Monthly Archives: May 2013

‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedstarstarstarstarstarHosseini has proven once again, as he did with The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, that he is a master storyteller. This is a rich story about individuals and the love between a brother and a sister. He weaves in a few generations and expands the book to multiple settings, but there is a thread through it all which knits together beautifully. What strikes me about Hosseini is his ability to draw the reader in, immediately at the beginning, and with each new chapter and section. Of course we know what the ending should be in this story but we have no idea how he is going to take us there and what we will see along the way. All he provides is an echoed refrain that is unmistakable and profound. Already in the first section, when Baba uses a bedtime parable to prepare his children (and himself) for what he must do the next day,  he sets up this refrain with these words: “a finger had to be cut to save the hand” (p. 5). The very first words of the book are Baba’s words, but actually the author’s own as well. “So then. You want a story and I will tell you one.”

‘Keep Calm and Cast On’ by Erika Knight

Keep Calm and Cast OnstarstarstarThe title of this book is a spin off  from the British phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” (for more information on this, see  The Postmistress).

Here is, as the title suggests, a divine little book for knitters. This elegant little volume, complete with silky ribbon bookmark, would make a great little gift if you have a knitter in your life. Or treat yourself to it! It’s available on Amazon (.uk, .ca, .com). Though small in stature (11 x 14 cm), it is packed full of knitting tips and inspirational quotes about the therapeutic qualities of knitting. All you knit is love!

“Hobbies can be great distractions. Losing yourself in the activity is the key. Try something fresh that requires you to build new skills. Both hobbies and exercise can give you a sense of accomplishment and identity that shores you up and prevents you from falling back into overthinking.”
Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Professor of Psychology, Yale University

‘Mudbound’ by Hillary Jordan

MudboundstarstarstarstarAn edgy and compelling story of Henry McAllen and his wife Laura as they try to build a living out of the muddy fields in the Mississippi Delta in 1946. Henry loves the land but Laura has to endure the hardships of living with no indoor plumbing or electricity and extreme isolation when it rains and the bridge to town becomes impassable. All this might even be bearable if it wasn’t for Henry’s hateful racist father who lives with them. There are reverberations of the Second World War when sons return home with demons of their own. It is the friendship of these brothers-in-arms that sets the stage for tragedy and the brutality of prejudice in the deep south. The story, told in riveting personal narratives, had me hooked immediately ( it starts off with the digging of a grave) and I had a hard time putting it down. My only criticism would be that the characters are static and don’t develop much. The stuff that happens just happens, there is little growth because of what the characters go through.

 

Barbara Kingsolver, a well respected author, endorses the book and was a support to Jordan in the writing of it.  This was Hillary Jordan’s first novel.  It was written in 2008 and I don’t know how it never came across my radar before. She wrote another in 2011 called ‘When She Woke‘ which reviewers have called provocative and a good choice for book club type discussion. I do look forward to reading it and hope to post on it soon.

‘The G.I. Diet’ by Rick Gallop

The G.I. DietstarstarstarstarstarThis is not a diet book in the way you might think. A diet sounds like something you do short term by eliminating something like meat or carbs and then returning to regular eating patterns later. This book will help you long term to develop a sensible  food plan and will decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The ‘G.I. Diet’ will help you change your eating habits and teach you about how your body uses food.  This book is enjoyable, readable, and whether your goal is to lose weight or gain weight, the plan is  do-able.

The “glycemic index” is the basis for this diet. Low G.I. foods, like low fat proteins, whole grains, and vegetables (“Green Light”) take longer to digest so you feel full longer. Foods that are digested more quickly, like calorie rich fast foods (“Red Light”), cause glucose spikes which pack on the pounds and leave you feeling hungry again hours later.

Fat, salt, sugar and even carbs are all needed by your body, but not in the high amounts and unbalanced form our society now offers. The ‘G.I. Diet’ has sensible advice about tasty food choices, suggestions about portion size, and a frank discussion about eating habits. The book offers easy reference charts of Red Light, Yellow Light, and Green Light foods, weekly meal plan suggestions, and has some recipes at the back.

All of the suggestions are normal everyday sorts of basic foods – no tricks or gimmicks. The formula is simple and there is no cumbersome calorie counting involved. The plan is easy, flexible, and sustainable and does not leave you feeling hungry; it suggests wholesome and nutritious foods with three meals and three snacks a day. Hunger is a dangerous thing because our society has so many tempting ‘on the run’ options easily available to us. A “Green Light” diet offers so many foods that you may go ahead and enjoy, at home or eating out, which means there is less of that ‘diet depravation’ feel. It’s all about planning, choice, and keeping the basic principles in mind.

