Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fort Hood massacre detailed in Porterfield book

This review was published in the Sunday July 5, 2015 edition of the "San Antonio Express News" and was written by Capt. Vincent Bosquez (Ret), who is the coordinator of Veteran Affairs at Palo Alto College in San Antonio. 

Fort Hood, home to two full-armored divisions with more than 41,000 infantrymen, cavalrymen and tankers, is the largest active duty military post in the United States.
But even an installation with a storied history and a mission designed to rapidly deploy and conduct operations to “seize, retain and exploit” the initiative to defeat any adversary around the world can fall victim to the whim of a lone gunman in its own backyard.
“Death on Base: The Fort Hood Massacre” by Texas writers Anita Belles Porterfield and John Porterfield, is an intense, transfixing look into events surrounding the worst mass shooting on a military base on American soil.
When Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, walked into the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center in November 2009 and viciously murdered 12 soldiers and a civilian medic and wounded 43 others, he set into motion national debates on a myriad of topics ranging from the definition of home-grown terrorism, acceptance of religious freedoms, and the perennial discourse on the death penalty.
The Porterfields succinctly cover all the salient points of events leading up to the catastrophic hour of the attack and painstakingly dissect the anatomy of the massacre. They also provide tangible comparisons to other mass shootings and reveal missed opportunities where the Army could have required Hasan to master techniques related to his profession instead of allowing him to be passed along to the next level of responsibility.
In one telling passage, the authors note that one of Hasan’s advisers recognized that over time his views on the military and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were becoming increasingly extreme. The advisor offered Hasan the opportunity to resign his commission, but unless Hasan could be assured that he would get an honorable discharge, he insisted he wanted to remain in school and in the Army.
Incredibly, during this same time period his official Army rating described his performance as outstanding with the recommendation “must promote; best qualified; a star officer.”
With sensitivity and haunting rhetoric, the book details the terror, chaos and despair the 300 soldiers packed into the crowded SRP Center felt as they heard a fellow soldier shout “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” and the shooting began. In the end, after more than 55 people lay dead, dying or wounded, the last person shot was the gunman himself.
The authors take us through the gauntlet of Hasan’s legal maneuvers in the aftermath of the disaster, the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a preliminary hearing in a civilian court, and continued comparisons to other high-profile cases involving mass murders.
In what may be disturbing to some readers, the Porterfields detail how the Department of Defense and the Army initially classified Hasan’s shooting rampage as workplace violence and denied benefits to the victims that they would have received if they had suffered death or disability in a war zone.
“Death on Base” is a well-researched look into a fateful day in November when Fort Hood, also known as “The Great Place,” was delivered an incomprehensible deadly blow by one of its own. It is a superb work that will be referenced by researchers, historians and the military community for years to come.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Culper Ring Holds the Key to "The President's Shadow"

      It was an alarming discovery—a severed human arm unearthed by the first lady in the White House Rose Garden, a strange coin clasped in its clenched fist.  From one electrifying moment to another, that dismembered arm drives the plot of Brad Meltzer’s new novel, The President’s Shadow. President Orson Wallace calls upon archivist Beecher White to investigate the gory discovery and to find out who could have possibly permeated the tight security around the president’s home. 
     Beecher is a member of the secret Culper Ring, a small organization founded by George Washington to protect the presidency. One of the senior members of the ring is in a Washington, D.C., hospital fighting for his life and it is up to Beecher to act as front man in hunting down the villain.
     Beecher has other concerns, too. His friend Clementine is dying of cancer and has disappeared after helping her mentally ill father, Nico Hadrian, escape from St. Elizabeth’s sanitarium. When the strange coin points to Beecher’s dad, however, the young archivist is compelled to leave no stone unturned in finding out the cause of his father’s death and, hopefully, identifying the felon who buried the arm. It wasn’t a car accident that killed his father, as he had been told, and his dad’s death now points to a little-known military unit, the Plankholders.
     Soon, another arm is excavated from Camp David. This time the clenched hand gripped a white card with a message written in invisible ink. The disclosures in the hands of the unearthed arms contain coordinates for a secret Navy installation and all of the players—some good, some evil—converge upon one of the dry Tortugas, Devil’s Island off of Key West, the secret home base of the Plankholders. They must fight for not only their lives but for vital information that holds repercussions for the whole nation.
  This is a fun read. If you have read Meltzer’s two previous Culper Ring books, the characters in The President’s Shadow will be familiar. If you haven’t read them, you should. Meltzer’s character development is particularly superb in this book. The author is a historian and his obvious love for historical trivia is not lost in this book. He is the creator/director/narrator of the TV shows Decoded and Lost History. He has also written a delightful childrens’ book series based on historical heroes such as Helen Keller, President Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other notables.

