Category Archives: Book Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Book Review

Cover of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta ...

Cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an unbelievable story that happens to be true. In the 1950s, a black woman was dying of cervical cancer.  She went to Johns Hopkins hospital for treatment in their segregated ward.  While receiving treatment, part of her cancerous cervix was cut and kept by a doctor.  The cells of this cutting were observed and found to be…wait for it…immortal. It is not a joke. Those cells are still alive today and are known as HeLa cells. They are alive and multiplying. And HeLa cells have been the basis for many of the cures that we know today such as polio and invitro-fertilization. But the family of the woman, whose cells were used and re-used for generations, did not know and did not consent. For that matter, the woman herself, one Henrietta Lacks, did not consent to have her cells researched. She may have said yes, had she ever even been asked.

This book traces the facts and the people surrounding the discovery and use of the famous HeLa cells, but most importantly, this book tells Henrietta’s story. The book begins by telling the reader that everything in it is true. That is a daunting statement, but it is verified throughout the book. Many times a true story lacks the flourish of a fiction, but that is not the case with this book. Not only will “cell culture” be revealed to the reader, but also a tender rendering of Henrietta and her family.  Her family is fully-fleshed as characters with flaws and compassion and most of all, humanity.  This book is a compelling read and should be something anyone who has benefited from HeLa cells should know about.


Fall on Your Knees: Book Review

Ann-marie MacDonald's "Fall On Your Knees...
Image by wynlok via Flickr

Fall On Your Knees is a whirlwind book. The plot has so many twists and unexpected events that it can give your brain whiplash.  That said, maybe your brain needs a little whiplash. The book is certainly refreshingly unpredictable. 

The book centers around one family living in Canada from the early to mid 1900s.  The parents, James and Materia Piper, have a complicated relationship at the best of times. Their daughters are the true stars of the story. Beginning with the luminescent Kathleen with the voice of an angel and the glittering quality of a star and also a yearning for something more, MacDonald weaves a story that is equally character- and plot driven. Her characters are so moving and fully fleshed, that when you finish the book, you might mourn the loss of them. Yet MacDonald isn’t too attached to the characters that she doesn’t allow the story to flow in painful and shocking directions. 

This book isn’t for the faint of heart as it has controversial and sometimes horrid events in it. It is still, despite that, a powerful and compassionate story of a family torn apart and in the end, somehow patched together again.


The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography – Book Review

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

by Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier is an unparalleled talent on the Hollywood screen with amazing movies such as Lilies of the Field (for which he was the first African American to win an Oscar), To Sir, With Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. His “spiritual autobiography” is essentially a journey through his life that emphasizes his thoughts even more than his actions.  It begins with the idyllic Cat Island where Poitier was born and lived in childhood.  The island has a magical quality and the chapters dedicated to it are also magical.

Cover of "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritu...

Cover via Amazon

Poitier’s family’s move to Nassau brought with it the promise of a job, but also the poison of racism.  Poitier will then immigrate to Miami where racism plays a major role in his move north to New York City.  He will find his biggest enemy to be the winter that his Caribbean blood is unprepared for.

Throughout the book, Poitier offers spots of wisdom based usually on his experiences.  One such gem is:

“…I’ve learned that I must find positive outlets for anger or it will destroy me. I have to try to find a way to channel that anger to the positive, and the highest positive is forgiveness.”

The book does tend to become a stream-of-consciousness mental conversation towards the end that frankly, is rather tedious.  Poitier’s charm as a writer comes through his stories and what he learns from them.  Whenever he veers from that, the writing weakens.  The memoir feels like a conversation with an interesting and intelligent man and is a conversation worth enjoying.


The Last Lecture: Book Review

As promised, here is my second guest post! Shannon is a mother, wife artist and teacher. She blogs about maintaining an attached parenting style while working full time on her blog The ArtsyMama.  She also contributes to Natural Parents Network and Everything Cloth.

The Last Lecture
by Randy Pausch with Jeffery Zaslow

I first read this book a few years ago and I thought to myself – this will be a book I share with my children.  I was struck by the honesty and feeling with which this book was written.  The premise of the book is that the author Randy Pausch is dying and wants to share what he learned in life with his children.  The book stemmed from the last lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon where he was a professor.  He gave his lecture to his students and the faculty there at the university but the real “head-fake” was that the lecture was actually for his children who were too young at the time to understand what was going on or to understand the lessons he wanted to share with them.

The author frames his message through his childhood memories.  He discusses the plans he made as a child and what he did with those plans.  If you are looking for a book that touches on the spectrum of human emotion and is reflective of a life well lived, though cut short – pick up this book.  The book also has a companion website.

