Category Archives: book reviews

A few books for your late-pandemic consideration


How are you doing? Things are still roiling all over the globe. What’s been a long year for everyone  doesn’t look like it’s ready to quit yet. So, thanks to some help from my dear daughter Creed, I’ve gotten part-way through the pile of books I’ve collected for review. These contain books on Travel, Health, Memoir, Historical Fiction, Philosophy and Science. Have fun browsing!


Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey into the Red Light District, by David Wienir. Cannabis and prostitution districts form the map for this memoir set in 1999. Wienir toured this twilight world and came away with paradigm-shifting transformation in regard to the world’s oldest profession and the world itself. Uplifting, emotional, the author takes his story to corporate America. Readable and thought-provoking, the book reveals the way a 26-year-old American’s friendship with and promise to a Dutch prostitute and changed both of them forever. PICTURE
Secret Chicago: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure, by Jessica Mlinaric. Secrets about one of the world’s greatest cities, including oddities and inspiration in Chicago’s uncommon sites such as hidden attractions, haunted locales and unique landmarks.
The Full English, by Bull Garlington. Hilarious story of a father’s failed attempt to take his family on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the UK. His expectations, his wife’s meddling in his perfect plan, his children’s massive indifference, and others along with “England’s classic breakfast which consists almost entirely of canned beans.” Sample chapter titles: “How to Pee on a Bus in Dublin,” “Bagpipes and How I Hate Them.” Warning: lots of swear words.


Hospice: The Last Responder, by Ellen Jane Windham. A comprehensive guide to understanding how your loved one can complete his/her journey in the best way – at home and surrounded by family. The book tells how to take the fear out of finding your way through this transition.
Write for Recovery – Exercises for Heart, Mind and Spirit, by Diane Sherry Case. How to use writing to relieve stress and improve mental health. Life  coach Case reveals how journaling can help us process our emotions, increase self-awareness, and clarify our dreams.
Grandmothering: The Secret to Making a Difference While Having the Time of Your Life, by Linda Eyre. With 26 grandkids, the author has become an expert on getting and staying connected to your grandkids. She gives tips on using money wisely with them, and on how to model values (e.g., honesty, integrity and courage) – presumably without interfering with their parents’ authority. For good measure, she throws in some recipes to help you make good food for a crowd.
My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What about me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes, by Marc Treitler with Lianna Treitler. Based on this family’s personal experiences, the authors tell their history and describe how they learned that genes can give us a predisposition to be allergic to alcohol and other substances. They teach you how to stop the gene with your allergic reaction from ever turning on. Written in a user-friendly, teenager appropriate way, the book encourages readers to consider remaining abstinent from all types of mind-altering substances. The emphasis is on empowerment and free will.
The Interactive Guide to Good Health, from the Mayo Clinic


My Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir of Africa, by Susie Rheanholt. This daughter of a Green Beret had to move around a lot as a child. Her adventurous spirit eventually led her to a life of working to help underprivileged children in multiple African countries. She fights to help end the AIDS epidemic and eliminate poverty and illiteracy, starting with 9 orphans in a small rural village in Tanzania. If you’re looking for a story about living a life of purpose, this story might be a good one.
Just Five More Minutes, by Michael Ross. A true story of children, love and murder. A man chronicles the story of his wife’s murder, the 11-month trial of the perpetrator, and where he and his sons have come to 13 years later. Hints and tips he used to keep him and his family positive while rebuilding our lives and looking to the future.
My Love Affair with Italy, by Debbie Mancuso. Unlike a typical memoir, this book tells of a single woman’s twelve visits to Italy over 45 years and how she made lifelong friends. It’s known for her stories of dating Italian men, its beautiful descriptions of the country, and its many twists and turns that the reader doesn’t see coming.

Historical fiction

Friends of the Wigwam: A Civil War Story, by John William Huelskamp. This novel highlights the significance and importance of the role that the Midwest and its soldiers and citizens played in the Civil War. The book’s heroine is a woman who masqueraded as a man to fight in battle. She and other characters discover a hidden wigwam that welcomed runaway slaves and became a shelter for friendships and love among the war torn atmosphere of the Civil War in the Midwest.
Before We Die, by Joan Schweighardt. If you like to be swept up in historical stories, try this first of three in what’s called the Rivers series. Greed and desire in 1908 were no different than they are today. Two brothers seek their fortune among the rubber trees in the South American rain forest – along with floods, snakes, malaria, and hunger. They experience profound conflicts and suffer through the agony of being in love with the same woman.


