Top Ten Tuesday: Book List for Class on Foodie Life


This week’s TTT post was to be on food you enjoy while reading. I prefer chocolate, but that isn’t  enough for a post! Instea . I’m rebloghing my favorite foodie post!

You may need to click on the title of the reblogged post to see the photos. Sorry.


Hopewell's Public Library of Life


So math isn’t my strong suit. Today you get a Double Top 5 Wednesday!

This week’s topic is books for a class–I choose a class on living a foodie life! I may just teach this someday–maybe at a public library? A foodie book group? Fun!

Just one of my reminders that, even when you click on a link to book in Amazon, I do not make any money off this blog.


1. A Boat, a Whales & a Walrus: Menus and Storiesby Renee Erickson &Jess Thomson. My review.

2. My Berlin Kitchen: Adventures in Love and Lifeby Luisa Weiss. My review.

3. On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis. My review.

4. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchenby Julia Powell and My Life in Franceby Julia Child [I’m counting these as…

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Review: Ayesha at Last: A Novel by Uzma Jalaluddin


The Story

The hype calls it a modern-day, Muslim, Pride and Prejudice. I call it a rom-com. Ayesah is a substitute teacher. Her flighty, younger cousin, Hafsa, has flitted from non-started career to non-started career. Enter be-robed and beard Khalid working at her best friend’s company. When Hafsa decides to be an event planner, but can’t make it to he mosque on time for a planning meeting, instead of just explaining like an adult that she is filling in for her cousin, otherwise intelligent Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa.

Along the way, Ayesha and Khalid, who has expected to marry the girl his mother picks, begin to have feelings for each other. So imagine the surprise when his mother picks Hafsa and not Ayesha!

My Thoughts

This was a perfectly fun, light, read. There were twists and turns to keep it interesting and a cast of fun characters to make you feel the “feels” [sorry–but that’s the appropriate word here]. In short, I enjoyed every minute–it was just the right escape for my week’s commute. I listened to the audiobook.

My Verdict


Ayesha at Last: A Novel by Uzma Jalaluddin

When the covers tell a different story on different editions

I DO often judge a book by its cover. And, I’m very picky about cover art. Believe it or not, I’m already stressed about cover art for my yet-to-be-shopped manuscripts! I want my covers to be RIGHT. One thing that troubles me is the way covers are often re-done to “re-launch” a book in paperback or to bring to light a backlist book or just to makeover an author’s books in general. Here are a few books I was attracted to by the cover of one version but turned off by the cover in another. I have not necessarily read these books.

The hardback cover (left) did nothing for me. The paperback one, intrigues me. What are the stories revealed by those windows?

The American cover (left) evokes Mondrian, whose iconic primary colors work I love. The UK cover makes me yawn and think “another women’s thriller.”

Thanks to Rather To Fond of Books for bringing these two books to my attention. Click the link and give her post a read, too.

Had I first encountered the UK cover (left), I’d have passed on a wonderful book. The matches made me think something bad would happen in spite of the cheerful yelllow color behind them. The US cover (right) coveyed the tone of a book I would (and did) enjoy. You can read my review here.

The print/Kindle cover on the left makes me want to start reading this right now. The audio cover I would walk right by and never notice.

Hardback (left) is blah, audio (center) is just a city, but the paperback has an illustration that softens the book to be more my kind of story.

Not sure why anyone would pick up the drab UK copy of this interesting-sounding book. The silhouttes get lost and look like a white blog on that red background, where as the US cover, with its pastels divides the silhouttes and makes in much more interesting.

Wow! What a dramatic difference! The word Hippie and all it conotates is perfectly expressed by the vivid Peter Max-ish vibe of the hardback/audio cover on the left. The paperback cover (right), yawn, brings to mind a lot of navel-gazing gibberish.

Does cover art affect your choices? Have any examples you’d like to share? Leave me a comment or do your own post and give me the link!


Review: The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead


WOW! Wow! Wow!!

The Story

…the immense exertion white people put into grinding them down….

Elwood Curtis is doing well in life and in school in early 1960’s Tallahassee, Florida, when he hitchhikes to a college class he’s been allowed to enroll in in high school and accidentally changes his destiny. He lands at the Nickel Academy–a Florida reform school for boys that is a special circle of hell.

