Saturday, January 28, 2012

150 Pounds by Kate Rockland

In 150 Pounds, two successful bloggers on opposite ends of the scale face off. Alexis Allbright blogs at "Skinny Chick" and lives by a strict regimen of healthy food and workouts while Shoshana Weiner blogs at "Fat and Fabulous" where she encourages women to be happy at any size. They each personify what the other hates and there seems to be no common ground between them. As they each face major life changes, the beliefs to which they have clung do desperately are challenged and their eyes are opened to the other side of the argument.

 Alexis Allbright is a size zero health fanatic who works out diligently at the crack of dawn and carefully monitors her intake by logging each morsel on her iPhone. She writes at her blog "Skinny Chick" about healthy eating and maintaining your physique. She is righteous in her vilification of all things fat and has thousands of loyal followers. Shoshana has battled weight most of her life as has all members of her family. Although she is thinner than her highest weight, she is still overweight and blogs at "Fat and Fabulous".  She encourages her followers to love themselves at any size and eschews any mentions of diets. When Oprah invites the two successful bloggers onto her show, they face off and do battle over their opposing ideologies. Alexis lobs facts and figures about the dangers of poor eating and excess body fat while Shoshana argues for "fit at any size" and against the unattainable standards of size imposed on women by media.

This topic is all over the media today. There is increasing evidence that the food we eat and lifestyle we lead are at the root of many illnesses - this makes a compelling case for clean eating and maintaining an ideal weight. But at the same time holding up unrealistic body images as ideal and shaming the overweight causes it's own problems ; the "fat and fit" movement asserts that people can be healthy at any size. By putting Alexis and Shoshana at either side of this argument, Rockland brings the issue to life. 

Rockland has created two very real characters in Alexis and Shoshana.  In 150 Pounds, Alexis definitely seems the less sympathetic character mostly because she has such a sharp edge; Shoshana is warm, collects friends easily and gladly takes on those that demonize overweight women. Of course, neither is as one dimensional as their side of the argument or their blog would make it seem. The story in this novel is learning what makes each of these women tick, what drove them to the positions they hold so strongly and whether they have the capacity to change.

 The topic of body image certainly hit home for me and was part of the reason I enjoyed this story so much. In addition, it is set in NYC so many places were familiar and it was interesting to read about two successful bloggers. Beyond all that, it is a fun, light read befitting of its lovely cover!

What do you think about the controversy over "fit at any size"?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Audiobook Review: Shannon by Frank Delaney

Shannon: A Novel of Ireland by Frank Delaney tells the story of Marine chaplain Robert Shannon who returns to the country of his ancestors, Ireland, in search of restoration and recovery. It is 1922 and Shannon has recently returned from WWI where he witnessed atrocities and presided over the last moments of many young soldiers' lives - he is haunted by much of what he saw and what we views as his very passive role as compared to that of the soldiers. In addition to his memories of the war, he is also escaping unthinkable acts within his own Church. As he meanders around Ireland, he searches for a peace he could not capture at home.

Shannon: A Novel of Ireland presents us with Father Robert Shannon, a timid, rather shaken young priest who has been sent to Ireland by his Bishop ostensibly to aid his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder. He instructs Shannon to walk throughout the country and that the walking will heal him. Shannon diligently follows the Bishop's direction and walks along the River Shannon and tries to find his ancestors. Along the way, Shannon encounters an assortment of Irish characters and families and there is a little story told by or with each one. Some of the funniest moments of the book take place with Shannon's encounters with the Irish - the author Delaney's signature humor is best on display in these sections of the book. These meetings are also devices to set historical context - Ireland is descending into its Civil War and the views of each side are worked into the interactions Shannon has along the way. Things get especially interesting when it is clear that Robert is being chased throughout the country and it has something to do with the Church back in Boston and what Shannon may have seen there. As it that weren't enough, Shannon finds a nurse he served with in the war and confronts feelings for her that are forbidden by his vows.

In the hands of a less talented storyteller, the many themes of this of this book could get confusing and fall flat. But Delaney expertly weaves the themes together into a coherent and compelling story that is all the more layered thanks to its many themes. Like I mentioned in my review of Delaney's Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, what can appear as digressions in Delaney's novels are all actually part of the tapestry he is weaving in the true Irish storytelling tradition.

Having read (in paper) another of Delaney's novels, I was already familiar with his talent at storytelling but I had missed out on his wonderful narration. It is easy to see that Delaney was a radio personality - he has a melodious voice that beautifully reads the words of his novel. His lilting Irish accent is perfectly matched to the setting of the book and adds color to each of the Irish personalities Robert Shannon meets on his journey. This charming story and charming narration were perfect companions on many a car ride and walk throughout the city - I will definitely seek out more by the author and may well choose the audio over paper.  

Are there "go-to" authors for you on audio?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott is a cross between a coming of age story and a crime thriller - the result is a quietly disturbing but powerful book. Thirteen year-olds Evie and Lizzie live across the street from each other in an average suburban neighborhood and are best friends. When Evie suddenly goes missing, Lizzie begins to realize her friend didn't share absolutely everything with her. Despite not knowing everything about her best friend, she also may be key in trying to locate her and is strangely thrilled by that power. Lizzie grows up quickly during this search as she realizes life isn't always as it seems.

