Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #52: Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan MD and Luke Shanahan

DeepNutritionA dear friend gave me this book and for quite a few months I found it hard to get into. It demanded more focus than most other books because it talks scientifically about food and our bodies and I think there was a part of me that didn’t wholly want to understand the bad shit I’d been doing to myself by ingesting various types of food that weren’t good for me. But for so long, I’d resisted the “good” and “bad” foods, because that type language seemed to reinforce getting down on yourself for your eating habits. “Oh, I’m gonna be bad just this once…” someone says as they have dessert. Or, “I know it’s bad for me but it’s only a little and it tastes so good.” Plus, there’s so much changing and conflicting information about what’s bad, what’s good, and why. A few years ago, eggs were evil, and I’m not talking deviled eggs. Bad cholesterol! Heart attack for breakfast! Run for your lives! Then it was just the yolks that were supposed to be bad. Nowadays, we’re being told that eggs are okay in moderation. There was a War on Butter for a while. Margarine was our savior. Then it comes out that margarine’s not all that better and could have unhealthy transfats. It’s difficult to know what’s right.

In this book, I found a good explanation of why certain foods are better for you. How they’re good for you, how to eat and a little bit about how to prepare them, how they affect your body and your children’s bodies. Brain growth, skin health, the vitality of your organs and cells…it was all in this book and while it was fairly scientific and sometimes I found myself rereading sections over to fully get what the author was saying, it actually took a pretty complex subjects like nutrition and biology and ultimately made them accessible.

From this book, I finally understand the negative affect sugar has on the body. I also learned why vegetable oils aren’t nearly as good as everyone makes them out to be. Apparently, certain vegetable oils, like the ubiquitous canola and soybean oils, change chemical composition when they’re heated. This chemical change take a healthy oil and makes it into a mutant which then mutates and deep fries your cells.

The author is a doctor and with her co-author husband talks competently about food, nutrition, and the science of both. There were a few times it seemed a little repetitious, and honestly the illustrations aren’t always helpful since most aren’t high quality, but on a whole, this book has educated me about what food really does for and to my body and has also given me some concrete ways to make healthier changes and choices.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #51: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

book-little-princeThis little gem of a book washed over me like a warm bath…comforting, cleansing, soothing, and relaxing. The story of the diminutive royal who travels the galaxy, learning, questioning, challenging, and teaching is one with universal lessons that I think would appeal to just about anyone.

The story of the little prince is relayed to us by an unnamed narrator who has broken down in the desert and is trying to fix his plane when the titular prince stumbles upon him, asking him to draw a sheep. And thus we find out all sorts of things, like how the Prince is the sole human inhabitant of a small planet with three volcanoes and a unique flower.

As the story opens, the narrator shows us how he is not very good at drawing and gave it up at an early age, due to some grown-ups who don’t understand how to see beyond what is obvious or “of consequence.” However, at the Little Prince’s urging draws a sheep. Which the Prince rejects. Two others follow, both rejected for various reasons. Finally, the narrator draws a box and tells the Prince the sheep is inside. What could be seen as an attempt to just avoid the Prince’s request could also be taken as the moment the narrator let his imagination loose again.

The rest of the book is relaying the Prince’s travels, and how he fell in love with a flower, and in the process unravels the meaning that many grown-ups look part when they become adults. My favorite lesson is this:

“The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden – and they do not find in it what they are looking for.”

“They do not find it,” I replied.

“And yet what they are looking for could be could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”

“Yes, that is true,” I said.

And the little prince added:
“But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…”

It’s simple, but so true.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #50: God on a Harley by Joan Brady

God-on-a-harley-joan-brady“What if God was one of us…”

That Joan Osborne song runs through my head whenever I reread Joan Brady’s God on a Harley, and over the past twenty-some years since I was first introduced to it, that’s happened at least four or five times. The premise is simple: a guy named Joe, who’s really Jesus/God and rides a mean Harley, takes to Earth in corporeal form, to give some one on one attention to humans and remind them of what he’s really about and how to live the gift of their lives to the fullest. This book and it’s two sequels, Heaven in High Gear and Joyride, both center around his visiting Christine Moore. She’s burned out, struggles to find inspiration or joy in her life, has no passion for work or love, and is hard on herself for her “less-than-perfect figure.” Enter Jesus Joe!

