Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Book Review: Drink Like a Woman-Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat by Jeanette Hurt

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When it comes to liquor and libations Milwaukee-based food and drink writer Jeanette Hurt knows her stuff. So I was only too delighted to come across her book Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat.

Drink Like a Woman provides over 70 cocktail recipes and so much more. It goes beyond the fruity, sweet, pink and girly drinks like the Cosmopolitan popularized by Sex and the City to provide cocktail recipes for all kinds of palates and tastes.

After a foreward by Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Hurt share a few words on so-called “girly drinks,” in which she claims there are no “girly drinks.” Women like what they like and we don’t have to apologize for it.

But before we can make a cocktail we need to get our home bar together. Hurt provides a very thorough list of needed accessories like jiggers, muddlers, shakers, strainers, pourers and glasses to make your home bar top notch whether you’re new to the cocktail game or an experienced mixologist. And you don’t have to break the bank. Many of these items can be found at thrift stores, estate sales and rummage sales.

Okay, now we’re onto the fun part-the cocktail recipes, which are inspired by fierce femmes and our herstory, which spans from the 1600s to the modern age.

Chapter One, Witches and Bar Wenches covers the years 1600-1900, which celebrates the Revolutionary War, authors Jane Austen (Jane Austen’s Zombie) and the Bronte Sisters (Bronte’s Brew). You can also make a toast to trailblazers with drinks like Nellie Bly-Tai, Curie Royale and Amelia Takes Flight. That time of month? Ditch that Midol and enjoy a Monthly Medicinal instead.

Chapter Two, Votes for Women, Whiskey for All, covers the years 1900 to 1950. Drinks celebrate flappers with Flapper’s Firewater, Rosie the Riveter with Rosé the Riveter and the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with a Frida Kahlúa. Do you need a virgin cocktail for non-drinkers or those underage? Stir up it up with a Suzy B’s Virgin Voter, which honors Susan B Anthony, famous suffragette and a proponent of the temperance movement.

Chapter Three, Libations for the Liberated, covers the years 1950 to 2000. Pop culture icons like Mary Richards, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer get their own drinks (Bloody Mary Richards, Kissed by a Wookie, and Buffy’s Stake), feminism is in fine form with the Bra Burner, Sister Solidaritea, and the Gloria Stein’em.

Chapter Four, Stirring Up Cocktails and Shaking Up the World, covers the 2000s. You can also make a toast the LBD with The Little Black Dress, denounce manpslaining with Mansplainer Antidote and celebrate friendship with the BFF.

Drink Like a Woman also provides recipes for all kinds of syrup, the rules for creating creamy drinks, and hangover cures in case you indulge too much. And Drink Like a Woman also provides a list and brief bios of the ladies of liquor, the mavens of mixology who shared these cocktail recipes.

Drink Like a Woman is also a fun read for its quotations, lists of music and movies to love while enjoying your cocktails and Paige Clark’s charming illustrations. Drink Like a Woman is a welcome addition to any one’s book shelf whether one imbibes or does not.

Book Review: Hidden History of Detroit by Amy Elliot Bragg

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Mention the city of Detroit and, at best, people might think of the auto industry or classic Motown songs. Yet, there is a history to Detroit that dates long before Henry Ford and the Supremes. And this history comes alive in Amy Elliott Bragg’s Hidden History of Detroit.

Inspired by her blog Night Train to Detroit, Michigan native, Bragg writes of Detroit’s beginnings, from its founding by the expedition leader Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to its namesake the Grand Monarque of Ville de Troit to the advent of the automobile at the turn of the last century.

What’s striking about the Hidden History of Detroit is how some of the issues facing the city’s early years are familiar to large American cities in 2012. Detroit’s history has had its share of political rivalries, labor upheaval, ethnic strife and crumbling infrastructure. Not happy with the roads you drive on? Detroit’s earliest “paved” streets were made of wood, which took on rather odd smells when they got wet.

