Mindful Aging by Andrea Brandt

I’ve been thinking a lot about topics related to what I’d call “Healthy Living for Seniors,” which includes nutrition, exercise, positive attitude, and mindfulness. Frankly, I was spinning in circles, so I was particularly pleased to receive a copy of the new book Mindful Aging from PESI Publishing & Media and NetGalley in return for my honest review. The author, Andrea Brandt, a therapist in the Los Angeles area, says she has “… discovered that body-oriented therapy is the most effective treatment available today for people who seek to bring their inner world and external world into harmony…” I expected the book to expand on her thoughts about how a mindset she calls ‘realistic positivity can help the reader interested in incorporating mindfulness to their aging process.

The blurb for the book promised to help me “throw out the old stereotypes about getting older and move toward the welcoming new evidence that your future is alive with possibility, providing steps to thrive today and into your golden years…” with “…tools to help …embrace a new mindset and blaze a new trail …fueled by passion, purpose, and creativity.” Since it also said it was full of tools and exercises, I was hooked, but wary with high expectations.

Some of the chapter headings were particularly intriguing, including topics such as “letting go” (of things that aren’t working), “finding joy,” “expressing your creativity,” and “developing your spiritual side.” Each of the chapters includes the personal life stories of real people to expand on the topic, and then (best of all!) she provides strategies and worksheet exercises to help guide the reader toward a more mindful aging process.

Included along the way are ways to cope with loss, embrace our mortality, deal with anger and/or negative thinking (all of which resonated with me), and become more positive in general.

I found that including the stories and the exercises in each chapter was especially helpful. I’ve read a fair amount on the various topics covered in Mindful Aging, and some of the people wrote in a very “woo-woo” way (too much even for someone from Santa Cruz). This isn’t the case with Dr. Brandt – her style is accessible and the readability is excellent. Five stars.

 

Love and Laughter In the Time of Chemotherapy by Manjusha Pawagi

 

Manjusa Pawagi was in the prime of life: 47 years old, mother to 11-year old twins, with a rewarding career as a judge in the Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada. Then, in 2014 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, and this book is her memoir of the two years following that diagnosis.

I have two a good friend who is battling multiple myeloma and recently had a stem cell transplant. Like Pawagi, she has written about her battle with humor and honesty – and, also like Pawagi, she can be very funny.

I l0ve stories celebrating survival, and appreciate the forthright way this book faces difficult truths. Unlike some other “survival stories,” this is not at all faith based. In fact, she tells us in Chapter 7, “ I’m an atheist too, but I’m firmly convinced that if I turn out to be wrong and there is a God, and all the accompanying heaven/hell thing, I am definitely going to heaven. I have no theological basis for this, but I know it would be ridiculously unfair if I were barred because of what I consider to be a mere technicality, which I equate to the minor procedural irregularities I see in court all the time, and which I either ignore or patch up after the fact in some way. Because, while I do not believe in God, I do believe in justice’

Thanks to NetGalley and Second Story Press for the opportunity to read this in return for my honest review. Four enthusiastic stars.

 

The Curl Revolution by Michelle Breyer

I grew up on the beach back when the only acceptable hair was stick straight. Mine was curly. Not the fall-into-soft-ringlets-like-an-angel curly that my sister got — mine was the Bozo-frizz-around-the-face curly. I spent years hating it, straightening it, sleeping on huge rollers–you get the idea.

A few years ago, I found someone who knew how to cut curly hair, and when I think of all the hours (adding up to months, maybe years) I spent (wasted) dealing with my hair, it makes me want to…well, actually it makes me want to recommend this book to anyone with curly hair, whether they hate it as I did or love it as I am learning to do!

The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community by Michelle Breyer is amazing. There is a website from these people  (NaturallyCurly.com is their website) who have spent years figuring it all out. They don’t focus on any one method, product line, ethnicity — they tell you how to identify what your hair is and needs.

I always know I had thick, coarse curly hair. Or at least I thought that was it. Apparently there is a whole formula that takes into account width as well as amount of hair plus texture. Then there is the proper cut. Then there are an increasing number of products available for curlies.

The picture-filled book also functions as a how-to guide with the goal of helping people identify hair type, determine a hair care regimen, find a good haircut, and get inspiration from other curlies.

Thanks to Greenleaf Book Group and NetGalley for a copy of this treasure in exchange for my honest review. Five gigantic stars.

Casino: Love & Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi

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Seriously, if you think you know Vegas, because you have visited there anytime since about 1990, trust me – you don’t have any idea! People who grew up in Southern California in the 60s viewed Las Vegas as a sort of decadent place where people went to gamble, drink in the streets or wherever, stay up all night, and do whatever they couldn’t do at home. It was basically Tijuana with the addition of gambling and without donkeys.

