Tag Archives: how-to

Big girls don’t cry, nor do small girls who think and act big

“Play Big,” by Jen Welter with Stephanie Krikorian. Seal Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

At once sports memoir and empowerment handbook, this feisty and engaging “how-to” is bound to attract a lot of attention. The author, a Vero Beach native, broke the glass ceiling in professional football in a variety of ways. She moved from being a championship performer in women’s professional football to playing for a men’s professional team to becoming linebacker coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  

They said such a thing couldn’t be done and that the “boys’ club” would not accept her, but Jen Welter made it happen through a die-hard attitude and relentless self-improvement. Along the way, she became Dr. Jen, with a Ph.D. in psychology.

This book builds upon her work as a coach. It is a master plan for “being limitless.” Though directed at women from all walks of life, it has plenty of powerful advice for men as well.

The bite-sized chapters oscillate between vividly drawn scenes of major challenges in Ms. Welter’s life and the attitudinal and behavioral adjustments necessary for her readers to reach their highest aspirations. At five feet and two inches, Jen Welter would never be big, but she would find the way to play big. In sports and in life. That means taking risks. It means learning how be touch and to enjoy the pains of perseverance. It means never giving up.

There is a recurrent graphic motif from chapter to chapter that puts key concepts into sharp focus. Each chapter begins with something that looks like a gummed label. Here Couch Jen provides a terse thematic overview of the chapter. Another graphic part of the graphic motif is a series of boxed and shaded mini-essays that boil down the chapter’s concerns. Sometimes these shaded areas contain a series of bullet points. 

Chapter titles tend to be essential truisms that have the energy and memorability of mantras for the coach’s students. “What Makes Us Different Makes Us Stronger,” “Once It’s Been Done, It Can’t Be Undone,” and “When It’s Us Against Them, We All Lose” are examples of the kind of readily applicable aphorism with which the coach beats the drum of self-awareness and self-improvement.

The heart of the book, for most readers, will be Ms. Welter’s story-telling. One key narrative is about her small size and her concern about being too small to earn a place on the Mass Mutiny women’s professional football team. She relates how she handled the insecurity and played her way onto the team. She discovered, as well, that one could manifest a presence much larger than one’s physical dimensions. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 18, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-19#page=61

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A handy, compact guide for the would-be true crimes sleuth

The New York Crimes, Volume 1: The Fifties & Sixties, by Stephanie Hughes. Stephanie Hughs/Sunshine Sally. 90 pages. Paperback $7.99.

With this title, Fort Myers resident Stephanie Hughes begins a series that will please both “true crime” addicts and more retrained followers of crimes that have become markers of our crime-riddled times. For the most part, Ms. Hughes selects crimes that had already received the attention of authors and film makers. Such endeavors have amped up the celebrity of crimes – even if the criminals or victims were not celebrities to begin with. 

Ms. Hughes offers a multipart primer to help readers remember and understand – and  possibly further explore – major New York crimes over two decades. She writes for the “armchair sleuth” who, if in New York, can of course visit the crimes scenes and other important locations just by googling the provided addresses. For the rest of us, the author provides photographs, not just of the key locations, but in the context of the immediate neighborhood. Many of these photos were taken by the author.

But you should take your own! Don’t investigate without a camera. And some mace.

Of course, photos of the victims, criminals, and others important to the case are also provided.

Aside from the visuals, Stephanie Hughes offers: an overview of the crime story; thumbnail biographies of the key players, including law enforcement officers and witnesses; and complete addresses and histories of the locations that housed or were otherwise connected with the crime.

Precise dates and times? They are provided as well.

Eleven chapters, each covering a major New York crime (or possible crime), provide a spectrum of possibilities.

Stephanie Hughes

One examines the fate of Frank Olson, a CIA scientist who became involved as a test subject in experiments with psychedelic drugs being conducted at the U. S. Army’s Fort Detrick in Maryland. In November of 1953, he suffered terrible effects and was sent by his superiors to a meeting in New York’s Hotel Statler. He crashed through a 13th floor window to his death on 7th Avenue. Suicide? Accidental fall brought on by the narcotics? Or a murder to shut him up about what the government was up to? Vicariously, you can find out for yourself.

Did best-selling author Norman Mailer get off too easily for the stabbing of his wife at a party in the couple’s Manhattan condo? Look over the information Ms. Hughes presents, and see what you think. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the July 5, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly — New York Crimes

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Putting one’s life on the line . . . of ruled paper

Look Beyond the Mirror: A Creative and Simple Approach to Discover and Write the Story of Your Life, by Penny Lauer. Privately published via the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform . 156 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

The seeds for this highly effective guide to memoir writing, at once practical and motivational, is a course the author gave at the Renaissance Academy (continuing education division) of Florida Gulf Coast University. She approaches the project as first of all an exercise in self-discovery, a process without which the finished product would be of little use to readers – even if they are primarily family and friends. 

Ms. Lauer breaks the seemingly overwhelming task into a series of manageable steps, explaining the necessity of each step and offering, with examples, a preferred way of managing that step. Anticipating the inexperience and insecurity of her reader-students, she reaches out in a sympathetic, supportive voice.

The author provides detailed advice on how to develop a flow of memories unblocked by self-censorship. Memoir writers have to seek the emotional truths in the experiences they recall, then explore and fashion those experiences for their readers. Penny Lauer insists on the necessity of pushing ahead, generating as much material as possible, before grouping the material and editing.


The steps in the book organize the novice writer’s working life. Ms. Lauer insists on handwritten manuscripts (pardon the redundancy) on ruled paper in notebooks from which the pages can be removed and rearranged. And she explains how and why this method works. She also explains the need for a protected place for the writing to get done.

I agree that her system can work and produce exceptional results. I also feel that as people mature as writers, they need to explore a variety of processes. Changing your habits is a good way of waking up your perceptions and your writing. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 19, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Look Beyond the Mirror

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Good news for stroke survivors on the path to recovery

Stroke Victor: How to Go from Stroke Victim to Stroke Victor, by Bob Mandell. Creative Projects International. 256 pages. Trade paperback $16.95.

This marvelous self-help book is likely to save or extend a lot of lives. However, its central focus is enhancing the quality of life for those who have undergone life-changing illnesses or injuries. While the information and advice is primarily for stroke victims, Bob Mandell’s guidance can be applied to many different situations in which recovery from a disability is sought. cover-Stroke_Victor_cover_New3

The author’s personal story is the engaging and inspiring trunk and branches of the book. On these branches Bob Mandell has hung the fruits of what he has learned.

For me, his most widely applicable piece of advice is the need to take responsibility, to question, to be an aggressive patient who challenges medical personal and especially conventional wisdom. Passive people are likely to be buried by their insecurities, by medical care bureaucracy, and by accepting what’s immediately available or convenient rather than what is best for their recovery and rehabilitation.

You have to fight to discover the best information, the best hospital, rehab facility, and medical expertise for your needs. You must be willing to take educated risks.

However, Bob Mandell also knows that you can’t let an aggressive stance turn into adversarial relationships with those whose help and experience you are seeking. Make friends on this journey to well-being. Don’t turn people off.

Another crucial piece of advice is the mantra “one step at a time.” People whose expectations are too ambitious (unrealistic?) are likely to be disappointed and fall into despair. They will lose heart and may never make progress. Set attainable goals and work hard to achieve each. With others, develop a plan that is consistent with your condition at the starting line so that you can reach the finish line of restored vitality and functionality.



Forty-four brief, zesty and often humorous chapters (plus four appendixes) help create the feeling of “step-by-step” conquest over the stroke or other debilitating condition from which you need to rebound. You need to make and keep your commitment to practical interim goal-setting.

Bob Mandell writes in an almost breathless style, underscoring his points via strong section headings, outline technique, boldface emphasis, and a kind of question and answer dialogue. Most important is his use of italicized passages that reveal what Bob was thinking at different stages of his own recovery and rehabilitation. He admits to and shares his doubts and dilemmas along the way. No one should think that anything less than tough-mindedness and hard work will bring the results you desire. No one should think there won’t be setbacks. . . .

To read this book in its entirety, as it appears in the July 15, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the July 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Stroke Victor

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Whispering in full voice: Jerry Greenfield’s wine wisdom

Secrets of the Wine Whisperer, by Jerry Greenfield. Creative Book Publishers International. 313 pages. $17.95.

Mixing encyclopedic how-to with personal narrative, Fort Myers marketing guru Jerry Greenfield has written a hilarious memoir of his passion for wine. Even someone with little or no interest in wine, like myself, will find Mr. Greenfield’s grapacious journey delightful. For those who want to learn the ins (and inns) and outs of wine as delicacy, wine as hobby, wine as business, wine as investment, wine as social lubricant,  wine as vocabulary builder, or wine as geography, “Secrets” is a must.