Yet, Detroit grew due to an entrepreneurial spirit long before Henry Ford invented the Model T. Industries like lumber, tobacco, liquor, media and pharmaceuticals were quite successful and inspired many people to find their fortunes in Detroit.

Detroit’s early years were also rich with larger than life characters like the “boy governor” Stevens Thomson Mason, who was acting governor at the tender age of twenty-five. Then there is James Scott, a millionaire gambler and raconteur who left the city a considerable sum of $600,000 when he died but with one caveat — a statue had to be erected in his honor,

The ladies also had an impact on Detroit’s history. Heiress Clara Ward, the Kim Kardashian of her day, scandalized people with her multiple marriages, wild partying and performances at the Folies-Bergere. Sadly, she allegedly died a pauper and in her obituary the Detroit News just had to mention how Clare Ward had been spurned and shunned by her family and companions.

One compelling chapter focuses on early Detroit’s penchant for parties and drinking and is simply called “Liquor.” While many American towns were founded by religious folks who eschewed alcohol, Detroit was founded by traders, and as Bragg puts it, “…where you had trade, you had booze.” These parties were quite rowdy and made frat parties look like prayer circles. I laughed out loud when she described one party as being “liver crushing.”

I have to admit I was overwhelmed at times by all of the information Bragg provides in this slim tome (less than 200 pages). At times I thought I would need to organize the names, dates, facts and figures on an Excel spreadsheet. She certainly did her homework, and I can only imagine her glee over finding out another interesting tidbit about Detroit’s history while doing her research. The book’s illustrations and photographs also aid in telling Detroit’s history.

Thanks to Bragg’s exhaustive research, the early days of Detroit come alive with interesting facts and figures who are fleshed-out human beings. This is no dusty and musty history text book. Hidden History of Detroit is fun read for any history buff, and you don’t have be a citizen of Detroit to enjoy it. It may even make you wonder, “Hmm, what’s the hidden history of my city?”

Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

It’s 1854. Some people would call Didier Rain a foolish rake with a sinful desire for both liquor and women of ill-repute. Didier would prefer if people considered him a gentleman poet and true bon vivant, a lover of the finer things in life. No matter what, Didier is the unlikely hero of Brian Kindall’s delicious mix of western and fairy tale in the novel Delivering Virtue.

Didier is chosen by a secretive Mormon sect to be a Sacred Deliverer of an angel haired baby girl named Virtue to the bride of the Prophet Nehi in the City of Rocks. Didier knows very little about taking care of babies but after being offered a princely sum of $30,000 Didier is only too happy to take on this task. How hard could it be? Didier is about to find out.

Outfitted with a few supplies and completely in over his head, Didier faces challenging enemies and encounters who want nothing more than to keep Didier from completing his colossal journey. But he also meets true allies like a Native American woman whose lactating breasts keep Virtue fed and growing oddly at a very fast rate. And all of these elements make Delivering Virtue one heck of a tale, with twists and turns that kept me riveted.

Are some of Didier’s actions a bit questionable? Well, yes. A lot of people wouldn’t approve his love of booze and brothels. But for the most Didier’s heart is in the right place and as Delivering Virtue unfolds you view Didier as a man of honor, a true hero, even if this knight in shining armor has a few rusty spots.

Delivering Virtue is hard to sum up in a review. My only advice is read it to fully capture it fantastical tale is a delicious blend of Louis L’Amour western, Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, Tim Burton film that hasn’t made its way to the silver screen and one really weird LSD trip (not that I know what an LSD trip is like).

Author Kindall has a magical way with words. His prose has a visionary quality; he truly shows while he tells this story. His use of dialogue is funny, thoughtful, bawdy and entirely entertaining. Every single character in Delivering Virtue is necessary and intriguing who move the story forward and the book closes with a fully-satisfying denouement.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t given the plot of Delivering Virtue away too much in this review it’s because I believe it needs to be read to be truly enjoyed. I can’t truly sum this book up in one little review. I want the reader to experience the book like I did.

Though I finished reading Delivering Virtue a few weeks ago; it is still with me. I think it would make a great film and I keep thinking of actors who would make the perfect Didier (sadly, Paul Newman is no longer with us). 2018 isn’t even half-way over, and already Delivering Virtue is one of the best books I’ve read this year. And I do hope it’s not the only adult-oriented book Brian Kindall has in him (he’s written several books for young adults). He’s immensely talented and I hope for more great work from him. He’s definitely a writer to watch out for.

Book Review: Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo by Teressa Cutler-Broyles

Frank Farnese is a collector of antique books when he chances upon a first edition of Dante’s classic novel The Divine Comedy. Inside the ancient tome is an inscription. Frank finds this inscription intriguing noting it mentions a mysterious garden located in Bomarzo, Italy. Frank wants to visit this garden to learn more about Dante and The Divine Comedy. Frank decides to visit Bomarzo where he finds himself exploring and falling through Hell’s Mouth, a particularly gruesome and odd sculpture.

When he awakes, Frank no longer finds himself living in the 21st century. He has somehow, through the works of time travel, in the year 1570. To greet him, is Pyrrho Ligorio, a legendary antiquarian of literature and his lady companion, the lovely Lurcrezia Romano. Both Pyrrho and Lucrezia find Frank to be a kindred spirit and invite him on what is about to be an incredible journey.

Thus, begins Teresa Cutler-Broyles novel Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.

Just as in the modern age of 2017, things aren’t quite right in the world back in 1570 and the three of them know they should make things better.

Frank and his newfound companions find themselves wrapped up in a multitude of adventures, some exciting, some dangerous, some educational and for Frank and Lucrezia quite romantic. Among their adventures is the infamous Inquisition and an astonishing retreat to the iconic Venice. On their journey they meet people (some who actually existed and others fictional). As this unique tale unfolds, Frank and his traveling companions must learn if these people are true allies or those they should avoid for they are truly perilous (and then there are some characters shrouded in mystery).

Did I mention romance? Frank can’t help but fall in love with Lucrezia. Though she is a woman of her time, she is also one with a keen mind and a desire to learn and grow even though educational and vocational opportunities are limited for women. Lucrezia is also a woman with fleshly desires and fully gives herself to Frank despite 16th century sexual mores.

Frank so wants to stay in 1570 but also misses his life in the 21st century, not just the modern conveniences, but his relationship with longtime girlfriend Matilda, who he lovingly calls Tilly.

Or maybe Frank could find his way back to the modern day and bring Lucrezia with him. But how would she live in a world of modern conveniences that we take for granted? How would she adjust? And would she miss her old life back in 1570? And how would Frank explain his absence? Would Tilly and his friends and colleagues buy his tale of time travel? Hmm, he might as well tell them he was in a coma or kidnapped by aliens.

And of course, there is the issue of what brought Frank to this adventure and him questioning his stake in both worlds-his acquisition of an original copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Dante’s Garden is richly written and wonderfully descriptive. Cutler-Broyles has a gift for showing not telling. In my mind’s eye I could see the people, places and things she writes about in glowing detail. In one passage, Cutler-Broyles describes a beautiful gown in shades of green, blue and purple, which filled me with pure joy!

If I have any regret, it is my grasp on European history is way too limited, and I must expand my knowledge gained through PBS documentaries, classic movies and vintage fashion. Cutler-Broyles has a vivid imagination and she clearly has a full grasp on Italian history, which isn’t surprising considering she is a visiting professor at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy and has spent the past ten years leading travels throughout Italy.

Now I’m left wondering if Cutler-Broyles has a sequel in mind. I would love to know how Frank and Lucrezia are affected by their remarkable expedition in the long run, long after their initial story plays out in Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.