BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escaping Condo Jail’: Comprehensive Book Explores Pitfalls of Condominium, Home Owner Association Real Estate with Research, Wit

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

 If you have your heart set on buying a condo, cooperative or a single-famiy house in a planned development, you should read “Escaping Condo Jail: The Keys to Navigating Risk & Surviving Perils of the ‘Carefree’ Community Lifestyle” by Don DeBat and Sara E. Benson (Sarandon Publishing, 624 pages, $24.95, appendixes, index, illustrations by John Michael Downs) before signing on the dotted line.

Both DeBat, a former real estate editor for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times, and Benson, a real estate agent, have personal experience owning condos. In fact, DeBat emailed me that some of the experiences related in the chapters on “Bully Boards” and thefts by association board members were inspired by Benson’s personal experiences with one of her condos.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Escaping Condo Jail': Comprehensive Book Explores Pitfalls of Condominium, Home Owner Association Real Estate with Research, Wit

In the subtitle, “carefree” is in quotes. What was billed when the  modern form of condominium ownership was born about 50 years ago as  carefree, chic and glamorous isn’t really carefree at all. Steep maintenance fees, restrictions on day-to-day living and limited personal freedoms are three very real costs prospective condominium owners might not have considered. This applies to the many community developments, often gated, that feature single-family houses or town houses. The technical name for such developments is Planned Unit Developments or PUDs. The authors provide a very useful glossary of terms at the end of the book.

DeBat and Benson spent four years researching this book — which is unlike anything I’ve seen in 44 years of covering real estate — and it shows. The book includes personal stories of people experiencing the worst of community living.  Many of the problems arise from the lack of regulation of condominium on the federal level, the authors write.  On page 493, they tell how condos are the riskiest form of real estate investment when it comes to achieving the American dream of homeownership. Lenders charge a higher rate of interest for condo mortgage loans because of this risk factor. Condos are much more likely to go into foreclosure than single-family detached houses and many condos are underwater — the mortgage is bigger than the market value of the property.

The book includes a critical 10-point buyer-awareness advice list, and a 35-point checklist on “How to Bulletproof Your Association’s Biggest Asset: The Money,” and features 22 original illustrations drawn by long-time Chicago Daily News artist John Michael Downs. Instantly, Downs became the Charles Addams of condo illustrators to me! I didn’t realize that anybody who worked for the late, lamented Daily News — my favorite newspaper when I lived in Chicago in the early 1960s — was still alive.

If you think condo/community association living affects a small minority of Americans, think again: Today, one in five Americans—more than 63 million residents—resides in a condominium, a co-operative apartment or in housing regulated by a homeowner association (HOA).

Despite the huge growth in ownership, most condo homeowner associations are run by volunteer directors who are unpaid, untrained, and often unqualified. Some board officers even struggle with balancing their own check books. Yet they are in charge of managing their share of an industry with budgets estimated at $90 billion a year—more than five times the federal government spends to run NASA.

In 2010, a survey by the Community Associations Institute (CAI) — the trade group for planned development associations — found that more than half of the nation’s HOAs were facing “serious financial problems.” And more recently, Association Reserves, a California company that helps associations with budget and operational issues, noted that 72 percent of association-governed communities were underfunded in 2013, up from 12.5 percent only a decade ago.

One of the biggest lures of shared-community ownership is the so-called “carefree living” aspect. There are no yards to maintain, grass to cut, snow to shovel, windows to wash, decks to stain or roofs to repair. All an owner has to do is sit back and pay a monthly condo assessment which is levied according to their percentage of ownership.

“Investors also find condominiums attractive because they can be profitable rental properties that are easily managed with the condo association handling the headaches,” said Benson.

“And, condo ownership also can be the perfect lifestyle choice for singles—especially single women seeking security—retirees and smaller families not in need of larger spaces.”

Yet another bonus for condo living is the lucrative federal and state tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes handed to owners. Uncle Sam not only allows tax deductions for mortgage interest, but also allows home and condo owners to deduct the cost of real estate taxes.

DeBat and Benson discuss the conversion of existing apartment buildings to condominium ownership and the problems that arise from such conversions. Recently a new twist on this has sprung up, especially in Florida, the authors write: Condominums converting to rental projects. The owners sell their units to a developer and — many of them — become  tenants in units they formerly owned. Or they move to another development.

The book does not condemn all condominium, cooperative apartment and homeowner associations. Ownership in a multi-family housing development began as an extremely noble and creative idea. Condos introduced home ownership to millions that would ordinarily never be able to afford it.

