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CLOAK AND DAGGER HITS
18 September 2016
IN A TROUBLED WORLD the thriller authors and their imaginations keep pace with real dangers that eddy in the very heart of civilization. A thriller by Luke Harding, however, is simply deft investigation into the factual murder of a Russian dissident in London. This and the fiction titles below are surefire cloak-and-dagger hits.
A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON *****
by Luke Harding
How guilty is Putin? Published 2016, this 426-page paperback leaves no doubt. It is a detailed account of the murder in London of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the Scotland Yard investigation, the legal hearings and the bold and dramatic conclusions by the judge. The book also reports on other murders – in Russia and abroad – of people deemed to be enemies of Vladimir Putin.
Not all of these used ‘the very expensive poison’ (radioactive polonium), yet together they point to a relationship in Russia between government and organized crime. This is chilling as a le Carré spy novel. The intervention in Syria and the shooting down of a civilian airliner in Ukraine are explained in analyzing Putin’s ongoing political strategies.
BREAKING COVER *****
by Stella Rimington
Tense and convincing. This author’s inside knowledge of MI5, in which she rose to be its first female Director General, guarantees the authenticity. Her added skill in describing tense encounters gave me a nail-biting read – as usual with Stella. In starting one of her spy tales, it is always a comfort to know there is no chance of disappointment ahead.
Away from spies and into murky finance is a thriller that is inspired by scandals now in the news regarding the usage of offshore tax havens;
by Dick and Felix Francis
Intelligent pageturner. The final joint authorship by father and son before the death of Dick Francis. It is a pageturner and intelligent in concept and presentation. Lots of surprises, plot twists and the unusual physical problems of a one-footed action hero. The narrative never flags and the structure is well thought out.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
MY $2 COMPASS TO OLD GOLD
11 September 2016
THE other day I paid $2 for a second-hand copy of Argosy, a long-gone British story magazine. My purchase, dated 1958, included a couple of familiar authors in its index but mostly unknowns. It was these writers I had never heard of that interested me.
I believed that googling their names might bring me a fresh source of reading pleasure, and I was right. Most were on Amazon, which is a miraculous provider of ‘out of print’ books and authors.
In the past there have been several magazines named Argosy, but my investigation concerned the British one. It was published from 1926 to 1974 with short stories and novel extracts by top authors. These can be seen on front-cover images at the website http://www.philsp.com/mags/argosy_uk.html
Advertised inside my1958 issue was the first issue of another UK magazine, Suspense. Lasting for 32 issues only, this monthly specialized in thrillers before merging with Argosy. It too remains remembered online and serves as a compass to great writers of the past who can still be found on Amazon Their names are listed on the covers at http://www.philsp.com/mags/suspense.html
Narrative styles may change over the years, but the reading of a good story remains a delight. An author in Argosy or Suspense half a century ago would predictably also have written a few novels between then and now. Using the browsing technology of today, it was an easy matter for me to discover the old gold awaiting anyone who is prepared to dig.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
PAIN AND JOY OF A BOOK REVIEW
4 September 2016
BOOK REVIEWS? Authors hope for them and then often hate them and, occasionally, experience delight in them But here’s a question to ponder: Should authors review books by other authors?
As a New York Times article pointed out a few days ago, actors and musicians do not comment on the creativity of their fellows. Why do authors? Why indeed. Read the full piece here.
Most popular crime
TRUE crime has topped the fiction kind in a survey among book critics. The trend will soon be reflected in TV drama. We all know that truth is stranger than fiction, but overcoming fiction in popularity comes as a surprise. Could it be because current crime fiction has failed to stir sufficient enthusiasm? I will say this: there are too many clones of best-selling titles
THE .Publishers Weekly has listed its pick of noteworthy titles about to be released. It covers all genres
Happy reading! From Cathy.
A best-of-British spy debut
21 August 2016
NIGHT HERON *****
by Adam Brookes
Master of the craft. It is good to discover an author who, hopefully, will entertain me for many years to come. This, his first novel, marks the arrival of a spy-story craftsman who has behind him world experience as a journalist in several political hotspots. Topical as tomorrow’s headlines, the plot involves current rivalries in Southeast Asia and the push into new weapons for our Digital Age.
