by attending a few well-crafted lectures. What it has done is given me a deeper insight into how the world really works and taught me that there is frequently more than one way of doing the same thing correctly.

In our daily lives we all make assumptions about how the world works; often we are not even aware that we are making them. And that’s the danger.

If we are insensitive to our assumptions, we are almost certain to end up believing things that aren’t true and refusing to believe things that are. Learning at least one other language can help correct handicap. Nowhere else but in other languages are our assumptions more rapidly and forcefully challenged by other equally valid assumptions about what is or is not the right and natural ways of doing things.

“Funny How You Say That!” explores the important relationship between becoming familiar with other languages, if not actually speaking them, and effective thinking. It is not a scholarly book aimed at linguists and philologists. It is actually a fun book devoted to examining the weird and wonderful world of idioms and picturesque turns of phrase.

For example, a native English speaker will say “It’s raining cats and dogs” without realizing that he has said anything unusual. But the way the same idea is rendered in other languages can be quite different, and colorful. The equivalent idiom in other languages include: 1) raining wheelbarrows, 2) raining shoemakers’ apprentices, 3) raining pipe stems, 4) raining ropes, 5) raining chair legs, 6) raining pocket knives

If these sound strange to you, just imagine how strange the idea of raining cats and dogs must also sound. And what about “spill the beans”, “get up on the wrong side of the bed”, “room to swing a cat”, and the hundreds if not thousands of odd expressions that English is heir to?

To explore the often odd contrasts between English and other languages, the book is divided into the following chapters:

Origins of Common Idioms

Pot Pourril of Idioms

Common Idioms in Four Major Languages

Common Idioms in a Variety of Languages

Common Idioms in Specific Languages

Common Idioms involving Colors

Remembering Common Idioms

Words that Don’t Translate into English

False Friends: Words in other languages that seem to be the same as in English but really mean something quite different

“Funny How You Say That!” is not all fun and games. The book therefore concludes with four thoughtful and thought-provoking essays:

The Road to a Perfect International Language

How Learning Languages Can Help You Better Understand Science

How to Make Language Teaching in the USA Dramatically More Effective

Seven Ways French Is Easier

About the Author

Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper. He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escaping Condo Jail’: Comprehensive Book Explores Pitfalls of Condominium, Home Owner Association Real Estate with Research, Wit

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

 If you have your heart set on buying a condo, cooperative or a single-famiy house in a planned development, you should read “Escaping Condo Jail: The Keys to Navigating Risk & Surviving Perils of the ‘Carefree’ Community Lifestyle” by Don DeBat and Sara E. Benson (Sarandon Publishing, 624 pages, $24.95, appendixes, index, illustrations by John Michael Downs) before signing on the dotted line.

Both DeBat, a former real estate editor for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times, and Benson, a real estate agent, have personal experience owning condos. In fact, DeBat emailed me that some of the experiences related in the chapters on “Bully Boards” and thefts by association board members were inspired by Benson’s personal experiences with one of her condos.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Escaping Condo Jail': Comprehensive Book Explores Pitfalls of Condominium, Home Owner Association Real Estate with Research, Wit

In the subtitle, “carefree” is in quotes. What was billed when the  modern form of condominium ownership was born about 50 years ago as  carefree, chic and glamorous isn’t really carefree at all. Steep maintenance fees, restrictions on day-to-day living and limited personal freedoms are three very real costs prospective condominium owners might not have considered. This applies to the many community developments, often gated, that feature single-family houses or town houses. The technical name for such developments is Planned Unit Developments or PUDs. The authors provide a very useful glossary of terms at the end of the book.

DeBat and Benson spent four years researching this book — which is unlike anything I’ve seen in 44 years of covering real estate — and it shows. The book includes personal stories of people experiencing the worst of community living.  Many of the problems arise from the lack of regulation of condominium on the federal level, the authors write.  On page 493, they tell how condos are the riskiest form of real estate investment when it comes to achieving the American dream of homeownership. Lenders charge a higher rate of interest for condo mortgage loans because of this risk factor. Condos are much more likely to go into foreclosure than single-family detached houses and many condos are underwater — the mortgage is bigger than the market value of the property.

