Monday, September 17, 2012

Literary Monday - Best of Summer 2012

Since I haven't blogged about what I've been reading since the beginning of summer, I thought I would do a "best of" list for Summer 2012. 

Wheat Belly - Dr. William Davis - Nonfiction.  Recently I came across Wheat Belly, which not only advocates a gluten-free diet, but explains why so many people (as many as 1/3 of the current U.S. population) are gluten-intolerant or sensitive.  The wheat we are eating today has been genetically modified to the point where it virtually unrelated to the wheat we ate prior to 1980.   Dr. Davis maintains that this genetically modified wheat is the cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemics, as well as a host of other medical problems.  To make matters worse, wheat is found in the majority of processed food available today.  I have had frequent migraine headaches for most of my adult life, starting in the 1980s.  In recent years, frequent acid reflux has also been a problem.  I've tried cutting out coffee, eating smaller more frequent meals, eliminating fried foods, not eating after 7 p.m., getting regular exercise, skipping alcohol and carbonated beverages, etc.  Nothing helped very much or worked only temporarily.  It was mentioned to me a while back that I could be sensitive to gluten and might want to try a gluten-free diet for 4 or 6 weeks, which is why I was attracted to this book.  Very well documented and at times a little too scientific for the general reader to grasp, Dr. Davis has nonetheless made a fascinating study of the subject and I strongly recommend it.  And yes, I started on a gluten-free diet last week.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Thriller.  This is one of the few titles that received a lot of publicity over the summer that lives up to the hype.  This is Flynn's third book (after Sharp Objects and Dark Places) and it's her most intricate yet.  The premise:  a young married woman disappears on her wedding anniversary; there has been some unrest in the couple's marriage; a struggle has obviously taken place in the living room of their house; the husband is suspected of having committed some violent act against his wife.  I spent a lot of the book wondering who was lying, what was true, who was the good guy/bad guy, and how were certain things accomplished.  While the ending wasn't totally satisfying for me (I like the bad guys to get what they deserve in a more obvious way), it made perfect sense given the relationships of the characters.  It will keep you turning the pages.

Go Down Together: the True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde - Jeff Guinn - Biography.  Anyone who has seen the wonderful movie with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty should read this bio!  The movie got a lot of stuff right, but also got some stuff wrong (especially about Bonnie and Clyde's sexual relationship and Clyde's ability or inability to perform - a number of Clyde's former girlfriends said no problem there!).  Guinn collected a lot of information from and about both families and delved into Bonnie and Clyde's separarte and collective histories.  There is so much more to know about the infamous pair, and even though you know how it's going to end, it made for an interesting and enjoyable read.

Full Body Burden - Kristen Iversen - Nonfiction.  From the 1950s until 1992, the Rocky Flats Plant located just outside Denver, Colorado, manufactured plutonium detonators for nuclear weapons.  The plateau where the plant was located was known for its constant high winds, so high that the cars of the people who worked at the plant often had a sand-blasted appearance from the swirling winds.  The plant  spewed radioactive waste into the surrounding air, water supply, and ground soil for decades, and the strong winds carried the radioactive particles as far as Denver and Boulder.  People living in the surrounding communities, as close as three miles away, had no idea what was being produced at Rocky Flats - many people believed the plant made cleaning products since it was operated by Dow Chemical for a time.  The author's family lived in one of the nearby communities, which she describes as a kind of paradise while growing up, which children riding their horses and dirt bikes in the open country near the facility, and swimming in the lakes and ponds where much of the waste from Rocky Flats ended up in the sediment.  She discusses the high rate of cancer and other diseases, including within her own family.  A real eye-opener to the hazards of toxic waste, the problem with disposal, and the government's lack of control or interest in handling these materials in a safe manner and looking after the people affected.

Shades of Milk & Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal - Fiction.  What if Jane Austen wrote a book about one of her usual social situations, except that magic was a normal part of life?  That's exactly what the author has done here.  Set in an English country house, sisters Jane and Melody live a comfortable if somewhat predictable life.  Older sister Jane is plain and on the edge of spinsterhood, but accomplished in music, painting, conversation, and "glamour," the art of subtlely enhancing reality with magic to achieve a more pleasing aspect.  Younger sister Melody is the unquestionably the family beauty, but because of her beauty, she has never done more than dabble in any of the social graces at which her sister excels.  All of the conflicts and social situations pas that you would expect in an Austen novel are here.  Great fun.  The sequel is Glamour in Glass.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal - Mystery.  First in a series about a young woman living in London during World War II, who takes a job as a typist in the Cabinet War Rooms under Winston Churchill.  Great descriptions of life in war time including rationing, building your own bomb shelter, and lots little known facts (did you know that many of the dogs living in London were put down during the war, because the government was afraid that the Germans would monitor their barking and base their bombing patterns on it?  Pretty lame, if you ask me.).  Fun, interesting, and fast-paced.  The next book in the series is Princess Elizabeth's Spy, due to be released later this year.

Until Tuesday - Luis Carlos Montalvan - Nonfiction.  The author is an Army captain and a veteran of the Iraqi conflict suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following several head injuries in addition to back injuries.  He tells the story of finding his service dog Tuesday, a beautiful Golden Retriever who has issues of his own including abandonment.  A wonderful eye-opening book about the effect of war on the people who serve in the armed forces; how service dogs are helping these veterans return to a normal life; and the social issues that continue to plague the disabled (such as bus drivers refusing to allow service dogs on public transportation), but also a beautiful story about the bond between a man and his dog.

In the Shadow of the Banyan - Vaddy Rattner - Fiction.  Based on the author's childhood experiences in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime where anyone perceived as wealthy, educated, or even thoughtful was at risk of being executed or sent for "re-education."  Her family were part of a very minor branch of Cambodia's royal family, but the majority of the family died in the Cambodian genocide.  Only the author and her mother escaped.  Not a happy book, but fascinating and hard to put down.

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