Friday, February 20, 2015

'Wink of an Eye'—small town Texas, big time crime

This review ran in the Feb. 17, 2015
edition of the Boerne Star
Las Vegas private eye Gypsy Moran double-crossed a mob boss and he’s on the run back to his childhood home of Wink, Texas—a place he closed the door on twenty years earlier, vowing that he would never set foot there again. At least he could enjoy a visit with his sister, Rhonda, whom he hasn’t seen for years.
A vacation, however, isn’t in the cards for Gypsy. One of Rhonda’s former students, twelve-year old Tatum McCallen, has enlisted her help in proving that his father’s recent death was not the suicide that the sheriff’s department claimed it was. The boy found his father hanging from a backyard tree. Tatum believes that his dad, deputy sheriff Ryce McCallen, was killed for launching an investigation into the disappearances of several undocumented teenage immigrant girls.
Tatum’s mom is out-of-the picture, and with his dad’s death, the boy is being cared for by his disabled grandfather, Burke McCallen. Wheel chair-bound, Burke is a retired deputy who was almost killed by a bullet in his back. He and Tatum talk good-hearted Gypsy into looking into Ryce’s death. With his death classified as suicide, Ryce’s life insurance won’t pay a dime. Tatum is in jeopardy of losing the family home and there certainly won’t be funds for college.
Gypsy and Rhonda have something in common with Tatum—their dad walked out on them when they were kids about Tatum’s age. Gypsy is very much aware of the emotional pain that Tatum is experiencing with the loss of his father and abandonment by his mother. He reluctantly agrees to help unravel the truth.
After only a day in Wink, Gypsy runs into his former love interest, Claire, who he left in a lurch twenty years earlier. He had abandoned her just as his father had deserted him. Despite being married to a state senator, Claire is ready to rekindle her relationship with Gypsy. The attraction between them is just as strong as ever and they pick up where they left off years before.
Gypsy enlists the help of a beautiful investigative reporter to help him solve the mystery of the true cause of Ryce McCallen’s death. As they uncover an illegal human trafficking ring, they put themselves in jeopardy.
Wink of an Eye by LynnChandler Willis (St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books, ISBN: 9781250053190) has something for everyone—a boy and his dog, murder, romantic entanglements, police corruption, high tech surveillance, and suspense galore. Willis won the “Private Eye Writers of America” competition for this debut novel and is the first female in a decade to do so. She is a natural storyteller and, hopefully, Gypsy will be back in a sequel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Every hunter's dream -- 'Stag Party'

Reviewed in the Boerne Star, Jan. 20, 2015
It was every hunter’s dream. From his perch in a tree, Jasper Endicott scrutinized a huge herd of agitated bucks below him.
      “As he watched, more bucks arrived. Dozens more. They didn’t emerge tentatively from the brush, wary of danger, as deer usually did. Instead, they came bursting from the woods at full speed, caution to the wind. . .Their brains weren’t sophisticated enough to understand they’d been tricked.”
      It was a special scent that 102-year-old Harley Frizzell, an eccentric recluse, invented. He wanted to sell it and Jasper’s family was interested in buying the pheromone. The Endicott entertainment empire inspired hunters all over the country with their weekly reality television series.
       “A typical episode might include the men castrating bulls, shoeing horses, repairing a tractor . . . filling deer feeders, or building a barn.” But mostly the Endicotts hunted and they had a very large following.  Throngs of “wallhanger” bucks just for the picking would surely increase their ratings.
      Stag Party is Texas hill country author Ben Rehder’s eighth irreverent installment of his Blanco County mysteries. His cast of memorable characters reappear in this latest novel, but the book is a standalone story and does not depend upon reading the previous books.
      When Harley Frizzell’s lifeless body is discovered by Red O’Brian, Sheriff Bobby Garza questions Red and dismisses him as a suspect. Red, however, believes that he is number one on Garza’s list and enlists his buddy Billy Don to help him find the killer. He and Billy Don had recently won a feral pig shoot with a bounty of $25,000.00 for each of them. Red had considered buying Frizzel’s deer scent formula, but before he could cinch the deal, the old man was murdered.
      The two bungling rubes track down Frizzell’s girlfriend, a seventy-one-year-old hippie sculptor named Sparrow Holliday, who was purportedly the last person to see Frizzell alive. Could she have murdered him in a fit of jealous rage? Or did one of the Endicotts kill Frizzell to obtain the old man’s deer scent without having to pay for it?
      At the same time, 19-year-old PETA activist Liam Mooney and his partner Jessi Winslow, 18, set out from Nebraska to Texas to protest the Endicott’s fervent incitement of the public to kill innocent deer. The two misguided teens use Google Earth to locate the Endicott’s massive compound, which overlaps Kendall and Blanco counties, and they hatch a plan to burn the main house down.
      Lurking in the background of the story is Aaron Endicott, the sociopathic son who does not appear in the television show and who the Endicotts would rather not acknowledge. Aaron is a grotesque, colossal man with a pocked face and feral eyes. Aggressive and combative, the youngest Endicott seems always on the offensive for violent encounters. When Liam and Jessi mistake Aaron’s cabin in the Endicott compound for the main house and set it on fire, Aaron confronts the young couple and fireworks ensue.
      Stag Party ( ISBN-13: 978-1505440263, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 15, 2014) is bawdy, clever, irreverent, and infinitely entertaining. It is available on Amazon as a kindle e-book or paperback.

