TTP Review of THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan

I am sorry to say that the following book review will not be terribly appetizing. That’s because I just finished digesting the super-sized helping of largely unpalatable facts and figures presented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Before I go any further, I think it’s necessary to point out that I read the young reader’s edition because that’s what my daughter was assigned in her 8th grade English Language Arts class. I am very thankful she’s not yet taking college level courses. I’m not sure I could stomach the adult version of the story of what Pollan calls our “industrial food chain.”


Have you ever wondered, as you stroll the aisles of your favorite grocery store, where any of that stuff came from and how it got there? Have you ever pondered why a Big Mac is cheaper than a head of cabbage? Why do you suppose the volume of a standard soda keeps increasing while the price remains about the same? It all boils down to one simple yet startling statistic. Over the past forty years, our daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup has increased by roughly seventy percent. Our use of corn products in general is beyond mind boggling. In addition to recognizable foods such as canned corn, frozen corn, corn chips and taco shells, corn byproducts find their way into almost every processed food imaginable. Some of those same byproducts can be found in wallpaper paste, penicillin, cosmetics, ethanol, plastic, oil and glue. So, who’s hungry? From a nutritional standpoint, corn has almost nothing to offer but government subsidies make it nearly impossible for many farmers to grow any other crop. Here are a few more tid-bits to chew on.

A big percentage of the corn supply ends up in animal feed.  It makes sense. The livestock’s gotta eat too. However, corn isn’t always supposed to be on the menu. I’m sure you’ve heard of corn fed beef? It sounds really impressive and even healthy. Here’s the thing. Cattle don’t actually eat corn, at least not naturally. They are born grazers. That’s a slow process, though, and the industrial food chain doesn’t have the patience. So they are given a diet that includes a whole lot of corn plus a bunch of other garbage. On the plus side, it keeps beef affordable. The negatives are too numerous to mention.

Omnivore's Dilemma_Pollan     Even with the relatively low cost of a nice steak, beef is still more expensive than pork or chicken. That’s because cattle require far more food. How, then, are fast food restaurants able to sell burgers so cheaply? Hold on to your stomach. A lot of those burgers actually come from old dairy cattle. That’s why the all beef patty part of your Big Mac really doesn’t have much flavor. Thank God for special sauce.

Step up to the meat counter and, alongside the corn fed beef, you’ll see all those nicely wrapped packages of “free range” chicken. No doubt that label is supposed to elicit the sorts of images that make you feel very good about your Sunday dinner. Picture this instead. Those cherished chickens are only given the opportunity to range during the final two weeks of their lives. By then, they are so used to being confined that they don’t bother going outdoors. And often, they can’t do so anyway because their legs are too weak to hold up their own over-fed bodies.

On second thought, maybe we’ll skip the Sunday barbecue this week in favor of a nice egg brunch.    Here’s the problem with that plan. The “farms” where egg-laying hens are raised are sometimes on the level of concentration camps. The hens are confined to tiny cages and in such close proximity to each other that they often get combative. Their beaks are then removed so they don’t become a danger to themselves or each other. How do hens continue to produce eggs under such conditions? In many instances, they don’t. They are then starved which spurs a brief period of increased egg production right before they die.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. The industrial food chain is cheap and that’s what keeps it going. If you want to buy lunch for a dollar some sacrifices have to be made. The less you know about those sacrifices the better.  And the more you know the worse that food is likely to taste. We can all make better decisions. We can all try to make a point of eating healthier and more naturally. Just know that it will be more expensive, more limiting and often more difficult. That, my friends, is the Omnivore’s Dilemma.


If you like what you’ve read,visit me at, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. You can also pick up a copy of A Shot at Redemption or my new suspense novel, Parlor City Paradise.

TTP Review of PLANE INSANITY by Elliott Hester

A while back, I wrote a Turn the Page book review of The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner.  I also published an interview with the author.  It’s called Meet Mr. Know-It-All and it’s well worth reading because Mr. Koerner is an award winning journalist and a fascinating guy.

The Skies Belong to Us is about the rash of airline hijackings that occurred from 1961 to 1972.  People’s reasons for hijacking airplanes ranged from a desire to defect to one man who took over an airline simply because he missed his mom’s cooking.  True story.  Of course, it was far easier to get away with that stuff back in the days when airport security was virtually nonexistent.  Those days are thankfully long gone, but if you are under the impression airline travel has gotten boring you’ve been grossly misinformed.

Plane InsanityIn the book Plane Insanity: A Flight Attendant’s Tales of Sex, Rage and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet, travel writer Elliott Hester paints a sometimes humorous, sometimes ridiculous and often horrifying picture of his years flying the not-so-friendly skies.  By the way, if you’re not familiar with Hester, he’s definitely worth reading up on.  In his most recent book,  Adventures of a Continental Drifter: An Around-the-World Excursion into Weirdness, Danger, Lust, and the Perils of Street Food, the author discusses why, in 2002, he sold off all his worldly possessions to enjoy a keyless existence and travel the world.  I haven’t read that one yet but I definitely plan to.  For now, we’d better get to the gate because our flight is ready to board.

If you’ve flown more than twice in your life, it’s a good bet you’ve suffered through at least one bad flight.  That might have been due to a crying baby, a seat kicker, an incessant talker, a fidgeter, a complainer, a gas passer, or that person who selects a window seat but has to visit the bathroom three times during a two hour flight.  Other problems can arise too: inclement weather, mechanical issues, lost luggage, and any number of other things.  I once spent an entire night at the Charlotte airport.  We got in late.   There was an ice storm.  There were no cabs or hotel rooms to be had and no more flights would be going in or out until the following morning.  All the airport amenities had long since closed up shop.  As compensation, each passenger was given a cracker-thin blanket, a juice box, a package of nuts, and a rock hard section of floor on which to try to get comfortable.  It was miserable any way you slice it, but after reading Plane Insanity, I think I got off light.

Hester spent over a decade and a half as a flight attendant.  In Plane Insanity, he describes the abuses he suffered almost on a daily basis.  You might think flight attendants do little more than review safety instructions, deliver drinks, and stalk the cabin to verify that seats and tray tables are properly positioned for takeoff and landing.  Read Plane Insanity and you’ll come away with a fuller appreciation of a mostly thankless job.  You’ve heard of the “mile high club.”  You’ll be amazed how many people try to join, even those sitting in coach.  Along with debauchery, often brought on by excessive alcohol consumption, Hester has dealt with rudeness, belligerence, paranoia, extreme body odor, projectile vomit and the list goes on.  In Plane Insanity, he discusses all that and a whole lot more.  It’s a great read; but if you’re going to be flying anytime soon, you might want to save this one until you get home.  On the other hand, if you’re considering smuggling a python onboard a commercial flight in your carry-on, read Plane Insanity  now for some valuable pointers


If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make  it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Visit, or find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova.  Also, please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.  

TTP Review of HOW WE GOT TO NOW by Steven Johnson

“Most inventions take place in the present tense of the abject possible.”  That, I think, is my favorite quote from How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, the ninth book by bestselling non-fiction author Steven Johnson.  A regular contributor to the New York Times, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal,  Johnson is a contributing editor of Wired, and was the co-creator of the websites Feed and  He writes mainly about the intersection of “science, technology and personal experience,” and this idea of the “abject possible,” which Johnson discusses in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, was first introduced by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman.  It suggests that innovation follows a necessary and even predictable progression.  The glass lens is the natural precursor to the microscope, the telescope and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of other inventions.

As the title indicates, How We Got to Now investigates the six innovations most responsible for shaping the world we now live in.  The aforementioned glass lens is one of the biggies.  But in addition to discussing the inventions with which a glass lens is most closely and logically associated, Johnson traces a path which connects something so fundamentally basic to the technical complexity of fiber optic cable and the world wide web.  It occurs to me that the web is the perfect metaphor for Johnson’s entire book because he describes how one thing invariably leads to the next and how, without points A, B and C, the odds of ever making it to D are slim at best.

