Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: THE RED ADDRESS BOOK by Sophia Lundberg

This week’s Monday Book is reviewed by Kate Belt

 

red addressMany recent novels have dealt in a comic way with the theme of older folks rebelling against the loss of independence and beating the system that infantalizes or abuses them. This is not that novel, though it is not without humor After Wendy recently reviewed one of those and didn’t love it, I suggested this book as a more satisfying read. That’s how I find myself writing this review.

 

After some medical incidents, 96 year-old Doris cannot return to her Stockholm apartment and mostly independent lifestyle, but resists being taken into care. Her beloved niece, her only living relative, comes from California to  support Doris in whatever comes next. She finds an address book in her aunt’s home with decades of entries. It is up to date. Many names are crossed out and noted as “dead.” She also finds a box of vignettes written about each person in the book. These shed light on Doris’ life history, spanning many decades from pre-WWII to the present.

 

After her dear father died, Doris’ mother sent her into service at age 11. Doris’ employer eventually moves to Paris taking her along. An agent from a top modeling house notices  the tall, beautiful, 13 year-old Doris. With her mistress’ blessing, she becomes a runway model, leading to adventures, travel, and opportunities far beyond the station to which she was born.

 

This novel has the common themes of ageism, life review, perserverance, courage, and family betrayal, . Lundt addresses them in a fresh and original narrative. It is almost equally atmospheric, character driven, and event driven. Lundberg’s story telling and writing are excellent. Character development goes deep. It held my attention from beginning to end. The one weakness in the novel is the niece’s relationship with her children and husband in California waiting for her return. That part of the narrative and its resolution  didn’t ring true for me, but they are a minor part of the story that could have been mostly omitted.  I still loved the book and recommend it because it kept my attention from beginning to end. If you love novels with historical context and strong women navigating life’s challenges, this is for you.

 

I believe this book would have strong appeal for anyone who loved Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife or Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. It might also be for fans of  Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes.a Walk, but with less comedy.

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The Monday Book: GRAIN BRAIN by David Perlmutter

grain brainGrain Brain

A review by Paul Garrett

It was only a few years ago that the word Alzheimer’s entered our vocabulary, and since then the disease has been blamed on everything from chem trails to aluminum cooking pots, but what if the devastating disease is linked to our diet? Dr. David Perlmutter posits this theory in the book Grain Brain (Little, Brown Spark, 2013, revised 2018).

Perlmutter is one of a growing minority who adhere to a theory I will call evolutionary eating. It goes something like this: Humans evolved over millions of years as hunters and gatherers, consuming a diet of high fat, moderate protein and occasional carbohydrates. It wasn’t until about 12,000 years ago we began consuming a diet high in carbs, mostly from grains. Up until then carbs were only available a few months of the year when the fruit and berries were available.  According to Dr. Perlmutter, we haven’t had time to evolve into beings that can metabolize a high carbohydrate diet.

Perlmutter believes that we function best on diets like the high fat, low carb Keto and its cousin the Paleo diet. He thinks the low fat, high carb regime that has been the darling of government nutritionists is killing us.

The book is heavy on citations and points to recent research from all over the world that shows the deleterious effects of sugar and gluten on the brain, as well as other parts of the body.

Perhaps one of the most controversial sections is the chapter that rips Statin drugs. According to Perlmutter there is no direct evidence that high cholesterol is tied to heart attacks but plenty of evidence showing that low cholesterol is directly related to brain disease.

The book has three parts. In the first Dr. Perlmutter lays out his case, Part Two lays out the case for proper diet and rest. The third part includes recipes and a four-week plan of action to combat the effects of sugar ang gluten, including a list of supplements including DHA and Coconut oil.

Is it possible that cutting out sugar and gluten is the key to a healthy brain? It is a controversial notion. But with the popularity of regimes like the Keto and Paleo diets we may soon have a body of evidence on which to draw.

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The Monday Book: A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

oveI got this book out of the library to listen to on a long drive. Mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, the author’s similes are lovely. He describes a cat looking at Ove as though he had just opened the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses and offered them all the money in the house, etc. The writing is witty and satisfying.

The plot overall is predictable. Big gormless guy with a heart of gold buried under life’s disappointments is a mushy marshmallow who does the right thing while acting wrong about it. After about four charming stories showing his nice side, you got it.

If I had to describe this story, it’s one long character study. Ove marries a girl who winds up in a wheelchair after losing their child in a bus accident on what was meant to be a fun holiday; he is devoted to her for life. He loses his house because the council wants it torn down and refuses to put out a fire when it starts, and Ove doesn’t defend his own house because he’s helping the neighbors next door get out of theirs. His neighbor is going to be taken into care and Ove steps in with the others to keep this from happening.

At a certain point, you know Ove is always going to do the wrong small thing and the right big thing, so all that remains is to enjoy the way it’s described. Which I did. I like character studies. I just don’t want them to go on for 7 and a half hours of listening pleasure.

This is one of the few times where you might like the movie better than the book. Either is  a good pick-me-up, but had I been reading instead of listening to Ove, I might not have finished. Listening to it on Interstate 81 made me a better driver, giggling too much to get annoyed at the traffic snarls.

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The Monday Book: SIGNS AND WONDERS by Philip Gulley

Signs-Wonders-150x226-98x148I picked up this book because it had a cheerful cover and I’d spent the day finishing a big crochet project, watching Netflix documentaries on: cyberbullying, Dunblane and Sandy Hook, and sex trafficking in the US.

I wanted cheering up.

It worked; this is a charming wee collection of short stories, a la Lake Wobegon, about the sweet and sour lives of people in a small town. Mostly Quakers. A bit longer on description than dialogue, it is not a book I would normally have gravitated to, but if you want a little sweetness with a sprinkling of salt, this is your read.

Stories range from why the local spinster won’t settle to why the local pastor figured out he should go on vacation with his wife. My personal favorite was the son of an alcoholic father who spends two hours stuck with him on the top of a Ferris wheel, and rides that ride for life figuring out what kind of father he wants to be.

Sweetness and light this book carries in spades, although some of the stories (the spinster for instance) have sharp edges. Overall, if you need a break, pick up a Harmony novel. (This is the third in the Gulley series, but they don’t need to be read in sequence. I found this charming without knowing the deeper background on characters found in the first one.)

Two helium balloons up for SIGNS AND WONDERS. It offers a much-needed lift.

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The Monday Book: ARE THESE MY BASOOMAS I SEE BEFORE ME by Louise Rennison

basoomasLouise Rennison wrote ten books about her heroine Georgia Nicholson, a typical English teen who kept adults laughing. From titles like Away Laughing on a Fast Camel to Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers, she captured the worst of being 15 and made it funny.

I got the last of the Georgia books out of our local library a week or two ago, just to see if the magic held. Yep. Georgia utters lines like “Everyone is so obsessed with themselves nowadays that they have no time for me” and “He said, ‘Hi, gorgeous,’ which I think is nice. I admire honesty” with her usual bluster and bravado.

Plots aren’t really a part of the Georgia mystique, although this one is ostensibly about putting on a production of Hamlet at the all-girls Catholic school. Really, though, each book is about boys, snogging, lip gloss, and great shoes. It’s just that Rennison is soooooo funny you don’t care. Each book is written like a diary, with entries such as

12:01 “I hate him.”

12:04 “Hate is a bit strong. He just rang up and asked me out again.”

That kind of sappy, hormone-driven humor has always been Rennison’s strong point, but apparently when writing Basoomas, she knew she was finishing the series, because where she’d held back before, she didn’t this time. All her books had a gentleness toward sex and snogging that let teachers at least pretend they could be used in literature class, but Basoomas never misses a joke. Talking about the band finishing up practice, “I waited while the Lurve God put away his equipment. (Leave it.)”

Etc. etc. for a hundred pages or so. If you want some escapist, snort soda through your nose laugh out loud fun, pick up a Louise Rennison novel. She died in 2016, so enjoy the ten that are around, and have fun.

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The Monday Book: WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo

bulawayoI got this book out of the library on CD to keep my company careening up and down I-81. It was very good company indeed.

The opening chapter was the winner in a short story contest, and sets up the whole theme of the book: the innocence of children observing the folly of white people trying to “save” Zimbabwe (and a neighboring country or two). The whole book is one long lesson in irony. Had she taken a different approach to the writing, Bulawayo’s book could have been non-fiction history. Or horror.

One of the best features of her writing is how the children who are its heroes run through the insanity around them. They find a woman who hung herself because she had AIDS, and take her shoes to buy bread because they’re hungry. They run to meet the NGO truck that passes out toy guns without food. They lament that they no longer go to school because life is so boring, then they play “funeral,” imitating the machete-hacking death of a local leader who encouraged the citizens of the “Paradise” refugee village to vote. When the BBC crew that covered the actual funeral find them playing this game, they are horrified.

Not the children. They are living their lives in the circumstances surrounding them, watching the crazy go down with the sweet, confused, triumphant, intent on getting food and staying out of trouble for the most part. Not unlike the adults around them, just a little less aware of the subtleties.

I actually recommend this novel to people writing about trauma, because it shows how the voices of children narrating terrible things can make space for people to read about it without blaming the narrator or the writer. (It takes the me-me-me out of memoir.) That said, I don’t want to cheapen what Bulawayo has accomplished here. More than using innocence to point out guilt, shame, horror, she’s written with an internal voice of honest brutality that comes off as gentle. Her writing is lovely. What she’s writing about is not, on two levels: the violence of a country coming apart, and the whiteness that haunts both its dissolution and its recovery.

In a quest to be “woke,” several of my friends have begun a challenge: reading books or watching movies that represent African or Caribbean voices without white saviors. Bulawayo’s books should be at the top of this list.

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The Monday Book: EVERY BITTER THING by Monica Wood

woodIt is SO GOOD when you discover not just a book you like but a new author whose other books you intend to hunt down. Monica Wood has a lovely poetic way of writing. Lyrical, that overused term, comes to mind.

The premise of her novel Any Bitter Thing is that a priest winds up raising his niece after a tragic car accident, and another accident years later, in her adulthood, brings many things to light.

You know I love a character-driven book, and for the most part the bouncy protagonist’s little girl grown into a woman drives it. And for the most part everything is believable in how people make decisions, and yet there’s an undercurrent of one step removed from the characters.

For instance, when the priest is falling for one of his parishoners, does she use this and him to get something she needs, or is it accidental? The question is left unanswered in the book. You have to rely on how the characters acted to make your own decision.

Wood authored a few other novels I plan to find at the library, but meanwhile, lose yourself in Any Bitter Thing. It’s got a surprisingly heavy plot for such gentle writing, and yet it feels like relaxing with an old friend. The kind of book you have a cup of tea with, and try not to think too hard about people you knew who remind you of these characters.

 

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