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 #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.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #40: Redemption Song by Bertice Berry

RedemptionSong-BerticeBerryFor as long as I can remember loving to read, I’ve had an affinity for black fiction. It might’ve been rebelling against my dad’s bigoted ways when I was growing up (I’m white, just so’s you know) or my third grade teacher reading every chapter of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to us and me absolutely falling in love with it to the point where it’s still in my Top 10 list of favorite books. It could also be that as a fat kid growing up, I identified in a very visceral way the harshness of being judged solely by the way I looked. No, I’ve never been a slave. But I also didn’t have my parents taken away from me by an evil wizard when I was a baby. Yet I can still empathize with Harry Potter and the loneliness he felt and the choices he faced between being a good and a bad person. You don’t have to go through exactly what someone has gone through to empathize. Though it definitely does help to have gone through your own adversity.

For a relatively short read (178 pages) Redemption Song packed an emotional wallop. It tells the story of adversity: it is written partly in first person by a black slave woman named Iona who has many special gifts (talking to the stars, medicine, cooking, future sight) including the ability to spontaneously write without ever having been taught. She tells her own story, that of her and her love Joe, through the book Children of Grace. The other part of the book is Miss Cozy, the bookshop owner who brings together Fina and Ross. Ross and Fina originally show up at Black Images bookstore (which, incidentally, is a real bookstore in Texas that I now so want to go to someday) to buy the book but Miss Cozy ain’t selling. She, too, has the gift of future sight as well as reading people’s mind’s. She knows she’s supposed to bring these two present day people together via Children of Grace for a very special reason.

I loved all the characters and found myself wishing I could be their friend, the way I usually wind up doing when I read a book I love. I especially loved the element of Fina and how she liked to wear her boyfriend’s shirts. There’s something so sexy about a woman wearing a men’s button down dress shirt. That aspect is woven into the story in surprising ways and I appreciated the hell out of it.

However, there were some places where it seemed like they wouldn’t want to be my friend because I was white. That felt unfair and like reverse racism, but then I had to remind myself a) before I get my knickers in a twist, I was reading a book not dealing with real people, and b) the character were reflective of real people who had gone through a lot at the hands of some very specific people. Very specific people who look like me. If I’d been put down, enslaved, and brutalized only by a certain race of people, I might develop an understandable aversion to them, as well. However, passages like:

From Manny he learned that the most radical thing that he or any other black man could do was to love a black woman, to care for her and restore her to her rightful position in life. To erase the psychological scars of abuse left by slavery, to tenderly wipe away the disappointment from men who said that they’d be there but couldn’t. Black men needed to love black women and their children and raise strong families.


“Yeah, but give a black man a Brooks Brothers suit and a white woman and he will sell his mama,” Fina commented angrily.

“Alright, Ms. Ndegeocello!” Ross said, referring to the singer Fina had quoted.

were hard to take, especially being a woman who married a mixed race man. He’s told me some of the struggle he’s gone through, and it just reaffirms to me that we need to look at each other as people. Not black, white, yellow, pink, grey, whatever….but people. Thankfully, the book does touch on the sad fact that black is not always synonymous with good and white does not always mean evil. It talked about the black folks who turned against their own by selling fellow men into slavery and snitching on people who were trying to escape and also of the white people who helped fight to end slavery and in general treat people like people. And by the end of the book, Iona says as much and instructs her readers that Everybody who looks like you is not on your side. And everybody who don’t is not against you.” Ross and Fina admit this is hard, but are willing to take on the misson that Iona gives them: Learn to love, strive to love, cause we ain’t got time for nothing else.

That love emanates from this book, which was awesome. It’s a love story that spans decades, challenges both the reader and the characters, and teaches us ways to love and open up in the process.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #38: Bone #3 – Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

bone-volume-3-eyes-storm-jeff-smith-paperback-cover-artThe third book in the Bone series gets darker, both in tone and literally in overall color of the story. Two of the main rat creatures are in hiding from their leader, Kingdok. Thorn’s having more nightmares and they’re longer and more detailed, giving her the better sense of her childhood, which Gran’ma Ben gets upset about because she subscribes to the Ignorance is Protected Bliss school of thought. The displaced Bones find themselves split up soon into the book. Smiley and Phoney go with Lucius into town to help work off the damage they did during the great cow race, and Fone decide to stay with Thorn. And therein the darkness begins.

