Thursday, July 2, 2015

Somebody I Used to Know

by David Bell
New American Library    2015
432 pages     Mystery

Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive! (Sir Walter Scott)

These words kept coursing through my brain while I was reading Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell, which is a taut, roller coaster ride of a novel. Written in the first person, the protagonist, Nick, is a mild-mannered social worker in an Ohio community—the same Ohio community where he went to college. For 20 years, he has mourned the loss of a first love, Marissa, who died in a fire in a student apartment house. Suddenly, one day, he sees someone who looks very much like her at the grocery store. When he tries to speak to the girl, she runs away, and later is found dead in a motel room with Nick's address and phone number in her pocket.  As Nick and a police officer friend probe the girl's death, they are led into a web of lies and deception, until, at last, the truth comes out and Nick finds closure.

Bell's novel is taut and moves rapidly—one of those books you can't put down until you figure out what happened, although the obsessive mystery reader can see the clues as they are presented and as Nick chases them down. Much of the mystery has to do with the mistakes young adults make. I couldn't help but think about the concept of consequence, and how it is the last thing to develop in the human brain. However, in the case of this novel, some of the consequence comes from adults trying to protect their children. 

I am not a big fan of "lost love", especially of love lost for twenty years, but I willingly suspended my disbelief for the sake of the novel. It's not that Nick is a wimp, but please Nick—move on! Of course, if he had moved on, he never would have solved the mysteries, and I wouldn't have spent hours lost in his story.

I can recommend Somebody I Used to Know as a great summer read. David Bell is a university professor as well as a prolific author. He has several other novels that are probably worth looking into.
David Bell website.                                   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Anti-cancer Diet

by David Khayat
W.W. Norton     2015
274 pages      Nonfiction/Health

Originally published in France in 2010, The Anti-cancer Diet by Dr. David Khayat, is newly translated into English for American audiences. A well known oncologist, Khayat has created an incredible "everything you need to know" food guide to help adults from contracting cancer. 

Cancer is the leading cause of mortality in adults in the world. More than 585,000 Americans die of cancer yearly. Staggering figures. Until I read this book, I knew that by not smoking, I was probably keeping myself from lung cancer, but I had really no idea what the possible effects of the foods I ate could have on my predisposition toward cancer. The book contains many charts to explain foods, ingredients, vitamins, supplements, and just about everything that goes into a person's mouth. Each food is analyzed for its possible contribution to cancer. I was pleased to see that red wine has Resveratrol, a substance that has anticancer properties.

I am always quite amazed that once you are aware of something—in this case preventing cancer—everywhere you look you find information on the topic. This morning in the Google News, there was an article from the Globe and Mail about citrus fruit consumption and skin cancer. This is something mentioned by Khayat. And then, just as i was eating a leftover piece of grilled salmon on my salad, I read that grilling may be dangerous and eating salmon is problematic. Couldn't finish my lunch!

Khayat doesn't expect for his book to be treated simply as a diet plan, and he creates no daily eating guide, like many diet books. His goal is to raise awareness and caution consumers about  the foods that we eat. He also adds the kind of sane advice that we have heard many times: don't smoke, eat a varied diet; vary how you cook your food, eat products that are made by hand, are locally produced, and farmed by sustainable methods; and find your energy balance—which includes getting exercise. 

The Anti-Cancer Diet is a valuable tool for people who are concerned about their health and wellbeing. It will stay on my cookbook shelf. I really appreciated receiving it from the publicist.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Rechargeables

by Tom Rath
Illustrated by Carlos Aon
Missionday     2015
46 pages     Picture Book

Tom Rath incorporates the philosophy of three of his books, Eat Move Sleep, How Full is Your Bucket for Kids  and Are You Fully Charged, into a picture book for children called The Rechargeables. It is a relateable story about Poppy and Simon, who are completely out of energy. Using experimental research, they figure out how to recharge their energy. They find that eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep helps everyone in the family become recharged. 

The Rechargeables seems most appropriate for early elementary aged children. I can see it being used in science or health classes or at a story time in the library. There are many activities that could follow the reading of the book. It could be used with a nutrition unit or in a physical education class. I particularly like the battery-style shirt sticker that a child can wear to show that he/she is fully charged. It is a bit longer than a standard picture book, which is why it might be more appropriate for elementary-aged children.

The illustrations are delightful. They are full page and do an excellent job of telling the story, which is the most important part of good picture books. 

The Rechargeables is fun and educational. Your kids will love it. If you are a teacher, it will be a valuable tool for your classroom.

Are You Fully Charged?

by Tom Rath
Silicon Guild    2015
239 pages     Self Help
The Shortlist

I once heard my nephew being asked how his job was going. His response was: "Working for the weekend; just working for the weekend."

Although I had never read any books by Tom Rath, I knew about his work from helping business students with their coursework, particularly the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment, an assessment tool that many university students take as they are deciding on a career path.  Are you Fully Charged? is the latest of several books Rath has written about life and work. This book has a feature-length movie, an app, and a website. There are self-assessments, resources, and discussion guides included.   

Rath looks at the motivation behind work through several lenses. He believes that people enjoy their life's work more when they are engaged in their work; when their interactions are positive, and when they have the energy to fulfill their obligations. His advice is sound, and although somewhat obvious, it apparently must be said again and again. Rath uses examples from his own life, which has been fraught with illness, to illustrate the points he makes about finding happiness in daily life and work.

Rath believes that the meaningfulness of work is more important than happiness at work. Workers can put up with a lot if they believe that their work is doing good for the world. The current research shows that more than any generation, the Millennials are looking for meaningful work.  

Some of the best advice includes putting purpose before busyness. My husband came from his office late in the evening, telling me that he had just finished reading 150+ emails. It's a common story. The problem of busyness plagues today's workers. It is very difficult to get away from work. I read recently that the average person checks their smart phone 150 times a day. 

One reviewer says that Are You Fully Charged? will help you take your life back. The section on energy is particularly useful because I believe many people are running on empty when it comes to energy. His advice on exercise, food, and sleep, while tried-and-true, need to be read again and again.
Later today I will take a look at Rath's children's book The Rechargeables which will be published soon and deals with energy.

If you enjoyed this book, you will also enjoy The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

A review on the Small Business Trends website.
Tom Rath's website.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Truth According to Us

by Annie Barrows
Dial Press     2015
512 pages     Fiction

Here is how Annie Barrows sets the stage for The Truth According to Us on her website:  

"It all began at the Decoration Day Parade, when the Rotary Club band honked out the last notes of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Willa Romeyn, age 12, made a solemn vow to discover all the secrets that adults hide from children.  
It all began when Miss Layla Beck refused to marry Nelson the Citronella Scion, was tossed out of the lap of luxury, and landed—in white high-heels—at the train station of Macedonia, West Virginia.
It all began when the Town Council of Macedonia decided to commemorate the town’s Sesquicentennial with a dignified yet lively recounting of its history, to be entitled The History of Macedonia.
It all began when Jottie Romeyn cleaned out her spare room for a new boarder, a girl named Layla Beck, who was writing something or other for the Town Council.
It all began when Willa got run over by a bicycle on her way to meet Miss Layla Beck at the train station.
It all began when Felix Romeyn lifted his hat, held out his hand, and said, “Welcome to Macedonia.”
Or did it all begin twenty years earlier, on the night when the American Everlasting Hosiery Factory burned to the ground?"

And that's all you need to know about the story. 

We know from literature that pre-teen girls love to solve family secrets; Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird being the prime example. Lucky Us, which I read last year, had a delightful pre-teen protagonist, Eva, and a dishonest father like Willa's father, Felix, from The Truth According to Us.  

Although Willa is the narrator of parts of the story, she is only one of an extraordinary cast of characters in small town Macedonia, West Virginia. Willa is part of the Romeyn family, who everyone in town knows, and whose secrets everyone seems to know as well. It is difficult to keep secrets in a small town, but it is easier to keep secrets from children. Willa knows there are secrets, and as she helps Layla Beck write up the history of Macedonia for the WPA Writer's Project, the truth begins to come clear to her. Layla, a stranger to the community, knows there are secrets as well, and as she lives as a boarder with the Romeyn family, she strives to put the story of the family and the story of the community down on paper.

Barrows has done a remarkable job of filling the novel with details about the year 1938, the last year of the depression. In one of my favorite details, Willa's little sister cuts paper dolls out of the Sears catalog. That was still a favorite pastime when I was a little girl in about 1950. I have a fond memory of cutting out an entire family and everything they needed from the catalog. Barrows obviously knows small town life intimately as well, because Macedonia is an absolutely believable community. 

My major fascination with The Truth According to Us is the wry, intelligent commentary of Willa. She is one astute girl, and her efforts to get to the bottom of the family mystery endears her to the readers. One of my favorite lines comes from Willa's efforts to translate the community's history into her family history—knowing, as she does, that the histories are one and the same. She reflects: "This is what's called the enigma of history, and it can drive you right out of your mind, if you let it."

I connected so well with Willa, I think, because I spent a long time, when I was about 12, trying to understand my parents' lives during World War II when my father was stationed in the South Pacific. In an attic trunk, my mother kept all the letters she received from him, and all the letters she sent him. My mother's letters were passionate and poetic. My dad's letter's richly censored by the Marine censors. I spent endless hours rummaging around in that trunk and other boxes in the attic figuring out family mysteries.

West Virginia is not a common setting for novels, although Phyllis Naylor and Cynthia Rylant have set several of their juvenile novels there. I believe that the only West Virginia book I have read since I began reviewing books online is Lord of Misrule, a horse racing novel that won the National Book Award in 2010.

My advice is to read this book in the coolness of the air conditioning. It's a very hot summer in Macedonia West Virginia.
Annie Barrows coauthored the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her aunt Mary Anne Shaffer. Most of her other books are juvenile fiction, including the inimitable Ivy and Bean series. 

 Review in the Washington Post.