5 star reviews, Book reviews, Health, Sustainability, vegan

The Vegan Starter Kit by Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

5/5 stars

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IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS INTERESTED IN BEING VEGAN, THIS IS A GREAT BOOK!

I don’t give many 5 out of 5 star ratings, but this was definitely a FIVE STAR.  Neal D. Barnard is a physician and he recommends a vegan diet.  I have been looking for someone in the medical field who would look at a vegan diet from the perspective of a more traditional medical background. I wanted to see if someone who had that background would agree with the holistic nutrition community on veganism. Dr. Barnard feels a vegan diet can be healthy if people take the time to understand their nutritional needs.

I have been a vegetarian for 30 years.  Last summer, my daughter introduced me to Ellen Fisher and Hannah McNeely and through watching their videos, I started to really think about and look at and research vegan diets.  I don’t particularly enjoy eggs, but I forced myself to eat them for protein so giving them up was not difficult.  I thought it would be difficult to give up cheese, but it has not been at all.  I have not experimented much with vegan cheeses, but I have bought a few non-dairy ice creams and sorbettos and they are AMAZING!!! So, when I saw this book, I thought: THIS IS FOR ME!!

This book is great for anyone who is considering a vegan diet or someone who is already vegan.  Dr. Barnard presents things in an easy to read format.  The book starts by explaining what veganism is and then all of the health benefits: heart disease reverses, cholesterol levels improve, cancer risk falls, diabetes and high blood pressure improve, painful conditions improve because of less inflammation in the body and you reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  Since Dr. Barnard has gone to medical school, he is able to really explain why these things happen on a vegan diet.

I absolutely love the way this book is written.  It is so easy to understand.  Dr. Barnard gives suggestions for eating a vegan diet while pregnant and he gives information on raising vegan children.  He also explores the myths surrounding veganism.  One thing that Dr. Barnard stresses throughout the book is the importance for vegans to take a B12 and a D vitamin supplement.  I thought this was one of the best books I have read on veganism.

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4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, Women's Fiction

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

4.5/5 stars

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I heard so many good things about this book from book bloggers and on Bookstagram, that I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did because I LOVED it!!

Stella has high-functioning autism. She is super smart, from a wealthy family and makes a lot of money, but she doesn’t like people touching her and her mom would like her to get married and have babies. She realizes that she has to get over her aversion to being touched, so she hires a male escort.

Stella hires Michael Phan. Michael is an escort, he’s half Vietnamese and half Swedish, he works out a lot and has a dragon tattoo wrapped around his body. He’s hot and he knows what he is doing in the bedroom. He is also very kind and patient with Stella and he takes time to figure her out and really help her.

Michael’s dad abandoned their large Vietnamese family and Michael has a lot of issues because of it and a lot to work through. But he is such a great hero!

Here is why I LOVED this book:

Excellent, well developed characters

A great story

I learned A LOT about high-functioning autism. I have several friends that have autistic children and I have heard that when you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person; everyone is different, there is no way of saying that all autistic people are the same or have similar traits and characteristics. I loved learning about Stella and at times, I saw myself in her. I think we are all on the spectrum, some just more on the autism side than others.

Also, I LOVED The Author’s Note. I loved learning the story behind the book and why Helen Hoang wrote it. I loved learning more about Helen Hoang and how she she made herself vulnerable and got personal with her readers.

I can’t wait for The Bride Test, Helen Hoang’s new book out in May 2019!

Book reviews, Non-fiction

Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy

Edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt

From the Publisher:

OUR PRINCE OF SCRIBES: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, publisher  University of Georgia Press.

The book came out September 18, 2018, and features more than 65 essays and remembrances of the beloved southern author who passed away in 2016 from pancreatic cancer. The editors are Nicole Seitz, an author from Conroy’s Story River imprint, and Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. Other contributors include: Rick Bragg, Patti Callahan Henry, Mary Alice Monroe, and many others.

New York Times best-selling writer Pat Conroy (1945-2016) inspired a worldwide legion of devoted fans numbering in the millions, but none are more loyal to him and more committed to sustaining his literary legacy than the many writers he nurtured over the course of his fifty-year writing life. In sharing their stories of Conroy, his fellow writers honor his memory and advance our shared understanding of his lasting impact on twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary life in and well beyond the American South.

