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Friday, January 25, 2019

Two Southern Novels

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Setting can such an important part of a novel, it can almost be considered a character in the story. This month’s Book Report takes a look at two books with a distinctive Southern setting- Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing and Lisa Patton’s Rush. 

Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing has garnered much critical praise, ending up on many 2018 best of the year books, and is currently on the best seller list. Reese Witherspoon not only chose it as one of her book club picks, she is also producing a movie based on the book. 

Kya is just six years old in 1952 when her mother puts on her best dress and walks out their house, and away from her family. Soon after, Kya’s older siblings leave one by one, and when her beloved brother Jodie leaves, it is just Kya and her violent, drunken father.

They live in a shack near a marsh on the North Carolina coast. Her father eventually disappears too, leaving the young child to fend for herself. She eats greens and whatever she can forage, and sometimes trades mussels for gas for her boat with Jumpin, who owns a small store. Jumpin and his wife Mabel are the only people to show her any kindness.

The rest of the town call her Marsh Girl, and she is subjected to teasing and torment from other children. She doesn’t attend school, and when she is fourteen, Tate, a young man a few years older than her, befriends her and offers to teach her to read.

Kya is a quick and eager student, and she and Tate bond over their love of nature and the marsh. When Tate goes away to college Kya is devastated, and soon falls under the spell of another man from the town- Chase Andrews, the town’s golden boy. He begins a secret relationship with Kya, one she mistakes for love.

When Chase falls to his death from a fire tower, Kya is suspected of killing him and she is arrested. The subsequent trial causes a huge sensation in the town, and fills the story with incredible tension.

Where the Crawdads Sing”is a stunning novel. Owens has written three nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa, but this is her debut novel. She imbues Kya with such humanity, and because of her nature background, she writes the marsh as a living, breathing character. You will find yourself lost in this beautiful story, and Kya is truly unforgettable. 

Lisa Patton’s Rush is set in 2016, on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Mississippi. Pearl is a 44-year old black woman who has worked as a housekeeper for 25 years at the Alpha Delta Beta sorority house, along side her Aunt Fee, the house cook. After 25 years, she earns just $11.50 an hour, and barely makes it on unemployment during the three summer months when school is out. 

She loves her job, but it is hard work, cleaning and caring for the young girls who live in the house, and the four hundred girls who belong to the sorority but live elsewhere on campus. Pearl is the heart of the house, and the girls turn to her when they have a problem and need sage advice or a shoulder to cry on.

Lilith Whitmore is a former Alpha Delta Beta, now is scheming to make sure that her daughter gets invited to join the house during rush week. Lilith and her husband are beyond wealthy and use their money to get whatever they want.

Lilith contacts Wilda, a former sorority sister whose daughter Ellie is also going to Ole Miss and pledging the sorority. Wilda and her husband are upper middle class, and when Lilith hires a dorm room designer that costs $20,000, she bullies Wilda into sharing the cost, which is more than Wilda can afford.

Cali is a smart, ambitious young lady whose ultimate goal is to become governor of the state. She was raised by her grandparents, and she and Ellie become good friends. Cali wants to pledge a sorority as well, but Lilith intends to thwart those plans.

Rush tackles racism, class, tradition, mother/daughter relationships and the broken healthcare system. Even though I felt the ending was bit too tidy, I loved the characters (especially Pearl and Cali) and being dropped into this sometimes foreign world of sororities.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens- A+
Published by Putnam
Hardcover, 346 pages, $26

Rush by Lisa Patton- B+
Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 410 pages, $26.99

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What to Eat When by Michael F. Roizen MD & Michael Crupain MD, MPH

What to Eat When by Michael F. Roizen MD & Miachael Crupain MD, MPH
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426220111
Hardcover, $28, 352 pages

January is the month when people make their resolutions, and many people choose to get healthier as their top one. Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Michael Crupain (both of who have worked with Dr. Oz) have a new book What to Eat When to help achieve that goal.

What to Eat When gives the reader a 31-day plan to work on, as many other diet books do. What makes this book unique is that is also has chapters that deal with eating in specific situations- what to eat when you are stressed, experiencing grief, when you get a lot of headaches or when you are in pain.

They also have chapters on what to eat when you are taking a big test, going for a job interview, when you are on a first date, or on vacation. If you're  going to a party or a baseball stadium, they recommend making the rounds of all the food at the party or stadium before making a food choice. That way you'll be able to make the healthiest choice. They also suggest eating a healthy snack and drinking water before you go.

There are chapters for women on what to eat when you're trying to get pregnant or nursing, have PMS, or hot flashes. Men have chapters on what to eat to boost testosterone and improve fertility.
If you want to protect your heart, have healthy lungs, or reduce inflammation, they have chapters on that as well.

The most helpful advice I found was to eat within a 12 hour period each day, which means fasting for 12 hours a day. They do suggest to eat only when the sun is up, but as someone who grew up in a cold, snowy environment where it gets dark at 4pm during the winter, that is hard to do.

They also suggest eating three-quarters of your entire day's calories before 2pm, meaning a big breakfast and lunch, and only consuming 20% of your day's calories at dinner. That is a radical change for most of us. I did find that some of their suggestions would be difficult for many people to strictly follow.

There were many foods that popped up frequently on most of their menus- salmon, walnuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocado are tops on their list of the best foods. Unfortunately for many people, those foods are expensive. But their suggestion to drink more water is one that everyone can easily achieve (they also like coffee). They also recommend making a plan for healthy eating, stating that "planning is kryptonite to temptation."

At the end of each chapter is a chart that gives you healthy substitutions.- guacamole for cheese dip, whole citrus fruits for juice, extra-virgin olive oil for butter, corn on the cob instead of nachos or fries at the stadium- that will train you to think more carefully about your food choices.

What to Eat When has lots of good advice for those looking to get healthier, although following it strictly may be difficult for many people. Just making a few of their suggested changes though, will certainly help.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Tour Stops

Wednesday, January 16th: bookchickdi
Thursday, January 17th: Eliot’s Eats
Friday, January 18th: Instagram: @thebookishsisters
Saturday, January 19th: Beth Fish Reads
Monday, January 21st: Instagram: @jordys.book.club
Tuesday, January 22nd: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, January 22nd: Instagram: @thehappyhungryyogi
Wednesday, January 23rd: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Thursday, January 24th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Friday, January 25th: Instagram: @thelastbiteblog
Monday, January 28th: Instagram: @ladyofthelibrary
Thursday, January 31st: What Is That Book About
Thursday, January 31st: Instagram: @giuliland

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Most Compelling Books of 2018

Reprinted from the Citizen:
At the end of each year, I reflect upon the books that affected me the most, the books that I can’t get out of my head. There are unforgettable characters, fascinating storylines and inspirational true stories. And so I present my list of the 12 most compelling books I read in 2018.
Three nonfiction titles made my list, starting with former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.” Mrs. Obama’s voice is so strong as she vividly recounts her childhood growing up in on Chicago’s South Side, where her parents instilled in her a strong desire for a good education as a pathway to success. Hers is an American success story. 
There have been many books written by former Obama administration officials, but Beck Dorey-Stein’s “From the Corner of the Oval” stands out. She got a job as a stenographer for the White House through Craigslist, and she takes us along as she rides on Air Force One and has an ill-advised affair with a man who strings her along. 
From the Corner of the Oval
Tara Westover’s “Educated” has made many best of 2018 lists, and it is clear why. Westover and her seven siblings grew up with her survivalist parents, working at dangerous jobs helping her father. After never having attended school, Westover takes the GED, gets into college and eventually earns a Ph.D. It is a remarkable achievement and a brilliant book. 
A good fictional companion piece to “Educated” is Kristin Hannah’s novel “The Great Alone.” Set in 1974, teenage Leni Albright moves to a remote area of Alaska and lives off the grid as her father grapples with his experiences in Vietnam, and she and her mother struggle with his increasingly violent behavior. 
The Great Alone
Leah Franqui’s brilliant debut novel “America for Beginners” takes us along on a road trip taken by Pival, an Indian widow looking for answers about her son’s life, the struggling actress who acts as her chaperone, and a young Bangladeshi immigrant on his first solo trip as their tour guide. Pival is an unforgettable character. 
America for Beginners
Amy Poeppel’s humorous “Limelight” tells the story of a recently transplanted Dallas mom of three who has to deal with her children’s anxieties, living in a crazy new city, and finding a job when she hits a car belonging to a Justin Bieber-like singer. Somehow she ends up as his personal assistant as he readies to star on Broadway. It is a laugh-out-loud funny story with a lot of heart. 
For something more thought-provoking, Jodi Picoult’s “A Spark of Light” is one of her best books yet, about people trapped in a woman’s health clinic by a gunman who has a grudge against the people who run the clinic. Picoult takes an issue that has divided this country and gives empathy to all involved with great skill. 
Spark of Light
There are two mysteries that made my list. The first is Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn.” Polly abandons her husband and 3-year-old daughter, changes her name, and takes a job working in a bar when she meets Adam and embarks on a torrid affair with him. But Adam is not who he says he is. Polly is an indelible character, and the ending is a corker. 
The second mystery is Lisa Scottoline’s “One Perfect Lie” about a high school teacher and baseball coach who appears to be up to something nefarious, recruiting his players for something much more dangerous than winning the sectionals. This one made the list for the brilliant twist in the middle of the book that upends everything. 
One Perfect Lie
Barbara Kingsolver is back with “Unsheltered,” a novel about a middle-aged couple who inherit a dilapidated house in New Jersey. They deal with unemployment, under-employment, parental health issues, the return of a prodigal daughter, and a son who drops his newborn baby off with them. It’s a big, meaty book you’ll want to savor as you read. 
Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance” is quieter, but no less affecting. Sixty-one-year-old Willa gets a phone call to come and care for the young daughter of her son’s ex-girlfriend. She has never met the girl, but going there to care for her profoundly changes Willa. 
Clock Dance
And finally, the book that everyone from Oprah to Michelle Obama has been talking about: Tayari Jones’ “An American Marriage.” It’s the story of Celestial and Roy, married for a short time when Roy is falsely imprisoned. It’s about loyalty, love and faithfulness set against the subject of mass incarceration. It’s better than everyone says it is, a true American story. 
An American Marriage
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.