Tag Archives: trade paperback book

Coming Up Next…

Heartbroken 2

A review of Heartbroken: A Novel by Lisa Unger.

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Coming Up Next…

The Frugalista Files 2

A review of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life by Natalie P. McNeal.

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Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

The First Year: IBS — An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Heather Van Vorous (Da Capo Press, $16.99, 242 pages)

“…knowledge is power over IBS…  (With it) you will be managing your IBS – it will not be managing you.”

Do you regularly or periodically have disabling stomach pains, the type that hurt so much you just want to lie down, curl up and be still?   If so, you may be experiencing the digestive flare-ups brought on by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).   IBS actually has less to do with your stomach – which seems to be the source of the discomfort and pain – then with the digestive tract; it was formerly known as Spastic Colon disease.

As explained in The First Year: IBS, this is a medical condition determined by exclusion rather than inclusion.   If you think you may be IBS-afflicted, your doctor will want to perform a series of exams and tests to exclude other serious conditions or ailments such as colon or stomach cancer, Crohn’s Disease (which may result in cancer), colitis or a hernia.   Only when all of these and other verifiable possibilities are ruled out will an M.D. decide that someone is an IBS sufferer.   If you receive such a diagnosis, you will want to pick up Heather Van Vorous’ “Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.”

I purchased this book after weeks of  painful (and sometimes burning) symptoms and the subsequent medical diagnosis.   I was far from optimistic that my aches would be relieved by a new diet.   Van Vorous, however, makes a quite convincing case that IBS flare-ups are triggered by consuming certain foods or liquids.   These triggers are different for each person but they can be things as simple as:  coffee (sigh), artificial sweeteners, nuts or seeds, popcorn, fried chicken, fruits such as pineapple or fruit nectars, pastries or baked goods, chocolate, etc.   It is also essential to lower the amount of fat in one’s diet since, as we all know (eaten a large hamburger or steak recently?), high fat foods are tough to digest.

“Children with IBS absolutely cannot eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or most any other fast food restaurant, because there is literally nothing safe on their menus.”

The key to Van Vorous’ diet remedy is to begin limiting the intake of insoluble fiber foods (such as popcorn), replacing them with soluble fiber foods – “the basis of the IBS diet.”   Soluble fiber foods include such pleasing and digestible items as rice, potatoes, flour tortillas, bananas, mangoes and applesauce.   The First Year provides easy-to-read and copy (one per page) lists of insoluble fiber and other foods to avoid, and of the soluble fiber foods that will become the foundation of a former sufferer’s new diet.

Suffice it to say that even for this sceptical reader and IBS-diagnosed patient the new diet worked, both well and relatively quickly!   An added benefit of the diet prescribed by Van Vorous is not only the absence of pain and discomfort, but an improved (“regular”) digestive tract.   IBS sufferers often bounce back and forth between constipation and diarrhea, but not after adopting the soluble fiber regimen.

The First Year also addresses the importance of stress management and exercise.   Tai Chi is a specific form of exercise that is recommended as “a type of moving meditation.”   Van Vorous had IBS for over twenty years and learned that after she limited and controlled the condition through diet, she could then manage it even better through exercising and applying a positive mental attitude.   When you consider that this trade paperback book sells for less than a $20 bill, it’s a very wise investment.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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(A) Kiss from a Rose

The Weird Sisters: A Novel by Eleanor Brown (Berkley Trade, $15.00, 368 pages)

“See, we love each other.   We just don’t happen to like each other very much.”

This is the story of three sisters, and of their retired Shakespeare-spouting professor father and a mother stricken with cancer.   They are three very different sisters, which is what creates the tension in this family novel.