Lucius and the boys get attacked by a herd of rat creatures on the road, Gran’ma Ben learns that Thorn has discovered meaning in her dreams, they get attacked by some rat creatures in the dark, and Thorn learns that she is actually a royal descendant. We learn that the mysterious hooded leader of all rat creatures answers to a strange dark matter, Lucius and Phoney make a wager about the loyalty of Lucius’ patrons and who can run a bar better. And lastly, Gran’ma Ben receives word that things have changed and they need to leave. So Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Fone pack up and set out to end book 3.

While this book gets a bit darker, it’s still by turns compelling and comical, and I really want to know what’s going on with the rat creatures and the hooded person, not to mention the nebulous, sentient blob. Curious, too, to see how things go down in the bar as it looked like the tide was turning for Phoney last we saw. And lastly, I can’t wait to see where Gran’ma Ben, Thorn, and Fone are headed. This story, like the others before it, is charming, mysterious, fun, and even when it gets dark, it’s still brimming with joy.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #37: Bone #2 – The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

Bone The Great Cow Race scThe second installment of the Bone series finds all of the Bones, Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Lucius back in town to get ready for the titular Great Cow Race. Fone Bone is incredibly happy that he gets time with Thorn, until she says she’s in the market for honey…and a cute boy. It’s heartbreaking to see Fone Bone’s cartoon heart bubble actually break and therein is part of the magic of Jeff Smith’s characters, drawing, and writing. I just love these characters, even the ones love to hate, like Phoney Bone…

…Who is up to his usual tricks in this book, trying to fix the results of the Great Cow Race so he can walk off with all the winnings. He works pretty damn hard to get the townspeople to think that Gran’ma Ben is past her prime so people won’t bet on her but instead on the mysterious mystery cow (PSmiley Bone in a comically terrible cow costume). This way, when HE bets on her, he gets all the winnings. He wants Lucius to get in on the action by betting his bar so Phoney can win that, too, but the joke is on him when Lucius gets wind of what’s going on but does bet his bar…on Gran’ma Ben. (Phoney’s jaw hitting the counter of his makeshift bet booth is fantastic!)

Meanwhile, we’re learning more about Thorn’s dreams and that they’re more than likely based on the past. Also, that when she was a little girl, she drew the map the Bones found. With one of my favorite lines in the series so far (“Hello, small mammal.”), the rat creatures find Fone Bone writing “poetries” to Thorn and move to capture him. Fone Bone runs, and in the process, more rat creatures join in the chase and eventually the cows and the rats make one huge mammal melange of chaos. Through all the adversity, guess who wins the race? Gran’ma Ben, bitches!

All in all, it was an enjoyable installment in the Bone series and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a solid story, excellent art, and a good dose of humor throughout. Well, you know, anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #24: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

There are times when a book comes to you just at the right time. For me, this was one of those books. I happened to bring my niece to the library for storytime and after, while she played in the juvenille section, I took a look at the new YA offerings. As a singer and dancer, most images depicting music appeal to me, so the cover of The Lucy Variations, with a girl’s hand on a piano jumped out at me. Yes, I fully admit, I often judge books by their covers. And this one was really pretty and clearly had to do with music. It wasn’t until I read the synopsis that I realized it was also about so much more. Passion. Family pressure. Making choices that you don’t fully know the full scope of until after you’ve made them. Recovering from the aftermath of major life transitions. Waking yourself up to life again. The hunger for attention and the blurred lines we dance around to get it. Yes, this book was so much more than a a sixteen year old girl playing piano. But it does start there. Well…actually, it starts with the death of a piano teacher. Not a spoiler; it’s literally the first scene of the book.

In the opening pages, we’re introduced to Lucy Beck-Moreau, sixteen year old former piano prodigy, and her ten year old brother, Gustav…the up-and-coming piano prodigy. Lucy is trying to do CPR to her brother’s piano teacher and…well, fails. It’s theorized she had a stroke, and that there was “probably” nothing she could’ve done (Jeez, Mr. EMT. Couldja maybe have given her a little reassurance?). From there, Lucy and Gus’s family need to find Gus a new piano teacher that a) is available (duh), b) meets with their grandfather’s limited approval. The latter is actually what proves to be harder, since their grandfather’s musical opinions are harsh and not very inclusive. He’s an affluent codger who thinks performing is only valid if you’re the best or striving to be the best. Even at the expense of family. This type of pressure can get to anyone, especially children, and it’s revealed that Lucy walked away from her budding career less than a year earlier and had never touched a piano since. This garners the wrath of her grandfather and detached disapproval of her mother, making her family life a bit more strained than your average teenager.
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Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #18: Shine by Lauren Myracle

