Pick of the Month, January 2012.


Fiction

Murder on Music Row by Stuart Dill, John F. Blair Publisher, $14.95


Judd Nix, a 23-year-old intern at a prominent country music management firm, receives a minor injury in a shooting at the Grand Ole Opry that leaves his boss, Simon Sills, barely clinging to life. Everyone believes the target was their eccentric client Ripley Graham, the bestselling digital artist in music history. Graham is withholding the release of his new album in hopes of renegotiating his contract, which causes complications for the secret merger negotiations involving his label, Galaxy Records.


Before lapsing into coma, Simon tells Judd that he, not Graham, was the intended victim and asks him to do several odd chores. As Judd and Simon’s assistant Megan Olsen follow his instructions, a devious killer lures them into a trap. The novel is sprinkled with interesting historical references and behind the scenes glimpses into the country music industry. Judd makes an engaging protagonist. We are looking forward to Dill’s next novel.


Stuart Dill brings a wealth of experience and inside information to the story. As an artist manager for 25 years in Nashville, he was involved in the careers of Minnie Pearl, Dwight Yoakam, Billy Ray Cyrus, and others.


Nonfiction

Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer, William Morrow, $26.99


Prosecutor Jeff Ashton describes the process and the problems involved in prosecuting Casey Marie Anthony for the 2008 murder of her two-year-old daughter Caylee Marie. Casey and her lawyer Jose Baez emerge as the main villains. Public opinion would also include the 12 pathetic jurors who made sure Casey would serve no prison time.


Casey’s “nuclear lie” (that her father George deliberately killed Caylee possibly after molesting her), which she told to two therapists, indicates she is a sociopath. Ashton describes her as the best liar he ever encountered and found “pathological selfishness” as her most prominent trait. He remains convinced she is guilty of premeditated homicide. The evidence includes three pieces of duct tape found on the victim’s skull.


“The duct tape was the smoking gun, or as close to it as we were going to get,” he writes. “[The] only reason there was duct tape on Caylee’s nose and mouth was to keep her from breathing.”


Jose Baez earned Ashton’s contempt in particular for the cruel lies he told Cindy Anthony. Baez, a 9th grade dropout who at 17 was married and had a child, earned a GED and had difficulty being accepted by the Florida Bar. His behavior during the case appears unethical, unprofessional, and inept. Ashton concludes that the defense won in spite of Baez.


“. . . the cavat when trying a murder case with circumstantial evidence is that you need the jury to be willing to do a lot of work,” Ashton notes. Not this high-maintenance jury. Judge Belvin Perry had to make special arrangements so they could watch the Tampa Bay Lightening hockey game. Although they spent a great deal of time discussing which movies to watch (some of their picks were children’s films) and the restaurants where to eat, they had the case for 10 hours and 40 minutes (not all of that time spent in deep deliberation) before finding Casey not guilty. They even found her not guilty of child abuse!


The prosecution lost the case the moment this “O.J. jury” was seated. Some, such as Juror No. 4, should never be allowed to serve since she said she couldn’t judge other people. When Ashton tried to strike her, the defense screamed racism. Incredibly Judge Perry agreed. After the trial, Juror No. 3, Jennifer Ford, a nursing student in her thirties, made rounds of TV shows. In view of her admitted inability to connect the dots, let’s hope she will make yet another career change.


Ashton presents interesting takes on Cindy and George and their family dynamics. Cindy’s problems with reality, for example, existed already before Caylee went missing. When the family attended Cindy’s brother Rick Plesea’s wedding with the then seven month clearly pregnant Casey, she denied that her daughter was expecting.


This informative book reveals serious flaws in our legal system that need to be corrected, notably jury selection and unethical conduct by defense lawyers. While Ashton admits it is imperfect, he nevertheless views our system as a good one. When Jane Velez-Mitchell asked on Issues his reaction to the shocking verdict, he replied, “I believe in karma.”


Unanswered questions remain. So far, the identity of Caylee’s father and of the anonymous donor who posted Casey’s bail are a mystery. Could they be the same person? Will the acquittal embolden Casey to strike again against those she perceives as standing in the way of “bella vita”?