Conroy’s was a messy fellowship of people from all walks of life. His relationships were complicated, and people and places he thought he’d left behind often circled back to him at crucial moments. The pantheon of contributors includes Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg and Kathleen Parker; Grammy winners Barbra Streisand and Janis Ian; Lillian Smith Award winners Anthony Grooms and Mary Hood; National Book Award winner Nikky Finney; James Beard Foundation Award winners Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart; a corps of New York Times best-selling authors, including Ron Rash, Sandra Brown, and Mary Alice Monroe; Conroy biographers Katherine Clark and Catherine Seltzer; longtime Conroy friends Bernie Schein, Cliff Graubart, John Warley, and Walter Edgar; Pat’s students Sallie Ann Robinson and Valerie Sayers; members of the Conroy family; and many more.

Each author in this collection shares a slightly different view of Conroy. Through their voices, a vibrant, multifaceted portrait of him comes to life and sheds new light on the writer and the man. Loosely following Conroy’s own chronology, the essays in Our Prince of Scribes wind through his river of a story, stopping at important ports of call. Cities he called home and longed to visit, along with each book he birthed, become characters that are as equally important as the people he touched and loved along the way.

My Thoughts on the Book:

I remember going to see “Prince of Tides” in the local movie theater with my mother when I was in high school. She had read the book and was so excited for the movie. We both loved it. I did not actually read any of Pat Conroy’s books until many years later, but that had been such a beautiful introduction to his work.

I find it difficult to “review” a collection of essays, each essay is so different. This is a lovely tribute to a man whose work influenced many people – writers and non writers alike.

I learned a lot about Pat Conroy from this book and it was organized in a way that I did not expect. It started with people who were able to tell stories about him when he was young and took you through his career. I was touched at how many people knew him and wrote essays for this book. Each person seemed to actually have known Mr. Conroy and were not just writing about his influence on them as a writer, but also his influence on them as a person. He was a beautiful man, which I guess should not come as a surprise, because how could someone write such beautiful, touching novels if they were not a kind, inspiring, good person?

I also learned a lot about Southern culture and how tight the community of Southern writers can be. Pat Conroy was a good friend to many, always there to lend an ear or a hand. He was the kind of friend that you could just pick up where you left off, even if you had not spoken for a while; but he did make a point to stay in touch with his many friends.

I came away from this book thinking that he lived his fiction. His fictional characters and the way I felt reading his books were what he exuded in life. What a beautiful legacy to leave.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, Women's Fiction

My Favorite Half-Night Night Stand by Christina Lauren

4/5 stars

After reading Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth, I wanted to read something light and fun and easy. This book was just the ticket!

Millie is a college professor and she has a group of male college professor friends, one of whom, Reid, she find attractive, but she won’t admit that even to herself. When a college event is announced, the group of friends decides they all need a “plus one” and they all join a dating website. At first, Millie gets all the creepy weirdos, then she makes another profile using her middle name and is matched with the friend she is attracted to, she tries to give him hints that it is her using her typical joking fashion, but as smart as these PhDs are, they are socially inept and it’s a funny, cute story.

There is quite a bit of sexual situations in this book, so it’s not for people who don’t like that kind of thing in their books. But if you are looking for a light, fun read…this is a great pick!

4 star reviews, 4.5 star reviews, 5 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, thriller, Women's Fiction

My Top Ten Books of 2019 + Honorable Mentions

I saw a lot of book bloggers and bookstagrammers doing this and I thought it would be fun. I learned a lot about what I like to read during the process. I like books that stretch me and challenge my views and make me think.