The book includes a critical 10-point buyer-awareness advice list, and a 35-point checklist on “How to Bulletproof Your Association’s Biggest Asset: The Money,” and features 22 original illustrations drawn by long-time Chicago Daily News artist John Michael Downs. Instantly, Downs became the Charles Addams of condo illustrators to me! I didn’t realize that anybody who worked for the late, lamented Daily News — my favorite newspaper when I lived in Chicago in the early 1960s — was still alive.

If you think condo/community association living affects a small minority of Americans, think again: Today, one in five Americans—more than 63 million residents—resides in a condominium, a co-operative apartment or in housing regulated by a homeowner association (HOA).

Despite the huge growth in ownership, most condo homeowner associations are run by volunteer directors who are unpaid, untrained, and often unqualified. Some board officers even struggle with balancing their own check books. Yet they are in charge of managing their share of an industry with budgets estimated at $90 billion a year—more than five times the federal government spends to run NASA.

In 2010, a survey by the Community Associations Institute (CAI) — the trade group for planned development associations — found that more than half of the nation’s HOAs were facing “serious financial problems.” And more recently, Association Reserves, a California company that helps associations with budget and operational issues, noted that 72 percent of association-governed communities were underfunded in 2013, up from 12.5 percent only a decade ago.

One of the biggest lures of shared-community ownership is the so-called “carefree living” aspect. There are no yards to maintain, grass to cut, snow to shovel, windows to wash, decks to stain or roofs to repair. All an owner has to do is sit back and pay a monthly condo assessment which is levied according to their percentage of ownership.

“Investors also find condominiums attractive because they can be profitable rental properties that are easily managed with the condo association handling the headaches,” said Benson.

“And, condo ownership also can be the perfect lifestyle choice for singles—especially single women seeking security—retirees and smaller families not in need of larger spaces.”

Yet another bonus for condo living is the lucrative federal and state tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes handed to owners. Uncle Sam not only allows tax deductions for mortgage interest, but also allows home and condo owners to deduct the cost of real estate taxes.

DeBat and Benson discuss the conversion of existing apartment buildings to condominium ownership and the problems that arise from such conversions. Recently a new twist on this has sprung up, especially in Florida, the authors write: Condominums converting to rental projects. The owners sell their units to a developer and — many of them — become  tenants in units they formerly owned. Or they move to another development.

The book does not condemn all condominium, cooperative apartment and homeowner associations. Ownership in a multi-family housing development began as an extremely noble and creative idea. Condos introduced home ownership to millions that would ordinarily never be able to afford it.

Developers have long argued that condos help stabilize inner-city neighborhoods, while giving owners a permanent stake in his or her community. DeBat emailed me that the purpose of the book was not to condemn developers, but to expose the problems that often arise when the developer turns over the project to the condo association, made of up of inexperienced people who suddenly are running a business.

When you gotta go, you gotta bust out  and  the authors offer fifteen “Exit Strategies” on how to get out of condo jail. These strategies make up a  treasure trove of little-known action plans. They include everything from how to benefit from a “naked mortgage” to negotiating “cash for keys.”  And when all these are found wanting, there’s always a little brown envelope containing the keys to the condo sent to the lender — “Jingle Mail” in real estate parlance.

Summing up: This is far and away the best book I’ve seen in my years of covering real estate on the subject of condos, co-ops and community associations. Don’t even think about buying into community real estate — a condominum, a co-op apartment or a PUD —  before reading this book. “Eyes wide open” trumps “eyes wide shut” every time! And speaking of “Trump,” yes, on Pages 134-135 the book discusses the Trump Tower luxury project built on the site of the former Chicago Sun-Times building. The anecdotes DeBat and Benson provide are not only informative — they’re entertaining in the “Hot Property” sense.

“Escaping Condo Jail” is now available in paperback via Digital Kindle copies of the book also are available on Amazon and the hardback will be published in early December. For more information, or to buy a paperback edition, follow this link: For the Kindle Edition the link is:

Sara E. Benson, Don DeBat

Sara E. Benson, Don DeBat

About the authors

Sara E. Benson is a Realtor and consultant to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) . She has built a reputation for being a staunch consumer advocate.

Don DeBat covered real estate for decades for two Chicago newspapers: Real estate editor of the Chicago Daily News (1976-1978) and real estate editor of the Chicago Sun-Times (1978-1994). He won the NAREE Best Section Award four times. NAREE is the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the professional association for real estate editors and writers. He has run DeBat Media, a media consulting firm, with his daughter, Aimee DeBat, since 1995.  He writes a weekly real estate column published by Inside Publications, including the Skyline, Booster and News-Star newspapers with readership of more than 100,000 along Chicago’s lakefront.