My Thoughts

Colson Whitehead is one of THE authors of our time whose works are destined to be classics–especially The Underground Railroad, but Nickel Boys, too, will easily make that cut. My reading of this book was influenced by a [white] relative’s time incarcerated in the modern version of a reform school–a rehabilitative community prison for juvenile offenders. While it was nothing like Nickel in terms of the gruesome punishments or the predatory staff, there were still common elements. Like the impossibility of getting a real education. That still lingers in every prison setting.

I have lived in a ruthless African dictatorship and studied the Soviet Union extensively, so none of the torture or violence was a shock to me. I remember Dr. King (he was assassinated on my mother’s birthday) and know that, while it might be arguable that things are not as bad as his day, things are again sliding in the wrong direction in terms of racial discrimination. This book is a good reminder of how bad it was and how bad it must never be again.

The WOW, Wow, Wow, at the start of this post refers to what, “made” the book. To say more would be to totally spoil the story. This “story element” does prove my point about the author being one for the ages though.

The Nickle Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead

I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict


For another fictional look at institutionalized youth in despicable conditions see:


The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (Author), Yuri Machkasov (Translator)

For nonfiction on our prisons and criminal justice system see:


American Prison by Shane Bauer


An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz



Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons for Avoiding Books on TBR–and a few of the books


My usual reason for avoiding titles on my TBR is that I’d have to read them–in a book or on an e-reader. Over the last 11 years, my super-long (1.25 hours each way) commute has made me insanely in love with audiobooks. Sometimes though even I have other reasons for avoiding a book I might want to read.


1. It could be an Oprah book

If you’ve read any of my reviews you know that I often (but not always) dislike things with murder, incest, sexual abuse, body parts in the freezer–that kind of thing. Oprah’s the Queen of picking disturbing books (but not always). Disturbing is not my thing. Sometimes, I’ve been proved wrong though so I o occasionally try and like such a book. But I do hesitate a lot on any book with this potential.

Plus, a review used the phrase “lyrical masterpiece” which sounds desperate.


2. It could have too many “ick” sex scenes

I do not like to read graphic sex. Consuming sweat from yeasty areas does not entice me, ok?


All I can think is: “What do these people call sex in badly translate English?” That’s about what her last few books meant to me–and I used to jump at her books.

3.  If Historical Fiction it could be full of pet peeves

Those would include stilted conversations to explain everything, names not of the era, using the newspaper to fill up space, views/morals out of synch with the era. All are dnf reasons for me.

Scarred of a caricature of Alice Roosevelt doing even more insane things than she really did. And, know any Americans named Poppy–until the hipsters? Me neither. Social Security didn’t, either. And a fictional Margaret? Hmmm. Tracey Ullman did a great job, but in fiction writing? Lots of possibilities for who’s who conversations that should be covered in a Who’s Who page at the front.

4. It could go into BOTH #1, #2 and #3


Scary, isn’t it?

5. It will be a copycat.


I’ve loved many of the “Something-somthing-life of Somebody-Somebody” genre, but really? How many of these will work?


6. The Animal is in an Oprah book


Animal cruelty is a big NO.



Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

6 Degrees of Separation: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow should be exactly the book for me, but….it put me to sleep. There, I’ve admitted it. It’s good to come clean with secrets like this, isn’t it? So, this month’s chain of books somehow connected to it will involve a lot of free association or be based on the part of the book I made it through. Fair warning, now let us begin.

The Chain

Gorky Park by  Martin Cruz Smith


First up is Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, a novel I read when it came out. I was the pursing my degree in political science and Russian/East European studies back in the early 1980s, so it was very timely. Friends and I joked about the washing machine that could only handle multiple pairs of underpants. Gorky Park itself isn’t far from the Hotel Metropol where the Gentleman in Moscow takes place.

The Girl From the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia by Ludmilla Petrushevskay


This one was supposedly at the Metropol, only most of it wasn’t. My review. I wasn’t overly impressed with this–perhaps because of all the stories of Soviet life I’ve read.

The Red Daughter by John Burham Schwartz


Who but Stalin’s daughter could be more interesting than the Metropol itself? [Ok, I needed a clever statement, right?] Unfortunately my time ran out before I finished reading this one. I hope to finish it another time, but I am afraid all of the authors books pale for me in comparison to The Commoner. After All, Loving Frank, a book I can’t recommend often enough,  about Frank Lloyd Right, is tied to this one by the Taliesin chapters. [The extra books are just extra–not really in the chain.]