My favorite books this year:
🥂
The Wife by Alafair Burke– This was my first book by Alafair Burke and I look forward to reading more. This book kept me guessing and I never could have predicted that ending!
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Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering – reminded me of what it was like to be in college and willing to do anything to be liked. I also had an eating disorder and was prone to self-destructive behavior at that time in my life.
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Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia – I fell in love with the outside-the-box thinkers and the rebel heroine and the Boundary Waters. I loved this story that kept me literally on the edge of me seat.
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Bonfire by Krysten Ritter – This book was like Erin Brockovich meets Mean Girls – the factory in town is poisoning people, the main character is assigned to check it out and encounters all the popular people from high school who are still acting like its high school. There is also a sweet romance.
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Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala – this book blew my mind and made me rage and cry and understand life for a smart, successful African immigrant who is gay and from a conservative family. This book challenged me in all the best ways.
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Only Child by Rhiannon Navin – the aftermath of a school shooting and how it effects one family. This felt real to me because we are not perfect in our life or our grief.
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The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy– this book reminded me of what it was like to be a new mother; it reminded me of the solid group of mom friends that I had when my girls were little. The ending was a surprise.
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Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jenny Worth – I LOVE this show and the book gets into more details about the people and what the East End of London was like in the 1950s. 🥂
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – this book showed me what racial profiling FEELS like.
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How to Walk Away by Katharine Center– all the feels and inspiration. There is so much about the human experience in this book. She is left by her fiance when she is in the hospital after becoming paralyzed in an accident that was her fiance’s fault, her fiance’s mother-in-law needs some throat-punching, there is a whole thing with her sister and a lot of sexual tension with her physical therapist.

I had a REALLY hard time narrowing it down to just TEN BOOKS, here are a few more that I REALLY enjoyed:

Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult – this book made me think, it made me see things from perspectives other than my own (as most of Jodi Picoult’s books do) and I love to understand different points of view and challenge my own.
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One Day in December  by Jodi Silver – Love is all around us. I loved this book. It felt real to me. Just seeing someone on the bus and falling in love and having it be easy wouldn’t seem real, but the way this story unfolded felt real and beautiful and at times it ripped my heart out.
🥂
Winter in Paradise by Elin Hildebrand- after four glorious Christmases with the Quinn family, I didn’t think I could get as into a new family, but Irene is my mom-if-adult-kids role model, I love Huck and Ayres and I am Team Cash all the way. This book had me feeling all the feels and immersing myself in another family’s woes.
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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – As a child of the 70s who grew up watching Mountain Family Robinson and Grizzly Adams, I’ve always had a part of me that wanted to live off-the-grid and this book gave me a taste of what that might be like. Along with a beautiful love story.
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Watching You by Lisa Jewell – I know this has not been popular, but I loved it. I loved the characters and I found the ending unpredictable. 🥂
Did you read any of these? What did you think?

Personal

Christmas Break

I have heard it said that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is sacred and indeed, it does feel that way. Everything feels quieter and more peaceful (or maybe it’s just that we never turned on the news). We relax, stay in our jammies all day. We make big elaborate meals. We visit with family and friends.

When the girls were little, we would put together toys that needed to be put together and play with them with the girls. Now we play board games and read. I read three books over the last two weeks.

Jason and I both love yoga, but we rarely practice together as he likes to get up at 4:30am to practice and I don’t go to sleep until 11:30pm or later. But, we try to always do a yoga routine together on holidays. On New Year’s Eve we did Yoga with Kassandra’s Winter Solstice Practice and on New Year’s Day we did Partner Yoga -Thai Massage.

The very first year we started homeschooling, we got to be good friends with a family that lives about three blocks away, also has two girls and at the time, homeschooled. We invited them over for New Year’s Eve and the girls slept over and a tradition was born. With the exception of the year I had surgery on December 30 and one year where we went to a party at another family’s house, we have had “the homeschool neighbors” over for every New Year’s Eve and every year it has grown a little. But, I am so thankful for this family. The four girls call each other “sister-friends” because they are closer than just friends. They have been through A LOT together. A LOT. Ups and downs. Months of not talking. Huge Fights. Then huge apologies. The “homeschool neighbor girls” went to school several years ago, but opted to homeschool again last year and in the spring will start taking classes at community college on the same days (Tuesdays and Thursdays), same times as my girls.

I am not sure if our New Year’s Eve party will go on again next year. We planned it in November, but as New Year’s Eve got closer, invitations from the girls’ friends started coming in… and two of them accepted the girls’ invitation to come to our house (but didn’t want to be in the photo). But, I know it’s only a matter of time before the girls want to make their own plans for New Year’s Eve…so many changes happening here. 2018 was a year of transition and I have a feeling 2019 will be as well.

