Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review: Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss

Non-Fiction.  I was going to read this one on my own after I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but didn't get to it and then saw it was coming up for the Real World Reads book club at CLPL for February 2015, so I waited and read it for that discussion.  If you care even remotely about what you and your family put into your mouth, why we have had this meteoric rise in GI issues/diabetes/other illnesses, you should definitely read this book.  I had some inkling about how bad processed food is for us before I read this, but afterward, me and everybody else at book club, were totally shocked and appalled at what we have been sold, served, and convinced was good for us over the last 60 years or so.

This book explains why there is so much salt, sugar, and fat in our diets, why it was designed to be there, why we need to run away screaming from processed foods, why we sacrificed our health for convenience and working too much, and the author explains it so well, in a matter of fact and non-preaching manner.  This book is filled with visits and talks with the big companies, the food scientists who develop this stuff, and the reasons why we crave this stuff both genetically and because we have been eating it for years and expect it.  He does not rant and rave but lays it all out there and supports it with history and facts.  I appreciate that, I want the truth and not somebody just trying to pass on/sell the latest diet fad disguised as a book about real nutrition.  He talks about the very real items we buy from the grocery and the very real shopping we do on a daily basis.

I always wonder why all the food shows criticize the cooks on them to add more salt, and add more fat to the dishes "because it's flavor," and I see why now.  Our palettes are all out of whack.  These items are jam packed into everything.  I personally cannot even eat regular chips because it is like a salt lick, and now I know it is because we have been pumping that stuff up for years, to the point now where no person who doesn't add massive amounts of salt into their diet could possibly eat them without revulsion.  And cheese.  I love cheese, but I had no idea the reasons for putting it on everything now instead of having a little bit of the good stuff on the side, as a treat, had to do with the dairy industry, government excess and nowhere to put it: I kid you not, they had caves full of the stuff and nowhere to put it so they figured out how to have all those ads on T.V. and billboards to get us to consume it.  Cheese was not supposed to be on everything and it never used to be that way in the past.

Anyway, lest I make this more of a frightening tangent, read this book, if you have concerns about nutrition, if you have GI issues and want to improve them, diabetes, etc. and if you want to get away from the processed stuff.  Even if you think you know, trust me you do not, our lives are designed around this stuff and we missed it, they sneak it in there beautifully by giving us huge chemical names we don't recognize, like 14 different names for sugar.  My coffee creamer now frightens me to death.  And it should.

And so it goes...

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Fiction.  I read this one because they made it into a movie, the trailers looked pretty good, so I thought I would read the book and then watch the film.  I have not yet watched the movie, but the book I thought was interesting, and it is part of a series, and it does end in a way that leads you on well to want to read the next book.  I have not read the next book either, although I did enjoy this work.  It is for young adults and I think it fits the category well, and it is still complex enough to be a light read that is enjoyable for adults too.

The main character is Jonas, and like most young adult books the main character is unique and doesn't totally fit in, he does not fit a specific role really, so he is chosen to be the next Giver, who holds everybody's memories for them.  This is so that people can go on living their lives in this sort of Utopia without pain and sorrow, but of course this means they also live life without true happiness and joy too.  Everything is always the same and they are unaware of their lack of exposure to true life as we know it.  Jonas eventually learns how to receive the memories and live with them, and in the end he goes off on a quest, pretty much alone, and it seems to end with some hope and a bit of mystery to be solved.

I may one day read some more and I may get the movie one of these days, but I don't feel terribly compelled to do either one.  It was not a bad book, but it was not earth shattering for me.  Again, it is youth reading, so perhaps it is a more powerful read for elementary school children.  Each generation needs their heroes.

And so it goes...

Book Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Fiction.  I read this for the faculty book group Read Around the World for February 2015.  This work takes place in Zimabwe, in an impoverished neighborhood, with the protagonist Darling, who is a ten-year-old girl.  The novel follows Darling and her friends around town as they search for guavas to steal out of the trees in more well-to-do areas, her very young and pregnant friend, the sleazy clergy, and the corrupt paramilitary police.  It is a sad story and a sad life, and eventually Darling goes to America to live with her aunt, and we hope this will make life better for her, but she is faced with a much different way of living, and a much different view of how children behave in the two different worlds.

I think it is important that these stories are told, but I feel I have read so many of them, and they are all so sad and depressing, it weighs on you to read them over and over again.  It did lead us to a good discussion about the nature of violence, how it is passed on, and what people deem as acceptable.  And that is what this felt like, a way to address issues of poverty in Africa, the difficulty immigrants face (legal and illegal), and how do we view violence.  It did not feel like a novel, it was depressing, it was not cohesive, and I don't feel it offered something new nor did it offer any possible suggestions or solutions to such problems in the world.  I would recommend it only if you have not read the same type of thing before or if you are in a book group that wants to discuss these specific issues.

And so it goes...

Book Review: Saint Odd by Dean Koontz

Fiction.  This is the last one in the series, 7/7, published in December 2014.  I feel like we were fed all of these really important symbols throughout the other books, and when we are finally told what they are, it is just sort of blah.  This book zigged and zagged around a lot, didn't seem to have much focus, left you unsatisfied with explanations of what were supposed to be "monumental" symbols, and ended very predictably.  It's the last one, we know he is going to die, it could have been much more interesting.  I think Koontz had to end the series, couldn't decide what to do, and then threw in everything but the kitchen sink in tiny pieces and parts, while still managing to endlessly repeat himself.  I really do hope this is it, because I do not want to feel compelled to finish reading the last of the series, again, just so I have finished it.  I am going to go back to happily awaiting Stephen King's books, and hoping he lives forever, that way I don't have to go looking for a second rate substitute.  I commend the creation of the characters, but the writing needs help, and somebody should be editing him better to make things more cohesive and less trite.

And so it goes...

Book Review: Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz

Fiction.  After a friend of mine's boyfriend told me I should check out Dean Koontz because I love Stephen King's work, I looked up which works people seem to like best by Koontz and this is the series I saw cited the most often.  So, over time, I have been working my way through the Odd Thomas books.  I have a bit of a gap between 5 to 6 and 7 because of waiting for the library to get eBook copies of them and because the last one wasn't published until December 2014.  So, Deeply Odd, is number 6/7 of the Odd Thomas series.

This one is the attempt to rev up the action before the final installment.  As I have said before, this is Stephen King light, the writing off Koontz is nowhere near as good, I think they are compared simply because both have elements of the supernatural in their works, but that is where the comparison ends.  I like the character of Odd, I like the little adventures, I like the ideas of the supernatural and good versus evil in the works, but the constant repetition gets tiresome, and you kind of read while thinking "just get on with it already!"  I did absolutely love the woman he drove around, Mrs. Edie Fischer, she was one of the most fun and refreshing characters to come around in the series in some time.

If you are like me and are determined to finish the series go for it, it does have some playing with other dimensions, Annamaria is still here and still pregnant, Mrs. Fischer is cool, but be warned, the evil guys have evil plans for the children, and that is disturbing to anybody.  Quite creepy and evil.

And so it goes...

Book Review: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

Fiction.  This is the 7th Flavia de Luce mystery novel, and I was waiting desperately for it to come out.  I waited a bit of time for my library to get it in eBook format and then had a marathon of reading it.  It is the first of the Flavia books that does not take place in her home town, the little English village of Bishop's Lacey.  This time she is away at the same boarding school her mother attended, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, which is across the pond in Toronto.  It follows suit with most of the Flavia works, where after a little bit of time there, we are suddenly presented with a corpse out of nowhere, and Flavia is the girl to solve it all.

Since it is not in Bishop's Lacey we have a different cast of people to deal with, but it still has the same charm of her running around where she is not supposed to go, people who you are not sure if they are on the side of good or are perhaps involved in some larger conspiracy, and of course it includes Flavia's usual obsession with chemistry and her rapier wit.  We also get to learn a bit more about her legendary mother and a secret group in the process.  While I was a bit sad to see her leave the little English village, there are only so many people who can die mysteriously in such a small town.  I am happy with the broader story line opening up since it leaves us the possibility of having more novels about Flavia and more tidbits about her mother's mysterious life.

If you are a fan of the Flavia de Luce mysteries you will enjoy it, and if you are not, you should get reading, she is a pint-sized Sherlock with a lot more wit, humor, fun, and a lot more knowledge of chemistry, she is a total hoot!

And so it goes...

Book Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Fiction. I read this novel because it was on the list for CLPL fiction book club last year (April 2014), and I could not go to it, so I was catching up.  I read it in January 2015.  This would be a good one for people who like crime novels that do not have too much gore, with a bit of mystery and thriller tossed in with the questions of how far parents will go to believe their children no matter what, and to defend them no matter what they find out.

The family in the novel consists of the father and attorney Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and their son Jacob who is accused of stabbing another boy in a park.  There is much back and forth in this book on whether or not Jacob did it, if his parents believe him, if the court will believe him, and whether or not we as the reader, following along with Andy narrating to us, believe in Jacob's innocence or not.  At one point there seems to be a candidate who is more likely than Andy to have committed the crime (a pedophile in the neighborhood), but I constantly wavered back and forth right along with the narrator.

Like any review of a suspenseful book, one struggles with what to include and what not to include, so I will say it is worth the read, especially if you like court related drama, and I will say it has a humdinger of an ending, one I did not see coming at all.

And so it goes...

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