GOODBYE GLUTEN: Happy, healthy, delicious eating with a Texas twist

Reviewed in the Boerne Star, Nov. 21, 2014
Pizza. Pasta. Hamburgers. Biscuits. Fried chicken. These are forbidden foods for individuals with celiac disease or for those who have an intolerance to wheat, barley, and rye. In their new cookbook, GOODBYE GLUTEN: HAPPY, HEALTHY, DELICIOUS EATING WITH A TEXAS TWIST, authors Kim Stanford and Bill Backhaus prove that even decadent deserts can be successfully prepared without gluten.
    Over the past decade, gluten has gained a reputation as a devil in disguise. For individuals with celiac disease, gluten, a protein, causes an autoimmune response in the digestive system that can be deadly. In recent years, even people who can safely ingest the substance have joined the gluten-free bandwagon, declaring that they feel better avoiding it.
    There are problems inherent with sticking to a gluten-free diet. Many processed foods contain gluten, as do canned goods, condiments, cured meats, and liquor. Gluten-free foods are expensive, are sometimes adulterated with unhealthy additives and preservatives, and are often bland and flavorless.
    The backbone of Stanford’s and Backhaus’ cookbook is their assertion that gluten-free can be just as delicious as mainstream food. Their two hundred-plus gluten-free recipes will restore the enjoyment of great food to people who have been forced to miss out on their favorite dishes.
    When Backhaus called his former wife, Kim Stanford, to ask if she was interested in collaborating with him on a gluten-free cookbook, she responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”  Backhaus had been diagnosed with celiac disease more than thirty years before when there were virtually no packaged or processed gluten-free foods, so he and Stanford, a former financial consultant, learned to cook without gluten. Stanford continued to consume gluten until she was diagnosed with a thyroid deficiency. She eliminated gluten from her diet and also turned to organic whole foods. To her amazement, her thyroid healed without the surgery her doctor told her she needed, her allergies disappeared, and she lost weight with no effort.
    Stanford grew up in north Texas and lives in Austin. As the owner of a catering company, she borrows recipes from her childhood and jazzes them up with her own special twists. Her “Guadalajara Gazpacho,” “Lasagna with Mexican Crema,” and “Spiced Tequila Chicken” are succulent, delectable entrees that any good restaurant would be proud to have on its menu.
    After his celiac disease diagnosis, cooking quickly became Backhaus’ passion and he spent thousands of hours developing entrees like “Herb-Crusted Parmesan Chicken” and “Bacon-Wrapped Quail with Dates and Jalapeno.” A meat-lover, he has included numerous recipes for barbeque, rubs, and sauces. One notable sausage recipe, “East Austin Trailer Park Spicy Homemade Chorizo,” is downright addictive.
    Stanford loves dessert and looks forward to sitting around the dinner table at the end of a meal with a cup of coffee and a luscious sweet treat.
    “Previously,” Stanford says, “gluten-free desserts were like eating raw corn grits with sugar baked on them, then set out in the sun for a couple of days and, of course, freeze-dried for a couple of months. They were dry as concrete, tasteless, and so different from regular desserts.”
    The desserts that Stanford included in GOODBYE GLUTEN are anything but tasteless and dry. Her “Best Little Coconut Cream Cake in Texas,” “Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Brownies,” and “Southern Bell Peach Pie” will please anyone.
    Because food manufacturers add gluten to a myriad of products—cheese, chips, cereal, salad dressings, frozen vegetables, baking mixes, and processed meats—Stanford and Backhaus have included a list of gluten-free, brand-name pantry items found in most supermarkets. Even ketchup frequently contains gluten so the authors include a recipe for a homemade version.
    Some liquors and spirits also contain gluten. Popular brands of beer use barley for the fermentation process and are on the gluten-free forbidden list. Stanford and Backhaus list gluten-free beer brands and also include a bar guide in their cookbook. While vodka made with potatoes, unflavored rum, and tequila are naturally gluten-free, rye whisky and certain other blends contain the offending protein. Many cocktail mixers also contain gluten. Wine is generally gluten-free, but the authors warn the reader to stay away from malted wine coolers.
    GOODBYE GLUTEN is a comprehensive guide to enjoying a gluten-free lifestyle. At the same time it is a wonderful tool that any cook, gluten-free or not, can rely upon for a cache of recipes that will impress family and friends—with a Texas twist.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Let's not keep "The Secret Twins" a secret

I recently came across a captivating middle grade childrens’ chapter book (110 pages) on Amazon that had slipped under my radar—The Secret Twins by Lilly Bell. This delightful book plays on a common childhood fantasy of having a twin.

