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Book Review: Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health by Joseph Keon

March 31, 2011 4 comments

Cow relaxing on a glass of milk.Summary:
Joseph Keon seeks to combat the cultural myth of dairy being a necessary part of a healthy diet perpetuated by the milk moustache ads with his book citing multiple scientific studies that have been swept under the rug by those being paid by the dairy lobbyists.  Although Keon cares about animal welfare as well (and there is a chapter on the suffering of dairy cows), the book predominantly focuses on debunking multiple myths surrounding human consumption of dairy:  the overly-hyped “need” for calcium, that dairy is good for children, and the idea that dairy prevents disease.  Keon additionally alarmingly shows the various chemical, virus, and bacteria contaminants commonly found in dairy.  Citing multiple scientific studies, he unequivocally demonstrates that contrary to what the dairy industry and government want you to think, dairy is actually bad for your health.

Review:
I’ve been a vegetarian for five years as of January 2011 (working on my sixth year).  I’ve honestly stayed away from books on veganism, because I had a feeling vegans were right, and I could not see myself ever giving up cheese.  How odd that I could give up so many other things I was raised on like bacon, chicken nuggets, etc… but not cheese.  With my recent increased interest in my health, though, I had already decided to cut back on my cheese consumption, so I figured why not give a book on dairy a go.  The first few chapters were definitely pushing the buttons I already subconsciously knew–we don’t need dairy, it’s unnatural to consume the milk of another creature intended for their young, etc….  Where I suddenly found myself nodding along and saying yes, though, was when Keon got into the similarities between how adults and children act about cheese and addicts.  Keon starts the section by clearly defining addiction:

“Addictions are considered diseases because they are out of our control, often so much so that they lead us to behave in ways that are dangerous to our health.  In its most basic definition, an addiction occurs when we are physiologically or psychologically dependent upon a habit-forming substance or behavior, to the point where its elimination from our life may result in trauma or suffering.” Location 721

Keon then goes on to explain exactly what about cheese makes it so addicting when we know it’s bad for us.

“Research has shown detectable amounts of compounds identical to the narcotic opiate morphine in cow’s milk.  Study of the morphine found in milk has confirmed it has identical chemical and biological properties to the morphine used as an analgesic.  A plausible assumption is that all mammals produce this opiate compound to make sure their offspring return to the breast to acquire essential nutrients and to bond with the mother.”  Location 722

Whoa.  So cheese, basically, is morphine.  The chemical that is healthy for a calf to ingest as it causes her to return to the mother for food, comfort, and safety, when consumed by people causes us to return repeatedly in an addictive manner to a substance that is really, almost pure fat.  WOW.  You know those  life-changing moments?  I had one right there.

There are two other sections that are mind-blowing in Keon’s book.  The first deals with multiple first world “diseases” that are often actually allergic reactions caused by prolonged exposure to the allergen–cow’s milk.  When we take all races into consideration, most people are allergic to cow’s milk: 90% of Asian-Americans, 75% of African-Americans, 50% of Latino-Americans, and 25% of Caucasian-Americans (Location 900).  Yet despite these known statistics, the federal government continues to push dairy onto schools at the dairy lobbyists’ urgings.

“The policy of pushing milk upon children in inner-city schools is particularly problematic when we take race into account.  African-American children have a lactose intolerance rate of about 75 percent…..Worse, children who have made the healthful transition to beverages made from rice, soy, or almonds are out of luck when they get to school.  That’s because any public school in America that attempts to serve these beverages in place of cow’s milk will lose its federal support.” (Location 2163)

Being constantly exposed to an allergen in childhood can cause or exacerbate multiple issues such as colic, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, acne, asthma, headaches, Crohn’s Disease, chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, depression, joint pain, and even autism.