He lives in Chicago.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Island Christmas’: The Best Laid Plans…You Know the Rest!

Jilly Gordon may be the most organized woman on Nantucket Island. One of the main characters in Nancy Thayer’s “An Island Christmas” (Ballantine Books, 224 pages, $18.00) she’s getting her already picture-perfect house in downtown Nantucket ready for the arrival of her younger daughter Felicia and Felicia’s fiancé Archie Galloway for their Christmas Day wedding.

Also present will be Lauren, Jilly and George Gordon’s older, married daughter, her husband Porter and their two young children Portia and Lawrence.

BOOK REVIEW: 'An Island Christmas': The Best Laid Plans…You Know the Rest!


Felicia and Archie are an adventurous couple who enjoy their occupation as whitewater rafting guides — and just about anything involving the outdoors. They live in a tiny apartment above a bookstore in Moab, Utah.

Lauren, who’s taken over many of the aspects of the forthcoming wedding, including making a wedding gown for her sister, lives in a large “faux colonial home” on two acres in suburban Boston. The two women couldn’t be more different — and Jilly wishes Felicia were more like Lauren.  To please her mom,  Felicia goes along with the elaborate wedding. She also is looking forward to meeting Archie’s mom, Pat Galloway, who will be the only member of his family in attendance. Pat has arrived from her Florida home and is staying at a hotel.

Jilly is plotting with her best friend Nicole Somerset to get Felicia interested in next-door neighbor Steven Hardy, who was Felicia’s senior prom date in high school. He’s a handsome, well-off stockbroker who’s decided to live year-round in Nantucket.  To Jilly, Archie is a scruffy Gerard Butler, while Steven is a sophisticated Pierce Brosnan. She met Archie on a trip to Utah she and George made the year before.

Last year’s Nancy Thayer Christmas novel, “A Nantucket Christmas,” features a dog, so it’s only fair that “An Island Christmas” should have a cat character. And what a character Rex is! He’s a rescued feral cat who quickly becomes a calming influence in Jilly’s increasingly fast-paced life.

In one of my reviews of a previous Thayer novel, I mentioned that you can learn a lot about interpersonal relationships from her books. This is certainly true of “An Island Christmas” which I read in one sitting. Here’s my quote from the review mentioned above:

As I noted in my June 5, 2012 review of Thayer’s  novel “Summer Breeze” (link:   
Whenever I feel the urge to delve into a self-help book for ideas on how to cope with a problem, I stop myself and instead reach for a Nancy Thayer novel! Thayer’s people have problems, but they always seem to resolve them — sooner or later.

That was the case with her 2011 novel “Heat Wave”, set on Nantucket Island, where transplanted Midwesterner Thayer lives and writes (link to my review: and that’s certainly the situation in “Summer Breeze.” 



Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer

About the author

Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of Heat Wave, Beachcombers, Summer House, Moon Shell Beach, Summer Breeze, Heat Wave, and The Hot Flash Club. She lives in Nantucket with her husband, Charley Walters. Her website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook 1941’: History Comes to Life in Vintage Styled Book


If you like history, but don’t want to wade through hundreds of pages of words, “My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook, 1941. A Nostalgic Collection of Memories” (MapMania Publishing, Phoenix, AZ, 98 pages, bibliography, $24.95) created by Bess Taubman, written by Bess Taubman and Ernest Arroyo, designed by Edward L. Cox Jr. will help you learn about one of America’s greatest tragedies, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor from its early Japanese inception, through the attack and its devastating aftermath.

oeark harbor coverThe entertaining and informative book has the look and feel of a scrapbook from the World War II period. Yes, scrapbookers: what you’re doing has been part of life in the USA and other countries for many decades.

I learned something that I hadn’t in other histories of Pearl Harbor: what happened to the battleships and other vessels after the war. The ones that survived the attack and were repaired — the California, the West Virginia, the Maryland, the Pennsylvania, the Oklahoma, and others — were either scuttled in deep water or sold for scrap. I was surprised that none of them was preserved as a memorial, like the carrier USS Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas, or the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River side of Manhattan.