Mothers and Daughters: Elana Bonner


A family whose life was stood on end by Stalin and subsequent Soviet governments was that of dissident Andrei Sakharov. I studied all the great dissidents in college, and found their personal stories very compelling. But Sakharov and Bonner married later in life, so this is mostly her childhood story. She began in great Communist privilidge only to have it all taken away.

The Russians by Hendrik Smith [original version]


Back in the 70s as Detente had us all a-buzz, few Westerners had visited the USSR, let alone lived there. Unless, that is, they were diplomats or journalists. Smith was a journalist. He made this scary place a lot more human. This is another book I read in college.

An American Family in Moscow by Leona and Jerrold Schecter


Before the Smiths, the Schecters were in Moscow in 1968 with their large family–a family that recevied two apartments they were so large with 5 children! Their kids atteneded Soviet Schools–an amazing idea at the time. From this book I decided the USSR was not as fearson as we imagined–to have an item dry-cleaned you first had to remove all the buttons! How fearsome could such a place be? I devoured this book in college, though it was already a bit dated. Many years later they all returned and filmed their reunions with school teachers and the like. This book is fairly hard to find now at reasonable prices, which is a shame.

That’s my chain–really more topical this time, than “connections,” but…..

Why not join in next month? Go to Booksaremyfavoriteandbest for the rules. The starting book will be Three Women by Lisa Taddeo.


The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal


My Interest

Having loved the author’s earlier book, Kitchen Gods of the Great Midwest, I knew I wanted to read more by her. Having previously been over-run by small vineyards, my rural county now has a new “brewpub” serving craft beers to any area previously dominated by Budwiser. “Brewpub” might be wrong. “Taproom?” Whatever. They have a food truck come by to sell food in the parking lot. Inside the taproom/brewpub, they only sell beer. So, with that all in mind I started listening to this new book.

The Story

Two sisters take different courses in life–one by choice, one not so much. Big sister Edith does the predictable 1950s thing and marries young. Younger sister Helen finds her passion early: beer. But not just drinking it. She discovers she wants to brew it. She then does a few dirty tricks to use both her inheritance and her sister’s to make her own beer dream come true generations before people sought degrees in brewmastership (or whatever it is called).

Fast-forward to the modern day when Edith become guardian to her grandchild, Diana. Thru a stroke of sheer luck, Diana is taken on at a local brewery, and she, too, finds her calling making beer, only by now it is craft beer, but she needs a little help. That help is the best part of the story so I won’t spoil it.

My Thoughts

My first thought was how much this book was like a Fannie Flagg novel in tone and to me, that is high praise! I like a good, fun novel. No one gets raped or murdered and even the underhanded trick at the heart of it all isn’t really that heinous. Later I thought, the subtitle should have been: “Empowerment Through Beer.”

Diana’s story was so real and so relevant to today. No, she did not have to make the choice she did, but teenagers do surprising things when they try to do the right thing. [No spoilers]. I loved the outcome of that–it is how much such events should be handled in the real world. Edith’s life as a late-in-life worker was especially poignent. I am served every morning by elderly women just like Edith when I hit any drive-thru.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. The author is pitch-perfect on her characters voices, vibes, values,and valor. None were charicatures–all were real. It helped, too, that the performer of the audio book nailed the local accent. That makes it an even better experience.

As to the beer ad brewing aspect of the story, I’ve tasted some craft beers and admit I do not “get” the whole excitement, but I do love the sound of many of them as well as the names and logos–much more interesting than the old Bud, Hamms, Old Milwaukee and Michelob. And, yes, Coors was divine back in that day!  In regard to craft beers, after reading this book I realize I’ve likely just tasted bad ones. Chocolate Stout might just be the ticket for me, though.

My Verdict


The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal


Hurricane Books!


Image source: Google Maps

With the Hurrican Dorian still threatening the Carolinas and POTUS out with his sharpie, I thought today would be a good time to re-introduce readers to three great books about real life experience with hurricanes. From the horror of the actual storm, to the protection of the most vunlerable citizens, to manning up and doing what the aid agencies and government couldn’t get going, all three books are riveting reads.