Keon also addresses the issue of osteoporosis and breast cancer, two issues of utmost concern for women in particular.  Whereas women are told that drinking milk will help prevent the former and will not be a contributing factor in the latter, the science actually demonstrates both statements to be false.  If a woman follows a typical Western diet, the consumption of that much protein causes her body to become acidic and leech calcium.  Studies have shown that no amount of extra calcium consumed can keep up with the leeching.  This means that consuming three glasses of milk a day will do nothing for a woman following an omnivorous diet.  Add to this the fact that

“Milk has been associated with increased risk for breast cancer, and the combination of pesticides and radiation have been proposed as one possible explanation.” (Location 1816)

When the fact that dairy consumption does not prevent osteoporosis is combined with the association with breast cancer, one is left wondering why there aren’t government campaigns warning women to stay away from dairy to save their lives!  (Oh yeah.  The dairy lobbies.  Money.  It always comes down to money).  Further, studies have shown that

By age sixty-five, women who have followed a meat-centered diet have lost, on average, 35 percent of their bone mass, while women who have followed a plant-centered diet have lost only about half that amount: 18 percent.”  (Location 3195)

I’ve only touched on the surface of the shocking facts backed up by science contained in this book, focusing in on the ones that stuck out the most strongly to me.  If you have any interest at all in your health and/or the health of your children, I urge you to read this book.  Educate yourself on the facts instead of listening to government programs and advertising caused by dairy lobbyists who are only after your money.  Dig for the truth.  Read this book.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

March 30, 2011 2 comments

Flower and butterflies on black background.Summary:
Daisy’s stepmother has convinced her father to send her off to England to live with her aunt and cousins, and Daisy really doesn’t mind.  She hates her life in NYC anyway, and life in the countryside seems like a welcome change.  Her cousins are quirky and fun, and Aunt Penn is sweet and practices a relaxed parenting style.  When Aunt Penn goes away for a work trip, terrorist acts occur in London effectively leaving the kids on their own.  On their own to explore feelings and actions they might not otherwise have felt free to.

Review:
The big rumblings about this YA book is that there is incest in it.  In the grand scheme of shocking incest though, this incest is just….not that shocking.  It’s between two cousins who’ve never met until they’re teenagers.  *shrug*  Plus, the incestuous relationship is really not the main focus of the story at all.  It holds center stage for maybe two chapters.  Two very chaste chapters.  Oh sure, an astute reader knows what’s going on, but there are no lengthy sexual passages.  The most we get to witness is a kiss.  So, this book is really just really not about incest, ok?  If that was keeping you from reading it, don’t let it.  If that’s why you wanted to read it, go read Flowers in the Attic instead.

So what is the story about?  Quite simply, it’s about the impact living in an age of world-wide terrorism has on young people.  On their perceptions, decisions, morals, and more.  As someone who was only a sophomore in highschool when 9/11 happened, I feel safe in saying that Rosoff depicts the experience of a young person growing up in this world very well.  The mixture of relaxing and having fun while the adults panic around you with nights of fear are perfectly woven.

Daisy’s voice is wonderful to listen to.  She’s an appealing, funny narrator with an acute wit.  She is truly someone to like and root for.  Similarly, her female cousin, Piper, who she becomes a pseudo-parent to, is extraordinarily interesting and appealing.  In fact, I’m hard-pressed to name a character who isn’t well-rounded.

Unfortunately, all of these positives about the book come to a crashing halt at the end.  All I can tell you without spoiling the ending is that Rosoff did not take her themes as far as I was hoping she would take them.  In my opinion, she copped out, and I was sorely disappointed.  The ending reads almost like the beginning of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and I was just left feeling as if Daisy and her cousins had let me down.  What could have been an extraordinary book became just average.

Thus, if you are looking for a YA take on the impact life with terrorism has had on the younger generation, but aren’t expecting anything mind-blowing, you’ll enjoy this book.  If what you’re after is shocking YA, however, look elsewhere.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

March 28, 2011 5 comments

Blue book coverSummary:
Billy Case used to be the best cowboy in the matrix–the digital world you plug yourself into.  But then he pissed off the wrong boss who had his neurons fried so he can’t jack in anymore.  Case has been biding his time waiting to die in Japan, until a mysterious woman named Molly shows up.  She’s tricked out with blades that emerge from under her fingernails and sunglasses built into her skull.  She says her boss has a job for Case and will fix his neurons, beginning the adventure of Case’s life.