It may sound a little hokey, but every once in a while, I like reading books that break the complexities of life down into simpler, easier-to-follow, uplifting lessons. In this book, Joe helps Christine get over her ex (who had a previous “matrimonial-phobia” when he was with her, but in the start of the novel is happily married to someone else), get better control over her health, find joy in life, and passion in her work again. And it’s not through a romantic interest, either, which is always refreshing to me. Seeds are planted to that effect, but don’t even begin to germinate until the very end of the book. I appreciate how she gets her own life together, with the help of faith, discipline, and seeking joy.

Joe apparently has specific lessons for each person he meets, and Christine’s lessons are:

  1. Do not build walls for they are dangerous. Learn to transcend them.
  2. Live in the moment, for each one is precious and not to be squandered.
  3. Take care of yourself, first and foremost.
  4. Drop the ego. Be real. And watch what happens.
  5. All things are possible all of the time.
  6. Maintain Universal Flow. When someone gives, it is an act of generosity to receive. For in the giving, there is something gained.

Fairly good lessons to live by for pretty much everyone, I think. But some of us need help learning certain things rather than others. For example, I try very hard to maintain universal flow. That comes easier to me than taking care of myself, honestly. And I’ve found, like Christine did, that most of these lessons tend to meld together once you really embrace and live them out.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #49: Asexuality – a brief introduction by Asexualityarchive.com

asexuality-abriefintroductionThis book and stumbling upon it has kinda changed my life. Well…it’s given me a much better understanding of myself than I previously had before. See, I’m a freelance writer. I was commissioned to write a short story for an online YA magazine about a young adult in the glbtqiia spectrum. I chose “a” for asexual, because it was something I didn’t know much about but had an…affinity for. See, I’ve always felt I had a different sexual appetite than most people I knew. I didn’t necessarily qualify as asexual because I was interested in and had sex, but it was…very selective. Like up until a few years ago, I really only felt sexual attraction towards my-exhusband and ex-wife. So I thought, let’s delve into this and see if I can write something about it. My editor was thrilled to see more “ace” fiction out there, so all systems were a-go!

I figured I’d better do some research, because while I felt kinda akin to asexuality, I would never have considered myself asexual, and therefore needed some edumacation. I found some websites for asexuality and then this free ebook download about it.

It’s fascinating, funny, and incredibly informative. It’s told in mostly a Q&A format, with a few summary/personal stories pages at the end. Subject matter ranges from standard definition of asexuality, common questions, possible signs, debunking myths, things that are not asexuality, symbols of the movement (cake!), attraction, the “ace umbrella” (see below), asexual feelings towards sex and masturbation, followed by the personal perspectives and a helpful glossary.

Some things I learned:

1. “Asexuality describes an orientation, not behavior.”

I don’t think I fully grokked this until . I thought asexuality meant No Sex. Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s more about the way people experience (or don’t experience) sexual attraction. Abstinence and celibacy are actually very different from asexuality. They can be concurrent, but they’re not synonyms.

2. The words “demisexual”, “gray-asexual”, the “ace umbrella”.

There’s a gray area between asexuality and non-asexuality. Some people say that they occasionally experience sexual attraction, yet still relate to asexuality. The ace umbrella encompasses asexuals, as well as people in this gray area.
Some people, known as “gray-asexuals”, experience sexual attraction infrequently or not very strongly or possibly aren’t quite sure whether or not what they experience is sexual attraction. One subtype of gray-asexuals, known as “demisexuals”, can experience sexual attraction only after developing a close emotional bond with someone.