Developers have long argued that condos help stabilize inner-city neighborhoods, while giving owners a permanent stake in his or her community. DeBat emailed me that the purpose of the book was not to condemn developers, but to expose the problems that often arise when the developer turns over the project to the condo association, made of up of inexperienced people who suddenly are running a business.

When you gotta go, you gotta bust out  and  the authors offer fifteen “Exit Strategies” on how to get out of condo jail. These strategies make up a  treasure trove of little-known action plans. They include everything from how to benefit from a “naked mortgage” to negotiating “cash for keys.”  And when all these are found wanting, there’s always a little brown envelope containing the keys to the condo sent to the lender — “Jingle Mail” in real estate parlance.

Summing up: This is far and away the best book I’ve seen in my years of covering real estate on the subject of condos, co-ops and community associations. Don’t even think about buying into community real estate — a condominum, a co-op apartment or a PUD —  before reading this book. “Eyes wide open” trumps “eyes wide shut” every time! And speaking of “Trump,” yes, on Pages 134-135 the book discusses the Trump Tower luxury project built on the site of the former Chicago Sun-Times building. The anecdotes DeBat and Benson provide are not only informative — they’re entertaining in the “Hot Property” sense.

“Escaping Condo Jail” is now available in paperback via Digital Kindle copies of the book also are available on Amazon and the hardback will be published in early December. For more information, or to buy a paperback edition, follow this link: For the Kindle Edition the link is:

Sara E. Benson, Don DeBat

Sara E. Benson, Don DeBat

About the authors

Sara E. Benson is a Realtor and consultant to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) . She has built a reputation for being a staunch consumer advocate.

Don DeBat covered real estate for decades for two Chicago newspapers: Real estate editor of the Chicago Daily News (1976-1978) and real estate editor of the Chicago Sun-Times (1978-1994). He won the NAREE Best Section Award four times. NAREE is the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the professional association for real estate editors and writers. He has run DeBat Media, a media consulting firm, with his daughter, Aimee DeBat, since 1995.  He writes a weekly real estate column published by Inside Publications, including the Skyline, Booster and News-Star newspapers with readership of more than 100,000 along Chicago’s lakefront.

He lives in Chicago.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Island Christmas’: The Best Laid Plans…You Know the Rest!

Jilly Gordon may be the most organized woman on Nantucket Island. One of the main characters in Nancy Thayer’s “An Island Christmas” (Ballantine Books, 224 pages, $18.00) she’s getting her already picture-perfect house in downtown Nantucket ready for the arrival of her younger daughter Felicia and Felicia’s fiancé Archie Galloway for their Christmas Day wedding.

Also present will be Lauren, Jilly and George Gordon’s older, married daughter, her husband Porter and their two young children Portia and Lawrence.

BOOK REVIEW: 'An Island Christmas': The Best Laid Plans…You Know the Rest!


Felicia and Archie are an adventurous couple who enjoy their occupation as whitewater rafting guides — and just about anything involving the outdoors. They live in a tiny apartment above a bookstore in Moab, Utah.

Lauren, who’s taken over many of the aspects of the forthcoming wedding, including making a wedding gown for her sister, lives in a large “faux colonial home” on two acres in suburban Boston. The two women couldn’t be more different — and Jilly wishes Felicia were more like Lauren.  To please her mom,  Felicia goes along with the elaborate wedding. She also is looking forward to meeting Archie’s mom, Pat Galloway, who will be the only member of his family in attendance. Pat has arrived from her Florida home and is staying at a hotel.

Jilly is plotting with her best friend Nicole Somerset to get Felicia interested in next-door neighbor Steven Hardy, who was Felicia’s senior prom date in high school. He’s a handsome, well-off stockbroker who’s decided to live year-round in Nantucket.  To Jilly, Archie is a scruffy Gerard Butler, while Steven is a sophisticated Pierce Brosnan. She met Archie on a trip to Utah she and George made the year before.

Last year’s Nancy Thayer Christmas novel, “A Nantucket Christmas,” features a dog, so it’s only fair that “An Island Christmas” should have a cat character. And what a character Rex is! He’s a rescued feral cat who quickly becomes a calming influence in Jilly’s increasingly fast-paced life.

In one of my reviews of a previous Thayer novel, I mentioned that you can learn a lot about interpersonal relationships from her books. This is certainly true of “An Island Christmas” which I read in one sitting. Here’s my quote from the review mentioned above:

As I noted in my June 5, 2012 review of Thayer’s  novel “Summer Breeze” (link:   
Whenever I feel the urge to delve into a self-help book for ideas on how to cope with a problem, I stop myself and instead reach for a Nancy Thayer novel! Thayer’s people have problems, but they always seem to resolve them — sooner or later.