Review:
This is a good example of how to effectively drop a reader into a completely unfamiliar world and explain nothing and yet have enough make sense for the reader to be invested in the outcome for the characters.  Gibson doesn’t explain much to the reader, and yet what doesn’t make sense eventually clicks into place if the reader is persistent enough in the reading.

The settings vary from a creatively imagined future Japan to a Rastafarian space station to what is essentially Miami in outer space.  They are all immediately engrossing and intriguing.  What led the world to develop this way in Gibson’s imagination?  That is never entirely clear, but that’s part of the fun.  After all, when is it ever entirely clear why the world works out the way it does?

By far the most interesting character is Molly.  Like a Whedon heroine, she kicks ass and takes no names.  She is not just brains or brawn; she is both.  Case pales abundantly in comparison to her, and he knows it.  Although they do hook up, he states that Molly could never really be anyone’s woman.  She is her own.  Molly’s life is incredibly more interesting than Case’s, and perhaps one of the more frustrating parts of the book is that we only get to see of her what Case gets to see.  The book is not about her; it is about Case’s experiences with her.  Yet that is also what makes the book intriguing.  She flits into and out of Case’s life and yet will linger forever in his memory as someone significant.

Of course, I would be remiss to review this classic piece of scifi without mentioning the impact its imaginings of the internet would have.  Obviously there is the matrix and plugging in concepts.  The idea of the internet as something that you participate in in a 3D manner.  The concept of AI as a computer rather than as a robot.  The list goes on and on.  If you’re a scifi fan and have not read this book, you really need to.  It is clear from page one what an impact Gibson has had on the genre.

The plot itself is convoluted and confusing.  I’m still not entirely sure I understand exactly what happened.  Yet I’m also not sure Case understands exactly what happened either.  This is one of the few times I’ve finished a book and instantly wanted to re-read it, hoping to understand it a bit better the second time around.  Yet such a convoluted plot is a bit distracting when there is so much else wonderful going on.  It holds the book back from being superb.

Overall, this piece of classic scifi is an interesting character study and immersion in a different world.  It would be interesting to anyone who enjoys that type of experience in their reading, but is also a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a scifi fanatic.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: SwapTree

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Book Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Person in white hallway.Summary:
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.”  These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities.  The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit.  Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.

Review:
The entire concept of this book intrigued me as it is clearly a dystopia whose focus is on the older generations instead of teenagers and young people.  The concept itself is of course frightening to any of us who have come to grips with the fact that some day we will be elderly too.  This dystopia is also unique though in that it examines the possible future movement of Swedish society, which is vastly different from American society.

The writing is entirely from the perspective of Dorrit.  Although it is clear she is writing from some point after the events occurred, Holmqvist eloquently allows her voice to change to reflect her changing ideas on society, her friends, her family, and her own life.  When Dorrit first arrives in the unit, she attempts to defend herself saying that women used to be raised to be independent instead of with such a high focus on producing children that will add product to the GNP.  It’s not as if she didn’t want a partner, she did, but it didn’t happen.  So why is that her fault?  Deeper issues are addressed too such as why does only a new family unit count and not siblings?  What about pets?  Don’t they need us?  The vast implications of such a focus on interpersonal relationships found in the traditional family unit are subtly addressed.  What type of people tend to be alone family-less by the age of 50 or 60?  One resident in the unit’s library, for instance, points out that

“People who read books…tend to be dispensable.  Extremely.” (Page 26)

Of course the setting of this dystopia also brings up other interesting issues that Holmqvist handles quite well.  The dystopian setting allows the author to address the perpetual loss of friends that the elderly face as well as seeing themselves and their friends sicken mentally and physically.  Placing it in a society in which this is exacerbated by science naturally gives it another level as well as a welcome distance for the elderly reader.  This of course is a large part of what makes this dystopia different from the typical YA version.  Instead of dramatizing the challenges young people typically face such as their world widening and new knowledge being imparted, this one shows how the world becomes smaller and acceptance that it’s too late to change the world becomes the norm.