3. How sexual attraction is really different from romantic attraction. I’d never given that enough due. I mean, I knew sex and romance were two separate things that could happen together, but didn’t necessarily have to. But I don’t think I ever gave much thought to the terminology, though, or the fact that you can be romantically attracted to someone but not sexually attracted to them. Or, to take it a step further, not be sexually attracted to most people, but feel romantic feelings fairly easily. So bisexual just describes being sexually attracted to men and women, while biromantic covers being romantically attracted to men and women. And since language is awesome, you can sub the suffice “bi-” for others like “hetero-“, “homo-“, and “pan-“.

4. The differentiation between sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction.

I do experience aesthetic attraction. There are certain people or types of people that I do enjoy looking at. Those people will stand out and I will notice them. But all I want to do is look. It’s like I’m looking at a cute puppy or beautiful picture.

I’ve long since known that love and sex are two different things and don’t have to go hand in hand, but this book opened up a whole realm of sexuality (or lack thereof) that I didn’t fully understand, and some types I didn’t even know existed. It’s helped me understand myself better, and write a (hopefully) good short story about an asexual teenager that will (again, hopefully) be published next month.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #48: A Christmas Snow by Jim Stovall

ChristmasSnow_book_lgThis was a quick read and a nice Christmas story, which was precisely what I was looking for. It has some problems. The choppy, simplistic, sometimes repetitive sentence structure was grating at first, but I finally got into the rhythm…or it got better. I’m not certain. Another issue was the fact that the author incorrectly used the word “myriad” annoyed me, as did using the wrong word to describe carefully going through paperwork (it should be “poring over” not “pouring over”…cause shit like that jolts me out of the story). The last problem I had was that Stovall seemed too keen on cliches towards the beginning. All of these things combined had me wondering if I wanted to finish the book at all, but by the time Chapter Ten rolled around, I was too engrossed to return it to the library.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. The story is one of hope, love, forgiveness, changing, growing, and leaving the past behind you, where it belongs. The main character, Kathleen, has been emotionally distant and additionally crabby about Christmas ever since her dad walked out on her when she was ten. Fast forward to now, Kathleen has a boyfriend with a very…precocious (re: persnickety)…ten-year-old daughter named Lucy. Kathleen and Lucy get snowed in together when Lucy’s dad has to go out of town on business but has nowhere else to drop Lucy off because their current babysitter just quit. So she winds up at Kathleen’s house…along with a strange older guy that Kathleen almost run over in the grocery store parking lot. The bonding that happens was hardly a surprise, but the way it all plays out was quite entertaining and heart-warming.

In the end, Kathleen remembers what really matters (family, food, and good times) and acts accordingly. She also goes to visit her mother for the first time in over a decade. I like that it didn’t end in Andrew proposing to her, as if that’s the only way for him to “get” her. I’m curious how the movie is. The last 15 minutes of it that I saw on TV the other night led me to believe it was pretty faithful, so that’s cool. I look forward to seeing that. The story here is nice, I just think it could’ve been better written.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #47: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell

Flora-and-UlyssesI’ve loved Kate DiCamillo since The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread, which is still one of my favorite books and has one of my favorite lessons on accepting what is rather than trying to force your own skewed sense of reality or what you want to be. So when I heard that she had a new book out, I was on my library’s website reserving a copy of it lickety-split. And though I wasn’t disappointed, Flora and Ulysses was unlike anything of DiCamillo’s that I had previously read.