Firstly, there is Rose (Rosalind), the oldest and smartest one, born six years before the second child and twelve years before the youngest.   She has found a perfect man to marry but with one small problem:  He’s teaching at Oxford and wants to stay there, thank you very much.   Secondly, there’s Bean (Bianca), the glamorous middle daughter fired from her job in New York City due to a crazy little thing called embezzlement.   She’s a beauty but not quite perfect.   And, thirdly, there’s Cordy (Cordelia), the baby, the wild one pregnant with the baby of an unknown father.   Cordy’s always been a wanderer.   Is she finally ready to settle down?

It’s their mother’s cancer that brings them back together under the same roof in a small town in Ohio.   There’s not much oxygen to spare…  You are likely thinking that this is going to be one very predictable read; if so, you would be wrong.   This is a novel that surprises and delights.   Author Eleanor Brown seems to tell the story in flawless fashion – I kept looking in vain for the seams in the tale.   They’re there somewhere, but they seem to be woven with invisible thread.

Brown’s journalistic voice contains a beautiful tone which is never too strong nor too weak.   It simply feels like one is listening to someone accurately describing and detailing the events of three sisters’ lives.   And there’s likely more than a trace of real life in The Weird Sisters, as the author just happens to be the youngest of three sisters.

“There’s no problem a library card cannot solve.”

Anyone who loves literature and the greatest writer in the English language will treasure Brown’s educated and clever references to the writings of William Shakespeare.   Each of the daughters is, naturally, named after a character in one of the Bard’s plays, and their lives sometimes feel as if they’re characters in a play.

As the story unfolds, the three sisters must deal with their mother’s mortality and with their own coming to grips with what it is they actually want out of life.   In one sense, each of them must decide between an external (public) or internal (private) version of achievement.

Boomers and those of a younger generation will identify with the struggles of these late-maturing sisters:  “When had our mother gotten so old?   Was it just because she was sick?   Or was this happening to us all without our noticing?…  There was no one wondering about it – we were all getting old.”

“We were all failures,” thinks Bean at one point about herself and her siblings.   But they all wind up successes in a story that is wrapped up so beautifully well.   Contentment is the reward for the reading.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Weird Sisters was released in trade paperback form on February 7, 2012.   “Hilarious, thought-provoking and poignant.”   J. Courtney Sullivan, author of the novels Maine and Commencement.

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A Fine and Fun Book Giveaway

Thanks to Megan at HarperCollins, we have two (2) copies to give away of the forthcoming debut novel by Dana Precious, Born Under a Lucky Moon.   This book will be released by Morrow Paperback on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 ($14.95).   Here is a synopsis of the story and a brief profile of the author.

Born Under a Lucky Moon is the tale of two very important (but distant) years in the lives of Jeannie Thompson and her (embarrassing, crazy) colorful family members to whom “things” just happen.   From the Great Lakes of Michigan to Los Angeles and back again, it is a story of surprise marriages, a renegade granny, a sprinkler system cursed by the gods, and myriad other factors Jeannie blames for her full-tilt and out-of-control existence.   But it’s also about good surprises – like an unexpected proposal that might just open Jeannie’s eyes to her real place among the people she loves most in the world…  the same ones she ran far away from to begin with.

“Lucky the reader who picks up this funny, charming and touching debut novel.   I loved it.”   Susan Elizabeth Phillips, New York Times bestselling author

Dana Precious lives in L.A. with her husband and son.   She has two dogs: a small border terrier named Thompson (as in Hunter – long story) and Bella, a very large bullmastiff whose activity of choice is sleeping on the couch and watching Oprah. Prior to writing, Diana worked for several major film studios.

So, you can probably tell that this is going to be a fun one to read!   How can you win a copy?   Simply by posting a comment with your name and e-mail address here, or doing the same by sending an e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry in the contest.   For a second entry, please answer this question that Munchy the cat came up with, “What is the craziest thing about someone in your family (human or animal)?”

You have until Sunday, February 20, 2011 at Midnight PST to submit your entry or entries.   In order to be eligible to be a winner in this contest, you must live in the United States or Canada, and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to P. O. boxes or to business-related addresses.