The Last Lecture is available on Amazon.com in hardcoverpaperback, Kindle edition and audio book formats.


When Pigs Move In: Book Review

8,000 hits are here and I have 2 guest writers this time! Today’s guest writer is Amy Phoenix. Amy is a gentle, yet direct parenting guide and healing facilitator dedicated to sharing insights and practices to transform frustration and anger, heal the past and nurture conscious relationships. You can visit her at Innate Wholeness. I hope you enjoy her book review below.

A few years ago I had a spiritually transforming experience when faced with death and cultivating an inner relationship with Christ has been a moment-to-moment journey ever since. In many ways it is about undoing negative influences in my consciousness to let God lead. I admit I was intrigued when a friend told me about the book When Pigs Move In written by Don Dickerman, who was spiritually anointed to help people become free of demonic influences.  The title of the book comes from Matthew 8:28-34, when Jesus drove devils out of a man and they asked to go into the pigs rather than the abyss.

via cdn.arsenalbooks.com

Although I have a broad view of Christianity and When Pigs Move In challenges how I would usually discuss spirituality, I have never been given a book that was not beneficial for my life. Dickerman, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, highlights the many ways Satan’s army robs, steals and deceives. Instead of this being some weird account of demonic possession and exorcism, it is a very straight forward book outlining how dark forces are responsible for many, if not all, of our ills. This ranges from negative thinking to depression to diseases of the body. He discusses how these demonic influences find ways to attach to us, what purposes they serve and how to remove them.

I appreciate passion and Dickerman employs it throughout the book. He was led to this type of ministry when he was preaching to people in prison. One evening after he spoke with a group he went to his hotel room feeling like he was not doing enough. He would lead people to Jesus only to see them still suffering. He fell on his knees asking God to show him how to really help these people. In the following weeks he had visions of God healing people through him. He was told that he may not know what to do, but that healing would take place. The book outlines situations where people who were previously tormented in various ways were freed through deliverance.

When Pigs Move In may bring up some core fears for Christians and it can also put those fears to rest. If you question how much influence dark forces can or are having in your life, this book can help you make that determination. Dickerman bases his work on Biblical scripture and gives clear directions for delivering one’s self from the traps of sin and evil through Jesus. Readers who do not have a stomach for strong Christian language or the evangelical approach may want to set judgment aside and ask God to lead them as they read.

View Dickerman’s video explaining his reason for writing When Pigs Move In.


Wigs on the Green: Book Review

Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green

Nancy Mitford is probably best known for her novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, but recently relatives of Mitford’s have permitted some of her lesser-known novels to be reprinted.  One such novel is Wigs on the Green.

via literarious.com

During Mitford’s lifetime, it was not reprinted because of a family falling-out regarding its characters who were obviously based on Mitford’s own family.  The most controversial character is Eugenia Malmains, the wealthy, lovely and eccentric heiress whose current hobby horse is “social unionism” which essentially is Nazism wrapped in a Union Jack flag.  When Mitford was writing Wigs on the Green in the mid 1930s, her sister Unity had essentially joined the Nazi party.

The novel Wigs on the Green offers a surprising glimpse at the attitude in England towards Germany pre-WW II and before Germany’s Nazi movement escalated to the horrors modern people associate with it.  That said, Wigs on the Green is a humorous read.  Nothing, not even Eugenia’s Union Jack movement, is taken seriously.  Mitford again offers such spectacles of humanity like Mrs. Lace, the local beauty bent on greatness and filled with drama, or Jasper Aspect, the charming gentleman without funds who spends his days mooching off his friends and seeking out pleasure.  One could easily see a Mrs. Lace or Jasper Aspect in modern-day life.

The action of the book takes place over the course of a few weeks when Noel Foster and Jasper Aspect decide to head to the sleepy town of Chalford to pursue an heiress, Eugenia.  Eugenia, being consumed with the Union Jackshirt movement, quickly proves only amusing for her antics and not marriage-material.  The action continues when two women come to Chalford one escaping an unwanted marriage with a duke and the other escaping a would-be adulterous husband.  When Noel encounters the beautiful Mrs. Lace, they embark on one of the novel’s most ridiculous love affairs.  The true entertainment of the novel culminates in a garden party gone awry, which is where the name Wigs on the Green comes from.

Mitford has created a charming, eccentric world that would be perfectly delightful to read, yet is somewhat jarring to a modern audience because of its references to “social unionism”. Still, Wigs on the Green is a character-driven, funny novel that shouldn’t be left on the shelf because of its lack of political correctness.