Titular characters, Flora and Ulysses, are a ten-year-old girl and a flying superhero squirrel who writes poetry, respectively, you see. Well, Ulysses didn’t start out as a flying superhero squirrel who writes poetry. He only became that way when he was vacuumed by Flora’s next door neighbor’s new birthday vacuum. Because…that’s how squirrel’s get superhero powers these days, apparently. (And a patchy buzz cut, but that’s really neither here nor there.) From there, Flora and Ulysses become best friends as she uses her wiles, gleaned entirely from comic books her dad used to read to her, to help Ulysses become stronger and discover who he really is and his place in the world. Along the way, Flora finds her own way, too, with the help of a delightful cast of characters including her best friend, the squirrel she names Ulysses (after the vacuum that attached him, which is very Spiderman of her), the questionably blind little boy William Spiver (don’t call him “Billy”. Bad things happen to automobiles when you call him “Billy”.), his great aunt Tootie (who is also Flora’s next door neighbor who got the vacuum that started this whole thing, Flora’s dad, Flora’s mom, an eccentric neighbor of Flora’s father, an attack cat named Mr. Klaus, and a lifesize shepardess lamp named Mary Ann.

Flora is a delightful young heroine, having many adventures, learning how to navigate the world and her place in it with the help of her best friend is a flying superhero squirrel who writes poetry. Why not? It’s a fantastic story (in many ways literally) that brims with love, excitement, and discovery. She has to battle her nemesis, who is also her mother, but has instructed her dad to kidnap the squirrel, throw him in a sack and beat him with a shovel. BTW, DiCamillo doesn’t pull any punches with her children’s novels. This novel also doesn’t talk down to kids. In fact, they’ll probably learn new words while reading it or having it read to them. Hell, some adults might also. Because I know I needed a refresher on the word “malfeasance”. But for a “kid’s book” it certainly has a lot to say about love, family, and growing up. My favorite two things from the book were:

1. The sentiment Flora’s dad’s neighborlady said instead of goodbye: “I promise to always turn back toward you.”

2. The last poem in the book, written by Ulysses.

Words for Flora

would be
easier without
because you
all of it –
sprinkles, quarks, giant
donuts, eggs sunny-side up –
are the ever-expanding
to me.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #46: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

americanbornchineseLike Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki (of which you can see my review here), this YA graphic novel focuses around one teen’s life in the United States from the perspective of their culture. Tina, the protagonist in Tina’s Mouth, was of Indian descent and in American Born Chinese (you might’ve guessed already by now) the main character, Jin, was of Chinese lineage. Both are born and raised in the US, but their culture and people’s perception of them still factor heavily in their every day lives.

The book has three different sections and jumps back and forth between them. The first part is an inter-weaving parable about where various gods (most specifically the Monkey King) came from, what they went through, and why in the Chinese tradition. The second is from Jin’s pov as he recounts his parents’ opinions on things (and their emphasis on doing well in school, to the exclusion of a social life all the way through college) and his time in school and with friends. The third is a TV show called “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee”. If you couldn’t tell by the title, it’s incredibly offensive and, I think, serves to highlight some of the ugly racism that pervades our culture.

A common thread that runs through all three stories is the desire to belong.  How it can blind you, make you weaker, meaner, forget your roots and family.  The Monkey King wants power and respect and works to get faster, smarter, more versatile and skilled.  But in the end, he still can get trapped under a pile of rocks by a higher god.  Jin wants little more than to fit in in school so he turns his back on things that are part of his heritage and wants only to look “normal” and be liked.  Danny, the lead character in the offensive TV show, is constantly embarrassed by his cousin Chin-Kee’s “antics” when in reality, Chin-Kee is an overblown stereotype but who is also being true to himself and enjoying life to the fullest.  

Along the way, each character learns something about being true to themselves, the power that they have over their own life, and the importance of family and friends.  It’s a well-drawn, well-written coming-of-age story that I think should be on required reading lists.



Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #45: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends-of-Zita-the-SpacegirlI came across this graphic novel while just perusing the new graphic novel selections at my local library. The art style and colors were fun, and I’m a fan of any books that feature a plucky, strong, female heroine. Judging by the cover, with Zita in a black and white space costume with a big “Z” emblazoned on the front and a green patchwork cloak, and surrounded by various adorable and evil creatures, I’d say this book was right up my alley. The only thing I wished I’d known going in was that it was technically the second in a (so far) three part series about Zita. But while the book did make mention of Zita’s previous adventures, I don’t think reading the first book was necessary because this one stands pretty well on its own.

