Mermaids in the Basement

This one had such promise. I was looking for a light, fun, read. This one seemed like it fit the bill perfectly. The description from Publishers Weekly describes the book as follows:

Ripe with Southern charm and sultry atmosphere, West’s diverting and funny latest unravels the tangled gossamer web of an eccentric extended Southern family. At the heart of the novel is Renata DeChavannes, who has a pretty full plate: a tabloid ran a story about her longtime film director boyfriend’s possible on-set fling with an actress; her mother and step-father died in a plane crash five months ago; her father is about to marry his fourth wife (a squeaky-voiced young thang named Joie); and she’s just found a letter written by her mother instructing her to ferret out her mother’s dirty secrets. So Renata heads to her Gulf Coast Alabama hometown, where her indomitable grandmother Honora DeChavannes; steadfast former nanny Gladys Boudreax; and Honora’s longtime friend and former actress, Isabella D’Agostina McGeehee, live. The story flies by, loaded with grand parties, sumptuous Southern meals, multiple affairs and harrowing calamities.

The book, however left me flat. I didn’t really care much about the characters and nothing in the story really moved me. There were some amusing moments and the story held my attention, but the book had several major flaws.

First, there are a lot of characters, which in and of itself is not terrible, but we just don’t get into their heads like we need to in order to care about them. Louie and Shelby, the protagonist’s parents are spoken about in great detail throughout the book and yet remain an enigma to the reader somehow. I am not sure why, though I think perhaps that there are so many subplots that it takes away from character development.

Next, the protagonist, Renata is only mildly likable. I really wanted to like her, too, but she seems to put very little thought into her actions, which is frustrating at best. She is definitely not a strong character and for someone who is part of the entertainment business, she seems excessively naive. This is not a deal killer, but it does take away from the book, if not when reading, then in retrospect.

Further, the “dirty secrets” Renata has been told to uncover aren’t all that dirty. Obviously when you get deep into the details of the sexual exploits of one’s unfaithful parents, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but to the outsider, it’s not that shocking. And it could work, but the tension buildup to the not-so-dirty secrets is a big one. Perhaps less suspense and the acknowledgment that these thins are shocking to the adult child of the adulterers alone would have made the revelations work better to someone observing from outside the family.

Lastly, the chapters are told from not only Renata’s point of view but several other characters’ and this is a little confusing, but not overly so. However, they are told from a flashback perspective rather than someone looking back and recalling the past and the way that is done is a bit odd. It doesn’t not work at all, but it was distracting.

Early in the book in a 1966 newspaper clipping, Houston’s Rice Medical Center is mentioned. Now, Houston has a large world-class medical center, but it is not known as the Rice Medical Center. We do have Rice University here and the Rice name is a prominent one in the city. Either the author made a mistake, made it up for the book, or the medical center was indeed known as the Rice medical Center in the 1960’s. If anyone knows the answer to this, please link me up.

However, the book is overall fairly entertaining and especially for the true Southerner, will probably bring back some childhood memories. It’s worth a library check-out, particularly if you are already a fan of this author, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend buying it.

The House on Tradd Street

The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White.

It was good. Good and spooky. Not gory or overly violent or anything too distressing, just good and spooky. A little predictable in parts, perhaps, but definitely a nice weekend read. In fact, she has another in the series coming out in the fall and I intend to pick it up once it is out.

I’d write more, but I’m beat, so it’s off to bed for me. Maybe tomorrow.

Buy This Not That

I got these two books from a friend. Thank god, too, because I’d be pretty miffed if I spent my own cash on them and I’ll tell you why.

Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds–or More! by David Zinczenko and its companion book Eat This Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution are both superstars in the diet book world right now – hugely popular, as the ratings on Amazon and other book sites can attest. Why, precisely, I’m not sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the snappy title, because there is little to no actual substance inside the books.

The author is preoccupied with calories. And of course calories count. But so does nutrition and Mr. Zinczenko and crew seemingly forgot about that part of the health equation. In a stroke of irony, the author is editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine.

The first one concerns itself with eating out for the most part. That was actually strike one since I do not eat out all that often, but I can hardly hold that against him. More importantly, in both books, the author makes mention of fiber and sodium and fat content, but other than that, the focus is almost solely on calories.

Here’s an example. Fresh asparagus grilled in olive oil with a salmon steak is relatively high in fat, albeit good fats. It’s also high in lots of other good stuff. The lint out of my clothes dryer contains very few calories, but is nutritionally devoid. According to the book, based on calories (and possibly fiber, fat, and sodium content) the dryer lint would make an ideal meal. That’s the kind of logic that seemed to be prevalent in the books.

A lot of the books concern picking one type of junk food over another. What is the healthiest fast food burger out there? Not exactly the way to Save 10, 20, 30 Pounds–or More! is it? Americans are overfed, yet undernourished. This book isn’t helping the status quo.

Browsing Amazon, I was horrified to find a children’s version:

If the focus in on choosing the best of prepackaged meals and fast food, which I suspect it is (note the cover), then I’ll pass. And parents should too.

From an Amazon reviewer of the original book, who got it spot on:

“I think this book is a reflection of how bad the American diet is. I heard it discussed and thought it sounded like a good book. All it does if give you a choice between the lesser of two evils. Why not recommend whole grains, vegetables and low sugar foods. That would be a sound choice. But when you recommend eat a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut over another kind of doughnut, who are we kidding here??? This just allows people to be completely off the hook for being responsible for eating a nutritious diet, or feeding a nutritious diet to their kids. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic in this country.”

Another Amazon reviewer suggested Food Politics by Marion Nestle and I am intrigued. I’m going to request it at the library in just a moment, in fact.

And let me just point you toward this site – it’s worth a look see if you have a few minutes.

And if you are still looking for what to eat, by some fortune, the same author has published What to Eat, which was recommended to me, though I will confess I have not yet read it (stay tuned!).

So the bottom line is this – using the Eat This Not That books will give you false confidence in your (poor) choices and nothing more. Don’t buy them, even if you are tempted by the snappy titles and cute catchy covers. And if you really must have them, you can have mine – I certainly have no use for them. There are better books out there if you must have a book. I also suggest using your common sense, since this author seems to have forgotten how to use his.

Skinny Bitch

I just finished this one and I have to say it was not what I expected, not at all. It would have helped if I had read the summary before starting it, of course, but then I might not have read it at all.

From “About the Book:”
Not your typical boring diet book, this is a tart-tongued, no-holds-barred wakeup call to all women who want to be thin. With such blunt advice as, “Soda is liquid Satan” and “You are a total moron if you think the Atkins Diet will make you thin,” it’s a rallying cry for all savvy women to start eating healthy and looking radiant. Unlike standard diet books, it actually makes the reader laugh out loud with its truthful, smart-mouthed revelations. Behind all the attitude, however, there’s solid guidance. Skinny Bitch espouses a healthful lifestyle that promotes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and encourages women to get excited about feeling “clean and pure and energized.

From Barnes & Noble:
The frank, “get real” approach of this diet book may be just right for those who have tried and tried without success to lose weight and keep it off. As the title indicates, the language is salty as Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin tell readers just what they must get rid of in their everyday eating: sugar first, followed by meat and dairy. Freedman and Barnouin recommend a vegan lifestyle, and tell why, and then offer more than 75 recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking. They help readers break through the mental denial about bad food habits, and offer responsible and fun food choices without denying cravings and appetite.
A lot of the book makes a lot of sense, no doubt. Soda, is, in fact Satan. High Fructose Corn Syrup needs to be eliminated. “Low Fat” does not equal “healthy.” And a lot of this we already know, but don’t really want to think about.

The book makes a very strong call for veganism and it is at the core of their “method.” I don’t have any intentions on becoming vegan, but I might if it were more practical…and tastier. I’m not married to meat, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy it. The book goes into detail about why, ethically and environmentally, consuming animal products is bad for us and bad for the planet. They have a very good case. A slam dunk, actually. I can’t disagree with a lot of their reasoning and yet I eat meat.
Why? I think humans are omnivores to begin with and that animal products are beneficial to the diet, but while they may be tasty, I recognize that they aren’t essential to the human diet. Eliminating animal products because of the contamination and cruelty concerns outweighs the tasty factor for many. It should definitely be a bigger concern for the rest of us, even those that do indulge in a yummy carcass now and then.
And dairy. I’m not a big cheese eater, but I do like skim milk. Pizza. Yogurt. The book wants you to drop it all like a hot potato. And reading through it, they have some very valid points. Why do we stop nursing our children, only to put them on the milk of another species? Why do we not question the chemical contamination in milk and even organic milk? Why does the dairy industry have such a foothold in US nutrition policy? The answers may disturb you. Not enough to put down your slice of cheesecake, perhaps, but it is good to be mindful of the politics in play when dealing with food policy and cultural norms.
Their first hurdle they’d like you to jump over is sugar. Sugar in any form, but primarily in standard table sugar that has been stripped of any nutrients and HFCS which is chemically altered to your detriment. And I agree. Sugar is like crack – we’ve all said it, but it turns out it’s true.
According to a recent study:
Hoebel and his team also have found that a chemical known as dopamine is released in a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens when hungry rats drink a sugar solution. This chemical signal is thought to trigger motivation and, eventually with repetition, addiction.

The researchers conducted the studies by restricting rats of their food while the rats slept and for four hours after waking. “It’s a little bit like missing breakfast,” Hoebel said. “As a result, they quickly eat some chow and drink a lot of sugar water.” And, he added, “That’s what is called binge eating — when you eat a lot all at once — in this case they are binging on a 10 percent sucrose solution, which is like a soft drink.”
Hungry rats that binge on sugar provoke a surge of dopamine in their brains. After a month, the structure of the brains of these rats adapts to increased dopamine levels, showing fewer of a certain type of dopamine receptor than they used to have and more opioid receptors. These dopamine and opioid systems are involved in motivation and reward, systems that control wanting and liking something. Similar changes also are seen in the brains of rats on cocaine and heroin.
In experiments, the researchers have been able to induce signs of withdrawal in the lab animals by taking away their sugar supply. The rats’ brain levels of dopamine dropped and, as a result, they exhibited anxiety as a sign of withdrawal. The rats’ teeth chattered, and the creatures were unwilling to venture forth into the open arm of their maze, preferring to stay in a tunnel area. Normally rats like to explore their environment, but the rats in sugar withdrawal were too anxious to explore.

Scary, huh? So I’ve been on the wagon as far as sugar is concerned. No candy, no chocolate, no soda. I did eat a few broccoli cookies, but they were whole wheat, so I gave them a pass in a weak moment. And it feels pretty good. It’s been over a week…lets see how long I can keep this up.

The premise of the book is simple, eat organic, fresh, plant-based foods and you will be thinner, healthier, and happier. Some of their claims and expectations may be a little over the top, but it’s fair to say that it’s extremely difficult to become obese on a plant only, sugar-free, diet. I don’t know – maybe we should all try it. If I were single with no children I probably would, but it’s unlikely at this point in the game.

However I can do the following

~ Eliminate refined sugars.

~ Eliminate HFCS – we already do this.
~ Eliminate refined flours – nothing that isn’t whole wheat or whole grain (except tortillas, because whole wheat tortillas taste like ass). We do this in large part, but could be more vigilant.
~ Eliminate artificial chemicals and flavors – I do try, but they sneak in. I do not buy anything with MSG, for example.
~ Buy Organic. This requires work, and money. We have limited availability for organic produce, but we should probably buy more of what is available.
~ Reduce dairy. I have actually cut milk out entirely while nursing Babybeast, since she had tummy issues, but I’m back on it. It wouldn’t hurt to cut back, though.
~ Increase use of plant-based proteins, like lentils, beans, whole grains, etc.
~ Eat more fruit and veg. I like it, but I forget to eat it sometimes. The kids eat tons, of course. Mommy should follow suit.

So as far as the book goes, I’ve been reading about a plan I will never fully implement, but which has inspired me to make a few smaller changes and to be more thoughtful about food sources and ingredients. And it was funny. And short and easy to read. If curse words offend you, though, then it’s probably not the book for you.

Also on my list to read are Real Food by Nina Planck and The Omnivore’s Dilemma which come highly recommended to me by my friend Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen and Jon Stewart respectively. Look for reviews to come.

The Year of Fog

Back to reading! Between the broken arm and myriad sicknesses, I forgot I was supposed to be reading this year. So here’s another one. I read The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond yesterday and well into early this morning (note to self, do NOT start a book the day after Daylight Savings begins).

On the front of the book it says that it was recommended for fans of Jodi Picoult. I’ve never read a thing by Ms. Picoult. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone who has written so many books may be bordering on formulaic and trite, but I won’t rule her out if I get a good recommendation for a specific book, I suppose.

So I started this one with some doubt and I’m excited to report that it was really quite good. What’s a notch up from your typical chick lit and yet nowhere near a “classic?” That. That’s what we are working with here.

Here’s the synopsis from Booklist via Amazon:

[The Year of Fog] traces a traumatic year in the life of photographer Abby Mason after she loses her fiance’s six-year-old daughter. The moment Abby stopped to photograph a dead baby seal while walking on a fog-bound beach in San Francisco is one she will replay in her head a thousand times. That’s the last time she saw Emma, who was racing ahead, eager to collect sand dollars. Panic and fear soon give way to sheer exhaustion and emotional shutdown as Abby and Emma’s dad, Jake, immerse themselves in the desperate search for the missing first-grader. As the months tick by, Jake becomes convinced that Emma drowned, while Abby is sure that Emma was kidnapped. The trauma and the guilt wreak havoc with their relationship and with their struggle to regain a sense of normalcy. Richmond gracefully explores the nature of memory and perception in key passages that never slow the suspense of the search….this is a page-turner with a philosophical bent.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that if you don’t have children and have never been a caregiver, you will still enjoy the book, but the idea of the loss of a child won’t cut you quite as deeply. I thought several times about my own babies and what I would do in the main characters shoes, which was very distressing.

I was expecting a very predictable ending and was happy to see that it was somewhat less predictable than I had predicted.

I don’t put much stock in Amazon ratings. Out of 86 reviewers, 8 gave it one star and 33 gave it 5 stars. The rest were somewhere in between. I think those 8 were probably looking for a different kind of book altogether, as it’s certainly not meritorious of only one star. And I think those that gave it 5 stars overlooked its flaws, though admittedly they were fairly few in number and none were overwhelming. My vote is somewhere in between with everyone else, but that’s not a bad vote by any means, just as high as this genre is likely to get from me.

If you are interested in reading the book, let me know – it’s in excellent condition and I’ll mail it out for free. Consider it a gift for putting up with my rambling. If more than one person is interested, I’ll pick names out of a hat.

Well now I feel guilty

for complaining about my notsleepy babe yesterday. She’s sick and was up all night with all the snuffles and the wuffles and the sadnesses.

But she is, also, at this very minute sleeping. Where? In her very own crib (yes, crib!) in her very own room. Not in the pack and play in our room. Not in our bed. She’s been down for 45 min so far. And counting.

If this goes well, we might give her the permanent boot tonight. I’m not sure if I have the fortitude, to be honest, but it sure sounds attractive.

Mister Lawyer and I used to read before bed. Books without pictures that didn’t have rhyming verse. Since Babybeast, we are stuck going to bed in the pitch black for fear of waking her. The thought of being able to read again is very exciting. I’ll try to remember to post a photo of Mister Lawyer’s To Be Read pile. You will be horrified – it’s several feet tall. Heck, I’m horrified and I live with it.

For now, I’ll be happy if I can get another half hour of nap out of her. Fingers crossed, people!


Here you go. This is his pile of accumulated materials that need to be read. Technically it’s only one of several piles. And that box at the top is a recent shipment from Barnes & Noble.

The 19th Wife

I’ve been busy reading The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff for the last two days. It was recommended to me by Irishlassie and I found it engrossing.

The book tells two tales, that of a modern day “Lost Boy” who has been excommunicated from his polygamous sect and that of the life and controversy surrounding Ann Eliza Young, one of the many wives of Brigham Young, the savior and second Prophet of Mormonism. Both are spun brilliantly and I found the book difficult to put down. To wit, I finished the 514 page hardcover version in 36 hours.

The author has obviously researched the book in a meticulous fashion and it is impossible to tell where history ends and fiction begins, which is acknowledged in his epilogue. After over 500 pages, I was sad for the book to end, but all in all it was a very satisfying read.

I should note that a brief look at the Amazon reviews suggest that a few people found the book confusing. Anyone who is looking for some cotton candy in literary form and is not prepared to pay attention might possibly find it confusing. However I did not find it confusing in the least and am baffled by the claim.

I am now off to bathe two stinky little boys.

Juvenile Fiction

I’m not normally into it.

But I picked up the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer at the library this week without taking a close look at it; turns out, it’s aimed at the teen set. The protagonist is a seventeen year old boy, which was something of a give away. Anyway, I went ahead and read it as the subject matter was quite interesting (human survival after apocalyptic event) and it was quite good.

Amazon says:

When Alex’s parents disappear in the aftermath of tidal waves, he must care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle. With haunting themes of family, faith, personal change, and courage, this powerful new novel explores how a young man takes on unimaginable responsibilities.

That’s the gist of it and it held my attention very well, even given the targeted audience. It does have some very strong Catholic/faith elements, which might be attractive to young people of faith, though I should add that there is no direct comment on whether a higher power does or does not exist in the book.

If you have a thirteen/fourteen year old and up (there are quite gruesome subjects in it, so I would not advise for a 10 or 11 year old early reader) who is looking for a good read, suggest they try this one out.

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