That was the case with her 2011 novel “Heat Wave”, set on Nantucket Island, where transplanted Midwesterner Thayer lives and writes (link to my review: and that’s certainly the situation in “Summer Breeze.” 



Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer

About the author

Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of Heat Wave, Beachcombers, Summer House, Moon Shell Beach, Summer Breeze, Heat Wave, and The Hot Flash Club. She lives in Nantucket with her husband, Charley Walters. Her website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook 1941′: History Comes to Life in Vintage Styled Book


If you like history, but don’t want to wade through hundreds of pages of words, “My Pearl Harbor Scrapbook, 1941. A Nostalgic Collection of Memories” (MapMania Publishing, Phoenix, AZ, 98 pages, bibliography, $24.95) created by Bess Taubman, written by Bess Taubman and Ernest Arroyo, designed by Edward L. Cox Jr. will help you learn about one of America’s greatest tragedies, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor from its early Japanese inception, through the attack and its devastating aftermath.

oeark harbor coverThe entertaining and informative book has the look and feel of a scrapbook from the World War II period. Yes, scrapbookers: what you’re doing has been part of life in the USA and other countries for many decades.

I learned something that I hadn’t in other histories of Pearl Harbor: what happened to the battleships and other vessels after the war. The ones that survived the attack and were repaired — the California, the West Virginia, the Maryland, the Pennsylvania, the Oklahoma, and others — were either scuttled in deep water or sold for scrap. I was surprised that none of them was preserved as a memorial, like the carrier USS Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas, or the USS Intrepid on the Hudson River side of Manhattan.

There’s a comprehensive look at the airplanes on both sides. I was surprised to learn that one of the finest planes of WWII, the Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 — the famed “Zero” — was based largely on a design by Howard Hughes (Page 24). Hughes offered his design — dubbed the H-1 — to the U.S. Army, which despite the aircraft’s considerable technical advances, turned it down. Mitsubishi Ltd. bought the plans and the rest is history!

Each two-page spread of the book illuminates a specific aspect of the Pearl Harbor story with the use of hundreds of original photographs, maps, telegrams, newspaper clippings, hand-typed notes and letters. The use of captivating design elements helps the reader to gain a well-rounded picture of what life was like at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii before, during and after December 7,1941.

Each detailed page — crammed with graphics, but easy to follow — offers readers a hands-on exploration of this well-known story. Told in bite-sized pieces this history book is easy and fun to read for all audiences. Treasured collections from the 1940s of ephemera, pins, buttons, watches and medals illustrate each page and stirs the imagination.

The book covers events beyond Dec. 7, 1941, all the way to the end of the war. Also included are news items of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It also covers in considerable detail the racist and disgraceful internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans under Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 of Feb. 19, 1942. Only a few of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) in Hawaii were interned. I didn’t see any mention of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s opposition to Executive Order 9066; he argued to no avail that the FBI had the espionage situation well in hand, as it had with Germans and Italians, some of whom were also interned — and the situation in Hawaii bears out his position. The internment was driven by racists like California’s Attorney General Earl Warren, later a liberal icon as Chief Justice of the U.S., and others on the West Coast. For more on this event, a permanent blot on America’s reputation:

I was just two months past my third birthday at the time of the attack, so I don’t remember the event. However, as the war progressed, I was old enough to remember details of the war, such as the gas rationing sticker we had on our car windshield, in homefront southwestern Michigan. I was fortunate to grow up on a farm, so I don’t remember ration cards. The authentic graphics — envelopes, postcards, and more — jogged my memory and brought the history of the event to life.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, contributed the informative foreword.

Bess Taubman has been writing about Pearl Harbor for two decades. She combines her talents as a publisher, writer and designer to create innovative books about historical subjects. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and daughter.

Ernest Arroyo is a former president of the Pearl Harbor History Association and is the author of a photographic history of Pearl Harbor. He has contributed to more than a dozen books on naval and maritime history. He lives in Stratford, Conn.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Black Ice’: Romantic Thriller for Young Readers Works for Older Ones, Too

Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Black Ice” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 400 pages, $19.99) is clearly aimed at young readers — especially young women readers — but it’s so well written that older readers can enjoy it too. If they’re parents of teens and twentysomethings, they might even learn what their kids really think of them!
Black Ice jacketBritt Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range in northwestern Wyoming, using skills taught to her by her recently ex-boyfriend, Calvin Versteeg, and she brings along her best friend Korbie Versteeg, Cal’s sister. On the way to a mountain home owned by Korbie’s family, Britt’s Jeep Wrangler gets stuck on a snow covered highway. Snow wasn’t in the forecast, but it forces drastic changes in the plans of the two spring breakers.