Ester and Betsy are nine-year-old twins. At only a half inch tall, however, Betsy is a teeny twin who constantly faces peril. Even though the twins’ mother outfitted Ester’s top dresser drawer with all of the conveniences of a regular home, Betsy prefers the company of her family to solitude. When they watch TV, Betsy has a special place on top of the coffee table. She is careful not to stray from her spot because her father sometimes rests his feet close by. Betsy is in charge of the remote, and hoists herself up on the gadget and leaps on the appropriate button to change the channel.

One morning when Ester is grumbling about having to go to school, Betsy wishes that she could go. It just isn’t safe and Betsy resigns herself to the fact that she must be homebound forever. All of a sudden Betsy hears Ester scream that a bee has flown in the house through an open window. When the startled bumble bee lands in Betsy’s dresser drawer, she hops on its back and off they go to school.

Unbeknownst to Betsy and her parents, Ester is being bullied by a dreadful little girl at school named Taylor. Through a series of missteps and by virtue of the bumble bee that carries Betsy to school on its back, the teeny twin is able to solve a mystery and vindicate Ester from accusations made by Taylor.

The Secret Twins is a charming book that is appropriate for kids from ages seven to twelve to read by themselves. Younger children from five to seven years will enjoy a parent reading the book to them. The story will spark a child’s imagination and will foster creativity.

The Secret Twins is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book. It is beautifully illustrated by the author and is free for kindle unlimited, or a true bargain at ninety-nine cents. Bell says she is working on a second installment of the story—let’s hope she writes a series.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Minerva Koenig’s hill country noir has more twists than a Texas corn maze

Reviewed in the Boerne Star Nov. 4, 2014
Julia Kalas’ San Francisco construction business is a money laundering front for her gun-running hubby’s illegal enterprises. When members of a skinhead group shoot the two of them, Julia survives, turns states evidence, and joins the witness protection program. She is placed under the supervision of Theresa Hallstedt, the Police Chief of Azula, Texas—a small, boring hill country town. Chief Hallstedt has arranged for Julia to work at the local downtown watering hole, Hector Guerra’s bar.
      Hector is single and good looking and Julia sets him in her sights—“long black hair, big dark eyes, Aztec nose, delicious mouth. The man was gorgeous.” Hector and Chief Hallstedt are close friends and Hector was doing her a favor by hiring Julia.
      When Chief Hallstedt is found dead on the roof of the bar, the local sheriff tries to pin the murder on Hector. Julia jumps into the melee, determined to find the real killer. She risks exposing her criminal past by contacting her former associates for help. When a mummified hand shows up, she almost gets herself killed.
      “Nine Days” by Austin author Minerva Koenig (ISBN 9781250051943, Minotaur Books), is her debut novel and she doesn’t disappoint. With more twists and turns than a Texas corn maze, her flawed characters expose their foibles and stumble through a series of nefarious machinations that lead to a stunning revelation.
      Unlike so many of the boilerplate crime novels where the heroine is a gorgeous lanky blonde who drives an expensive sports car, Koenig’s protagonist is a short, chubby, almost-forty, meddling interloper who finds comfort tooling around in her pale yellow 1987 Dodge pick-up truck.
      Other characters are just as quirky. Hector’s adoptive sister, Tova, is a calculating platinum blonde with a French twist and chilly, blue eyes. Richard Hallstedt, the police chief’s colorless estranged husband is a physician who is also a member of the city council and who is pushing for a package of commercial property tax incentives for a downtown revitalization project. Then there is Hallstedt’s alcoholic, busy-bodied maid, Maria, who stumbles upon something that turns the case upside down. Even the local curandera, Silvia Molina, inserts herself into the murder investigation. She follows Julia around town in her old, sunburned Cadillac and, when Julia confronts her, the sorceress turns to her tarot cards and reveals personal knowledge about Julia, leading her to conclude that her witness protection cover has been blown.
      The surprising conclusion explodes in an ironic twist, leaving plenty of room for a sequel.
      “Nine Days” is a gem. It’s hill country noir at its finest.

Monday, June 30, 2014

One Hundred and forty year-old Texas Ranger murder solved by Texas hill country author

This review appeared in the June 27, 2014, issue of the Boerne Star.
When author Cynthia Leal Massey began researching a history book about Helotes, Texas, she came upon bits and pieces of a story about the murder of Sergeant John Green, a Texas Ranger in the Minute Men Troop V of Medina County, mustered into service in September 1872. Almost one year later, in the summer of 1873, Green was shot and killed by another Ranger in his troop, Cesario Menchaca.