Jeff Ashton has served as a prosecutor in Florida for over thirty years and possesses renowned expertise in dealing with scientific evidence. In 1987, he prosecuted successfully the first case in the world using DNA evidence that resulted in Tommy Lee Andrews receiving a 22-year sentence for rape. He announced he will run for state attorney of the 9th Judicial Circuit. Lisa Pulitzer is the author of numerous true crime books, among them Murder in Paradise about the death of artist Lois McMillan and her mother’s desperate quest for justice.


Children’s/YA

A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Lang, Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 5 to 10


This picture book presents an introduction to butterflies: how they evolve, why we need them, and the different varieties. We learn that the largest butterfly, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, lives in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea and has wingspan up to one foot. The smallest, the rarely seen Arian Small Blue, lives in Afghanistan and has wingspan of less than one-third of an inch.


Sylvia Lang’s illustrations are gorgeous. Parents will enjoy reading this book with their children.


Specialty/Small Press

Capstone Publishing, launched in 1991, encompasses several imprints and focuses primarily on books for pre-K to 8th grade. It publishes fiction and nonfiction, picture books, age appropriate graphic books, interactive chapter books, audio books, and digital products. Its wide range of topics include at least 13 titles on ancient China.


Author submissions: Although most of the titles are developed in-house, Capstone Press does accept submissions from authors and illustrators. For manuscripts, they request that authors send sample chapters, resume, and list of publication credits if any.


Commentary

We have received announcements/copies of a variety of books about or by individuals in the political realm published during the past two months:

  1. Core of Conviction: My Story by Michele Bachmann (Sentinel HC) tells of growing up in Iowa and Minnesota, her family, and her career in politics. In December, she made USA Today/Gallup poll’s top ten most admired women of 2011.

  2. Catherine Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Random House) is the latest in a long list of books about the obscure German princess who became world’s richest and most powerful woman as Empress of Russia. It remains on best seller lists. Massie is also the author of Peter the Great (winner of Pulitzer Prize for biography), Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs.

  3. Time to Get Tough: Making American #1 Again by Donald J. Trump (Regnery Publishing) provides practical advice. Trump has recently attracted controversy regarding hints he will run for POTUS as a 3rd party candidate (highly unlikely although earlier he toyed with joining the GOP field); his substantial contributions to the campaigns of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Senator Harry Reid, both Democrats; and his questions concerning President Obama’s birth certificate.

  4. Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth by Philip Eade (Henry Holt and Co.) chronicles the prince’s life up to the coronation of his wife. He enjoyed a distinguished career in the British Royal Navy and remains the most interesting and creative of the contemporary Royals.


Top 10 Most Memorable Quotes of 2011 (chronological order)

“We have three branches of the government: we have a House, the Senate, we have a President.” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, leading Jay Leno to quip that Schumer is not smarter than a fifth grader. (CNN’s State of the Union, Jan. 30)

“Duh, winning!” & “The only thing I’m addicted to right now is winning.” Actor Charlie Sheen co-opted the word “winning,” February.

“Nine, nine, nine.” GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, July.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by billionaire friendly Congress.” Businessman, investor, and philanthropist Warren Buffet. (The New York Times op-ed, Aug. 15)

“If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew - as a janitor, makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that badge with honor.” President Barack Obama. (Congressional Black Caucus dinner, Sept. 24)

“It would be like Hitler playing golf with Benjamin Netanyahu.” Country singer Hank Williams Jr. referring to President Obama’s golf meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, which he saw as a major political mistake. The comment became memorable because of the controversy caused by ESPN firing him for making this analogy. (FNC’s Fox and Friends, Oct. 3)

“This is not a case about football. It’s not a case about universities. It’s a case about children who have had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others.” Pennsylvania Police Commissioner Frank Noonan commenting on accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State Scandal. (press conference, Nov. 7)

