Friday, April 2, 2010

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the differences between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilipsy. Lia's parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia but lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.

The book begins with the traditional birthing methods and traditions of the Hmong people. One of the most important traditions is burying the placenta. The placenta is to be buried in a spot under the homes dirt floor so when the person dies its soul can travel back to the placenta. Lia was the fourteenth child born to the Lees'. She was their only child born in the United States. She was born in a modern hospital in California's Central Valley, where may Hmong refugees have resettled. Lia's placenta was incinerated.

This is a very interesting book, often on the required reading list of many schools. You will learn of Hmong traditions and how they conflict with American traditions. It shows how the differences are complicated because of the understanding of each others beliefs. The language barrier is a very big part of many of the problems encountered.

I like this book and consider it a very good read, especially if you want to learn something as you and are ready for some deep thinking. It is not a quick and easy book to read.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

Brother Odd features one of the fascinating characters created by Dean Koontz: Odd Thomas. Odd Thomas is just what his name implies. He is odd. “Oddie” is living at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey, a monastery that includes a sect of monks, a convent, and a refuge and school for children sharing various degrees of physical and mental disabilities. Odd Thomas is here after a horrific event (detailed in a previous Koontz volume, Odd Thomas)

A bit about Odd Thomas is in order. Odd Thomas is capable of seeing the dead. Those who have not gone on are visible to Thomas. His self proclaimed mission in life has become his assisting these departed souls find the peace within to move on from this plane. Odd, throughout the book, interacts with the ghost of Elvis Presley, who is not yet ready to move on. Odd is also able to see other apparitions, including what he names ‘bodachs’, sinister black flowing beings that swarm a location prior to unknown tragedy and loss of human life. The bodach invasion begins at the beginning of the book, with the evil beings attracted to the helpless children.

Other characters bring mystery, comedy, and emotion to the book. The monks are of varied backgrounds, including a former mafia enforcer, veteran combat medic, and Los Angeles newspaper crime reporter. In addition, one of the ‘monks’ is a former billionaire physicist who has donated his fortune to the Abbey, and has constructed a secret underground laboratory in which he continues his research. Also in the plot is a mysterious Russian, claiming to be a Librarian from Indianapolis. Odd Thomas does not believe the Russian’s story.

Koontz weaves a supernatural tale told through Odd Thomas’ eyes. His interactions with new, strange and frightening events make this book a true “can’t put it down” volume. The conversations between characters are delightful. Odd’s interaction with a few of the children open communication with Stormy, his former true love who was gunned down in a previous book. His interaction also will be the key to discovering the source of the deadly menace that threatens all of the monks, nuns, and children of the Abbey in a secluded area in the High Sierra Mountains of California.

Brother Odd is a scary read. It has malevolent creatures, ghosts, and evil and virtuous people. The story line will keep you turning pages. Plot twists will keep you guessing. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Robert Langdon is back. The ‘hero’ of The Da Vinci Code, Brown’s blockbuster bestseller, is thrust into yet another romp through history, complete once again with horrific villains, Masonic secrets, art history, and a rapid paced thriller of a plot.

The story opens with Langdon traveling to Washington D.C., allegedly to present a lecture for his longtime friend Peter Solomon in the U.S. Capitol building. The key phrase here is ‘allegedly’. Langdon soon realizes that his travel to DC is just a ploy to immerse him into yet another plot to use his skills as a symbolist. Langdon is being interrogated by the CIA. The first of many clues has been left in the Capitol rotunda. His friend has been kidnapped, mutilated and tortured. Thus the story begins.

In this volume, Landon does not travel all over the world. His unfolding of the twists and turns take place within the Beltway of Washington. However, the smaller geographical setting does not diminish the intricacy of the plot. Symbols must be deciphered. The history of the Masons is once again brought to the forefront of the storyline.

The story is, ironically, predictable with its unpredictable twists and turns. Any reader of Brown’s work will feel a familiarity with the flavor of the plot development. Names and places are different, but the same ‘feel’ is present in this work, and is somewhat a letdown. I kept waiting for something new to be introduced.

What were most enjoyable to this reviewer were the detailed descriptions of portions of buildings in Washington D.C. not accessible by the general public. I would love to have access to the upper areas of the Capitol Building, complete with roof access. In addition, the details given about the Washington Monument were most fascinating.

A history buff will enjoy the book. A reader of thrillers will enjoy the book. A fan of Dan Brown will enjoy the book. I recommend The Lost Symbol, even though I was slightly disappointed.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Instinct Diet by Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Betty Kelly Sargent

This review is contributed by my husband. He really likes this diet philosophy, and is doing quite well with his changes in eating habits.

This book comes complete with much praise from "professionals" in the field of diet, weight loss, and health. The authors have many, many years experience in clinical research, primarily conducted at Tufts University, and this volume is dotted with many anecdotal stories from persons involved in the clinical trials of the diet techniques.

One soon realizes that the foundation for the Instinct Diet is a self-searching analysis of your personal relationship with food and eating. The five instincts detailed most certainly give a new insight into current (and past) food consumption habits. The first section of the book deals with these instincts.

Instinct number one is hunger. The book details means of confronting hunger head-on, and insuring that healthy meals and snacks satisfy hunger cravings.
Instinct number two is availability, and covers rather simple direction for keeping your kitchen environment free from those food items that can and will sabotage your best efforts at control.
Instinct number three is calorie density. Now you begin to get an education in calories and not only their effect on your body, but also an expose of the volume of calories in certain foods. Tips are given on making low-calorie foods more appetizing. The "sandwiching" technique is clever, to say the least.
Instinct number four is familiarity. Routines and rituals are graciously bashed and condemned. Direction is provided to assist even the most die hard, stuck in a rut individual the means to alter their comfortable, non-healthy eating habits.
The final instinct is variety. The premise here is that a restricted variety of diet often leads to hindering weight control. Variety as a tool can be skillfully manipulated to reduce the intake of unhealthy foods, and increase the intake of healthy foods. Clever, indeed.

Once the reader has completed the first section of the book devoted to the five instincts, the authors turn to the meat and potatoes of the volume. Uh, excuse me, I mean the broiled fish and non-starchy vegetable portion of the book. Shopping guides are listed, with detailed descriptions of items to be purchased in order to start the diet plans. Recipes make up a large portion of the book, with a wide variety (remember instinct five?) of dishes presented.

The program outlined in detail is comprised of three stages: The initial two weeks, Stage "I", followed by six weeks of the Stage "II" Keep It Going diet plan, and the Stage "III" maintenance plan. All three stages are explained in great detail.

The authors bring real life examples of success stories, coupled with the feeling of genuine concern they feel for you, the reader. With my diabetes prompted dietary requirements, I have "tweaked" this program somewhat for my personal use. However, simply reading the sections about the five instincts provided for me, as one of the book's references stated, a real paradigm shift in my thinking concerning my eating habits. I strongly recommend this diet book for that reason alone.