God: An Autobiography, As told to a Philosopher, by Jerry L. Martin. A philosophy professor falls in love, and suddenly finds meaning in his life. He had previously had no religion at all. But upon his transformation by love, he is moved to thank God in prayer and is surprised to find God answers. Gradually he transforms from a lifelong agnostic to a man who believes in God. The book describes how God is present in all religions and cultures, and how anyone can learn to grow closer to God.


Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity, by Denis Noble. The author says genes are not active causes of anything, and we need to stop attributing so much power to them. Living organisms operate at a high level of complexity, and their interactions are influenced by its social environment. In other words, not everyone who has a gene for a particular trait or disease, will actually have it or develop it. Word of warning: this book is dense.

3 Book reviews: Cook away your anger, Chinese wisdom, friendship joys


You probably know I blog at and cover restaurant news at You’d think I might cover the first of these books at one of those, but even though it’s a cookbook, I’ve chosen to put it in this blog because it’s a memoir just as much. In any case, check out these books to see if something triggers your desire to sit down and read – or cook, or go to China, or call a friend.

The Art of Escapism Cooking

The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story, with Intensely Good Flavors, by Mandy Lee, author of blog, Check out the cover and you can reasonably expect this to have some drama. Her story of how she moved to Beijing for her husband’s work tells how she found herself frustrated with China’s autocratic political climate, infuriating bureaucracy, and choking pollution, and started her apologetically angry blog. In between, she discovered the glorious flavors of the East. Her ramen story on page 88 will send you running out for the ingredients ASAP. She swears – a lot – as she talks about the constant yellowish smog that requires vigilant Beijing residents to wear a respirator outside “to slow the blackening of our lungs when we went down the street to buy a f**#**# bag of sugar.” Her dark humor and her passion for elaborate flavors may just change the way you look at cooking. SRP~$18. Kindle version available.

Book of Chinese Proverbs

The Book of Chinese Proverbs: A Collection of Timeless Wisdom, Wit, Sayings & Advice, by Gerd de Ley. While we’re in China, this book is meant to help readers gain insights into China and its rich culture. The book divides the quotes by category: On Animals. On Beauty. On Experience. On Family and the Home. And so on. Some of the quotes just don’t feel like ancient wisdom, but they may be expressing some aspect of Chinese philosophy. An example: “The true man will not compromise his principles for a meager reward.” Really? If you pay him enough, he will. “A widow is a boat without a rudder.” Hmm. And many quotes do resonate:

  • “You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.”
  • “If your children are wicked, they don’t deserve to inherit; if they are good and hard working, they don’t need to.”
  • “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

Be interesting to discuss some of these with a Chinese-raised person. Hardcover only. SRP ~$15.

The Joy of Friendship

And while we’re on quotes, consider The Joy of Friendship: A Thoughtful and Inspiring Collection of 200 Quotations, from Hatherleigh Press. It’s a half-size book with chapters entitled things like Honesty, Loyalty, Support,that divide the book into sections that reflect important aspects of friendship. Many quotes are beautiful expressions from famous names.

  • “Some friends leave footprints in your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • “A single rose can be my garden; a single friend, my world.” – Leo T. Buscglia.
  • “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restored and sorrows end.” – William Shakespeare.

This may be a print-on-demand book; the binding and quality are not great, and our review copy arrived quite bent, so be sure to ask the shipper to take care in packaging. Hardcover SRP ~$11 and Kindle.


Book review: Prediabetes: A complete Guide


Book review. Prediabetes: A complete Guide, by Joy Bauer, MS, RDN. If you’re well over 55, even if you’ve mostly eaten relatively healthy during your life, your body may try to double-cross you in the area of insulin resistance – which is the cause of Type II diabetes. Even people who have long eaten lots of veggies and tried to avoid empty carbs and added sugars may become susceptible to this physiological change. The thing is, diabetes is a brutal disease that affects every part of your life and can ravage your body. And worse yet, it’s very hard to keep in check. But there’s hope if you’re not there yet.

if you and your doctor watch your sugar, you may catch this bodily rebellion early – in what’s known as the “prediabetes” stage. This is a time when your body is warning you of impending problems that can easily lead to the full-blown disease condition. But it’s also a time when you can change the course of your “golden” years. This book, written by a nurse who’s also a registered dietitian, is like a map you can follow that’ll lead to the better health that can reverse the rising-blood-sugar situation and keep you from having to live forever with the much-feared-and-for-good-reason Type II Diabetes demon.