The enthralled author carefully and wittily traces the steps of his passion for vino. His breezy chapters show us a man (accompanied by his wife) learning how to educate his palate, learning how to shop, learning how to store, learning how to appreciate the connection between the liquid in the bottle and the culture and soil of its origins.

Once smitten, Mr. Greenfield and his wife heard themselves talking like this: “Well, there’s some cedar on the nose, but the first thing that hits me on the palate is the dark plum, with a little bit of eucalyptus kicking in at the finish.” He continues, “We truly deserved to be severely beaten about the head and shoulders. Some of our friends began to hate us, while others called us during office hours from a wine store, wanting to know if 1997 was a good year for Burgundy. (It wasn’t.)”

Full absorption requires that you enter a world of like-minded devotées and disengage from those supposed friends who just will not follow you into the valley of the grape escape.  Jerry-3

To allow yourself to be seduced by the wine muse requires that you become prepared to spend beyond your means – always. You will sign up for wine tastings large and small, praying for an opportunity to sip a bit of what you can never afford to buy. You will need to meet the vineyard owners and wine masters, as well as the renowned critics and standard bearers.

You will manipulate invitations to exclusive wine events and to the European estates at which the perfect mating of wine and (other) food is realized.

Early in your mania, you will convert a guest room to a wine storage and tasting facility. Later on, you will build a house designed to feature the spoils (not spoilage) of your ferocious collecting: the wine shrine. . .

To read the entire review, as published in the December 11, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here  Florida Weekly – Greenfield 1 and here Florida Weekly – Greenfield 2.

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The ‘Visit Wizard’ knows what makes great guests and hosts

The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest, by Kathy Bertone. Running Press. 272 pages. $16.00.

This beautifully designed book is as delightful to read as it is to look at. While Ms. Bertone is quite serious about the etiquette of visits, she manages to keep the tone light and takes pains to build a personal relationship with her readers. Many of her suggestions are merely common sense; others are “how come I never thought of that” ideas that underscore her deep commitment to make visits successful for visitors and their hosts. Perfection is no doubt an illusory goal, and the author strives to strike a balance between planning and attentiveness on the one hand and relaxed enjoyment on the other. Ironically, these “hands” go hand in hand. If you plan, you can relax.

Being the perfect host means preparing your home (in advance) for your guests’ comfort and convenience. It means communicating in advance by asking questions about special needs and expectations. It means planning activities with an eye to pleasing as many people as possible and yet not pushing too hard or otherwise embarrassing someone who is reluctant to go bowling or boating.

Kathy Bertone insists that hosts should aim at restraint when things don’t go well, offering flexibility and coolness under pressure to make guests’ visits as pleasant as possible. Tact and diplomacy are necessary skills, but there are limits! Hosts need to be self-caring and they should not let guests take advantage of them.

The devil (or angel) is in the details, and Ms. Bertone’s book is nothing of not detailed.

Special chapters focus on hosting children, young adults, and older guests. There is even a section for absent hosts: how to manage the use of your home by family and friends when you’re away.

Kathy Bertone

As you might imagine, the flip side – “Becoming the Perfect Guest” – reverses the perspective of the hosting advice. However, since the issues basically remain the same, anyone reading the book straight through will notice a degree of repetition, as well as references in the second part to something already covered in the first part. However, the book is designed so that readers can enter it halfway through, with the guest perspective, if that’s their paramount need. They won’t notice the repetition, because they will have (temporarily, at least) skipped over the host section.  One might argue, as well, that on these matters repetition is helpful. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 19, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 20 issues of the Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bertone

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What makes for a bestselling novel?

“Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers,” by James W. Hall. Random House. 336 pages. $16.00.

James W. Hall, best known as the prize-winning author of the Thorn thrillers, has fashioned a practical guide to the must-have ingredients for commercial success as a writer. Drawing upon his own experience as well as the insights developed from teaching his popular college course on bestsellers, Mr. Hall presents a lively discussion of twelve blockbuster novels. While each is distinctive, they share many features in ways that are sometimes immediately obvious, sometimes less so. 