The two high school seniors, only months away from graduation at their Idaho high school, manage to seek refuge in a cabin, accepting the hospitality of the cabin’s two very handsome residents, Shaun and Mason.

It isn’t long before they discover that Shaun and Mason are on the run from the police. The two girls are suddenly hostages, miles away from Idlewilde, the Versteeg lodge. Three young women have been murdered in the area and Britt believes that the two men may have something to do with the crimes.

Britt’s knowledge of the area impresses the two kidnappers and they, especially 21-year-old Mason (if that’s his real name), decide to use Britt’s wilderness skills to get off the mountain. Britt doesn’t tell Mason that she’s in posession of a detailed map of the area, created by Cal Versteeg.

Britt quickly learns that nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally? Is she’s falling in love with him, or could it just be another manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome?

Becca Fitzpatrick

Becca Fitzpatrick

About the author

Becca Fitzpatrick grew up reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden with a flashlight under the covers. She graduated college with a degree in health, which she promptly abandoned for storytelling. When not writing, she’s most likely prowling sale racks for reject shoes, running, or watching crime dramas on TV. She is the author of the bestselling HUSH, HUSH Saga. She lives in Colorado with her family. Her website:

BOOK NOTES: ‘The 52 New Foods Challenge’: Make Healthy Eating into a Family Game

I was not surprised to see praise from TV chef Rachael Ray in the publicity material for Jennifer Tyler Lee’s “The 52 New Foods Challenge: A Family Cooking Adventure for Each Week of the Year, with 150 Recipes” (Penguin Random House/Avery, large-format paperback, 336 pages, index, profusely illustrated, $20.00) but I was a little disappointed that First Lady Michelle Obama wasn’t represented!

Ray: “A simple, fun and playful way to get kids to eat healthy and try new foods.” —Rachael Ray’s Yum-O!

52 new foods challengeI’m guessing the First Lady would approve Ray’s comment — and the overarching message of Jennifer Tyler Lee that sometimes you have to get creative to lead children — and adults, too! — into the world of healthy eating.

Like many parents, Jennifer Tyler Lee struggled to get her kids to eat healthy, balanced meals. The answer, she discovered, was making it a game. “We’ll try one new food each week,” she told her kids. “You pick!” She called it the 52 New Foods Challenge.

In this week-by-week guide, Lee gives parents practical tips to dramatically change the way their families eat. Her helpful advice and the simple rules that her family followed will show parents how to start eating healthy every week of the year. Each week offers a healthy new food to try, from artichokes to zucchini, and includes easy recipes and fun activities to work on as a family—from learning to cook together to enjoying the farmers’ market to even experimenting with growing your own food.

With more than 150 simple, healthy recipes and advice from nationally acclaimed nutrition experts, The 52 New Foods Challenge shows parents how to enjoy mealtimes, plant the seeds of change at their family table, and easily incorporate healthy habits every day of the year. Guaranteed to inspire a child’s creativity and confidence in the kitchen and beyond, “The 52 New Foods Challenge” is the perfect companion for any busy parent who wants to stop stressing over mealtime and find a creative, playful solution to make this family ritual relaxing and fun.

About the Author

Jennifer Tyler Lee

Jennifer Tyler Lee

A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the author of “The 52 New Foods Challenge” (Penguin/Avery 2014) and the creator of the award-winning healthy eating game, Crunch a Color®. Her family culinary adventures have been featured at Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Rachael Ray’s Yum-O!, Pottery Barn Kids, and Laurie David’s Family Dinner. She is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Lodger’: Debut Novel Explores Life of Ground-breaking Author Dorothy Richardson in Two Unconventional Love Affairs

Four years before the publication of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” the term “stream of consciousness” was first applied in a literary context in The Egoist, April 1918, by May Sinclair to the early volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s novel sequence “Pilgrimage.”

The Lodger jacketIn a review of “Pointed Roofs” Sinclair used the term “stream of consciousness” in her discussion of Richardson’s stylistic innovations. Richardson, however, preferred the term interior monologue. “Pointed Roofs” was the first volume in a sequence of 13 novels titled “Pilgrimage”. Miriam Henderson, the central character in “Pilgrimage”, is based on Richardson’s  own life between 1891 and 1915.

Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) is the central figure in a wonderful debut novel by Louisa Treger titled “The Lodger” (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $24.99).

Much of the novel centers on the real-life love affair between Richardson and the writer H.G. “Bertie” Wells, but Treger shows how the experiences of a woman from the provinces — she was born in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire but by the age of 10 she was living in London — changed her life in the hothouse literary scene of cosmopolitan London.

Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, working for low pay as a secretary at a dentist’s office in Harley Street and living in a boarding house in Bloomsbury, when she is invited to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer, who is hovering on the brink of fame. His name is H.G. Wells, or “Bertie”, as he is known to friends. (His full name: Herbert George Wells).

Bertie appears unremarkable at first. But then Dorothy notices his grey-blue eyes taking her in, openly signalling approval. He tells her he and Jane have an agreement which allows them the freedom to take lovers, although Dorothy is not convinced her friend is happy with this arrangement.

Reluctant to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy begins an affair with Bertie. (It occurs quickly in the novel; in real life, the affair developed over a period of years).

Dorothy’s life gets more complicated when a new boarder arrives at the house — beaufiful unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms (I picture her as the youthful Claire Bloom in the Robert Wise film “The Haunting) and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. This event, along with the violence of the militant suffragette movement, with Veronica imprisoned, helps Dorothy discover her literary gift and she begins writing.

“The Lodger” is a very readable work that is both an introduction to one of the most important writers of the 20th Century and the story of one woman tormented — and energized, at the same time — by unconventional desires.

Louisa Treger

Louisa Treger






About the Author

Louisa Treger, a classical violinist, studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. She subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a Ph.D. in English at University College London, where she focused on early-twentieth-century women’s writing and was awarded the West Scholarship and the Rosa Morison Scholarship “for distinguished work in the study of English Language and Literature.” Her website:

For more about H.G. Wells, author of “The Time Machine,” “War of the Worlds,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Outline of History” and many more works:

For my Jan. 20, 2014 review of “Under the Wide and Starry Sky”, another novel/biography:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Glimpses of a Global Life’: Longest Serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Survived a Helicopter Trip with Idi Amin as Pilot


Credit it to the idiosyncrasies of a book reviewer, but one of the passages in Sir Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal’s memoirs, “Glimpses of a Global Life” (Hansib Publications Ltd., Hertford, UK, 624 pages, photos, appendixes, index, $18.60 from; Kindle edition, $9.99) that got my immediate attention was his visit to Idi Amin’s Uganda with his English-born wife Lois.

Ramphal coverIt occurred during Guyana-born Ramphal’s tenure as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth, and commonly called the “Commonwealth”) during an official visit to the African nation. He and his wife were treated to a helicopter ride with none other than the brutal dictator in the pilot’s seat. (I hope there was a co-pilot, but there’s no mention of one!). Lois Ramphal was chosen by Amin to preside over the dedication of a paint factory. Ramphal later learned that the factory had already been dedicated. (Amin, 1925-2003, was a former British colonial soldier, who was the third president of independent Uganda, ruling from 1971-1979. He died in exile in Saudi Arabia).

Not long after the visit to the east African former British colony, Uganda was removed from the Commonwealth. (It has since been reinstated as a member, in spite of the fact that the country is ruled by another dictator, Yoweri Kaguta Musevenim who came to power in a coup in 1986.) One of the reasons was the forcible ejection of Uganda’s Asian community that consisted of productive people from India. To me, that proves that blacks — Amin was a black, also a Muslim — can be as racist as whites.

Ramphal was born in what was then the British colony of British Guiana in 1928. His antecedents came from India as indentured workers, replacing the black slaves who labored in the sugar cane fields of the future Guyana, enriching the white plantation owners who lived very comfortable lives in “England’s green & pleasant land,” to borrow a phrase from the poem “Jerusalem” by William Blake (1757-1827).

A lawyer and international diplomat, he rose from humble origins to become a key Advisor to Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth. Leaders from every continent engaged with him as the longest serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975–1990) and as the only person who served on all the Independent International Commissions that grappled with the world’s major issues.

Having been a key player in bringing an end to Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence and institutional racism in Southern Rhodesia, he spent much of his last five years as Secretary-General, until 1990, in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. He had the satisfaction of playing a part in Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, and Namibia’s independence the following month. Zimbabwe, formerly called Southern Rhodesia, is of course problematical, as it continues to be ruled by Robert Mugabe, who practices his own form of racism against the whites of the country and has turned the country into an economic basket case. Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth about a decade ago, although Ramphal puts it a different way: “One day, Zimbabwe will return to the Commonwealth — when it is recognized by all sides that Zimbabwe did not leave the Commonwealth, Mugabe did.” (Page 392).