There’s a comprehensive look at the airplanes on both sides. I was surprised to learn that one of the finest planes of WWII, the Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 — the famed “Zero” — was based largely on a design by Howard Hughes (Page 24). Hughes offered his design — dubbed the H-1 — to the U.S. Army, which despite the aircraft’s considerable technical advances, turned it down. Mitsubishi Ltd. bought the plans and the rest is history!

Each two-page spread of the book illuminates a specific aspect of the Pearl Harbor story with the use of hundreds of original photographs, maps, telegrams, newspaper clippings, hand-typed notes and letters. The use of captivating design elements helps the reader to gain a well-rounded picture of what life was like at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii before, during and after December 7,1941.

Each detailed page — crammed with graphics, but easy to follow — offers readers a hands-on exploration of this well-known story. Told in bite-sized pieces this history book is easy and fun to read for all audiences. Treasured collections from the 1940s of ephemera, pins, buttons, watches and medals illustrate each page and stirs the imagination.

The book covers events beyond Dec. 7, 1941, all the way to the end of the war. Also included are news items of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It also covers in considerable detail the racist and disgraceful internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans under Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 of Feb. 19, 1942. Only a few of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) in Hawaii were interned. I didn’t see any mention of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s opposition to Executive Order 9066; he argued to no avail that the FBI had the espionage situation well in hand, as it had with Germans and Italians, some of whom were also interned — and the situation in Hawaii bears out his position. The internment was driven by racists like California’s Attorney General Earl Warren, later a liberal icon as Chief Justice of the U.S., and others on the West Coast. For more on this event, a permanent blot on America’s reputation:

I was just two months past my third birthday at the time of the attack, so I don’t remember the event. However, as the war progressed, I was old enough to remember details of the war, such as the gas rationing sticker we had on our car windshield, in homefront southwestern Michigan. I was fortunate to grow up on a farm, so I don’t remember ration cards. The authentic graphics — envelopes, postcards, and more — jogged my memory and brought the history of the event to life.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, contributed the informative foreword.

Bess Taubman has been writing about Pearl Harbor for two decades. She combines her talents as a publisher, writer and designer to create innovative books about historical subjects. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and daughter.

Ernest Arroyo is a former president of the Pearl Harbor History Association and is the author of a photographic history of Pearl Harbor. He has contributed to more than a dozen books on naval and maritime history. He lives in Stratford, Conn.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Black Ice’: Romantic Thriller for Young Readers Works for Older Ones, Too

Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Black Ice” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 400 pages, $19.99) is clearly aimed at young readers — especially young women readers — but it’s so well written that older readers can enjoy it too. If they’re parents of teens and twentysomethings, they might even learn what their kids really think of them!
Black Ice jacketBritt Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range in northwestern Wyoming, using skills taught to her by her recently ex-boyfriend, Calvin Versteeg, and she brings along her best friend Korbie Versteeg, Cal’s sister. On the way to a mountain home owned by Korbie’s family, Britt’s Jeep Wrangler gets stuck on a snow covered highway. Snow wasn’t in the forecast, but it forces drastic changes in the plans of the two spring breakers.

The two high school seniors, only months away from graduation at their Idaho high school, manage to seek refuge in a cabin, accepting the hospitality of the cabin’s two very handsome residents, Shaun and Mason.

It isn’t long before they discover that Shaun and Mason are on the run from the police. The two girls are suddenly hostages, miles away from Idlewilde, the Versteeg lodge. Three young women have been murdered in the area and Britt believes that the two men may have something to do with the crimes.

Britt’s knowledge of the area impresses the two kidnappers and they, especially 21-year-old Mason (if that’s his real name), decide to use Britt’s wilderness skills to get off the mountain. Britt doesn’t tell Mason that she’s in posession of a detailed map of the area, created by Cal Versteeg.

Britt quickly learns that nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally? Is she’s falling in love with him, or could it just be another manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome?

Becca Fitzpatrick

Becca Fitzpatrick

About the author

Becca Fitzpatrick grew up reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden with a flashlight under the covers. She graduated college with a degree in health, which she promptly abandoned for storytelling. When not writing, she’s most likely prowling sale racks for reject shoes, running, or watching crime dramas on TV. She is the author of the bestselling HUSH, HUSH Saga. She lives in Colorado with her family. Her website: