Category Archives: Book Reviews

Robert Wise – The Motion Pictures (Newly Revised and Updated Edition) by J.R. Jordan

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One of my favorite films of all time is ‘The Sound of Music.” It holds a special place in my heart and of course I’m not alone – it’s one of the most beloved movies in history. Because of the number of times I’ve seen the film, the name of its director, Robert Wise, is happily burned into my memory. In the years since then, I’ve been drawn to many of his other movies, including another classic musical, “West Side Story.”

But Wise directed 40 films in his career – most of them, in fact, NOT musicals. There were mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi and horror films. This book explores each of those films with a brief plot synopsis, behind-the-scenes stories and special interviews with cast members and others who were involved in the production. They paint a picture not only of Robert Wise the director but also Robert Wise, the man. There’s even an unexpected and delightful Foreword by actor Gavin MacLeod (yes, “The Love Boat” TV Captain!), who appeared in an earlier Wise film, and a heartfelt Introduction by Wise’s nephew, Douglas E. Wise.

From the origins of the story idea to the screenwriting process, from casting stories to pre-production and filming tales, information about post-production to the film’s premiere, author J.R. Jordan’s extensive research shines through on each page.

The book is a must-read for movie buffs and should be a part of anyone’s film history book collection. It’s also a fascinating look at the earlier days of Hollywood. Not only is Robert Wise an important part of filmmaking history, this book should also be part of movie history literature.

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My Life with Helen by Diane S. Nine

   Dean of the White House Press Corps, first president of the Women’s National Press Club, first female officer of the National Press Club – Helen Thomas was revered, perhaps at times feared, but almost always highly respected.

This is the image that was known to the world during her decades-long journalistic career.

But there was a human side to her that not many knew, and that’s what is so special about My Life with Helen, written by her longtime (30+ years) literary agent and friend Diane S. Nine.  Author Nine, and Helen’s small group of friends dubbed “The Ladies”, knew her perhaps better than anyone – not only as a journalist but as a woman.

Insider stories about Helen’s interaction with presidents, first ladies and presidential families from the administrations of John F. Kennedy through Barack Obama are fascinating, to be sure. But equally fascinating are tales of how this seemingly all-business trailblazer openly called out comments during movie screenings or stage plays, loved to sing, broke down in tears the first time she returned to the Shenandoah Valley cabin she’d shared with her late husband Doug, and kept going through a series of illnesses and hospitalizations that few people ever knew about.

Nothing is off limits in the book,  including the scandal created by Helen’s inappropriate, hateful comments to a rabbi which tarnished her career  when the contents leaked in audio and video form. Yet, in the hands of author Nine, even this is handled honestly but without aiming for sensationalism.

As a journalist myself, I’d always admired Helen Thomas, associating her with her role as a powerful force in White House history.  After reading My Life with Helen, I’ve gained an insight into her as a human being, as lovingly revealed by her dear friend.  This book is a glimpse of history that few knew and I can highly recommend it!

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Unclassified – My Life Before, During, and After the CIA by Richard James Kerr

Former Deputy Director of the CIA Richard Kerr has found a way to demystify the CIA and make it seem interesting and human. Unclassified is his memoir of the many years he spent at the Central Intelligence Agency, beginning at the young age of 25 as an analyst. It was 1960, in the era of President Eisenhower, just after the U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down, and shortly before the Bay of Pigs incident, to put things into historical perspective.  The amount of history he lived through as part of this agency is astounding, yet he makes the book friendly and easy to read. At times, I had to stop and realize that the words I was reading came from this once powerful and influential man who is still highly respected.

The stories he relays are not classified information (thus, the book’s title) but they are very much an inside look at some of our country’s most pivotal moments. He served under presidents from Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush, meaning he was very much present during the time of the Vietnam War, the Iranian oil crisis and the taking of hostages, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the troubles in Northern Ireland, to name but a few. And even after his 1992 retirement, he was involved in other projects, including assessing the pros and cons of a war with Iraq in 2001.