Human emotions (fortunately for authors) do not change as fast as whizbang technology. The narrative employs strong characters and tight tension between them. Also deadly situations that had me hooked, page after page.
A first-rate British thriller, the storyline includes scheming and interventions by Intelligence personnel in the United Kingdom, China and America. Some of these folk are frightening. Others, who are minor yet well imagined, help knit the fascinating plot. My favourite of these was Granny Poon in Beijing.
The author brilliantly blends the conflict of individuals and the excitement of action. The end chase is sizzling stuff and unpredictable in its progress across China. I look forward to the next work by Adam Brookes. Its title: Spy Games.
Happy Reading! from Cathy.
14 August 2016
THE KINGDOM OF ASHES ***
by Robert Edric
A missing ingredient. Excellent characters, fine interaction, tense situations and a sincere depiction of a grim era, but WHERE IS THE STORY? This lack, I feel, negates the good writing. I was left unsatisfied.
This was my first reading of Robert Edric. Hopeful his other novels might prove more pleasing, I shall browse his offerings at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Robert-Edric/e/B001HCV15S
THE WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION ***
by Agatha Christie
Readable mix. Agatha is always readable, even when her end solutions don’t quite reach a reasonable credibility. These short stories present a good mix despite the inevitable old-fashioned nature of style and content. The title yarn is page-turning, while the last tale is a clever Poirot investigation.
A story called ‘Accident’ is one of this author’s best. The others are okay, and even the least worthy offerings exercise a reader’s little grey cells.
HIT MAN ****
by Lawrence Block
A certain genius. It takes unique genius for an author to extract humour from the crime of murder. Of course, detective stories do this fairly frequently, but Lawrence Block’s protagonist, ha-ha, is the killer in person.
Each tale here presents a challenge to Keller, a professional assassin who loves dogs and is a decent chap in all but one grim and gruesome detail. The characters and situations are brilliantly entertaining.
Happy reading! from Cathy.
North Korea’s Dear Puppet
7 August 2016
THE peculiar worship by North Koreans of a single godlike leader has always astounded me. Brainwashing from babyhood would help explain it, but starving people must surely put their hunger first. Right? Perhaps and perhaps not. A website run by refugees who escaped the dictatorship gives extraordinary insight into the realities of this rogue nation and its ‘Dear Leader’ – www.newfocusintl.com
I learned of its existence from reading recently a book called Dear Leader, written by a former top-ranking cadre who fled in fear of his life. Author Jang Jin-Sung (a pen name) was once highly favoured as poet laureate to the current dictator’s father, Kim Jong-il. While Jang’s book reads like a thriller with portions of horror, its most fascinating chapters reveal North Korea’s unique power structure. The so-called Leader is not quite the deity presented to the world.
Particularly enlightening to me was the policy of diplomatic deceit and nuclear provocation. This ensures that a flow of foreign aid continues to prop up an evil tyranny.
The future of a third-generation Kim God gets some end comments deserving fuller treatment. As mentioned above, I found this at the author’s website.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
CRIME LEADS THE WAY
31 July 2016
CRIME leads reading preferences because it is available in so many forms and fancies. Authors and publishers over the decades have shown that dastardly deeds entertain in all the genres. Romance, historical, comical, thrillers, even science fiction have all been host to the illegal behaviours that makes a good story. Murder, theft, kidnapping . . . name your choice and there’s a heap of book titles to entertain you.
Latest author to make a name in crime is ex-cop Clare Mackintosh. She won Best Crime Novel at the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival with I Let You Go. The judges preferred her work over a short-list of five other writers, including JK Rowling, the Harry Potter creator who pens crime under the name Robert Galbraith. Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel won her £3000 and lots of publicity. Check her appeal via Google.
It is good to have these awards – the Crime Writers Association runs similar annual contests – as a guide to quality releases. This is especially helpful for me, having read everything available by my favourites PD James, Ann Morven and Caroline Graham.