Ramphal — just about everybody who knows him calls him “Sonny” — left the Commonwealth Secretariat as a still youthful 61. He was Chancellor of the Universities of Guyana and Warwick, and the University of the West Indies, and he went on to chair the West Indian Commission which charted a future for the Caribbean region in the 21st century, and he headed the regional negotiating machinery which sought a unified Caribbean trading response to the European Community, the United States and the World Trade Organization. At the age of 79, he successfully led Guyana’s legal team before a United Nations Law of the Sea Tribunal that peacefully settled the maritime boundary with Suriname.

In many ways, the oft-derided Commonwealth was more successful than the United Nations in bringing about majority rule in Africa, as evidenced by the instances of the former Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the former Southwest Africa, now called Namibia, and, of course in the nation of South Africa itself. At least that’s my take after reading “Glimpses of a Global Life.” I also saw some quite negative views of Ramphal by reader commentators on the Stabroek News site based in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, in the news service’s announcement of the book launch of “Glimpses of a Global Life.” Any memoir, as I’ve pointed out in my past reviews of the genre, is by its very nature subjective and subject to review by historians.

Toward the end of Ramphal’s tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General, his name came up as a possible secretary-general of the U.N. I think he would have made a much better secretary-general than the fourth man to serve in that position, Kurt J. Waldheim (1918-2007) an Austrian who served as an intelligence officer in Hitler’s army during WW II, when Austria was part of the Third Reich. Waldheim served in the UN post from 1972 to 1981 and was the recipient of a telegram from Idi Amin praising the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972. Waldheim protested that, despite being an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht, he knew nothing about the Third Reich’s crimes against humanity.

Summing up, “Glimpses of a Global Life” offers the reader a cast of the world’s leading characters and the central role Ramphal played alongside them in issues such as ending Apartheid in South Africa; laying the foundations for global concerns about the environment; the reform of global governance, and the resolution of conflicts. It is an analysis of major problems and challenges that dominated the twentieth century and which continue to shape the contours of the twenty-first. Since the major news media rarely cover events in the Commonwealth — except in the cases of terrorist acts like the recent events in Canada, “Glimpses of a Global Life” will serve to educate readers interested — like the present reviewer — in history.

About the Author

Sir Shridath Ramphal, born Oct. 3, 1928 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), is a lawyer and international diplomat. He rose from humble origins to become a key advisor to Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, and he is also the longest serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975–1990). Ramphal lives in Barbados. His daughter Susan is the wife of Huntington News Network contributor Sir Ronald Sanders, also a native of Guyana.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Leaving Time’: A Good Introduction to Jodi Picoult’s Works If You’ve Never Read Her; Fulfills Expectations If You’re a Fan

When I sat down to write my review of the new novel by best-selling author Jodi Picoult, I thought (reviewer thinking: This is the first Jodi Picoult novel I’ve encountered)…I can hear the cries now: “And you call yourself a book reviewer???” Then, I checked my memory with the search engine and discovered that, yes, I had reviewed a Jodi Picoult novel, “The Storyteller” from 2013. A senior moment? I hope not! My review:

leaving time jacketPicoult’s newest novel, “Leaving Time” (Ballantine Books, 416 pages, $28.00) will satisfy fans of authors like Stephen King. (King contributes praise on the back of the dust jacket: “Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance.”). And, of course, it will meet or exceed the expectations of Picoult’s fans worldwide.
Told in Rashomon form (“The Rashomon effect is contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. The phrase derives from the movie Rashomon, where four witnesses’ accounts of a rape and murder are all different” –Wikipedia) by Alice Metcalf; her 13-year-old daughter, Jenna; former police officer Virgil Stanhope, and psychic Serenity Jones, “Leaving Time” is a love story, a murder mystery and an account of elephant behavior that will remind you that we’re all basically alike as animals.

Don’t, dear reader, skip to the end to find out what happens in “Leaving Time.” I’ll make an exception, though: You might want to read the author’s note beginning on Page 399 to find out about elephant poaching and the efforts of people to save these magnificent animals. Picoult’s novel centers on a fictional elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire, but, in the author’s note, she describes the real-life elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. and other efforts to protect the animals from poachers, who kill elephants for their ivory, which is shipped to China.