Mr. Kerr shares a humorous story about J. Edgar Hoover, insight on how each president preferred their briefings, and even a couple of slightly less favorable opinions about Admiral “Red” Raborn, Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump, though it’s all done in a tasteful way. A very telling chapter titled Colleagues gives great insight into what some of his colleagues thought about Kerr, and it’s clear he was very much admired in the CIA and beyond.

What’s charming is that, in spite of the positions he held, culminating as Deputy Director of the CIA, he was still humble and down-to-Earth. He talks of feeling like he was living in the film “Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington”, and never ceased to be amazed when he went to the West Wing and had the chance to look at the pictures there. What’s refreshing, and should be, in this reviewer’s opinion, the motto of those in Washington, D.C. to this day, is the fact that he says whenever he was told by White House officials that he was not being supportive enough of “the President’s policy”, he responded that the best support he could give the President was by giving an “unvarnished presentation of facts.” He says that even today, when asked if he worked for the government, he says, “No, I worked for the CIA.”

The book is an easy read and a refreshing look at history by the man who says that in his opinion, the best job in Washington, D.C. is being the Deputy Director of the CIA. Thank you for your service, Mr. Kerr, and for this book that readers of all types would enjoy.

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LIFE on the Road by Ryan Kelly

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My Irish heritage drew me to the singing group Celtic Thunder several years ago, and from there to the duo Byrne & Kelly. Ryan Kelly is a delightfully talented singer with both of these groups, and his hobby of taking photos while on the road performing has now been transformed into a photo book, LIFE ON THE ROAD.  I’ve long admired his photography – stunning scenes, beautiful colors and each one capturing a moment he experienced while on runs that he’s taken along the way.  I’ve often thought, as have countless fans, that he should compile some favorite photos and put them into a book. This coffee table sized book is exactly that.  There are shots from North America, Australia, Nepal, Uganda and his homeland of Ireland. The “reader” is transported to San Antonio, TX, Central Park NYC, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC (where you would think Mass is just about to begin and you’re right there), Duluth, MN and then Nepal and Uganda (which he visited on a charity mission). And of course, his beloved Ireland, where the greens are as bright as you’d think they’d be, and where this Irish descendant (great grandparents) hopes to visit one day soon.

Many more photos grace the book, some almost pastel in nature, some vividly bright. It’s a travel experience just looking at them.

For anyone who enjoys this singer or has seen his posts of photos on social media, it’s really something to treasure to have this book.  And for anyone who just loves good photography, it’s a treat as well.  Kelly calls himself an amateur but his photos are unlike anything the typical amateur could ever hope to achieve.

The book is available at http://www.ryankellymusic.com.

 

 

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Markets with Memory by Nima Veiseh

 

There was a time not very long ago when I were never have expected to be reviewing a book about the cannabis industry. But times have changed – quickly!  Living in California, I’ve noticed how many stores have opened selling cannabis products, since it’s now legal in this state.  I was curious – with all these business locations, is the industry as big as I think it is? What goes into making it a success?

I did a little research and found a book that examines this fast-growing industry. Author Nima Veiseh explores how the market is going from illicit to legal, with billions of dollars of profit as a result. He has clearly done exhaustive research into this subject and writes intelligently. It’s highly detailed and data-based. In fact, I have to admit that I didn’t totally understand all of the material. It’s not because Veiseh writes in a stuffy manner – he makes it easily accessible.

At any rate, even understanding only half of the material, I learned a huge amount. Business leaders and CEOs of other industries would learn so much more. But back to cannabis – entrepreneurs wanting to do more than grow a little “pot” and instead develop a wise and profitable business (perhaps a fortune?) should make this required reading. In fact Part 3 offers information of huge interest. It focuses on types of plants, plus everything to make the best and most successful products: proper light and water, nutrients, whether to grow indoors or outdoors, taste, aroma, soil choices – who knew so much goes into this business?  I do – now.

There’s also a discussion about doctors and the medicinal types of CBD and THC.

Whether it’s having curiosity about this rapidly-growing industry like I had, having a determination to make a success in this arena, or a having the desire to learn more about business principles, I recommend this book to readers.

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Cruising the Mississippi by Al and Sunny Lockwood

I’ve read other books by these two authors – about their adventures cruising the ocean to exotic places.  This book, about a river cruise journey, had me wondering – would it be as much fun to read, since it’s based on travel in the United States?  But I’ve been curious about river cruising for a bit, and decided to give the book a read.

Oh my! It did not disappoint!  In their usual fashion, they write of their journey like it’s a diary entry to a friend.  They relay sights, sounds, smells, tastes, what they wore, and it’s the next best thing to being right there with them.  They even incorporate costs of many items, but not in a strictly fact-based way – it’s all part of the story, expertly woven in.  Sunny is the main writer but Al chimes in quite often with his own take on the experience, and their photos are clean and crisp and beautiful.

This book, like their others, is a love letter to travel and exploration.  Through their eyes, the reader learns about the journey from New Orleans to Memphis. They took the trip in mid-December and it focused on Holiday Christmas Markets.  They give historical info on each city but it’s just enough without reading like a history book.

Seasoned travelers will enjoy reading this book but those contemplating their first cruise or a trip in this area of the U.S. will enjoy it as well.  I read travel books quite often but these two authors are the only ones who literally cause me to finish reading the book and search for a similar cruise.  I am now very interested in a journey aboard the American Queen, the vessel that carried them along the river.  And they mention, at the book’s conclusion, that they signed up for another river cruise, this one from Minneapolis to St. Louis. It’s Mark-Twain-themed and I can hardly wait to read about it!

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Choose Again! By Art Drentlau

        

This book is a clear example of good things (very good things!) coming in small packages.  The number of pages may be small, but the message is powerful and inspirational.

Author Art Drentlau relays a story that he says has been told in one form or another in other books.  But here, he fleshes it out and brings it to life, and then uses it as a motivational tool.  It’s the story of a man nicknamed “Will Bill Cody”, who suffered atrocities during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. His family was torn from him with devastating results (sound timely?), yet he chose, in an instant, to somehow muster the grace to turn the situation into a positive and life-affirming experience.  His life was spared and because of that, Bill  went on to help others in a remarkable way, because he experienced an epiphany of his own oneness with God. He allowed himself to align himself with his higher mind.

The moral of the story, as eloquently relayed by the author, is that, as the subtitle implies, we are all capable of more than we believe.  We are all better than we think we are and should strive to not only accept this but adopt it as part of our daily lives and mindset.  If we focus on what we don’t want, and on what we are not, that is what comes forward.  But if we believe we can have, or already do have, something better, and believe that we are acting as our higher self, that is what manifests in our life.  The reader is left with a feeling of wanting to go forward to achieve all that is possible.  It helps eliminate the feeling of self doubt or low self esteem.

I can see the author, should he continue in this genre of writing, bringing forth many other such motivational books.  It will be exciting to see!

 

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Hustlin’ Hummingbird by Mukon Ngoyi

      

 

Don’t let the slightly whimsical title fool you – this is a very detail-oriented yet highly motivational book.  I never plan to be an Uber or Lyft driver.  I’ve only taken one Uber ride in my life.  But I do have curiosity about this ever-growing phenomenon of having a virtual stranger drive you from one location to the next.  And I totally enjoyed the book!

It’s designed, according to author Mukon Ngoyi, as the 1st and only professional training guide for Uber and Lyft drivers.  I would say mission accomplished. The text and photos combine to present info on everything from types of cars to use, insurance and other protection, what to carry with you in your car (sickness bags – did not see that coming yet I should have, and it’s a genius idea!), to interactions between passengers and drivers, and everything needed to establish what can be a $90,000 a year, be your own boss income.

The book should be equally helpful to passengers, too, for its tips on what to do or not do when taking this mode of transportation.  It almost seems like it should be mandatory reading for drivers and passengers alike, to maximize the experience.

If every driver were like the author, they could make a very decent living.  And I’d be calling Uber or Lyft more often!

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The Thinking Game – A Winning Strategy for Achieving your Goals by Kara Lane

Most people take thinking for granted, assuming they can’t do anything about it. Or perhaps, we don’t think about thinking at all. But this book not only explains the importance of thought, it also focuses on how improving upon, and taking better control of, our thoughts can actually help us achieve our most treasured goals.

The Thinking Game is sprinkled with inspirational quotes by, among others, Gandhi, Confucius, Buddha, General George Patton, and perhaps the most appropriate of all is the first quote referenced (often attributed to author Harper Lee) which reads, “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one that makes you think.” This is a perfect description of what author Kara Lane sets out to do in her book.

The idea of turning the thought process into a “game” of sorts is related to the concept of playing any game where we use skill, knowledge and luck. There may be few rules, but there can be any number of winning strategies and results.

The discussion of the conscious mind vs. the unconscious mind, and how each plays a role in our lives is eye-opening. “If you want different results, start with different thoughts,” Lane advises, and the focus of the book is to analyze our way of approaching our goals in terms of decisions made and problem-solving abilities used. It turns out that what we think about ourselves and others matters – a great deal. Emotions, curiosity, confidence, biases, persistence, and honesty – these are but a few areas covered in The Thinking Game. It’s very much an interactive reading experience, with challenges, steps to follow, and critical questions to ask oneself. It’s an easy read, giving metaphors and examples to fully clarify important points.

The unconscious and conscious mind thought processes are complex, but the material here is presented in a way that’s simple and understandable. It’s very reader-friendly. In addition to the more technical concepts, favorite areas of exploration for me included slightly less traditional but highly creative methods such as visualization, affirmations, meditation, mind mapping and brain-mining. If some of these are unfamiliar terms, they’re quickly and easily explained.

There are many “Aha!” moments when suddenly a point illustrates how we’ve sabotaged our progress toward success, or held ourselves back merely by the techniques we’ve used or the attitudes we’ve held.

Is it really possible that by changing the way we think we can improve our lives? This book motivates readers with the information needed to make this concept not only possible, but an exciting reality.

 

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Adventures in Learning with Malibu Book Series

malibuI rarely talk about projects I’ve been involved with when I post on this blog, so as not to appear biased in any way. But I must share my thoughts on a book series I’ve been pleased to edit and proofread. The 6 books make up the Adventures in Learning with Malibu series and they are aimed at children ages 3 and up (so, pre-K through first grade, primarily).

The motivation behind the books is a real rescue dog named Malibu. Author Candina Ann’s mother rescued Malibu and the author has kept a promise to her late mother to share the pup’s story with as many people as possible. She’s chosen to do this by creating a series that is designed to help teachers and parents to awaken little minds to the basics of learning in a very colorful, easy, and fun way.  The books (such as the one pictured in this post) are very homespun and easy to relate to, and cover learning the alphabet, numbers 1-20, colors, shapes, object names, and  the latest book, number 6, is a 200-page coloring and activity workbook that combines the best of all previous 5 books into a jam-packed learning adventure that also contains new surprises.

With the holidays approaching, and as school starts, if a birthday is approaching, or really, for no particular occasion at all, what a great way to playfully jump-start a child’s education?  And I think that the books could give an extra edge to a child who isn’t old enough to attend school but is still interested in the colorful design, the adorable Malibu (who plays a starring role in the series), and the fun activities.  I think one or all of the books would make a thoughtful gift from a family member or friend.  And no, I don’t make a percentage on books sold — I’m posting this because I believe so strongly in the gentle power the series can have!!

The author is doing book signings – check for locations and get more details on the books at her Facebook page – Malibu’s Place.  There is info on all the books there, too, as well as any updates on activities and upcoming plans for books.

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