The story is basically about an Earth girl named Zita who somehow (I guess that was probably covered in book one) became a super hero spacegirl for saving a planet called Scriptorius. On a triumphant space tour, a sad, broken little clonebot called an Imprint-o-tron, does some doppleganger robot magic to look like Zita. The Real Zita welcomes this so she can sneak off and be normal for a little bit. So while she sends FakeZita to take her place at a meet n greet, RealZita mysteriously gets tickets to the circus which she attends with her giant mouse friend named Mouse. There she sees the awesomeness that is Lady Madrigal. However, nearby, the imprint-o-tronZita is beginning to get her own ideas and wants to stay Zita, so she manages to boot the RealZita from her ship as it leaves the current planet and take her place on the tour. RealZita, a reluctant heroine, knows that she has to get back to her ship if she has any hope of getting home eventually.

Add to this that these stick figure Cousin It creatures have asked FakeZita to save their planet, and that RealZita’s guardian Piper and some of her travelling companions can kind of tell they’re not dealing with the right Zita, and that the space government is after RealZita because she stole a ship to go after her real ship and you’ve got one helluva madcap space adventure!

I love the way it’s drawn, the assorted fantastical robot and space creatures, but my favorites are Zita, Madrigal, and Piper. I very much want to read more about this whole crew. In the end, FakeZita sacrifices herself to help the stick figure Cousin It clan’s planet by defending it from being attacked by these…evil hearts? Yeah, that happened. And it was adorable.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #44: Bone #5 – Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Bone_Rock_JawThis installment of Bone begins with Smiley and Fone Bone on their trek to bring the baby rat creature to the mountains to reunite him with his clan of stupid, stupid rat creatures. Which I hate, because I want them to keep the rat cub because they could raise him to be awesome instead of the aforementioned stupid, stupid. (I’m not fond of the phrase, per se; it’s a “thing” in the book that the rat creatures make some really questionable choices and get called “stupid, stupid rat creatures” on occasion.) But it makes sense that they should probably get him back to his own people (I guess) and Jeff Smith thinks so, too, so we begin the book there. Also, Phoney has named him Bartleby. Because adorable.

So the boys are running out of food on the trail to the mountains and while taking a nap (well, Smiley and Bartleby take a nap while Fone is reading his favorite book, Moby Dick, because of course.) the two quiche lovin’ rat creatures ambush them. While running from them, they run right into Roque Ja, the mountain lion Master of the Eastern Border. For the first few pages, I thought his mannerisms and speech made him seem remarkably similar in flavor to the dragon. Dry, sly, witty. But it quickly turns out that Roque Ja (or Rock Jaw, as the Bones start calling him) is not on their side. He’s on his side.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the possum kids are joined by the orphan menagerie (as I like to call ’em) Roderick and some forest animal kids whose parents were eaten by rat creatures. Sad. They try to help the Bones and Bartleby get away from Rock Jaw and wind up in a cave that turns out to be an old rat creature temple. Weird. They get ambushed again by the two rat creatures who then all get ambushed by Kingdok, and a chase ensues. However, we learn more about the magic of these parts (read: they’re on a ghost circle) and Kingdok may’ve been a locust hallucination. Y’know, like you do.

Once this all resolves, the rat creatures seem to be making nice and travelling with this madcap little brigade of travellers. They agree, for the sake of working together, to call a temporary halt to eating small mammals like the band of animal kids that make up a good 50% of their group. You know this can’t last long, but it’s heart warming to see. One of my favorite parts was when they decide to start moving again and Smiley sticks his head in one of the rat creature’s mouths saying, “Checking for small mammals. Anybody in there?” Made me giggle.