Is it possible that flash photography led to better living conditions, better working conditions and widespread social reform?  Could accurate time keeping have played a significant role in the industrial revolution?  Could a frozen pond in New England and a lucky discovery while ice fishing in Canada really have changed our diet on a global scale?  The answer to all those questions is yes.  You might think television, the internet, the cell phone, the computer, the microwave and the ability to put an object in orbit are among the most revolutionary innovations of our time.  You would be correct, but without the “present tense of the abject possible,” without that first glass lens, civilization would be inestimably different and the inventions I just mentioned would have either come about very differently or, as likely, not at all.

How We Got to Now provides a fascinating look at our world and how the various pieces of innovation fit into our social, technological and even political puzzle.  Steven Johnson does a brilliant job connecting an incredible even mind-boggling array of dots and putting things in a context I can almost guarantee you’ve never thought of before.  The book is great.  And if, when you’ve finished reading, you’re  still unsure about how exactly we “got t now,” I recommend you check out the PBS series by the same name.  It’s hosted by Steven Johnson and it’s every bit as good as the book.


If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make  it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Visit, or find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova.  Also, please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.  



TTP Review of A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park

I was a lousy student in high school.  I don’t mind admitting that.  I didn’t study.  I din’t do homework.  My only objective was doing just well enough to pass.  I did, however, read every novel that was assigned.  Although I didn’t have much use for Shakespeare back then, I loved Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, A Separate Peace, and S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is still one of my favorite books of all time.  I don’t think many of those works are on middle or high school syllabuses anymore, and I often wonder what has replaced them.  I have a son in high school, a daughter in middle school, and it seems like the focus of ELA (English Language Arts) classes is a lot different from what I remember.  As I recall, I was reading something new all the time.  Today’s approach seems to be to favor quality over quantity, and spend more time on fewer literary works.  I don’t know if that’s right or wrong.  I just know that, when my daughter came home with something called A Long Walk to Water, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Written by Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water is, according to my daughter anyway, historical fiction.  I wouldn’t quite categorize it that way.  There are two story lines, one beginning in 1985 and the other in 2008.  Those storylines eventually merge, but I’m not going to tell you how or why.  What I will tell you is that A Long Walk to Water is based on a true story and it’s incredibly moving, powerful and inspirational.

Nya is eleven-years-old.  She lives in Southern Sudan and she spends her days fetching water for her family.  It’s a fulltime occupation.  She walks hours one way, fills her small pail, and then walks home again.  Once she’s done, she starts all over again.

Salva is about eleven as well.  He’s at school when the world suddenly explodes around him.  He hears gun fire and runs for his life.  Before he realizes what has happened, he is separated from his family and everything he knows and loves.  With war raging all around him, he has no choice but to try to escape.   Salva walks hundreds of miles, through desert and across rough terrain, fighting thirst, starvation, wild animals, and all those looking to do him harm.  He spends a decade in a refugee camp and is eventually relocated to Upstate New York.  Salva learns to speak English, gets a college education and eventually returns to Africa on a mission to help those he left behind.  You may be familiar with his mission.  It’s called Water for Sudan and it could use your help to.

You’re likely reading this book review on a computer, a tablet or some other handheld device.  When you have all the comforts and conveniences the modern world has to offer, it’s easy to forget about all the areas of the world where something as commonplace as running water can seem like a miracle.  By telling Salva’s story, Linda Sue Park paints a vivid, tragic, heartbreaking picture of life that isn’t as far removed from us as we might like to believe.  Nya goes to school now because she no longer has to take that long walk to water.  Plenty like her still do.  If you can’t imagine what that must be like, all I can say is that you should really read this book.


If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Visit, or find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova. Also, please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.  



TTP Review of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE by Forrest 'Asa' Carter


     Sometimes, the back story is more interesting than the story itself.  You surely remember Alabama Governor George Wallace.  He had the third longest gubernatorial term in post Constitutional U.S. history, was a four-time Presidential candidate,  and spent his later years in a wheelchair after being paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet.  But Wallace is best remembered, or should I say worst remembered, for delivering perhaps the most hateful, racist comments in the history of American politics.  He said, among other things, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”  That speech was not, however, written by Wallace.  It was actually penned by one Asa Earl Carter, a civil rights opponent and Ku Klux Klan leader so far to the right he made George Wallace look like a liberal.  Wallace eventually changed his tune and Carter vanished, only to emerge years later as Forrest Carter, author of The Education of Little Tree(1976), a beloved memoir” of love and tolerance. 

     Little Tree lost both his parents when he was just five years old.  He moved to the Appalachian Mountains and was placed in the care of his grandparents, both of whom were Cherokee.  Little Tree was taught The Way.  He learned how the Cherokee respected nature, the land and each other, and the importance of only taking what’s needed.  It’s a heartwarming tale detailing the author’s upbringing as he lovingly connects with his heritage.  The Education of Little Tree became a mainstay on high school reading lists, was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, spent years on the New York Times bestsellers list for nonfiction, and was the first ever recipient of the American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY award.  Turns out it was also all a bunch of crap. 

     Despite his claims to the contrary, Asa “Forrest” Carter had no Cherokee relatives.  He definitely wasn’t raised by Native American grandparents and presumably had no first or even secondhand knowledge of what the Cherokee really did, felt or believed.  He wrote about how they farmed, cooked, dressed and supported themselves.  He even introduced a few words from the Cherokee language.  It’s all very convincing, but pretty much everything he described in the book was eventually disproved by those who actually know what they’re talking about.  The Education of Little Tree was not, in fact, a memoir.  It was as fictitious as anything you might read in the Sunday comics, as fictitious as the author’s autobiography.  All that aside, it’s still a great book. 

    Carter died in 1979 yet critics still contest who he really was.  I’m speaking figuratively here.  There’s really no debate that Forrest and Asa were one and the same.  How, though, could someone who preached hatred for so long later reinvent himself and write such a powerful novel about love and compassion?  Was he truly a changed man?  It’s possible.  George Wallace, after all, spent decades apologizing for his comments and his actions.  Maybe The Education of Little Tree  was Carter’s way to repent.  Or, as some believe, maybe he was a cold hearted son of a bitch and the whole thing was an elaborate hoax.  Whichever side of the fence you’re on, as I said before, it’s still a great book.  And, if you can accept it for what it is, a work of fiction, I have no doubt you’ll love it.                                   



    If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make  it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Please visit  You can also find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova. 



American Flag     In America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, author, comedian and soon-to-be Late Show host Stephen Colbert discusses all the things that make this country, well, great.   He tackles all the tough issues, like health care.  The United States health care system is the best in the world for the simple reason it’s the most expensive.  I wasn’t sure that was true so, all in the name of research, I recently had a hernia repaired.  It was my own so no issues there.  I wrote about my experiences in the blog posts Is That a Hernia in Your Pocket? and Ain’t Nothin Affordable About Health Care.  Check them out and then buy the Colbert book because it’s hilarious.   

     An enema, according to the author, is synonymous with being sodomized by Aquaman.  But isn’t it reassuring to know that, as an American, you’ll be receiving the best enema the most money can buy?  Be proud that we’ve cornered the energy market as well.  The U.S. represents about five percent of the world’s population.  We use twenty percent of the world’s power.  Talk about over achieving!  It’s hard work so crank up that air conditioner a little higher. 

     But our crown jewel might just be our prison system.  It’s clearly the best in the world because we have, by an overwhelming majority, the most prisoners.  Consider this.  Our total population is less than a quarter that of China yet we have more than twice as many people behind bars.  USA!  USA!! USA!  Our food is vastly superior to China’s as well.  It’s greasier.  It’s saltier.  There’s a lot more of it.  What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Chinese food?  Being hungry an hour after dinner.  The second thing you think of, only because you are so hungry,  is that nasty little fortune cookie, the only dessert so boring it comes with reading material. 

     Colbert discusses all of the above plus a whole lot more.  His truly patriotic prose  will make you swell with pride (or excess body fat) to be an American.  If you’re not too proud to haul your over-sized American butt off the couch, find a book store (good luck) and pick up a copy of America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.  If you cannot A stand up or B find a bookstore, don’t worry about it.  That’s why American invented the Internet.  We did, right?  And if you can’t afford the book, buy it anyway.  In fact, buy copies for all your friends and family.  After all, there’s nothing more American than credit card debt.                  



      If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make  it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Please visit  You can also find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova


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