5 star reviews, Book reviews, Women's Fiction

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

5/5 stars

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If you like the PBS series that this book is based on, you will love this book. Jenny Lee is from a middle class background, trained as a nurse. She wants to train as a midwife and takes a post at Nonnatus House, a home of Anglican nursing nuns that cared for the poor of the East End of London in the 1950s, after the war and the Blitz, when so much of that area had been destroyed. Many of the tenements had been condemned even before the war, but because of the shortage of housing after so much housing was destroyed in the bombings, families – sometimes 10-12 people – lived in two room tenement apartments in dilapidated buildings in dire need of repair or to be torn down. In the 1950s, there was often only one lavatory per floor of a tenement and all of the people had to share. Few still had communal lavatories in the yard that the entire building shared. This book chronicles the early years of Jennifer Worth’s tenure at Nonnatus House, delivering babies, learning about the people that lived in the area, learning about the experiences of the workhouses, learning how to understand cockney and also growing spiritually. So many of the stories in the first seasons of the PBS series are in this book, in much more detail – Mary, the young Irish prostitute; Molly, the young woman in an abusive marriage whose husband forces her to be “on the game”, her two young children hiding in filth and squalor in the apartment; Mrs. Jenkins, who was forced into the workhouse where her children all died and she still calls for them – they were all real people, those are all true stories.

I was a Downton Abbey devotee, and one Sunday evening, after Downton, PBS aired the first “Call the Midwife”. My aunt had volunteered at the Foundling Hospital in NYC in the 1950s and my mother was trained as a nurse in Queens, NY in the 1960s. Although Call the Midwife was set in a convent in London, England, I felt there was a connection to the many stories I had heard from my mother and my aunt over the years, and I was hooked. My mother and my aunt both watch the PBS series and we often call each other after an episode and have spent many afternoons having lunch or coffee and discussing the show and they do make comparisons to experiences that they had in both the orphanage and working in NYC hospitals.

I love the characters and what seems like a more simple lifestyle in the 1950s. I love the people of the East End – who have so little and yet are, for the most part, so happy and kind. I love the fashions and the way everyone dresses up all the time.

But what I think I react to most about both the show and the book is that it is about women. Women’s work, women’s lives, women’s hopes, women’s dreams, women’s bodies, women’s experiences. It’s very different from other shows in that men are not a big part of the show or book, it’s really about women. The book goes into – sometimes graphic – detail about a woman’s anatomy and it felt so liberating to read about these things we share and yet we would never discuss in polite conversation.

There is definitely both a religious and a political component to this book. Worth enters Nonnatus House as an agnostic and by the end of the book she feels peace when Sister Julienne tells her that she will pray for her and she finds herself revering the practices of the nuns and their prayers. Worth also makes statements about child slavery, sex slavery and explains how prior to the 1900s, most doctors did not see a need for prenatal care or training to deliver babies and as a result, many mothers and newborns died, their lives thought to be expendable.

My mother read these books in the summer of 2017 and kept telling me to read them, too. I kind of wish that I had read them then, when she did so that we could discuss them, but I found this first book in the series a welcome reprieve during the Christmas season when everyone seems so caught up in material things and so far away from the true meaning of the season. It was nice to escape to a world where materialism was absent.

Book reviews

Dressing On the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked) by Jaclyn London

3/5 stars

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As someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet, I order a lot of salads and I usually ask for the dressing on the side.  Partly because I always heard that was healthier and partly because I hate a lot of dressing.  So when I saw this book, I was instantly intrigued.

I like that this book starts by saying that you don’t need to diet just because everyone else is.  I like that it suggests we change the language of dieting and body shaming and body behavior.  I like that it addresses toxic thoughts and suggests ways of healing from all of that.  But it talks a lot about an Information Jungle and in my opinion, this book IS an information jungle.  There is A LOT of information and it goes on and on and on in text and uses very little diagrams and illustrations to show information.  There was no new information, I have seen a lot of books like this.  I am giving it 3 stars because I like the beginning where it suggests healing and changing our self-dialogue and accepting ourselves as we are, but overall I think the book went on too long on some topics and I would have liked to see more illustrations or diagrams to show information.