Evie and Lizzie are practically inseparable and share the things many eighth grade girls do - they go to and from school together, play field hockey and share bathing suits. As is also common between young friends, Lizzie secretly covets the life Evie has with her family. Her older, attractive sister, perfectly turned out mother and fun-loving father make a perfect unit that Lizzie longs to be a part of. She lives with her divorced mother and an older brother who is indifferent to Lizzie - her family life certainly has none of the sparkle of Evie's family. All the more reason to spend as much time as possible with Lizzie and her family. When Evie disappears, Lizzie is certainly anxious about where her friend is and who might have taken her but she also takes the opportunity to slip into Evie's family by offering any knowledge she has about Evie's disappearance. Things get bizarre once Evie is abducted and secrets get exposed one by one.  

My Thoughts

Initially, this book fell flat for me. I felt it moved slowly and I had difficulty connecting with the characters. However, after finishing the book and allowing time to pass, I realize the brilliance of the book is its ability to make a reader uncomfortable and I have a new respect for it. There is a "creepiness" that pervades the story and intensifies as the search for Evie continues. There are hints of inappropriateness but nothing you can really put your finger on. For example, Evie's father talks about how beautiful her older sister is and how many boys must be after her and he encourages her to tell him all about her dates. Is he a fun, open-minded Dad or does he cross some line with his daughter? Lizzie is infatuated by Evie's Dad and as she teeters between girlhood and womanhood her feelings for him swing between innocent admiration and flirtation. My discomfort grew as the book continued and I have since been haunted by the characters and the story (I was similarly haunted by The Lovely Bones). Couple the haunting with excellent writing and you have the explanation for why a book I initially disliked is now a book I would recommend.
Have you every changed your opinion of a book after letting some time pass? Which book?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sunday Salon: Hello 2012!

The Sunday

Happy New Year! Hope you had fun celebrating the exit of 2011 however you choose to mark the end of the year! My New Year's was pretty low key after being out and partying a little too much on the 29th and 30th but I am very happy to be ushering in a new year. After dealing with some health issues this year, I am looking forward to 2012 and committed to making the most of the year! On the reading/blogging front, this was a tough year for me. My stats show I posted 50% as often this year compared to 2010. Constant fatigue meant I wasn't often up to posting in the evening; to be honest, I was having a tough time doing the basics like getting to work so blogging had to take a back seat. I am excited to be feeling better and hope it translates into more regular posting here.  

Along with the slow-down on the blog, I always struggled with some challenges. Again, the energy issue meant I read whatever was easy and accessible so I didn't get to as many challenge books as I hoped. I am signing up for many of the same challenges as in 2010 to give myself another shot at them!

I am also hosting the Immigrant Stories Challenge again this year - if you are still considering challenges, I hope you will join in! You can check out the 2011 Review Link-Up page to see what last year's participants read for the challenge.

Top 11 in 2011
Despite a slow year in blogging, I did read some excellent books this year and I have assembled my top 11 for 2011. Click on the titles in the blurbs for links to my reviews.

First up, Immigrant Stories:

When We Were Strangers: This book chronicles the emigration of Irma Vitale from Opi, Italy to the United States and we see her struggle to fit in within her new country and to forge a life of her own.

Ellis Island: Ellie Hogan leaves Ireland and her love behind to try to earn some money in America. Despite her longing for home and her fiance, she finds success in the US and discovers how much she enjoys her independence. When she returns to Ireland, she is faced with the age old Immigrant dilemma of not fitting in there almost as much as she did not fit into America.  


Where's My Wand? The title of this one still cracks me up and I think it makes a great mantra! The memoir is a coming of age story of a young boy who relies on "magic" to spirit him away when the going gets rough at home or school. His story is honest and endearing.

Devotion This memoir about the author's attempt to find the real meaning in life a belief system with truths that resonate for her. The writing is absolutely beautiful and this book spoke to me throughout - my copy is completely marked up with notes and I bought copies for many of my friends.

Bossypants (review TBD): Not surprisingly, Tina Fey's memoir is laugh out loud funny.  I listened to this one in audio and her delivery of her own lines was spot on and really added to the experience.


Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt: An utterly charming Southern novel. Cee Cee will find her way into heart - I know she did mine!

The Kitchen Daughter: Ginny Selvaggio has just lost both her parents and for the first time she is facing life without their assistance and protection. She has an unusual connection to food and cooking - it provides her comfort and she works through her grief and uncertainty by calling upon her tried and true recipes.

The Secret Daughter : The characters in this book stay with me still.  It tells the story of two families - one in India and one in the US and the daughter that, unbeknown to both of them, unites the families.

You Know When the Men Are Gone: This book made me think differently about the sacrifices made by the military and, most of all, by their families.  It is a collection of short stories which are linked and each tells the story of a member of the military or their families and the effect of war on the homefront for these families.

Faith : Possibly my favorite book of the year.  Check out my review and you will see why.

Dance Lessons : This beautiful novel set in the rugged West of Ireland demonstrates the effects unhappiness and regret can have on entire family when one generation perpetrates their hurt on the next generation.

It certainly was a great year in books and I look forward to much more excellent reads in 2012!  Happy New Year to you and  yours!