Serena: Book Review

Ron Rash’s Serena

Ron Rash is a Carolinian author whose books generally have a deep sense of place, usually in the mountains of North or South Carolina.  Rash often has an obvious yet well-intended and at times heroic theme of environmentalism.  This environmental theme almost always has a David and Goliath overtone. Rash’s David is the lone person or group trying to save these mountains or stream and his Goliath is the big, bad, money-driven business bent on destroying them.

via Amazon.com

In previous novels (One Foot in Eden being the best), Rash writes from his David’s point of view, yet in Serena, he writes from the most formidable Goliath he’s penned yet.  Serena is a woman unprecedented in Rash’s other novels.  She is a woman of strength and intelligence and cold blood. She is a fascinating creature that despite yourself, you find yourself rooting for, even as she strips a forest clean of trees in her husband’s logging business and as she also clears out all obstacles (be they beast or human) in her way.  Serena is seemingly matched by her husband Pemberton, yet as the novel comes to its surprising end, the reader can see that even Pemberton is no match for the sheer will power of Serena.

Rash tells in his interview about the book that he modeled Serena after Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, rather than a female villainess like Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth.  In the novel Serena, Rash has outdone himself and has brought his favorite theme of nature preservation across to the audience in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.  If you only read one Rash novel in your life, read this one.  It will move you and enrage you and keep you turning the pages just to see what Serena will do next.  And surprisingly, you will miss her when the book is done.


Gentle Birth Choices: Book Review

I’m kicking off a week of book reviews in honor of March being National Reading Month! The first book I’m going to review for the week is Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper.

via sunrisewellness.org

This is not the first, but one of the first books I read on birthing naturally. (The first was The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth.) It is a great book to introduce the concepts of gentle, natural birthing and I highly recommend it for anyone on the fence. It also includes a DVD which is great, too.

If I hadn’t already been convinced that I wanted a water birth, this book definitely would have done the job! There is a whole chapter dedicated to water birth detailing the reasons for choosing one and the history behind water birthing. It was fantastic and probably my favorite part of the book.

There is an important chapter dedicated to discussing the medicalization of childbirth. It was eye-opening for me even though I’d already done some research and reading about this topic. The section on “Twilight Sleep” almost brought me to tears.

The chapter on Dispelling the Medical Myths is fantastic and reminds me of  The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. This section alone is worth reading the book in my opinion. It is followed up by a lovely chapter on a different way to birth, A Gentle Revolution and then a chapter on Midwifery.

The appendices are full of helpful information including questions to ask a doctor or midwife and a sample birth plan.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

“A gentle birth relies on the understanding that labor is part of a mysterious continuum of physiological events, beginning with conception and continuing well into the first year of life. Mother and baby, inseparable and interdependent, work together as a unit from the fertilization of the egg until weaning from breastfeeding takes place. Mothers the world over know that the physical and psychological connections that bind our children to us last a lifetime.”


Sunday Surf for week of March 20

I got carried away again this week so we have another mega links Sunday Surf.

Food and Recipes

Celebrating 20,000 Hits: Interview with Christine Ortiz of “Milk & Honey Organics” – For those in the upstate SC area, check out this interview. I have tried out this service yet but really want to and found the interview interesting.

Bacon Irish Soda Bread – Unusual bread recipe

Making Lunchtime Fun: Muffin Tin Meals! – I’ve heard of this idea before and love it but still have yet to implement it. Guess I’m just lazy?? I even have a nibble tray so I’m set. Maybe this week will be THE week.

Seriously Eating II: 94 Recipes from Serious Eats’ Healthy and Delicious Column – The title says it all

Dehydrating the Days Away – Funny post about dehydrating food. I have good memories of my parents doing this when I was a kid, especially my dad’s beef jerky.

Finding Better Health Through a Traditional Diet – Another great post from Natural Parents Network about what a traditional, real food diet is

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins – A friend brought me muffins like these after I had my daughter and they were fantastic!

Easy Breakfast and Lunch Ideas – Loved all these ideas!

Healthier Nachos and Green Brown Rice - I have never heard of green rice before. I totally want to try this.

Miscarriage

The Other Side – Sad story, recounting mourning with a friend through her miscarriage

Sound Bites from a Miscarriage Journey – Having been through miscarriage myself, I can truly relate to and appreciate this post

Moms Supporting Other Moms

Please Think Before You Comment – A mom of a nursing toddler gives some thoughtful advice

Let’s All Try Not to Be Jerks – Great post about how moms need to support each other

Lactivism, Breast Feeding, Bottle Feeding, Formula And Mothers At War - This one goes hand-in-hand with the “Please Think Before you Comment” post above

Childbirth

Birth Without Fear Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Be Scared – Although I can honestly say that birth did not scare me, I really, really liked this post a lot.