As she continued in her research, Massey stumbled upon another group of stories about naturalist Gabriel Wilson Marnoch, a prominent and eccentric Scottish emigrant who discovered four new reptile and amphibian species native to the Helotes hills. The Marnoch homestead, built in 1859, is a designated Texas Historic Landmark. When Massey discovered that there were links between John Green and Marnoch, she was hooked and spent the next few years writing her new book Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, (Lyons Press, ISBN 978-0-7627-9305-1; $16.95).

“I realized this was more than a story about a killing,” writes Massey in the Preface of her book. “It was the story of an era. Green’s killing exemplifies the chaotic frontier society in Texas after the Civil War, a time fraught with political turmoil, cultural clashes, and a tenuous hold on life.”

John Green (born Johann Gruen) was originally from Fredericksburg. He and his sister were orphaned as children and Green was taken in by former Gillespie County Sheriff Louis Martin who had since become a cattle breeder. Martin’s large ranch was situated on the north bank of the Llano River, forty-two miles northwest of Fredericksburg. Green thrived under his care and learned the livestock business. He took off on his own at age seventeen and became successful, eventually marrying Augusta “Gussie” Specht, daughter of the Fredericksburg postmaster. They settled on Green’s hundred-acre Helotes ranch and established a horse breeding business. The Marnoch family was one of their neighbors.

Gabriel Marnoch had an affinity for attracting trouble. In addition to tax problems, he was indicted for “the offence of taking up and using an estray horse without complying with the law for regulating estrays,” a serious charge during that era. Cesario Menchaca attempted to serve Marnoch with a warrant for his arrest, but Marnoch ripped the warrant into pieces. He did not show up in court to answer the charges.

These three men—Green, Marnoch, and Menchaca—are seamlessly woven together in a fascinating tale of murder, betrayal, and vengeance. Menchaca appeared to have no motive for murdering Green, and after shooting him he fled to Mexico as a fugitive from justice. Thirty years later John Green’s son tracked Menchaca down. Menchaca claimed that the murder had been an accident—others believed that he had been hired by Gabriel Marnoch to kill John Green. After years of research, Massey believes that she uncovered the real reason for the murder.

Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, is a fascinating book. Hill Country readers will recognize many of the names of the characters: Heubner, Braun, Mueller, McAllister, and numerous others. Massey also includes a section of interesting photos including an 1860’s photograph of John Green and a 1927 photo of his son, Will, when he served as a San Antonio police captain. An early 1900s photograph of the Marnoch homestead shows the 1,515-acre ranch land that later became the town of Helotes.

Ultimately Massey wanted to learn the truth behind the story of the murder of John Green. She says that she “came away from the project with a deeper appreciation for our Texas pioneers and a profound respect for the storytellers who keep alive their families’ important histories.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Maneuvering Life

What do President Ronald Reagan, actress Elizabeth Taylor and former New York mayor Ed Koch have in common? Each was saved from choking to death when a bystander performed the Heimlich maneuver. The inventor of the procedure, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, describes how he developed the anti-choking procedure in his memoir, Heimlich’s Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Lifesaving Innovation.

            Heimlich says that a 1972 newspaper article first sparked his interest in devising an intervention for saving the lives of  choking victims.

            “What caught my eye,” he says, “was the sixth leading cause of accidental death—it was choking on food or a foreign object. Nearly four thousand people were dying from choking each year in this country alone.”

            No stranger to controversy, Heimlich began performing experiments on anesthetized dogs by inserting an object into the animal’s airway and trying various means of dislodging it. He discovered that pushing in and up on the dog’s diaphragm created a burst of air that expelled the foreign object and allowed the dog to breathe freely. He submitted an article about his procedure to a medical journal and the rest is history. The Heimlich maneuver is recognized throughout the world as a reliable method for saving the life of a choking victim. He has been harshly criticized, however, for his canine experimentation.

            This anti-choking technique was not the only medical intervention that Heimlich devised. In the early 1950’s he invented a surgical procedure that restored the esophagus of individuals who could not swallow because of scarring from the ingestion of caustic substances such as drain cleaner or patients who had esophageal blockages for other reasons. Next, in the mid-1960’s, came the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve, a device used after chest surgery to prevent lung collapse. The military latched on to the valve for use in Viet Nam and ordered thousands of them.

            “All told,” says Heimlich in his book, “since I invented the device, more than four million Heimlich chest drain valves have saved or improved the lives of patients in hospitals, ambulances, and palliative-care settings at the end of life.”

            Heimlich received an almost fatal blow to his choking maneuver in 1976 when the American Red Cross suddenly disavowed its use as the preferred intervention in saving choking victims. Instead, that organization promoted the use of back slaps as a first resort. If the back slaps did not work, only then should the Heimlich maneuver be employed. Heimlich became incensed and refused to allow the Red Cross to use the term “Heimlich maneuver.” That organization changed Heimlich’s terminology to “abdominal thrusts” and has never looked back. Later, the American Heart Association also adopted the term “abdominal thrusts” and, today, it is mostly journalists and mainstream media who call the procedure “Heimlich maneuver.”

            Heimlich, now ninety-four years old, makes it known throughout his book that he has enjoyed life as a celebrity. In fact, his memoir opens with a two-page description and photos of his appearance on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson.

            “I ask myself,” Heimlich writes, “How in the world did I, a physician, wind up on Johnny Carson? How is it that I invented a lifesaving method that led to my becoming so well known?”

            Heimlich served in the Navy for two years during World War II. He was one of twelve Americans assigned to Camp Four in Mongolia where he provided medical care to American and Chinese soldiers as well as local villagers. He fell in love with the Chinese people and vowed to go back after the war ended.

            Heimlich did, indeed, return to China in the 1980’s to conduct experiments on HIV positive individuals by inoculating them with malaria. He is convinced that malaria has the potential for curing the AIDS virus as well as some types of cancer and Lyme disease. Heimlich has been harshly criticized for these clinical trials and labeled a crackpot. Public opinion, however, has never dissuaded Heimlich from doggedly pursuing his controversial ideas.

            More revealing than what Heimlich includes in his memoir is what he leaves out. While he writes about his wife, Jane Murray (heir to the Arthur Murray dance dynasty), and three of his children, he never mentions his son, Peter, with whom he has been embroiled in public controversy for years. Peter Heimlich has accused his father of stealing the “Heimlich maneuver” from a colleague as well as faking his medical credentials. Heimlich also does not disclose that he was fired from The Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati in 1977, ending his career as a surgeon, nor does he acknowledge his co-developer of the Heimlich maneuver, Dr. Edward A. Patrick, who died in 2009.

             Heimlich also fails to mention that his proposed malariotherapy for curing AIDS has been castigated by the Centers for Disease Control and other recognized medical authorities.

            Throughout his book, Heimlich cherry-picks the parts of his life that he wants to publicly reveal, making sure that there are no pits left on the plate.

Published by Prometheus Books, Binding: PaperbackPages: 253, ISBN: 978-1-61614-849-2

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I would like to welcome my guest blogger, Matthew Pitman, a sixth-grader at Earl Wood Middle School in Rockville, Maryland. An avid reader, Matthew reviews Brad Meltzer's two new childrens' books about American heroes Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln, released in January 2014, by Dial books. Meltzer plans to release four more in the coming months.






Thriller writer inspires children with stories of American heroes

by Matthew Pitman

Brad Meltzer knows a few things about heroes. He has written very entertaining books and comics featuring fictional super heroes. For the first time he has published two childrens’ books about the real-life American heroes Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln.


In his book  I Am Amelia Earhart, Meltzer describes Earhart’s childhood and her career in aviation. When she was young, Amelia acted very unlady-like by the standards of the of the early 1900s. For example, she refused to play with dolls and wear dresses. Instead, she built miniature roller coasters and day-dreamed about flying.

As Amelia gets older, Meltzer describes the aviation records that she broke. She was the first woman pilot to reach the highest altitude ever recorded by flying to 14,000 feet.

Some memorable quotes that Earhart is known for are, “Never interrupt someone who is doing what you said could not be done,” and “I know no bounds.” These words are inspiring because they encourage kids to not limit themselves.

Clearly, Meltzer’s theme is to chase your dreams no matter what gets in your way. He lets kids know that dreams are not just for adults.

Illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos does a good job of making Earhart look like a little kid throughout the story which connects young readers to her and her accomplishments.

Children from kinder to third grade would enjoy this book because of its fun pictures, interesting facts, and easy to comprehend language.

Meltzer delivers another fun everyday hero story with I Am Abraham Lincoln.

When Abraham Lincoln was young he could not stop reading. He would even lie to his parents and say he was working in the corn field when he was really reading. He continued attending school even after most kids his age had stopped going.  Although he was bullied in school, he never stopped being himself.

When Lincoln got older, he put his reading to good use and became president. He had always been unhappy about slavery, and so during the Civil War he freed the slaves. And out of respect, some of the slaves came and fought for the Union.

Lincoln’s most important lesson was about equality of all people. He said, in his most famous speech at Gettysburg, “All men are created equal,” giving the people of the Union the confidence to win the war.  Meltzer shows that Lincoln’s greatest lesson is to fight for what you believe in, whether it is freeing a turtle or freeing the slaves. Lincoln is a great example of how far loving to read can take you.

The illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos are fun, but because Lincoln is shown in a suit and a beard even as a child, it struck me as a little odd. Just like in “I Am Amelia Earhart,” the illustrations do a good job of making the story easy to read and understand because the pictures are so closely related to the story.