Shine-Lauren-MyracleSmall, Southern town.  Heinous hate crime.  “Shine” by Lauren Myracle tells a horrible, yet necessary story, about many things all at once.  On the surface, and in the very first pages of the book, we are greeted with a stark newspaper clipping that reports 16 year old Patrick Truman is found bound to a gas pump, beaten within an inch of his life, and left to die.  Why?  Well, that’s what his former best friend, Cat, spends the entirely of the book trying to find out.

It looks at first like a hate crime.  Patrick is gay.  “Suck this, faggot” was scrawled in blood on his bare chest and a gas nozzle was taped into his mouth.  It’s horrifying.  It seems very clearly to be a hate crime.  The local Sheriff wants to chalk it up to mysterious out-of-towners gay bashing.  Less effort.  Real shame, and all that.  

Cat knows her small town better.  She knows, at the very least, someone else knows what happened and more than likely that someone she knows probably did it.  She was closer to the truth than I think she was prepared.   Her methods of interrogation and research are unusual, but instinctive and incisive. Mostly.  She over looks things that I figured out about a third of the way into the book because she’s just too close to them.  We also learn why she’s Patrick’s former best friend, and that is whole ‘nother ball of upsetting. Ultimately, though, Cat heals, helps uncover Patrick’s attacker, all while forging slightly better relationships (new and old) in the process.  

A few notes: Cat seemed far younger to me than 16 initially.  Once I was done, though, I realized it was probably exceptional skill on Myracle’s part skill on the part of the author that Cat struck me more as being around 13 or 14 in the beginning.  Given what happened to her and when, it would make sense.  Throughout the book, though, she definitely grows and learns to shine, and by the end I totally believed she was 16.  


Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #13: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Belle-Epoque-Elizabeth-RossHave you ever felt prettier or handsomer when you were around friends that society thought were less attractive? Maybe in your teen years, when it felt like everything came down to how you looked, what you wore, and how popular you were in relation to everyone else. Hopefully, it’s something that you grew out of as you became an adult, seeing that beauty is something that shouldn’t come by comparing yourself to other people and feeling better when you’re seen next to someone “ugly.” Hopefully.

And hopefully, an agency that’s sole purpose is to recruit and employ “ugly” or “plain” looking women in order to rent them out to other women who want to seem better looking by comparison would repel you. Make you think, “thank god we don’t live in France in the 1880’s (which is when Belle Epoque takes place)”. I know it did me. But it also reminded me how many commercials there are about skin creams and procedures that “erase the effects of time,” all the air-brushed photos of celebs that trick us into thinking they’re perfect when they’re anything but that flood the newsstands and internet, and the plethora of hair dye because god forbid one gray hair shows through.

Apparently, the quest for the fountain of youth and enhanced beauty is still alive and well. Which makes this book incredibly topical, regardless of being set in the 1880’s. The story is simple: a sixteen year old, Maude, runs away from home in a small French village to escape being married off to the local butcher, some 25 years her senior who possessed a “dangerous smile.” She goes to Paris to start a new life and winds up at the Durandeau Agency, which hires ugly and plain young women to be “beauty foils” to women of means who want to appear more beautiful by comparison. Maude “gets lucky” and selected by a Countess to be her daughter Isabelle’s new “friend”. The Countess believes that Isabelle will shine next to plain Maude, making it easier for Isabelle to secure a husband of good standing. Isabelle, however, has other plans and the Countess doesn’t count on Maude and Isabelle actually becoming friends.

The way it all plays out was, by turns, predictable (of course there’s going to be a showdown when all these secret plans come to light) and quite intriguing (the aftermath of the showdown surprised the hell out of me). Over the course of the book, Maude’s sense of self and of beauty is challenged, as are her friendships, and her plans for her own future. She is shown to be altogether human and given to treating people badly when she loses sight of What Really Matters, such as loyalty, friendship, being your own person, and acting with courage, even in the face of fear. Thankfully, she learns many a lesson on how to be a better, stronger person and made me proud all over again that I’ve never dyed my hair to get rid of the gray.