It’s been a banner summer for my writer friends and family. Last month I mentioned my sister, Lisa Thaler’s book Look Up: The life and art of Sacha Kolin, which just got a terrific review in the Chicago Tribune, putting Lisa in Francine Prose’s company for her tenacity in uncovering the lives of forgotten women artists. Way to go, Sis!

And now I have four more offerings to whet your appetite — literally, intellectually, spiritually, physically.

Max and Eli Sussman’s Freshman in the Kitchen: from Clueless Cook to Creative Chef will do for neophyte cooks what Julia Childs did for French cooking in the 70’s: demystify, clarify, and simplify the art of making a good meal. These twenty-something brothers — seasoned cooks both — take the hungry and clueless through the basics and then build on skills learned in earlier chapters to create multi-course feasts. The book is a beginner’s bible and a terrific resource for those of us who remember when “iceberg lettuce” was a redundant phrase. If you’re local, Book Beat in Oak Park is having a signing party this Sunday, August 24, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. And if you’re not, order the book by clicking on the link above. Stock up now for those grad presents, moving-into-a new-place presents, and get one for yourself, too.

Who’s Jim Hines? is a beautiful and thought-provoking coming of age story about life in Detroit in the 1930’s. The book (for middle grade readers) draws its plot from the family stories Alicia Elster heard during summer visits with her grandparents. Douglas Ford Jr., a twelve-year-old African American, cannot find the answer to the question he asks throughout the book — who’s the Jim Hines his father keeps mentioning? The man without whom Ford Sr.’s wood company could not exist? When Hines’ identity is finally revealed, young Douglas not only learns about the realities of racism in Depression-era Detroit but about the strength of family and the lessons of determination and courage woven through the generations.

The title of Rabbi Dov Elkins’ just-released book — Jewish Stories from Heaven and Earth: Inspiring Tales to Nourish the Heart and Soul says it all. Full disclousure: a story I wrote appears in the book and I am thrilled to have been included in the collection. Rabbi Elkins is an insightful teacher whose influence reaches far and wide. The cover of this beautiful book is sure to be matched, and likely surpassed, by its contents.

Yoga at the Wall is the first of its kind — a handbook and guide for practicing yoga asanas (postures) using a wall as support. If you are a newcomer to yoga the book offers practical techniques and accessible information about this ancient practice. And if you’re used to coming to the mat, Yoga at the Wall reveals an entirely new dimension to add to your practice. As of this posting the best way to reach Nancy for copies is to click here . Updates to follow.