Notable at the Theakston event (which Val McDermid helped innovate some time ago) was a special prize for McDermid herself. Her crime fiction never fails to please, and this was recognised by an Outstanding Contribution honour.
Away from the mainstream, I have discovered a useful website which features a large array of crime fiction in all genres. It’s name: Booklist Reader.
Meanwhile, the strange tale of a best-selling crime novel is both informative and wide ranging at The Washington Post:
Happy reading from Cathy.
GRAND YEAR FOR BOOKS
24 July 2016
WE all have our preferred methods of seeking the next read, and there’s no scarcity of book lists to help bring the best (and others) to our attention. At the halfway mark of 2016 it has been a big year for books, and doubtless the critical news events the world is now experiencing will inspire many future tomes.
Just as there is no shortage of books, there is a variety of sources naming and recommending worthy creations. One of the more reliable for quality is Publishers Weekly. Top authors and richly promoted titles get substantial reviews in this publication’s ‘Summer Reads’.
At last beyond doubt!
Shakespeare’s real identity
Britain’s Guardian newspaper regularly keeps readers posted, although their preponderance of pictures makes their index hard going. My preference for a substantial array of releases is The Millions website http://www.themillions.com/2016/01/most-anticipated-the-great-2016-book-preview.html
But to my mind the first half of 2016 has seen publication of a classic that shakes the literary world: Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare – the Evidence. It is convincing proof by two literary detectives that identifies the real identity of Shakespeare. It is not the first of many books disputing the authorship of plays and sonnets by England’s genius, but for the first time it places the matter beyond doubt. There is a good comprehensive review by Charles Bryce.
Several major anniversaries have resulted in books this year, with more to come before now and Christmas. They include the Great War battles of the Somme and Verdun (100 years) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (75 years ago). And 25 years ago came dissolution of the Soviet Union. In Britain the big literary celebration turns (again) to Shakespeare 400 years after his death.
A good read, mind you, does not have to be recently published. Browse your authors of choice to select assured entertainment.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
A SHOCKING GOOD READ
17 July 2016
DISCOVERED by chance, I came across one of the best crime reads any reader could wish for. First published a year ago, and now highlighted anew on the Internet, it is an anthology of sensational cases solved by the Singapore Police Force. The Straits Times Press has done a brilliant job in editing and presentation.
These true crimes occurred between 1965 and the present day. They range from murder to massive fraud. Each case is described in grim detail followed by the forensic clues, the trial, cunning defence by perpretators and the eventual unmasking. I found it every bit as compelling as a whodunit bestseller. To mention just a few of the cases:
The perfect murder appeared lucratively successful when a man reported his girlfriend had disappeared while diving beneath the ocean. Her life had been heavily insured, causing the insurers to be suspicious. Yet what could they prove?
In another murder, two brothers and five other youths killed a businessman and two of his employees for 120 gold bars, worth more than $500,000.
A dance hostess was the first woman sentenced to death in the Singapore Republic. She killed the wife of her Japanese lover.
A gunman met his end in a shootout with police. Such was his notoriety that 33 inmates absconded from a reform centre to attend his funeral.
An evil charlatan and his two ‘holy’ wives kidnapped, tortured and killed a pair of children. It was revenge against police for charging him with rape.
Rogue trader Nick Leeson, while based in Singapore, brought down Barings, Britain’s oldest merchant bank, in a global financial scandal. He falsified accounts, racking up $2.2 billion.
Tourist from Hell: John Martin Scripps befriended tourists, then butchered them and drained their bank accounts.
The above and other fascinating crimes, and how they were solved, are at
If your fancy is fiction, there is a wide variety of baffling murder cases well written at
Happy reading! From Cathy.
What killed the Western?
10 July 2016
THEY are still around, but no longer the dominant genre they were in their Golden Age when Zane Grey rode the purple sage. The world has moved on from Wild West years, yet those same years spawned other genres that still remain hot favourites – such as Romance, Mystery, Historical, Spies, Fantasy and Sci Fi.
So why this wane in the popularity of the rootin-tootin shoot-out? Zach Rabiroff discusses the puzzle in a long and nostalgic article, found at Open Letters Monthly. It made me curious to learn what the genre still offers, and to seek some of the modern authors who still create oldtime cowboy yarns.
Ron Schwab has a wide following. His latest is Medicine Wheel, just published. Likewise J. Lee Butts with A Bad Day To Die in a series about a tough Texas Ranger. Then there’s Strong Convictions, by J.P. Hutchinson, and late last year Incident At Diamond Springs, by Kendall Hanson.
The genre side-tracks a bit under the romantic Harlequin pen of Maisey Yates (Tough Luck Hero), and travels across the world to Australia, where John Ivor’s No Kiss For A Killer has all the classical ingredients of love, hate, wide lands, influential baddies, justice denied, tribal hostiles and, yes, even a fast-draw cowboy. A short digital extract makes an exciting short story at Smashwords under the title Kill.
It seems to me that the traditional Western elements – the emotions, the adversities -- remain in most recent fiction. Therefore it is a bit of a puzzle why the Wild West is nowadays not such a bestseller location. I don’t know the answer.
The article by Zach Rabiroff ponders the current sparsity of fresh authors in this genre. It’s an enjoyable read and includes a few nostalgic extracts older readers might recall from their teen years when cowboys and injuns were all the rage. Find it here:
Happy reading! from Cathy.
DEATH OF THE SHAKESPEARE MYTH
23 jUNE 2016
by Charles Bryce
SUCH A SHAME, but now proved beyond reasonable doubt. The much vaunted Bard of Avon wrote nothing. William Shakspere, gentleman of Stratford, penned not a single line of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets that enrich world literature. Two learned literary detectives have finally cracked the mystery which baffled academics for 400 years.
The Shakespeare Debate has raged fierce and wide, so who was he (or she?). An unlettered country lad from Stratford upon Avon could never have the familiarity of court, knowledge of European places and languages, and the life experiences evident in Shakespeare's comedies, histories and tragedies. Many candidates have been suggested as the true author against vigorous defence from Stratford believers who have theorised the many ways young Wil came to own such erudition in so many diverse areas.
Over the years the main Shakespeare aliases have included the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland and Sir Henry Neville. The last named is the true creator of the famous works, according to seemingly irrefutable evidence. This is recently published in Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare, by Professor William D. Rubinstein and Dr John Casson. So far (meaning my last google search) it has not been challenged.
With Bard of Avon ideology now convincingly demolished, methinks England's tourist promoters will have to create a new profile for the genius author.
Until they do, Stratford on Avon is sure to lose much of the glitter that annually draws tourists from all over the world to ‘the birthplace of Shakespeare’. Is a new idol (perhaps the Bard of Berkshire) now going to supplant the Bard of Avon because Neville was born in a small village between Maidenhead and Reading and ten miles from Windsor?
Must the appeal of Stratford on Avon fade before the thrill of treading the ancient lanes of Waltham St Lawrence (population 1500)? Should Anne Hathaway Cottage bow out to a totally different heritage, such as The Bell pub or Neville Community Hall? Or tourists spurn ‘Shakespeare’s tomb’ at the Stratford Holy Trinity Church in order to seek Neville’s grave at St Lawrence Church?
It is a serious issue for Stratford on Avon, the economy of which centres around Shakespeare and five million tourists a year. In contrast, Waltham St Lawrence is off the tourist map, although not without minor fame as a television clone site for episodes of Pie In The Sky, Rosemary and Thyme and Midsummer Murders.
It is hard to imagine what Stratford can do to retain the town’s reputation and prosperity. Doubtless the pro-Stratfordians are desperately seeking how to respond to the Casson/Rubinstein evidence. They face a difficult task.
Arguments against Neville being the Shakespeare writer have been made before, ever since author Brenda James nominated him in 2005. In fact, eight previous books have explored the Neville qualifications. However, none has been as thorough and overwhelming as the Casson/Rubinstein findings. Both wrote previous books on Neville as Shakespeare, but now their teamed talents combine in what I would call absolute proof.
Dr Casson, now retired, is a psychotherapist specialising in psychodrama – which includes how an individual uses language. He is also an expert on ancient documents.
Professor Rubinstein is a historian with enormous experience and scholarship, a Royal Historical Society member whose work is well known internationally and highly regarded.
They solve the Shakespeare puzzle by comparing undisputed chronology of the famous works with events in the life of Sir Henry Neville of Waltham St Lawrence and that of William Shakspere of Stratford, actor, theatre manager and property investor.
Also, they detail scribbles and annotations by Neville in books recognised as source material for many Shakespeare plays. They compare Neville’s letters with words and phrases used at a later date by Shakespeare. Handwriting too. They point out a change of genre in the plays, from comedy through history to tragedy, as Neville’s parliamentary career progressed to imprisonment in the Tower of London when linked to the Essex Rebellion of 1601.
They explain why Neville chose to write secretly – his head was at risk. They show how Shakespeare had Neville family members in his histories, and how he often twisted facts to turn historical Neville baddies into goodies.
Most enlightening, they insist Shakespeare was not just writing for fun or profit. They identify themes coinciding with dangerous ideas about dethroning an English monarch.
As for Shakespeare’s sonnets, these are analysed to show motive and relationship with Neville’s Tower of London accomplice.
This book is well produced by Amberley Publishing, with extensive end tnotes and a massive bibliography. It is so convincing that I declare the Bard of Avon to be well and truly dead. Long live Wil Shakespeare of Waltham St Lawrence.
At the age of 15, Neville matriculated from Merton College, Oxford and toured the Continent with his tutor. He was Member of Parliament for New Windsor (1584, 1586, 1593), Sussex (1589), Liskeard (1597) and Berkshire (1604, 1614). His father (also Sir Henry) took custody of Mary Queen of Scots 1584-1585 before her beheading in 1587.
Neville succeeded his father as High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1595. He owned a business that made cannons. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Berkshire in 1596 and knighted in 1597. Appointed Ambassador to France, he returned to became involved with the 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Essex. Confined to the Tower, he was released 1603 when James of Scotland succeeded to the throne.
Like all writers, he used autobiographical experience in his fiction, leaving an uncanny trail to be brilliantly exposed only 400 years after his death. Ironically, the truth is revealed in the very year England holds 400th anniversary shows, events and celebrations to honour a Bard of Avon who never was.
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Always a delicious blend
7 May 2016
STORIES fascinate and so do great events of the past. Blend the two and you get the thrills, entertainment and knowledge of historical fiction. Maybe the heyday of such novels is past, yet adventure (to me anyway) is never more delightful than when an author places it in a bygone era.
That’s my lead-in for a mention of the novels of John Ivor. His theme is a fascinating niche in the days of the British Empire, the attempt to create a social Eden in a wilderness at the end of the world. It was Britain’s first free settlement in the Great Southland – nowadays called Australia. The idea was widely hailed, the outcome horrendous. John Ivor’s fictional characters do their thing amid the weirder ones of real history!
John Ivor’s books are displayed on his Amazon page or, for digital enthusiasts, at Smashwords.
For Barnes & Noble customers (with whom he’s a favourite) the link is http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22John%20ivor%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall
Meanwhile, I was interested to glance through another reader’s list of the 200 best adventure stories of all time. We all have personal preferences. Here I found a few unknowns to be investigated in days ahead. The Internet makes browsing an ongoing joy.
Happy reading! From Cathy.
SHAKESPEARE’S ANNUAL EXHUMATION
2 May 2016
THE delving into Shakespeare’s death is over for another year. How the world loves to speculate about it! His grave, his Will, his dying days . . . all get an airing on the anniversary of his passing in April 1616. That’s 400 years ago, yet the world invokes the genius with ever-swelling enthusiasm. This year was no exception and it all made for some lively debating.
Amid the many theories concerning conspiracy and identity, Lloyd Evans in The Spectator revealed a possible cover-up to disguise the actual cause of the Bard’s demise. Whether one believes it or not, the diary of the 1661 Vicar of Holy Trinity has intriguing details.
Was England’s immortal playwright an alcoholic? Did he suffer from the pox? Is there a clue to the real man in his fictional writings?
Equal Shakespeare puzzles are presented by fiction author Ann Morven in her whodunit The Killing of Hamlet, which I have mentioned before. Her modern murder mystery includes the grave, the real identity and a Will that stretches across the centuries to an English village linked to the Battle of Agincourt.
In the aftermath of their crowded week of remembrance, Shakespeare addicts will find the Spectator article here:
And Ann Morven’s delightful fibs, in paperback or digital format . .
Happy reading! From Cathy.
JUDGING DONALD TRUMP BY HIS BOOKS
17 JULY 2016
CAN we tell what a person is really like by reading their writings? Before he became president of the United States, Barack Obama’s books (I read several) suggested a decent sensible man. The books of Donald Trump (I have read none) suggest exactly what we have seen on television. Good or bad? That’s what Americans are struggling to decide. And so is the rest of an unsettled world. The result of the US presidential election on November 8 is going to affect us all.
As those insulting, brawling, infantile debates recur, my conclusion is God Save America. They remind me of kids squabbling in a schoolyard. I decided early that I wouldn’t vote for any of the three Republican front runners: Trump, Rubio, Cruz. Nor Clinton or Sanders for the Democrats.
The Republican establishment has an unusual dilemma in that their most popular candidate is the anti-establishment Trump. He is also a prolific author, so what do his written words reveal?
Late last year he became a book-a-month creator (mostly co-written) to seek votes for his presidency bid. Certainly the titles are good: The Art of the Deal, Make America Great Again, Time To Get Tough . . . and he has repeated their big-sell messages on the debating stage. Is he an actor, a salesman, a genuine author? A more unsettling question is his worth to lead the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country.
Trump, 69, has a website that for many years has pushed themes like How To Get Rich, Think Big, Make It Happen, The Midas Touch, Think Like A Billionaire, and so on.
His books on Amazon share five-star praise and one-star venom, leaving readers (as with all Amazon reviews) to sift for reviewer sincerity.
Here are some resources that might clarify Trump’s literary and presidential talents.
Trump’s Amazon page:
A sober anti-Trump assessment:
Trump’s personally written books:
Some unbiased facts:
Happy reading! from Cathy.
BULLYING BIGOTS THREATEN BOOK TRADE
7 February 2016
THE first month of 2016 showed that the weird and wonderful world of books is thriving stronger than ever. Too bad the weird and wonderful was not actually a book but the peculiar reaction to one. As often happens, its cover offended. What was the offense? Believe it or not, the outcry was because it showed American slaves who were smiling.
Scholastic Publishing caved in and (shame on them) withdrew this children’s book from distribution and offered to refund people who had already bought it. Their statement said:
“Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”
I’m still flabbergasted that there still exist bigots who exert such influence in the book trade. They are real and dangerous enough, though. The School Library Journal in the US said the book was ‘highly problematic’ and Kirkus condemned it as an ‘incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery’. Agitation followed by librarians, social justice groups, activists from BlackLivesMatter and some journalists who should know better.
One summed up Scholastic’s crime thus: “The need for accuracy, not for sweetening, with regards to the enslavement of Blacks in America is critical to this country. This era in American history has shaped our national identity and until we get it right, we will continue to be encumbered with racism.”
I fear these bullying wowzers may infect children’s books from now on. No more friendly tigers (unless the author warns they eat people), ditto happy crocodiles and loving dragons. And for goodness sake, never portray those victimised fox creatures as baddies. The Big Bad Wolf? Hey, that’s an endangered species, so do not disparage. Cinderella? Ban her. She gives false ideas about handsome princes. Snow White? A misleading representation of dwarfs.
My verdict: children’s books are for children to enjoy before they grow up to the realities of history and this troubled planet. And I rather like the fantasy of President Washington hugging his Black chef, as appears later in the book. It suggests to me, and perhaps to children, that Black and White Americans can co-exist without rancour. Now where can I purchase A Birthday Cake for George Washington?