Jenna, who lives with her grandmother, has devoted her life to find her missing mother, Alice, an expert in elephant behavior. Alice is married to fellow elephant expert, Thomas Metcalf, who operates an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire — and shares her views about elephant behavior, especially their grieving rituals.

In succession, Jenna contacts a psychic, Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the police officer who investigated the incidents at the Metcalf elephant sanctuary that included the disappearance of Alice Metcalf. Jenna has studied the journals of her mother, a scientist who investigated grief among elephants. Jenna hopes that the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

I won’t say anything more about the plot of “Leaving Time.” Read it yourself and prepare to be surprised at the ending.
About the author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “The Storyteller,” “Lone Wolf,” “Between the Lines,” “Sing You Home,” “House Rules,” “Handle with Care,” “Change of Heart,” “Nineteen Minutes,” and “My Sister’s Keeper.” She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

For an Oct. 17, 2014 video of her being interviewed on CBS:

Her website:

* * *

Reviewer’s Note: Elephant preservation was the subject of a novel, “The Roots of Heaven,” by French author Romain Gary, made into a movie in 1958, starring Errol Flynn (in his last major role), Juliette Greco and Trevor Howard. I’m going to see if I can find the movie, which I saw many years ago. Along with another movie that I love, one made in the 1970s, “Save the Tiger,” it’s far ahead of its time.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Even This I Get to Experience’: Norman Lear Spills His Guts in Page-Turner Memoir


Let me say it flat out at the beginning: Norman Lear’s memoir “Even This I Get to Experience” (The Penguin Press, a member of the Penguin Group USA, 464 pages, glossy photo insert, no index, $32.95) is the best show-business memoir I’ve read since I read and reviewed the late James Garner’s “The Garner Files.” (My Nov. 5, 2011 review, which ‘garnered” more comments than any review I’ve written: Garner died on July 19, 2014.

Norman Lear book jacketThere are some similarities between the Connecticut-born (in 1922) Jew, Lear, and the Oklahoma-born (in 1928) Gentile: Both had parents who were troubled: ‘Garner’s father had a drinking problem and Garner’s stepmother liked to beat him with a spatula, until, at the age of 14 he decked her.’ (from my review).

Lear, whose creations — “All In The Family”, “Maude”, “The Jeffersons, ” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “Fernwood 2 Night” — changed TV sitcoms forever — had a distant father, Herman King Lear, who always had a get-rich-quick scheme up his sleeve and served time in prison for attempting to sell phony bonds. During Herman’s absence, his mother left her son to live with relatives. All her life she remained oddly distant from her successful son — the very opposite of the classic Jewish mother.

Both Lear and Garner served their country in the military: Lear enlisting in the Army Air Corps and flying 52 missions in a B-17 bomber squad based in Foggia, Italy during World War II; Garner serving in combat with the army during the Korean War, being awarded a Purple Heart.

Lear, on his life so far:

In my ninety-plus years I’ve lived a multitude of lives. In the course of all these lives, I had a front-row seat at the birth of television; wrote, produced, created, or developed more than a hundred shows; had nine on the air at the same time; founded the 300,000-member liberal advocacy group People For the American Way; was labeled the “no. 1 enemy of the American family” by Jerry Falwell; made it onto Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List”; was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton; purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and toured it for ten years in all fifty states; blew a fortune in a series of bad investments in failing businesses; and reached a point where I was informed we might even have to sell our home. Having heard that we’d fallen into such dire straits, my son-in-law phoned me and asked how I was feeling. My answer was, “Terrible, of course,” but then I added, “but I must be crazy, because despite all that’s happened, I keep hearing this inner voice saying, ‘Even this I get to experience.’”

* * *

We learn in this memoir that the character Lear considers closest to his own persona is Maude Findlay, played by Bea Arthur. “Maude” ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978. The show was a spin-off from Lear’s most successful show, “All In The Family.” Maude first appeared on AITF, as Edith Bunker’s upscale, much-married and outspoken cousin.

Lear is very outspoken about his three marriages and the problems he had with the first two. He’s justifiably proud of his six children, aged 68 to 19. He writes that he incorporated events from his life and marriages, appropriately disguised, in his TV shows and feature films. This is only fitting: Writing teachers tell their students to write about what they know!

At their peak, his programs were viewed by 120 million people a week, with stories that dealt with the most serious issues of the day—racism, poverty, abortion —yet still left audiences howling with laughter.

But TV and politics are only a fraction of the tale. Lear’s early years were grounded in the harshness of the Great Depression, and further complicated by his parents’ vivid personalities. The imprisonment of Lear’s father, a believer in the get-rich-quick scheme, colored his son’s childhood. Lear writes that much of Archie Bunker is derived from his dad.