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, who are historically part of the Arab community.” GOP candidate Newt Gingrich discussing Palestinians’ claim to statehood. (The Jewish Channel, Dec. 9)

“The higher a monkey climbs on the pole, the more you can see his butt.” President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod commenting on Gingrich’s surge to the top in polls. (press briefing, Dec. 13)

“. . . the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated our highest positions in government.” Actress & NSL alumnus Victoria Jackson. (Victoria Jackson’s Web talk show Politichicks, Dec. 20)

Winners and Losers

Winners

  1. Retired lobsterman, Jim Henry, 98, Connecticut. Having dropped out of third grade to help support his family, he started reading lessons at age 91 and last year published the book In a Fisherman’s Language, which has drawn interest from Hollywood. His motto is: “You’re never too old to learn.”

  2. Former Director of Iowa Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs Patrick Palmersheim and the nonprofit Wreaths Across America. Every spring Palmersheim starts to raise money for wreaths at Christmas for the graves of veterans buried at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery near Van Meter. This past December, he received sufficient donations for wreaths for every grave. This event is one of around 600 across the country started some 20 years ago in Arlington, VA by Wreaths Across America to honor veterans. (source: Des Moines Register, Dec. 11, 2011)

  3. World’s No. 1 ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic, 24, of Serbia and world’s No. 1 ranked women’s golfer Yani Tseng of Taiwan are the United States Sports Academy’s athletes of the year 2011, chosen by fans worldwide.

  4. Brian McIntosh’s poodle Buddy and the family rooster, of Dover, Florida. When a fire started at 3 a.m. on the back porch, the rooster crowed earlier than usually, thus alerting Buddy whose incessant barking woke the family. While flames raged, Brian’s son Parker pulled the hospital-size bed with his ill grandfather to safety just before the roof collapsed. Although this family of six lost everything and had no insurance, they are grateful they survived. Their biggest concern was to save the disabled grandfather. They plan to give special attention to Buddy and the rooster. Red Cross offered assistance. (see dogster.com for a comparison to an Aesop fable)


Losers

  1. Psychologist Laurie Ann Martinez, 36 Sacramento, employed by the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Allegedly to pressure her husband to move to a better neighborhood, she staged a sexual assault and robbery. Consequently, she lost her license and job and faces felony charges. Also, her husband filed for divorce.

  2. Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, 24. In a Sporting News poll, his peers chose him as the dirtiest player in the NFL. In the latest incident, he lost control (roid rage?) and stomped on Packers’ player Evan Dietrich-Smith, which led to the fifth time he was disciplined for on-field violations.

  3. St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami, Florida. Its alumnus, Jose Baez, was initially rejected by the Florida Bar reportedly for failure to pay child support and financial irresponsibility. He then started businesses that failed, two of them selling bikinis over the Internet. He is accused of lack of knowledge of legal procedures while handling the Casey Anthony case. Not good publicity for the school if they want to attract top students. (see Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer)

  4. BCS and its executive director Bill Hancock. The unfairness perceived in college football Bowl Championship Series assignments blatant bias against Boise State attracted critics, such as U.S. Reps Joe Barton (R TX) and Steve Cohen (D TN) and Ralph Nadar, and demands for championship playoffs to replace BCS.

Above: Dark Garden (Pimeaed), the oldest park in Narva.

Below: Narva hospital, completed in 1913, architect A. Vladvoski

Source: www.tourism.narva.ee

Estonian Army High Command, 1920

A contemporary church building, the orthodox Church of Our Lady, in Narva.

© www.tasuja.com

Narva was one of the best examples of a baroque city in Northern Europe until its near complete destruction during WW II.

Casey Anthony’s tattoo Bella Vita (beautiful life in Italian) on her shoulder obtained after the death of Caylee. Does the tattoo reveal her motive was to get rid of her daughter? This is one of 46 glossy photos included in Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer.

Photo: Orange County Sheriff’s office

World’s largest butterfly, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Lang)

Incidentally, butterfly tattoos (along with the rose) are popular designs among women and received a boost from Mariah Carey’s pink butterfly tattoo on her lower back.

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