After the 60s, we saw it as more of a place to go see a big show – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the whole “rat pack” scene. Still gambling. It began to have an edginess that came from the rumors of mob activity – all confirmed for us as movies such as

The backstory about the Vegas casinos and how they came to be mob goldmines is the focus of Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, originally published in 1995, reissued in 2016. It takes the reader deep into the world of Chicago bookie Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and his partner, Anthony Spilotro, and follows them from their early days as streetwise thieves on to their heyday as they worked together overseeing the operations of various Las Vegas casino for the mob. Along the way, the rumored use of Teamster pension funds to take control of the Tropicana and Stardust casinos is confirmed, and the reader is privy to an incredible presentation of grisly violence, as the pair oversaw the activities of jewel thieves who were known as the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

As the years went by, they skimmed millions of dollars in cash for their mob bosses. (I actually was fascinated about details such as how much a million dollars in quarters weighs) But Lefty’s ambitions combined with Spilotro’s affair with Lefty’s wife Geri (a former showgirl – of course!) the downfall was complete when an FBI investigation led to betrayal, convictions, and the end of the mob’s stranglehold on the Vegas casinos.

Casino is for anyone who wants to take a trip into the past, looking at the reality of Las Vegas in the 70s. Pileggi (author of Wiseguy) is a strong writer, and clearly knows the subject. For me, the violence and amorality was numbing, but I recommended it to a friend who loves that stuff and he was enthralled.

It’s a fascinating history and, thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media, I was able to enjoy a copy in exchange for my honest review. Four stars (three for me, and one for my friend!)

 

Opening Up by Writing It Down by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth

 

Cover Pennebaker Opening Up by Writing down

I was somewhat familiar with Dr. Pennebaker’s work through his 2014 title Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, and as a lifelong journal keeper, his ideas have always resonated with me. So I was pleased to receive an advance copy of Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain from NetGalley and Guilford Publications in exchange for my honest review.

As I read it, I kept thinking I should check with my therapist to be sure she has this book – as it is packed with what might be considered technical/academic data. It actually wan’t until I go to the final chapter that I found what was, for me, the most helpful information. This chapter includes an overall summary and specific instructions for therapeutic writing exercises. Although some of the earlier chapters do include various exercises, my own preference is for writing exercises to be included at the end of corresponding so I can easily go back and find the exercises related to a particular topic. But, that’s just a personal preference.

Writing comes easily to me, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that making it a habit would be easily accomplished. As noted above, this concept isn’t new to me, so I was somewhat predisposed to like this! I plan to recommend it to people I KNOW are not writers, but who I think might benefit from reading this book. Overall, I gave Opening Up by Writing It Down a rating of 4 stars.
 

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin

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In 1996 I remember reading A Civil Action, about a town in Massachusetts where people fought back against environment pollution. That book freaked me out, and made me conscious of the cavalier way our water supply can so easily be placed at risk by greedy corporations. When I heard about Dan Fagin’s book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation winning the Pulitzer prize with a story about a New Jersey town that was ravaged by astronomical rates of childhood cancer, I was immediately predisposed to LOVE the book, and I was not disappointed.

The book is filled with heart-wrenching personal stories of people whose lives were affected (and often destroyed as a result of the actions of giant chemical companies just dumping unbelievable amounts of toxic waste right into to water supply.

I loved the way Fagin told the history of the companies involved, going back to the origins of dye-making. The companies had basically trashed the environment in Basel, and then moved to Cincinnati, where they got into some trouble for their environmental practices (or lack of them). When these giant companies came to town looking to start up operations, all people could see (or cared to see) were the jobs that would come along. This was one of the biggest dye manufacturing plants in the entire world, and they went on into plastics and other chemical products.

What really knocked me out was the QUANTITY of waste the factories produced…in fact, they produced more waste than product! So they had to put it somewhere, and the story of illegal dumping is a big part of the Toms River saga. People would dump thousands of barrels of waste wherever they could, including a chicken farm.

Speaking on Democracy Now, Dan Fagin said that even though he worked as an environment reporter for more than 25 years, the brazenness of the behavior of the companies involved in this story surprised him. In addition, he marveled at the way people were able to band together to pursue action against the companies involved.

The book is fascinating on several levels: documenting corporate malfeasance, providing a look at the history of chemical production, peeking into the pain suffered by the innocent victims of the illegal dumping, glimpsing the political shenanigans that led to the locating of the plant in the first place, and finally inspiring readers who want to believe that it IS possible to “fight the man” and make corporations at least a tiny bit accountable for the actions.

I am grateful for the opportunity to review this book in return for an unbiased review. Totally five stars!