After the war, instead of finishing the last two years of college at Emerson College in Boston, he worked as a publicist in New York City. His show business career built steadily when he arrived in Los Angeles, especially after a powerful agent was in the audience the night Danny Thomas performed a nightclub routine written by Lear.

Not long after, he and writing partner Ed Simmons wrote for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis — and later Martha Raye and George Gobel — making him the highest paid comedy writer in the country. Cult movie fans should be grateful to him: When Rob Reiner, who considers Lear a second father, was looking for financing for his mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” Lear personally financed the movie and helped director Reiner find a distributor.

Lear’s memoirs are a treasure trove of stories…I just wish he and Penguin had included an INDEX! (There goes my rant! And there it ends!)

About the author

Norman Milton Lear, born in New Haven, CT, July 27, 1922, is the television producer of such groundbreaking sitcoms as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. He has received four Emmy awards, a Peabody, and the National Medal of Arts. As an advocate, Lear founded People For the American Way and supports First Amendment rights and other progressive causes.

His website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Down Size’: Laughter May be Best Medicine for People Seeking the Right Weight, Shape

Downsize jacketIf the Reader’s Digest category “Laughter is the Best Medicine” is still true, perhaps Ted Spiker’s weight-loss wisdom that he delivers with abundant humor in “Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success” (Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, foreword by Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., 288 pages, $25.95) may be the solution to your weight problem.

Or maybe not; Spiker’s pear-shaped body can’t be changed, he tells us in a book that could be shelved in the humor section of a bookstore just as easily as it could be in the health and fitness section.

About that pear-shaped body: Men’s pants aren’t designed for pear-shaped people, whose weight is concentrated in the butt, Spiker reminds us. So it will surprise absolutely no one that his wife’s post-pregnancy “Mom Jeans” turned out to be the best fitting pants he ever wore (Page 86).

When I observe the weird world of human size and shape, hardly anything surprises me these days. So I wasn’t shocked to find that Swedish advertising executives interviewed potential models outside an eating disorder clinic. (Page 97). Considering the gaunt look of the the mostly Eastern European women who are fashion models these days, I’m not surprised at Spiker’s revelation.

The twelve truths each have a chapter and are herded into three parts of four chapters each: Up Size: Getting Stuck; Down Size: Getting Going; and Your Best Size: Getting the Body You Want — for Good.

I don’t know what there is about the magic of 12-step programs, but we’re stuck with them, so we might as well get used to thinking in those terms. Among the twelve truths about successful weight loss, Spiker discusses such areas as temptation, frustration, nutrition, and inspiration. Some truths:

• Redefine the Definition of Data

• Leave Behind Your Extra Gland

• Think Process, Not Outcome

• Train Shorter, Train Harder

Not long after I finished the book a week or so ago, I heard “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor sing about males suffering from bleeding nipples on long-distance runs. I’m a dedicated walker, not a runner, and — if anything convinced me to stay away from joint-jarring running — those bleeding nipples did it! Does Spiker discuss this tender subject in his book? Of course he does! How could he resist the topic? And he not only participates in marathons and shorter runs, he also partakes of Iron Man competitions! One such race is detailed in the final chapter.

About that pear-shaped body that’s dogged Spiker all his life. He was asked by his own childhood doctor if his “feminine shape” embarrassed him at the beach. What a ridiculous question! Of course he was embarrassed by his girly shape: What guy wouldn’t be?

In the course of his writing numerous bestselling diet and health books, he’s consumed numerous burritos and other forms of no-no foots for those concerned with keeping in shape. He’s also eaten a 76-ounce steak (he doesn’t say where, but J&R’s on Long Island specializes in such gastronomical excesses (youtube: There’s also a place in Amarillo, TX that specializes in 72-ounce steaks: If you can eat one in a certain time period, it’s on the house.

Spiker combines science, personal stories, expert interviews, and advice in “Down Size”, making it an entertaining, field-tested, and research-based look at how men and women can finally find the body they want.







Ted Spiker

About the Author

Ted Spiker is co-author of the bestselling “You: The Owner’s Manual” series with Drs. Mehmet C. Oz and Michael Roizen and the bestselling “Abs Diet” series with David Zinczenko. An associate professor of journalism at the University of Florida, Spiker has worked as an editor at Men’s Health magazine, writes for many magazines, and is the author of Big Guy Blog for He lives in Gainesville, Florida.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers