Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

The great thing about this book - you don't have to read through it. The structure allows you to open the book to any random page and find a unique "rule" for healthy eating. I did read through it though and, had I been able to get through it one sitting (having a 10-month-old makes that impossible,) I'd have finished it in less than two hours.

The moral of the story here is healthy eating can be done using common sense. Not so shocking. Of course I'm not making a good food choice when I reach for the box of Girl Scout cookies on the counter instead of an apple. Pollan gently reminds you of this and other common sense facts. The broad stroke here - eat wheat exists in nature, in reasonable portions, at a moderate pace.

This set of rules is complete in that it goes beyond what to eat and includes how to eat. Pollan reminds us to savour our food - stop rushing - while eating at the table with friends and/or family. He even okays leaving food on your plate (where were you when I was a kid?)

As someone who has overcome the picky eating disease, "rules" about eating have always bothered me. Even now, there's a lot I won't put on my plate, so when someone tells me what to eat - and it usually includes a lot I don't like - I get defensive. There's so much I don't like, if I cut out 'X' what's left? This thought never came up while reading Food Rules. Pollan doesn't tell me to never again eat a specific something, but rather he suggests I substitute something good when leaning toward something bad or at the very least to cut the bad down to a more moderate frequency (he'd hate that I have a Dr. Pepper every night with dinner.)

Pollan doesn't make me feel like I have to change my life, but he reminds me in quick, easy-to-read snippets what the best options are when it comes to food.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Something Dangerous by Penny Vincenzi

The second book in the Spoils of Time trilogy picks up as the children from the main characters in No Angel are entering adulthood. The entire second book focuses on this next generation of characters as they find love, have children, and decide what to do with their lives. Lyttons, the family's publishing house begins the novel as a viable career option for almost all of the children. Then, World War II breaks out and everything changes.

At Lyttons, Celia still holds a great deal of power. It's the only place where she can still control her children, keep them beaten down or draw them up as she sees fit. Being her children gives them no special treatment and no matter how old they get, they still have to contend with her professional opinions of them. These interactions have more affect on their personalities as adults than anything Celia did with or for them as children.

The focus goes beyond just Celia's children - Giles, Adele, Venetia, and Kit - extending to Barty, the adopted daughter, Jay, Celia's nephew, and Izzie, the child of a family friend. All of these characters, along with their significant others we meet along the way, struggle to find their own identities in their day-to-day life and even more so when WWII begins.

The War plays a much more central role in Something Dangerous. Although WWI happened during No Angel, it never becomes a key player in the story beyond how it affects London and life there. WWII, on the other hand, touches all the lives of our new set of main characters. All the boys (and even Barty) enlist. Lovers die, people's lives change forever because of permanent injury, there's even one harrowing escape from the Germans. In this book, the war is as much a character as any living person -- deeply sinking into the personal histories of this new generation.

I'm really still enjoying this series with two books under my belt and one more to go. I feel like I know this family personally. Vincenzi's story is so complete, even with so many characters to keep track of, and her soap opera-like plot twists consistently spice things up.

I love all the excitement and the historical context with it occurs in. A character going into labor while at work is exciting, but a character going into labor alone in her office while her husband is off at war and London is being bombed, is even more compelling. The history included in the narrative gives us a glimpse of all the experiences one had during the War and sheds a lot of insight into what went on beyond the battles and the bombing.

By the end of this book, you love and hate a completely different set of characters. Someone you may have felt sorry for in the first book you can no longer stand and people you found vapid and useless have no come into their own. You've watched a whole generation grow up not just into adulthood, but beyond, to the point where experience has begun to build wisdom. You've partaken in their joys and sorrows, watched them marry, have children, and begin careers. I can't wait to find out what happens to everyone next.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why We Can't Finish Stephanie Meyer's Twilight

Trey and I read aloud to each other at night while we're putting Olivia to bed. It gives us a chance to read books we're both interested at the same pace and talk about the content. Twilight was the third book we decided to read aloud together. We made it through a little over 100 pages before giving up. We found ourselves doing whatever we could to not read to each other at night - Trey would go clean up toys downstairs, refill the humidifier, and I'd suggest we just talk about our days instead. What's the point of reading a book you're constantly trying to avoid? We all graduated from having to do that after we left college.

The story wasn't the problem. I'm all for teen-angst-driven plot lines and tossing in vampires and werewolves really spices things up. This book should have been exciting, but Meyer suffocates the exciting bits with her extensively detailed narrative. Do I really care what color the walls of Bella's school's office are? Does it matter that Edward chuckles all the time and Bella is accident-prone? Nope.

Initially skeptical of the book for many reasons, Trey and I held off attempting to read the series until Trey was given Twilight as a gift. We felt we had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe the book would be better than the movies (although they turned out to be much more entertaining when compared to the book,) but I can finish watching the movie whereas I couldn't finish reading the book. I can't even write more of a review. We didn't even make it to the part where Bella figures out Edward is a vampire.

I know I read a lot of escapist books so it sounds contradictory for me to be so cruel here, but I stand by my feeling that you can write all kinds of crap as long as you write well, as long as you put forth an effort to engage the reader. This droll babble doesn't even come close. So my advice if you're one of the few people left yet to jump on the Twilight bandwagon -- see the movies and be done with it.