Summer reading

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There's nothing better during the year's most relaxed season than escaping into a book, whether you're on the road or in a hammock. Here are some suggestions for good reads, beginning with a few dependable brand names -- authors bound to provide the right touch of light summer entertainment for you or a client:

  • Robert Barnard. This prolific British author has a slew of witty, intelligent mysteries under his belt. Barnard's trademarks include maliciously devastating portraits of human stupidity and a surprise twist at the end. If you're a music fan, check out one of my favorite Barnard titles, "Death on the High C's," about murder in an opera company.
  • Sarah Caudwell. Another British master of mysteries, Caudwell has written just three, but they're good enough to have become classics of the genre: "Thus Was Adonis Murdered," "The Shortest Way to Hades" and "The Sirens Sang of Murder."
  • Book Cover entitled The Sirens Sang of Murder.Each features a group of London lawyers who encounter murderous situations while visiting picturesque locales (Venice, Greece and the Channel Islands) whose culture becomes a part of the story. With plenty of witty wordplay, Caudwell has a knack for enlivening topics that would otherwise seem deadly boring -- such as the intricacies of tax law in "The Sirens Sang of Murder."

  • Marissa Piesman. Piesman also writes a mystery series, but her books are light on plot and heavy on whimsical musings from her sleuth, New York lawyer Nina Fischman. Favorite topics for Nina include the fine points of life in New York, the differences between Jews and the rest of the world and the difficulties of navigating relationships when "ambivalence had been the keynote speaker at all of [her] internal monologues for as long as she could remember."
  • Piesman's novel "Close Quarters" is a good read for this season because it takes place at a summer house on Fire Island, where a ladies' man is killed by an unusual method: poison administered in a seasickness patch.

  • Joe Keenan. Before Keenan became an executive producer for the television show "Frasier," he used his talent for well-crafted hilarity in two books chronicling the misadventures of show-tune lyricist Philip, composer Claire and their wacky friend Gilbert.
  • In the first book, "Blue Heaven," Gilbert (who is gay) plans marriage to a barracuda of a woman "for the gifts" from his wealthy, Mafia-connected family; many funny complications ensue. In the second, "Putting on the Ritz," the gang gets involved with a pair of feuding billionaires, with Philip and Claire writing songs for one of the billionaire's talentless wives. No murder mysteries here, just killing laughs.

    Besides the books mentioned above, I'd recommend three more:

    Book Cover entitled Thank you for not smoking.

  • "Thank You for Smoking," by Christopher Buckley. Think you're in a tough profession? Consider Nick Naylor, spokesman for tobacco's main trade association, whose daily irritants include being compared to a Nazi war criminal and having to lie about what smoking really does to you. This is wicked satire with an outlandish plot (in which a patch again means danger).
  • Book Cover entitled Tourist Season .

  • "Tourist Season," by Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen, known for a series of novels that combine over-the-top violence with humor, does his bit here to skewer Florida tourism. A terrorist group tries to get all the tourists to go home, with tactics that range from choking the president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce with a toy rubber alligator to kidnapping the Orange Bowl Queen.
  • "Smoothies," by Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Corpening and Lori Lynn Narlock. OK, there's not much plot here; in fact, there's none. But this is perfect summer reading. The point is how to keep yourself nourished without breaking into a sweat in the kitchen, with healthful blender drinks. Can't wait to try the honeydew melon mint combination and the Almond Joyous (a chocolate-almond smoothie whose flavor replicates that of the candy bar).
  • Agent picks

    We asked two literate retailers what books they have their noses stuck in these days:

    I use reading for total mindless escapism! I love spy novels, World War II novels, quick reads to clear my head. And I really enjoy reading novels set in international destinations because I love to compare an author's description of a city or country to the real thing.

    One author I've been drawn to is John Maxim. He has a series of books centered on a character named Bannerman, with a group of retired assassins who are living in a small Connecticut town and are occasionally forced out of retirement. When this happens, they operate out of Bannerman's business, which happens to be a travel agency. Is this an example of a new profit center for agents?

    Gerry Jung.Gerry Jung
    Vacations Plus
    New Berlin, Wis.

    "Net Worth," by John Hagel & Marc Singer. This fascinating book takes us beyond the immediate future of e-commerce, explaining that soon, Net users will become impatient when they can't find what they want quickly enough and have too much junk mail.

    "The Desert Queen," by Janet Wallach. This is a biography of Gertrude Margaret Bell, the British woman who rode off into the desert and singlehandedly formed the nation of Iraq. Yes, Lawrence of Arabia crossed her path many times. Having recently toured Iran, Syria and Yemen -- where women are still treated worse than dirt -- I found it fascinating that this woman could accomplish so much on her own 80 years ago.

    Rex Fritschi
    Travels With Rex
    Chicago

    Turen's book picks

    Richard Turen."The One to One Future," by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. This book debunks the notion of mass marketing, making the case for cultivating the 20% of your business that is the most loyal and profitable.

    "The Millionaire Next Door," by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, who quantify the shift of wealth in this country -- useful if you have affluent clients. You'll learn that the typical millionaire lives next door, not in Beverly Hills, and is most likely to drive a Jeep Cherokee, and that 80% of the millionaires in America are self-made. The term that most closely characterizes their lifestyle, according to this study, is frugality.

    Novelist and reporter Carl Hiaasen has written a short, biting examination of the dark side of the Disney empire called "Team Rodent." He claims that "Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil."

    I read and recommend anything written by Tom Peters, the Stanford Business School guru whose best-seller "The Search for Excellence" identified strategies of companies that truly strive to be the best in their field.

    Finally, I have been recommending "Feeding Frenzy" by Stuart Stevens. This is a true story of three New Yorkers who drive across Europe dining in 29 top-rated (in the Michelin guides) restaurants in as many days. It's a mad dash -- but you will learn which of these restaurants not to recommend to your clients.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

    Keeping customers happy

    Book Cover entitled Red-Hot Customers."To succeed in sales, you must be a strategic thinker. A strategic thinker understands that most sales take place after the fifth call -- and that most salespeople quit after the first," writes Paul S. Goldner in his book "Red-Hot Customers: How to Get Them, How to Keep Them."

    Also, "a strategic thinker understands that you cannot be successful in sales if you do not bring new and valuable information to your customer at each point of contact in the sales cycle."

    The thesis of Goldner's book is that a company needs a "red-hot cause" -- a strong marketing position in which you differentiate your agency from others.

    Particularly useful in working with corporate clients is a section on account management, in which Goldner, who owns a computer-training company, provides a number of case histories describing how he was able to hold on to clients by refining his approach with a tool called a "value audit."

    Published by Chandler House Press, the book costs $16.95 and is available in bookstores nationwide.

    Going Hollywood

    Photo of formally dressed people.Thrifty Car Rental invited travel agent winners of a booking contest to party with Hollywood's finest at the fifth annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, held in Los Angeles.

    Pictured in front of the Shrine Auditorium are, left to right, Scarlete Pelfrey, director of travel industry sales, Thrifty; Larry Carnuccio, SatoTravel, Philadelphia; JoAnne Kimble, SatoTravel, Annapolis, Md.; Jean Murray, SatoTravel, Goose Creek, S.C.; JoAnne King, Sato Camp Ripley, Little Falls, Minn.; Melanie Holland-Carter, Cole Travel, Lexington Park, Md.; Dale Peak, SatoTravel, Salem, Mass.; Valerie Mac-Krell, SatoTravel, Patuxent River, Md.; Rose Mastberg, SatoTravel, Silverdale, Wash., and Tey Donley of Thrifty.

    The winners were selected from entries in a contest held last fall in conjunction with a consumer promotion that awarded Thrifty customers free video rentals from Blockbuster.

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