This book will be released on January 8. I would like to thank Netgalley for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, Cookbooks, plant based, Self Care, vegetarian

Clean Enough by Katzie Guy-Hamilton

4/5 stars

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Katzie Guy-Hamilton is both a pasty chef and a health coach and her approach to eating is to eat clean…most of the time.  And to recognize that there are times when you want a treat and that is ok.  She provides recipes for both clean, healthy, wholesome plant-based meals and tasty treats that still honor your body’s need for nutrition.

I have an eating disorder.  It started as anorexia when I was 12 and, like many people with eating disorders it spirals from anorexia to bulimia.  I wish I could say that I am passed it, but I have had to accept that, for me, it will probably be something I will deal with for the rest of my life.  Although in all honesty, it is nothing like what it was when I was a teenager.  The thing that has made the biggest change for me is focusing on nourishing my body, focusing on vitamins and minerals.  That never occurred to me in the 1980s when I was growing up, it was all about calories, not nutrition.  For me, eating a whole food plant based diet has helped tremendously.  I have read of and spoken to a lot of other people who suffer with eating disorders who have found the same thing: whole food, plant based, the less animal products the better and I actually have a theory that there is something in processed foods that triggers binging and for those of us with eating disorders, after binging comes purging.  But I have no proof of that, it’s purely anecdotal.

I love Katzie Guy-Hamilton’s approach because I think it’s realistic.  I think eating whole food, plant based meals is important to get the vitamins, minerals and protein our bodies need.  But I think we all crave sweets once in a while and having some good recipes for fairly healthy sweets is imperative when those cravings hit.

My daughters and I tried the Cinnamon Carrot Lemonade and found it to be super delicious and refreshing!  I was also really excited to have an actual recipe for Gold Milk because I love ordering it in cafès but I had no idea how to make it.  Also, I am excited for a chai latte that uses rooibos instead of black tea since I don’t do much caffeine!

The granola recipe looks amazing–the ingredients are on my grocery list!  And I am buying apple cider for the overnight oats!  I have made overnight oats many times with almond milk, but never thought to add apple cider and I can not wait to try it!!

There are recipes for things like sumac and gigante beans–which I have never heard of and don’t know where to buy, which is kind of a turn off with cookbooks for me.  But I am excited to try both the Gentle Lentils and the Blistered Miso Sweet Potatoes.

The recipes for treats all look amazing!  I have been trying to eat vegan desserts lately and all of the recipes contain eggs and dairy, but I did earmark a couple for my daughters to try and they look delicious!

I would like to thank Netgalley and The Experiment Publishing for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book reviews

Body Thrive by Cate Stillman

5/5 stars

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I just want to quote this entire book to you because it is honestly amazing!

This book starts with the question: How are you designing your body?

That gave me pause to think.  I have been trying to cultivate healthy habits for years but I never really considered designing my body.

The book then goes on to ask if you will survive or thrive.

The book then goes into the author’s background and how we can start small and open our minds to healthier habits as we age.  It was beautifully and inspirationally written.

Body Thrive is a set of 10 habits that Cate Stillman encourages us to cycle through 4 times a year.  Taking one week to form each habit.

The first habit is to eat dinner at least three hours before bed.  Then there are suggestions of how to do this, what to make, and how it affects our bodies.  The author gives examples from her personal Ayurveda practice and how her clients felt changing their dining habits affected them.

I found the entire book fascinating and my husband and I have made a plan to cycle through the 10 Habits.  We started November 1 when I read the first chapter and we ate dinner at least three hours before bed.  We found we slept better and felt better when we woke up in the morning, we had more energy when we first woke up and didn’t feel as groggy or foggy.

We have since worked through several more habits and found each of them to improve our daily lives and make our bodies feel better.  My husband and I both had a regular yoga practice prior to beginning this program.  I eat an entirely plant based diet, my husband is more of a flexitarian.  My husband meditates and does breathing exercises regularly, whereas I do not but I did start as a result of this program.

If you want to feel better and look better and be healthier, read this book!  It will change your life!!

I would like to thank Netgalley and Sounds True for my copy in exchange for me honest review.

To purchase this book: Amazon