There are recipes in the book, but more than that, it’s a guide for changing the way you buy, prepare and consume food. She gives you small steps to take first – because you do have a little time before prediabetes goes over the edge to a permanent state – that will start getting you used to eating food with less sodium and fat yet more nutrition. And then she gives additional ways to ramp up the nutrition and dial back the bad stuff without feeling like you’re suffering. So when you start changing things like cheese dip to quacamole, onion dip to hummus, and bagels to English muffins or bagel thins, you won’t be in so much confusion about what’s good for you. This is a good guide as to what changes you need to make. Diabetes is nasty. Read this book carefully and learn to protect yourself.


Passionate truth-telling by women of color


Unless you are friends with someone who’s told you in detail about the indignities of discrimination – and you really let it sink in – or you know someone and are deeply offended when this person regularly utters racial slurs, or you yourself are a person of color, you may not know the extent of the damage the world’s racist societies can do to the human spirit.

It’s worse than you think. Listen to this powerful and emotional TED Talk from Anjelica Dass,  a now-famous artist of color whose work is a passionate appeal for people the world over to stop dividing ourselves into black, white, red, yellow and brown, but rather acknowledge we come in all colors. Think strawberry yogurt, coffee-with-cream, walnut, dark wood that’s gotten wet…

Passionate truth-telling stories

And now comes a powerful book, compiled and edited by Deborah Santana, that gives voice to twenty women-of-color essayists: All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom. Each writer in this book describes with deep feeling some small measure of what she has experienced because of racism and of how she is coming or has come to terms with the inequality, the injustice and the lack of freedom that being of-color can mean.

The offspring of my Jewish-Christian, Russian-Irish mixed marriage were raised in Shaker Heights. I chose to live there because it was considered by many at that time to be the most successfully integrated community in the world. Living there helped attune us to many of the nuances of discrimination. And because someone very close to us is the offspring of a mixed-race relationship, all of us are always seeking to better understand how to combat prejudice and racism in this society. No matter whether you know, or want to know more, about the experiences of persons of color, Santana’s book is a powerful aid to understanding.

I read all these stories through, my heart squeezing and my chest heaving as I felt the suffering and confusion so many of the writers experienced growing up race-stigmatized. And of course, their suffering doesn’t stop in the adult world.

Although good readers of any age can easily understand the language, the content in some – detailing memories of profoundly abusive experiences – might be too discouraging for younger readers. All the stories are worth reading. Below is a selected list to consider:

  • Home Going. Novelist Natalie Baszille writes of her experiences of “home” as the daughter of a black man born and raised in Southern Louisiana who moved far away to escape the pain and indignities of the persecution commonly handed out to black people in that part of the country.
  • Indian Territory. Growing up Indian in a white world, author Eliana Ramage tells of rude questioning, experiencing the feel of history rewritten when her school visits the home of Andrew Jackson, who so ruthlessly persecuted her ancestors and is honored as a great hero.
  • From Negro to Black. A woman who lived through the Civil Rights movement, La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson writes of finding herself and family shifting identities first as Colored, then briefly Negro, then Black, then African American, and of her struggle to learn how to shed such labels and become herself.
  • A Letter to My Granddaughter. A highly successful journalist, the first Black woman to be recognized for her achievements in the field, writes a letter to her granddaughter explaining that the only way to overcome prejudice and racism is to speak your truth fearlessly.
  • Asian American Punk. Want Chyi, then a tiny girl of Taiwanese-Chinese heritage, often stared-at in her mostly white high school in the U.S., writes of how falling in love with punk music freed her to feel like she belonged somewhere at last.
  • The Girl from the Ghetto. Deborah L. Plummer writes in vivid detail about her life as a kid in a Black neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. At age 11 she was done with the kids’ book section of the library and moved on to subjects that matched the seriousness of her life experiences.
  • African in America. High schooler Ugochi Egonu writes in poetic stanzas of her frustration and anger at the ignorance and presumption about Africa that many white people display. While she is growing up in California, her grandmother lives in Nigeria and speaks only Igbo. Egonu mourns that she herself cannot speak more than a few words. But she vows that she will grow to womanhood and be the one to tell her story.

In case you have a granddaughter or grandson that you want to help understand the damage that racism does, this book is a treasure full of important truths.

*To see the names of all women who contributed, click on the “19 more” link under the title on the Amazon page for the book.