The author focuses on twelve well-known titles, including “The Godfather,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “The Firm,” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” He shows how each of the twelve, to a greater or lesser extent, orchestrates twelve features. One of these features is the centrality of a “hot-button” item that reveals “some larger, deep-seated, and unresolved conflict in the national consciousness.” For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960, tapped into the nation’s concern with the stresses and strains of the civil rights movement and vigilante justice while probing the longer, deeper issue of America’s troubled history of slavery and racial prejudice.  

Another shared ingredient is the presentation of America as the golden land of innocence and opportunity, or at least the nostalgia for such a vision. While some of the novels under consideration tap into this vision in a positive sense, others invoke it only to mourn its contamination. Mr. Hall explores “Peyton Place” and “Valley of the Dolls” from this perspective, but it becomes clear that the other ten novels also make use of this ingredient. “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “The Dead Zone,” and “The Da Vinci Code” are the titles not previously mentioned that are also treated in this entertaining, informative, and totally reader-friendly study. . . .

James W. Hall

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 16, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the May 17 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the May 31 Palm Beach Gardens edition, click here: Florida Weekly – HitLit pdf

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Two local writers offer sharable wisdom

“Cat and Crow: An Amazing Friendship,” by Lisa Fleming. Collage Books. 48 pages, illustrated. $14.95.

“The 4-1-1 on Life Skills,” by Michele Sfakianos. Open Pages Publishing. 142 pages. $14.95.

Two Naples area writers have recently published books that are as different as they can be and yet have something in common: the desire to help and instruct “younger” people. One, “Cat and Crow” by Lisa Fleming is definitely what we’d call a “children’s book,” the kind that parents will enjoy reading to their kids and discussing with them. It shows how a powerful friendship can emerge between individuals more likely to be enemies.

“The 4-1-1 on Life Skills” by Michele Sfakianos is a different kind of parenting book. It’s aimed at young adults going out on their own who need advice on coping with the responsibilities and challenges of their independence. It’s filled with how-to guidelines that are too often neglected during the transition from nest-safe adolescence to out-in-the world adulthood.

Lisa Fleming

 Ms. Fleming’s book, beautifully illustrated by Anne Marie Dominik-Harris, retells the well-known story of the unusual relationship that developed between two natural enemies – an untamed cat that was taken in by Ann and Wally Collito in North Attleboro, Massachusetts and a crow that lived right outside their home. This couple took the time to document these unusual happenings through photos and videos. Most often, the crow is the protector and provider, sheltering the cat with its wing or bringing it food. Moses the crow and Cassie the cat regularly play together, and the amazed Collitos watch it all on a daily basis over a long period of time. 

One day, they see the crow swoop down to stop the cat from stepping in front of a car. On another occasion, Cassie is the protector, scaring a tomcat away from threatening Moses.

Lisa Fleming relates the true-life fable with an elegant simplicity. She also provides newspaper clippings and Collito photos to accompany the narrative, as well as an assortment of interesting facts about these two creatures. “Cat and Crow” is a wonderful entertainment that encourages tolerance and questions cliché thinking about what’s possible in the realm of getting along in spite of differences.

“The 4-1-1 on Life Skills” provides clear and concise tips for young adults going out on their own. Ms. Sfakianos, a registered nurse and life skills expert, knows that the business of health care, home care, cleaning, food preparation, car care, personal financial management, and similar life skills can overwhelm young people. Her book is a starter kit in personal responsibility. It’s down to earth, accessible, and friendly.

Michele Sfakianos

Does that child who has left your nest empty know how to prevent pests and bugs? Does he or she have a clue about dealing with the first baby? Can that seemingly grown up person who has depended on you make even the simplest home repairs? What about appropriate behavior in social situations? Michele Sfakianos has practical answers to questions almost too embarrassing to ask.

“The 4-1-1” is a great gift book for the newly independent. It contains great tips for inexperienced parents. In fact, it is valuable for those adults of any age who need a handy resource when they are floundering with life’s everyday problems. Going beyond the everyday, this compendium of common sense provides guidance on being ready for the unexpected in its substantial chapter on disaster preparedness.

If your children (or grandchildren) are very young or very young adults, Lisa Fleming and Michele Sfakianos have sharable wisdom to offer you and them.

Meet Michele Sfakianos in Fort Myers at the Colonial Country Club Fall Festival on Saturday, November 5, from 8:30am-12:30pm.

This review, with a much better title, appears in the October 12, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the October 13 issue of the Naples edition. See Florida Weekly – Fleming & Sfakianos or pp. 78-79 of the “flip” edition: http://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/news/2011-10-12/PDF/flip


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