The winners will be picked by Munchy, and will be notified by e-mail.   They will have 72 hours to supply their mailing addresses when contacted.   This is it for the complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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Bird in Hand

Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow Paperbacks, $13.99, 320 pages)

Yeah we were desperate then/ To have each other to hold/ But love is a long, long road.   Tom Petty

bird-in-hand

Full and proper character development appears to be becoming a lost art in fiction, but author Christina Baker Kline does her bit to revive the art in the intriguing novel Bird in Hand.   This is a fine story, extremely well told, of four people, partners in two marriages and very good friends.   We get to know all four characters and hear their stories – from their own perspectives – in this well-constructed tale.

The narrative begins with Alison whose life seems to be virtually perfect until two things happen.   First, she becomes involved in a deadly accident while under the influence and the ramifications of this threaten to tear her world apart.   Second is something that she’s completely unaware of, which is that her husband is having an affair with someone she considered a friend.   Thus, her world changes overnight:  “For Alison, now, the world was a different place, and yet it was strangely the same.   She was present and not present in her own life.”

Kline writes with the same cool, suburban angst filled tone as Richard Ford (Independence Day, The Sportswriter).   There’s a question that is asked in Ford’s writing and in a Talking Heads song:  How did I get here?   “She walked around the silent house and looked at the framed photographs that lined the mantelpiece and cluttered the bookshelves, wondering, Is this really my life?   This collage of frozen moments, frozen in time.”

In Bird in Hand, we also meet Charlie, Alison’s steady if unfaithful husband; Claire, the newly published author and friend of Alison’s; and Ben, Charlie’s successful if somewhat dull and introverted husband.   It’s rare to find a work in which all four characters are so well fleshed out and, yes, real.   Here’s an example in how Alison describes Charlie:  “…as they started talking she realized that there was…  something in his character that she couldn’t  put down.   He wasn’t cocky, and his humor was gentle.   He had a mild confidence, a lack of self-consciousness, an ironic take on the world that wasn’t caustic or bitter.   Despite his social ease, he had a solitary air.”

At one point, Charlie describes Claire in words that could apply to the author’s style in writing this novel.   “She could be formal one moment and irreverent, even crude, the next.”

“Real life, she knew, was just beginning.”

One of the ironies of reading Bird in Hand is that its fictional account of the disintegration of a marriage feels far more true to life than two contemporary nonfiction accounts:  How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed by Theo Pauline Nestor and Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies.   I much preferred Nestor’s account but neither narrator seemed as true to me as the character Alison in Kline’s work.

It may be because Kline gives us not just a story, but the motivations that spur on the individuals.   With Alison, it’s disillusionment.   “Nothing about her life at the moment was what she’d envisioned for herself when she got married.”   Alison’s husband Charlie is moved by the feeling that he’s made the wrong choices for himself.   “He was doing this because he could not keep skimming along the surface of his life without one day crashing into something hard and unpleasant…  he was convinced he would get only one chance to feel this kind of passion, to express it, to live.”

And then Kline reveals that motivation, intent, means little or nothing because all humans act with incomplete – flawed – knowledge (quoting Alice McDermott):  “As if…  what was actual, as opposed to what was imagined, as opposed to what was believed, made, when you got right down to it, any difference at all.”   So, ultimately, this is an impressive work about real, flawed, individuals doing the best they can at a certain point in their existence, making mistakes but ultimately moving forward.   “It was real life, the way things should be, and even as it was happening it felt to Alison like a distant memory, the moment already slipping into the past.”

bird-in-hand-back-cover

A great deal of praise should be bestowed on author Kline for creating characters that adult readers can relate to.   At one point in Bird in Hand, Kline writes of Alison’s experiences as a young woman, “It was a strange and magical feeling.”   Kline has delivered a strange, unique, magical and borderline brilliant story.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review (hardbound) copy was provided by William Morrow.  

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