The G.I. Diet Menopause ClinicTo avoid confusion, be aware that there are several editions out there to choose from. The first ‘GI Diet’ book came out over ten years ago and has been updated and revised in newer editions since. There are also some special focus ones available like this ‘Menopause Clinic’ edition and a ‘Diabetes Clinic’ edition. There are also Family, Cookbook, and Express editions available. I did read the original years ago and have found the principles have stuck with me and have helped me maintain a healthy weight. It was good to reread this edition as a refresher and understand the same principles in the context of this stage of life. Find the edition that works for you and look forward to good food and good health!

‘Skios’ by Michael Frayn

Skiosstarstarstarstarstar

What a fun and entertaining read! Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this surprising little gem is a literary novel that was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is a brilliantly conceived and expertly executed comedy/farce. It’s actually a stage farce in novel form. The basic story line begins simply enough.

Oliver Fox arrives on a Greek island and makes a split second decision to assume another identity. In the arrivals hall, a long line of taxi drivers are waiting with signs of people’s names. Oliver decides to be “DR. WILFRED NORMAN” and enters Dr. Norman’s life. Haven’t you ever been tempted to do that kind of thing? When poor Wilfred arrives (to deliver a lecture at a prestigious conference), there is therefore no one left to meet him besides the taxi that was meant for Oliver Fox, which delivers him to a villa and a rendezvous with Oliver’s latest fling.  And to top it all off, their luggage has been confused as well! Of course a whole series of mishaps and misunderstandings ensue, creating a hilarious story that I found very enjoyable indeed. Highly recommended!

‘The Mousehole Cat’ by Antonia Barber & Nicola Bayley

The Mousehole CatstarstarstarstarstarInspired by an old Cornish legend, this British award winning illustrated children’s book is charming and true to its setting which I just had the pleasure to visit! On a trip to Cornwall we called in at Mousehole for lunch and enjoying seeing this picturesque village and fishing town. The boats in the harbour are all small ones because the entrance in the breakwaters is very tiny. This is how the town got its name. The townspeople depend on local fishermen for food. When an extended storm threatens the town with starvation, a fisherman and his cat save the day. Yes, in a mouse story, there must be a cat!  By the way, Mousehole is pronounced in the Cornish way (Mowzel).

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The illustrations are luminous and capture the emotions and nuance in the story. It communicates the mysterious relationship between man and the sea and underscores the vulnerability of fishermen in the face of the changeable weather and the power of the ocean.  Recently I knit an Aran sweater complete with cables and learned about how fishermen lost at sea would sometimes sadly be identified by the unique and intricate patterns their wives had designed. However, this story resolves beautifully, highlighting small town community and the courage of one special cat called Mowzer.

‘The Storyteller’ by Jodi Picoult

The StorytellerstarstarSome people find Picoult’s novels to be increasingly formulaic and predictable, as she seems to crank out a new one every year. I actually tend to stick up for her novels, saying that she does deal with thought-provoking issues and is an expert at capturing differing points of view. So even though I am an avid Picoult fan, this latest book was rather a disappointment for me. To be honest the book fell flat and was not convincing, believable,  or developed enough, except for the flashback Holocaust section in the middle which was well done.

Although Picoult’s theme in ‘The Storyteller’ purports to be about mercy and forgiveness, I found the way that those were manifested in the ending of the story to be flawed. What she says about forgiveness is true: “forgiveness isn’t something you do for someone, it’s something you do for yourself.” But how the main character decides to forgive left me cold. I knew from an interview with the author that there was a big twist coming at the end and when I got there I realized I had predicted it long ago, so even in that…no cigar. Unfortunately I can’t be more specific about my issues with this novel, because I would have to include spoilers. I also found the gothic tale that runs alongside the main story to be awkward and unhelpful.

Sage Singer has secrets and is troubled and scarred both physically and emotionally. She becomes a baker, not so much because that profession runs in her family and she is good at it, but because it allows her to hide in the daytime and work at night. Sage befriends an old man who has dark secrets of his own and at the same time she learns that her grandmother is a survivor in more ways than one. The number tattooed on her grandmother’s forearm is a left over from Auschwitz.

By the way, the first printing of this book has the inside cover inscribed with many names and before I read the dedication at the front of the book, I had assumed it was a list of those those whose lives were lost in concentration camps. That would have been meaningful considering the topic of the book. They actually are names of her UK fans, probably one of the reasons the book is flying off the shelves here. Unfortunately that smacks of a publisher trying to boost sales and didn’t quite sit right with me in the context of a weighty subject like the tragedies of the second world war.

Her next one will be about elephants and grief and I am looking forward to reading it.