Perhaps the most universally interesting issue this dystopia addresses is how much the individual should be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.  The residents in the unit are constantly being told that their discomfort in an experiment could improve the lives of hundreds of needed people.  Or that they should be perfectly fine with “donating” one of their corneas and going half-blind if it means that a nurse with three children can remain a contributing member of society.  While some of the residents grow resentful of this concept, referring to the unit as a free-range organ farm, Dorrit finds leaning on this perceived value helps her with her depression in the unit.

“Otherwise I would feel powerless, which I essentially am, but I can cope with that as long as it doesn’t feel that way too.” (Page 71)

Clearly this book makes one think not just about the issues the elderly face but also about how society as a whole treats them and makes them feel.  It also firmly addresses just how much individuality and choice it is justifiable to give up for the greater good.  The ending completely shocked me and has left me with even more to ponder than the points given above, but I want to leave those for the future reader to discover.

I am incredibly glad this work was translated into English, and I highly recommend it to everyone, but especially to dystopia and scifi lovers, as well as those interested in sociology and psychology.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

March 23, 2011 2 comments

Red cover with part torn out revealing a person on a street.Summary:
In classic noir style, Higashino tells the tale of a mathematician, Ishigami, and a physicist, Yukawa, facing off utilizing only their brilliant minds in a quest to save someone they each love from a life of tragedy.  Simultaneously a story of love and betrayal amped up with academia and set against the quintessential backdrop of gritty Japanese city streets–not to mention a lunch box restaurant.

Review:
I fully admit that I put myself in to win this book purely because it’s Japanese literature, and I’m trying to expand my reading horizons to include more non-western lit.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see so many classic noir elements present in this modern day detective mystery.  Noir is one of my favorite genres and adding in the touches of Japan gave it a really fun twist.

It takes a bit for the story to get going and to get into Higashino’s writing style.  The sentences lean toward shorter in length than I’m used to.  Once I became used to the length difference though I really got into the different type of flow shorter sentences give to a piece of writing.  Naturally, this could partly be due to it being a work in translation, but good translators try to give foreign language readers a sense of the original author’s style.  I hope the translator succeeded in this regard, because this different style helped give this noir story an extra push in uniqueness.

The mystery itself is nearly impossible to completely solve before the final solution is revealed.  The final solution also contains some serious betrayal and an emotional scene that reminded me a bit of some Japanese cinema I’ve seen.  So intensely shocking and gritty and occurring in the very last few moments of the story.  It moves the story up from a fun way to pass the time to a memorable tale.

The pacing is a bit off, however.  Intensity speeds up and slows down repeatedly making it difficult to be totally sucked into the story.  A few edits would probably solve this problem leaving the same basic tale but without any unnecessary diatribes.  Some may not find the pacing variety as distracting as I did, however.

This Japanese noir piece is artfully pulled off and leaves the reader guessing to the very end.  I recommend it to noir and Japanese literature fans alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won from EarlyReviewers via LibraryThing

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Book Review: My Abandonment by Peter Rock

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Toy horse on forest floor.Summary:
Thirteen-year-old Caroline lives in Forest Park with her father.  They have to be very quiet and careful because regular folk don’t understand why they want to live like they do.  They even have to keep away from the other men that live in the park too.  Caroline doesn’t mind this way of life.  In fact, she prefers it.  She likes being out in nature and learning everything she can from her father and from encyclopedias and library books.  She even doesn’t mind fasting on Fridays.  You get used to it.  One day though, she makes a mistake.  Will it change her and her father’s way of life forever?

Review:
What makes this book is the surprise, which I refuse to give away in my review.  At first, I admit, I was a bit bored with the story.  It felt like a less-interesting version of Room, only with a boy instead of a girl and the pair living set off from society willfully.  When the twist came I was frankly shocked, and it set my mind reeling about the whole story.  To this moment I cannot stop thinking and re-thinking about Caroline’s life.  How her raising affected her and whether or not this is a bad thing.