For anyone in the path of Dorian I am praying. Be safe.

Hurricane Maria


“You should never feel guilty about feeling ambitious when you are trying to help other people. If you don’t dream then reality never changes.”

After hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico, chef Jose Andres and others got together to feed the people of the islands while FEMA, the Red Cross and others dithered and followed standard operating procedures that left people hungry, homeless and without hope. Military MREs were given out but were barely edible.

“A plate of food is not just a few ingredients cooked and served together. It is a story of who you are, the source of your pride, the foundation of your family and community. Cooking isn’t just nourishing, it’s empowering.”

As he tells his story, Andres tells of other disasters and how groups responded to the crisis. He documents the many times that President Trump’s TWEETS were nowhere near the reality and times when the President seemingly intentionally mislead the American people on the effort in Puerto Rico. He shows how ridiculous much of the response process is, how much over-spending and under-delivering is involved and how impractical many solutions are. Then he explains how he re-wrote the rule book on feeding people after a disaster….

“The group seemed to like my energy, but that was about it….They looked at me like I was a smart ass with some crazy vision of saving the world.”


You can read the rest of my review of this book HERE.


Hurricane Katrina


This book is being devoured by book clubs, so I knew I’d read it eventually. I was apprehensive though–a hospital in the most bungled natural disaster in American history? Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in rubber-necking to read this? No. It was the ultimate in human experience–both the good and the bad kind. I felt for most of the people in this book–most. I won’t say which ones did not earn my sympathy. But it does make all those deadly dull emergency planning meetings I’ve attended over the years seem worthwhile. And those emergency posters SHOULD be posted. Read this book and you WILL volunteer for the Red Cross and go thru their training and answer the call. Ditto FEMA classes (Did you know you can earn college credit for those?). This book is why I generally prefer non-fiction–this is REAL. It happened. These are real people. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. (This review was originally published on my old blog).


Galveston Hurricane, 1900


Like all of Larson’s books, this is a riveting non-fiction tale that  creates more suspense than a good thriller.This story has it all–politics, back-stabbing, cronyism, junk science, real science, colonialism,  nepotism–you name it, its in here. Oh and there’s bad weather, too. I read Five Days at Memorial about hurricane Katrina. Imagine Katrina with no Super Dome, no buses to evacuate anyone, no 24/7 t.v. coverage. But this story is also one of lessons learned. Lessons that would later help save lives. At the end I wasn’t sure who I wanted to slap and who I wanted to reward, but I was glad I’d read it. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.


Note: The first review was originally published in this post. The last two reviews were originally featured in this post: Disaster! Great Books on Natural Disasters

Review: Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer


The Story

Author Eric Manheimer is head of New York’s Bellevue Hospital–one of the oldest and busiest hospitals in the country. As the title suggests, he tells his story of “his” hospital by telling the personal stories of twelve patients cared for in Bellevue. Like New York City itself, the patients are the fabled “melting pot” of ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, educational backgrounds, and careers. Mental health, homelessness, domestic abuse, poverty, immigration status, and other factors contribute to the severity of the patient’s needs.

My Thoughts

This was not a book I could race through–it requires too much of an emotional connection to read it, digest it and recover [though there are no unnecessarily gruesome details] to read it fast. I have had a family member in the prison system so I was in no way shocked that are prisons are our mental health care of last resort. Nor was I especially shocked by the ways people must cobble together a living, or how the form substitute families–I’ve lived much closer to this than the author.

What did shock me was that he was able to keep doing his job while being treated in “his” hospital for a type of cancer the treatment of which required having his head bolted in place on a table for radiation!! THAT really amazed me.

Sadly, it was also a revelation that all those stories of Nazis fleeing to Argentina might have more truth than I thought. One woman’s story involved being taken from her parents, who were viewed as enemies of the country’s [then] oppressive military regime and given to “pure” regime-supporting military families ala Hitler’s Lebensborn. I gasped reading this. Pure evil. I admit, this is not a new revelation, but I have too little familiarity with South American politics to have known of it before.

Overall, I was amazed at the work of this institution. It also reinforced for me that while access to health care is not a “right,” our nation must sort out it’s horrible patchwork of payment systems and make it easier for patients to receive the care they need, regardless of income.


Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer



If this book interested you, you may also want to read:


My review from my old blog, published April 21, 2014

This book is being devoured by book clubs, so I knew I’d read it eventually. I was apprehensive though–a hospital in the most bungled natural disaster in American history? Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in rubber-necking to read this? No. It was the ultimate in human experience–both the good and the bad kinds. I felt for most of the people in this book–most. I won’t say which ones did not earn my sympathy. But it does make all those deadly dull emergency planning meetings I’ve attended over the years seem worthwhile. And those emergency posters SHOULD be posted. Read this book and you WILL volunteer for the Red Cross and go thru their training and answer the call. Ditto FEMA classes (Did you know you can earn college credit for those?). This book is why I generally prefer non-fiction–this is REAL. It happened. These are real people. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

Review: All the Stars in Heavens: A Novel by Adriana Trigiani


My Interest

It was love at first sight for me. Clark Gable was THE MAN. No matter that, in real life, he was 3 years younger than my grandparents, he was the ONE. Well, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, that is. I had a poster of him as Rhett in my bedroom for several years. I still have several books on him in my Gone With the Wind collection. Loretta Young, the dreamy wife in my favorite Christmas movie–The Bishop’s Wife, added to the appeal of this book. Finally, author Adriana Trigiani has become a fast favorite of mine when I want an enjoyable family sort of saga.



Gable & Young in Call of the Wild


The Story


“The secret had become a member of the family. It had its own space; each person bore a responsibility to it in their fashion….But the problem with any lie is that it is as transparents as the truth.” (Kindle version, p. 419)

The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, and actress Loretta Young, made the movie Call of the Wild on location one winter and fell in love. At the time, Gable was married to controlling second wife, ‘Ria Langhorn Gable, 17 years his senior. The relationship was doomed from the start. Sadly–or happily depending on your point of view, this relationship led to the birth of the couple’s daughter, whose existence had to be officially hidden. This book is the story of that relationship and of Loretta’s efforts to make a good life for daughter Judy–going so far as to have her daughter’s ears pinned back to camouflage their likeness to Gable’s famous ears.

As Loretta deals wtih keeping the secret, Gable goes on with his life, all the while maintaining that Young pushed him away. Today, sadly, Gable would be big in #metoo tweets. His ways were not those of a modern metrosexual man. I admit that his reputation as a “ladies man” is not something I like or admire. Later in life, their daughter would claim her father had “date raped” her mother, but in the book all is consensual.


Gable & Young later in life in Key to the City
How steamy is this photo? Love it!


What I Liked

I loved that Loretta’s faith was accurately portrayed. Like all believers (Loretta was Catholic) she was completely imperfect. That Gable was a married man DID bother her. When she became pregnant she would not even consider an abortion like many other stars of the day had in similar circumstances.

What I Didn’t Like

“Didn’t like” is too strong, but I’ll stick with it for lack of a better expression. There were several times when the story seemed to jump forward without warning–or mention of the new year. This was confusing, resulting in have to backtrack and listen to something a second time.

There were a few silly historical errors that did not affect the story, but as always, make me wonder how old or well-educated the editor was. Doesn’t anyone Google? In one scene David Niven mentions doing his own lobotomy [joke] at a time when no one would have even be aware of the procedure–it may havebeen created, but was not at all known at that time. That is the level of error. These are a pet peeve of mine.

Finally, this is the only Gable book that didn’t mention his terrible breath!

Those are minor problems in an otherwise enjoyable story.

All the Stars in the Heavens: A Novel by Adriana Trigiani

My verdict




More by Adriana Trigiani


You can read my review of Adriana Trigiani’s newest novel, Tony’s Wife here.

How fabulous is that cover??

From my old blog:


WOW! How often do you find a big sprawling family saga WITHOUT  graphic sex, graphic language, horrific abuse or sexual molestation?? Well, The Shoemaker’s Wife IS that novel!! Such a sweet book! Coming of age story! Immigrant story! Love story! This one is not-to-be-missed! This story is the one you’d likely pick for your own ancestors! The characters are achingly real. The story is simple, honest, NORMAL. I just plain loved it!

The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani


For Additional Novels on the Golden Age of Hollywood:


51gsrre2mol-_sy346_  Girls in the Picture: A Novel byMelanie Benjamin–my review.

Women Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole–my review5133dxm6knl-_sy346_