But danger isn’t far behind, this time in the form of Rock Jaw again. But then danger gets even more dangier when Kingdok shows up again. It’s unclear whether he’s real or a locust hallucination, but it seems he’s real because he and Rock Jaw are talking like Rock Jaw was planning to turn over the group to Kingdok. I’m sure he was thinking there’d be a reward, but turns out when you deal dirty with crooks you gets crooked. Kingdok lunges at Rock Jaw, the merry band of misfits tries to make a run for it…but they’re two short because the rat creatures have reverted back to their true nature and turned on them. Ruh roh. End scene. Er, book.

While there were some amusing parts, and I really love Bartleby and the orphan menagerie, I missed Thorn and the Red Dragon in this one. I kept wondering what was going on with them. I’m sure we’ll get back to them in the 6th book, but being an entire book without them felt weird. However, I loved seeing the rat creatures working with instead of against the main characters for once. I don’t know why, but I keep thinking they’d make good allies. Maybe it’ll go that way eventually. I look forward to finding out.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #43: Bone #4 – The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Bone_The_DragonslayerIn this book of Bone, we find Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Fone Bone travelling to Barrelhaven, and speaking the Inn, the regulars there are slowly changing sides from Lucius to Phoney Bone. On the way to the Inn, Gran’ma gets a bad gitchy (it’s like a paralyzing bad feeling on overdrive…complete with cartoon head bubbles) and they get attached by rat creatures and Kingdok. Kingdok puts a hurt on Gran’ma, which upsets the hell out of Thorn, so she grabs a sword and goes all ninja warrior on him and cuts off one of his arms. GO Thorn! After the battle, Thorn learns more about who she is and what’s happening regarding an uprising with the rat creatures to free the Locust. Thorn gets a bit upset by all this. Understandable. First she finds out she’s a princess, that dragons are real, and now the Locust King’s might be freed…in a ritual that Thorn might be courted for to make happen. She takes off on her own with Fone Bone hot on her heels. They make it to the Inn…after getting through the barricade Phoney had the townspeople had put up.

See, Phoney has now managed to convince the townspeople that dragons are real…and that he’s a dragonslayer. He plays this against their fears, which means they give him lots of stuff to “protect” them. His logic is that since dragons are peaceful, he’ll have an incredibly easy time protecting them and is simply raking in the dough. (Literally in some cases, since the town uses a barter system that includes livestock and food as currency.) Somehow, a random toddler rat creature finds its way into town and Fone and Smiley adopt him (and name him Bartleby…adorable!). They know that rat creatures (no matter how adorable) and people don’t mix, so they come up with a plan to return the baby rat creature to the mountain to his “people.” Meanwhile, the townspeople have decided they want some actual results (re: dead dragon) from the “dragonslayer” they’ve been paying. When Lucius tries to talk sense into them and expose Phoney as living up to his name, the way Phoney turns it back on him is a frustrating yet effective exercise in shaming and manipulation. Phoney concocts a scheme to get out of town an also bring all his new riches with him by saying he’ll go out and slay a dragon, all the while planning to make a break for it and return to Boneville.

Because it’s Phoney, this plan doesn’t go…well, as planned. Things happen, like a dragon showing up and the townspeople urging Phoney to kill him, rat creatures coming to thank Phoney for delivering the red dragon right into their hands (and tied up, to boot!), Thorn getting near her Turning (I’m guessing a coming of age thing where she comes into her powers) and coming to help fight off the rat creatures…and then everybody sees that it looks like the town is one fire because the town is under siege. Oy.

This was a good installment in the Bone series. I loved seeing Kingdok’s arm getting cut off cause i can’t stand kingdok. Meeting the baby rat creature was a definite highlight. I’m glad to see he’s in book 5. Phoney’s infuriating, as usual, and I can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance because he just has to. Seriously. Also, the appearances of the red dragon were quite humorous. I love his snarky, classy aloofness. I picture him being voiced by James Earl Jones were a Bone movie ever to be made. Jeff Smith’s art style continues to amuse and intrigue me and I look forward to the next installment of this wonderful series.