I do think that Rock takes a bit too long to reveal the twist.  I was losing patience for a solid while before it came around.  Perhaps more clues should have been dropped earlier on or something to keep the reader guessing that perhaps not everything is as it seems in Caroline’s life.  Additionally, the writing style in the first few chapters is an odd mix of intelligent and irritatingly simple.  It is Caroline speaking, but she’s also an intelligent 13.  This whole facade is dropped within a few chapters, so I see no reason to start the book out in that manner.  It was a bit off-putting.

Overall, however, it does turn out to be a unique story.  More importantly, it leaves the reader questioning what she thinks she knows about the world and alternative ways of living.  I recommend it to fans of contemporary literature featuring a twist.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler (Series, #1)

March 21, 2011 4 comments

Scales on a black background.Summary:
Lisabeth Lewis thought it was just a nightmare.  Death coming to her when she tried to commit suicide with her mom’s antidepressants and offering to make her Famine–one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse–instead of letting her die.  It’s just all way too ironic, her as Famine.  After all, she’s fat.  She has to watch what she eats very carefully.  The Thin voice tells her all the time exactly how many calories each bit of food is and how much exercise it’ll take to burn it off.  Yes.  Lisabeth Lewis is fat.  So why would Death assign Famine to her anyway?

Review:
When I heard the concept of this new YA series–each horseman of the apocalypse representing and dealing with a mental health issue relevant to teens–I was incredibly skeptical.  Writing about mental illness in a way that teens can relate to without talking down to them as well as in a responsible manner is difficult enough without having a fantasy element present.  Toss in the fantasy and I was worried this would either read like one of those old 1950s cautionary films shown in highschools or would miss dealing with the mental illness entirely.  Boy was I wrong.  Kessler has found such a unique, creative way to address a mental illness yet cushions it in the fantasy so that it isn’t too in your face.  It’s the ideal scenario for teens reading about it, but it’s also enjoyable for adults.

The fantasy element is very tongue-in-cheek.  It strongly reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in style.  For instance, Death resembles a heroin-chic dead rock star, and he speaks in  a mix of classic English and mocking teen speak to Lisa.

“Thou art Famine, yo,” Death said.  “Time to make with the starvation.” (Location 661)

It quickly becomes apparent that Death and the Horsemen aren’t entirely what they initially seem to be.  Indeed, they seem to function to get Lisa out of her own head and problems and to look at the greater world around her.  She literally travels the world on her horse and sees real hunger, and it affects her.  It doesn’t make her feel guilty for being anorexic, but it makes her want to be better so she will be strong enough to help others.  That’s a key element of any mental illness treatment.  Getting the person to see outside of themselves, and Kessler has personified it through the Four Horsemen.

She, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and anorexic and suicidal and uncertain of her own path–she’d done something that mattered.  She’d ignored her own pain and had helped others.  Maybe she wanted to live after all.  (Location 2007)

Of course the non-fantastical passages dealing with Lisa’s anorexia and her friend’s bulimia are incredibly realistic.  If they weren’t, the book would immediately fail as the whole thing would ring false to the teens reading it.  Her anorexia is dealt with as a very real thing even as the Four Horsemen are presented as either truth or hallucinations of her starved mind.  This is key.  The anorexia cannot be presented as an element of fantasy.

I was concerned the ending would be too clean-cut.  I won’t give any spoilers, but suffice it to say, Kessler handles the ending in a realistic, responsible manner.  There are no easy solutions, but there are solutions to strive for.

Overall, Hunger takes the incredibly real problem of anorexia and presents it with a touch of fantasy to help bring the reader not only into the mind of the anorexic but also outside of herself to look at the bigger picture.  It is an inspiring, fresh take on YA lit dealing with mental illness, and I highly recommend it to fans of YA lit as well as those interested in literature dealing with mental illnesses.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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