Category Archives: reading

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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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Beat Goes On – –

Once again Jack scrapes in under the wire –
Back when I was on the teaching staff at Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week outside Asheville NC, one of the students who always attended my classes was Stefni. She sang in a choir in Pittsburgh that specialized in Eastern European music and she made their costumes. The last year I taught there Stefni didn’t show up and I wondered why. A few months later I received an email from her husband explaining she had died of a rare lung disease. That was very sad, but then he told us she had left her music and book library to us in her will! We were astonished and drove up there a few months later.
Sorting through her stuff was difficult and we came to an agreement to sell anything we didn’t want and split the proceeds. But that still left us with lots of stuff that never got put anywhere easily accessible.
Following our recent house move I’ve been sorting through the LPs and CDs from her collection that had never been properly stashed and I’ve been discovering amazing things. Mostly very rare English, Scottish and Irish recordings in excellent condition. It’s clear from the stickers on them that she was an avid collector and appreciated what she was finding.
So my upcoming radio shows will feature much from Stefni’s collection and keep her very clearly in my mind.
There’s no room here to list all the stuff, but it ranges from everything Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ever recorded to very obscure albums by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.
Of course the books included full first editions of Child’s ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, Bronson’s ‘Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, and Sharp’s ‘English Folk-songs from the Southern Appalachians’.
I hope dear Stefni Agin is looking down approvingly at the continuing life of her amazing collection as I try to do justice to it.

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Filed under crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

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: 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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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

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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THE MONDAY BOOK: Snap, a British Mystery Novel by Belinda Bauer

 

snapToday’s reviewer is Kate Belt, joyfully retired, whose current passions are reading and managing culture shock after a move from Portland, OR to Omaha, NE two years ago.

 

My Monday Book recommend offers an enjoyable, escapist, fast moving, story with characters who capture the heart. I’m not a murder mystery fan. I follow only one writer from this genre, Louise Penney, but will give a passing glance to any major award nominee.  That’s how I came to read Snap by Belinda Bauer, long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.   When I do read mysteries, I couldn’t care less about who did it or how it was done. Working out the puzzle doesn’t interest me. I gotta love the characters, the setting, the descriptions, all that stuff same as any other novel.

 

We meet 11-year old Jack on the road to find his mother after she’d left him and his two sisters in their broken-down car, while searching for a phone to call for help. A few days later, she turns up near the area, stabbed to death. Then the dad walks out of the house and never comes back. After that, the worst that could happen is social services finding them alone and placing the children “into care,” what we call foster care in the U.S. Jack is a resourceful child and sustains his little family, though barely, by burglarizing vacant houses with guidance from a young adult mentor, for whom he also babysits.  Skinny Jack is adept at getting himself in and out of small spaces. The storyline switches between Jack at age 11 and two years later when he finds a possible clue to his mother’s murderer. Detectives assigned to the case are not quite bumbling, but far from brilliantly competent. The book is more character driven than plot driven.

 

In full disclosure, I didn’t read this story. I listened to the well-performed Audible audio version, Fast paced and easy to follow, it’s a wonderful choice for an audiobook and would also make an excellent airplane read. Some critical reviewers might have difficulty with the structure. Sometimes the characters strain credibility, but I loved the kids and had to keep rooting for all to turn out ok for them. Did it? Read Snap and find out.

 

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