Children will enjoy these inspirational books. Meltzer plans to write four more childrens' books about heroes. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

History Decoded: The Ten Greatest Conspiracies of All Time"

"'History Decoded' explores fascinating, unexplained questions. Is Fort Knox empty? Why was Hitler so intent on capturing the Roman “Spear of Destiny”? What’s the government hiding in Area 51? Where did the Confederacy’s $19 million in gold and silver go at the end of the Civil War? And did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? Meltzer sifts through the evidence; weighs competing theories; separates what we know to be true with what’s still—and perhaps forever—unproved or unprovable; and in the end, decodes the mystery, arriving at the most likely solution. Along the way we meet Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Nazi propagandists, and the real DB Cooper.

Bound in at the beginning of each story is a custom-designed envelope—a faux 19th-century leather satchel, a U.S. government classified file—containing facsimiles of relevant evidence: John Wilkes Booth’s alleged unsigned will, a map of the Vatican, Kennedy’s death certificate. The whole is a riveting, interactive adventure through the compelling world of mysteries and conspiracies."*

This is a wonderful book--fascinating and beautifully produced. I couldn't put it down. The photos and drawings, as well as the removable facsimile documents, add richness and texture. Counting down from the mysteries surrounding the Lincoln assassination, to the search for Confederate gold, to the existence of UFOs, Meltzer questions our beliefs in some of the most intriguing history mysteries of our time and presents evidence that just might change our minds about the outcomes of some of the most notorious events in history. The conspiracy theories associated with all ten events in the book will have your mind spinning. 

If you are a devote' of Meltzer's Decoded television series on the History channel, you will love this book. Even if you have never seen the programs, the book would make a great Christmas present for any history buff from age eight to eighty.

History Decoded was co-authored by Keith Ferrell, author of more than a dozen books, thousands of magazine and encyclopedia articles, and former editor of Omni magazine.

History Decoded was published by Workman Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7611-7745-6.

*from Brad Meltzer's website http://bradmeltzer.com/book/history-decoded/

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Wilder women on the Prairie

from the Tuesday, November 12, 2013 edition of the Boerne Star
It was President Ronald Reagan’s favorite TV show and Sarah Palin’s most beloved childhood book. Just like Reagan and Palin, the “Little House on the Prairie” stories are uniquely American. How they came to be written is the subject of  Susan Wittig Albert’s new book, A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses.
From the time that they were first published in the 1930’s, the “Little House on the Prairie” books have captured the hearts of both children and adults. These endearing stories of  life on the American prairie chronicled a much simpler time in history, a nineteenth century lifestyle filled with stories of a close-knit family overcoming obstacles as they built their homestead and helped settle this country.
            While Albert’s book is fiction, it is based on fact. She used Wilder’s and Lane’s diaries, journals,  letters, and scholarly research materials as her guide. Just as Wilder and Lane were true to real life events in the “Little House” fictionalized stories, Albert is just as true to history in A Wilder Rose.
            Rose Wilder was the only child of Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder. Born in 1886, she grew up under austere conditions. She and her parents lived a hard-scrabble life working long hours to eke out a living from the unforgiving South Dakota prairie. Because Laura’s attention was focused upon physically demanding manual work, she did not have a surplus of time to spend with her daughter. Rose often felt neglected.
            Not only did Rose feel that she was deprived the mothering she so desperately wanted and needed, she suffered from the absence of childhood friends. Her classmates poked fun at her bare feet, shabby clothes, and odd ways. Rose was envious of the other girls’ fancy store-bought dresses and she longed for even the plainest pair of shoes. She was an outsider, not only because of her clothes, but also because her behavior was bizarre—she even spoke her own language that she called “Fispooko.” Rose learned at a tender age to conceal her true feelings behind a fictional fa├žade and she carried that trait with her throughout her life.
            There was not enough money for Rose to attend college, so she taught herself to write and learned several languages on her own. She worked as a journalist, some would say a “hack,” for publications such as the “San Francisco Bulletin,” the “Call,” and the Red Cross. Many of her stories were filed from distant locations—Paris, Russia, Albania—and she lived a rather wild, bohemian lifestyle. Rose made enough money to travel to exotic places and to flit in celebrity circles. She subsidized her parents’ income so that they could have some comfort in their advanced years.
            It was largely because of Rose’s generous financial assistance that Laura gained the freedom to establish her credibility in her community. She joined ladies’ circles and began writing for the “Missouri Ruralist” and other farming publications. Throughout Rose’s life, she and her mother had a contentious relationship—sometimes openly, sometimes passively, but always grating just under the skin with only a word or slight causing an eruption.
            The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out Rose’s and her parents’ savings. Rose began ghost writing books for Lowell Thomas, Frederick O’Brien, and pulp biographies of Hollywood celebrities. Publishing houses took a beating during the great depression, but Rose was a prolific writer and managed to stay afloat. Laura had toyed with the idea of writing accounts of her childhood on the prairie and she sought Rose’s advice about the possibilities of publishing these stories. Rose saw a possible market for fictionalized versions of Laura’s life and, through her own agents and publishers, she made sure that her mother’s books were given an opportunity to succeed in the marketplace.
            Rose dutifully typed up the stories that Laura wrote by hand on orange tablets, sprucing them up and adding her own editorial flourishes and she was able to secure good publishing deals for Laura.
            “A Wilder Rose” is a fascinating story of a complex mother-daughter relationship and is a departure from Albert’s serialized fiction. On the surface, the “Little House” books are uncomplicated, simplistic stories of life on the American prairie but Albert does a masterful job of carrying the reader through the complexities of the evolution of Rose and her mother.
            For “Little House” fans this book is essential reading. For Susan Wittig Albert fans, it is pure pleasure.
 _____________________

 “A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses,“ by Susan Wittig Albert,  ISBN-13: 978-0989203500, Persevero Press, September 2013.

"Books and Butts" chronicles high school life in the 80's

Published in the September 9, 2013, edition of the Boerne Star
With the ink barely dry on his school administration certificate, in 1980, Joseph F. Doenges, Ed.D., accepted the position of Assistant Principal of Boerne High School. During the chaotic year that followed, Doenges very quickly discovered that he would be called upon to handle disciplinary problems on an order that he could have never anticipated during his training.
            It wasn't as if he had not been forewarned. The Assistant Principal position was a new one, established in response to demands that something be done about the discipline problem in the school.
            “The graduation ceremony in May was a farce,” Superintendent Bob Chambers told Doenges during his interview for the position. “It was held in the football stadium. Some of the kids were drunk. They were throwing Frisbees and spraying shaving cream at one another. The whole thing was an absolute disgrace. All summer long there were letters to the editor in The Boerne Star about graduation.”
            “The purpose of this book is to reveal the frustration and failure, as well as the joy and success that exist in any public school system,” Doenges writes in the preface of his new book, Books and Butts: Diary of an Assistant Principal (Lulu.com, ISBN13:  9781300827177, July 4, 2013). “It is difficult to do so truthfully without offending someone. It is certainly not my intent to tarnish reputations, damage carefully nurtured images, or cast doubt on the ‘sacred cows’ of education. Nevertheless, if some are offended, reputations tarnished, images damaged, or doubts cast, so be it.” Doenges changed the names of the students whose discipline problems he chronicled.
            From the first day of school, Doenges was called upon to deal with truancy, disruptive behavior, fights, students selling their free lunches, irate parents defending their childrens’ bad behaviors, and students who repeatedly set off strings of firecrackers and deliberately clogged up toilets. 
            Three weeks into the school year, Doenges wrote in his journal, “One discipline problem after another came through my office. It was the busiest day yet. Two boys knocked a hole in the sheetrock wall in English class. Several students were put out of class by the teacher for incessant talking. Three girls were sent to the office for passing notes in class, and two more for chewing gum. Most of these problems should have been handled by the teachers involved, but it was one of those days when tolerance and patience were in short supply.”
             There were serious discipline problems, too, that were difficult for Doenges to handle. Most of these were incidents of vandalism, drinking on the school grounds, or worse, drinking and driving. In these situations he had no other option but to call the Boerne Police Department.
            Doenges kept his wife’s old sorority paddle on display in his office. It served as more of a threat than a viable method of disciplining disobedient teenagers. That is until one day he had to call a student’s father to discuss his son’s constant interruption of his teacher. The father immediately came to the school. When he saw the paddle in Doenges’ office, he got right to the point.
            “I want him paddled, and I want him paddled every time he gets in trouble in the future.”
            Doenges had never actually used the paddle, but this time he did.
            “I got Martha’s old sorority paddle from my desk, where it had been stored since August, just in case I ever needed it. The boy bent over and grabbed his lower legs while I gave him three swats as dad witnessed. I knew by his reaction that the paddle stung, and thus the desired effect had been achieved. I then reached out and shook the boy’s hand, told him there were no hard feelings, and sent him back to class. Dad thanked me, reminded me that future problems were also to be handled with the board, then left.”
            At the end of the school year Doenges did some soul searching about his role as Assistant Principal. He felt that his greatest accomplishments were that he had helped to establish order and control at the school and that he had earned the trust and respect of students, teachers, and parents. It was a frustrating year but he was satisfied that “things were better in May than they were in September.”
            Doenges was conflicted about renewing his contract. That one year had been more physically and emotionally draining than any he had experienced as a teacher. He  returned to his job in August, but it didn’t last very long. During the year the principal resigned and Doenges was appointed in his place. By May, he had decided to accept a position overseas. He returned as Assistant Principal at Boerne High School in 1985. When the superintendent of schools retired, Doenges was persuaded by the Board to take over as superintendent. He served in that capacity for eleven years.
            Books and Butts is an entertaining read filled with humor and wisdom. At the conclusion of his book, Doenges reflects upon his many years of experience as an educator and provides the reader with his personal philosophy concerning issues such as corporal punishment, school and class size, advanced placement, and foreign language instruction.

            The bottom line, says Doenges, is that expectations are too low in the American educational system.