An Alternative To Perineal Massage For Childbirth Prep – Good info to keep in mind for my next pregnancy

One Response to ‘Eww! Birth is Icky!’ Squeamishness – I really appreciated this post about birth, sex and breastfeeding.

Parenting

Feeding to Sleep - My sentiments exactly!

Attachment Parenting Series: Beware of Baby Trainers – Some solid information that explains this “Baby B” of the AP style

Carseats – Lots of great links and info about the recommendations for rear-facing and booster seats

Shepherding a Child’s Heart: a review by Anne Sokol - Great review on the reasons this book is concerning

Eco-friendly Stuff

Sarah’s Stitches Wet Bags - I hadn’t heard of Sarah’s Stitches before and enjoyed learning about them in this review

Homemade Cleaning Spray – Good stuff and piggybacks nicely with my green spring cleaning tips!

Check out Adventures in Mommyhood, Authentic Parenting, Baby Dust Diaries, ChildOrganics,Cloth Diapering Mama, Fabulous Mama Chronicles, Hobo Mama, I Thought I Knew Mama, Mama and Baby Love, Mama Eve, Maman A Droit, Momma Jorje, Monkey Butt Junction, Motherhood Moments, My Inspired Baby, Navelgazing, and The Parent Vortex for more Sunday Surfing!


Made From Scratch: Book Review (and a Recipe for the Perfect Salad!)

6,000 hits is here and with it is a new guest writer! Melissa from My Journey to Lean has some great things to share with you. Enjoy!

I have enjoyed reading Julia’s blog for several months now. She and I met in our adult Sunday School class at church, but we didn’t really get to know each other well until we both got into blogging. Since then, I’ve realized how much she and I have in common. We both have a passion for God and all things natural! One difference is that she’s a mom and I haven’t had that privilege yet. But I’m filing away her tips on cloth diapers and homemade baby food for when that day comes. Julia asked me to write a post to celebrate her reaching 6,000 hits on the blog! I had a hard time deciding what to write. After much deliberation, I decided to do a quick summary about my blog, a book review, and a quick recipe.

MY BLOG

My Journey to Lean is about a personal journey to eliminate the unnecessary elements of various aspects of my life. It started as a physical journey to lose excess pounds and body fat. It continued as a spiritual journey, realizing that all aspects of life are ultimately spiritual, and that I can’t do anything on my own. Then it began to touch every aspect: social networking, entertainment choices, organizing and decorating my home, recipe creations, organic food options, and the list goes on. I’ve always been a journaler, so blogging came naturally. The only part I don’t like is that it’s not on paper (I still love an old-fashioned journal and pencil). There’s something about a blank page that speaks to me: it’s a world of opportunities and, call me crazy but, I just love the smell of paper and freshly sharpened pencils.

BOOK REVIEW

I picked up this book at Mast General Store over the weekend and thought it would be the perfect highlight for this blog. It’s called Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm.

Cover of "Made from Scratch: Discovering ...

Cover via Amazon

The author, Jenna Woginrich, caught a dream from a coworker who owned her own farm. She learned how to raise chickens, angora rabbits, and grow vegetables at a small rental house, how to play mountain music in TN, and eventually bought her own farm in VT, and started sheep farming. She loves antiques and simple living, including percolated coffee, knitting, and gardening. She believes it’s time to slow down and loves using hand-powered kitchen tools, like hand-cranked coffee grinders and antique cheese graters. She’s my kind of girl!

This book gives you insights (and even step-by-step dos and don’ts) regarding raising chickens, rabbits, and training dogs. She has a delightful narrative style. And what I appreciated most was her advice on page 12:

“I think the real trick to finding that sense of satisfaction is to realize you don’t need much to attain it. A window-box salad garden and a banjo hanging on the back of the door can be all the freedom  you need. If it isn’t everything you want for the future, let it be enough for tonight.

Don’t look at your current situation as a hindrance to living the way you want, because living the way you want has nothing to do with how much land you have or how much you can afford to spend on a new house. It has to do with the way you choose to live every day and how content you are with what you have. If a few things on your plate every season come from the work of  your hands, you are creating food for your body, and that is enough. If the hat on your head was knitted with your own hands, you’re providing warmth from string and that’s enough. If you rode your bike to work, trained your dog to pack, or just baked a loaf of bread, let it be enough.

Accepting where you are today, and working toward what’s ahead, is the best you can do. You can take the projects in this book as far as your chosen road will take you. Maybe your gardens and coops will outgrow mine, and before you know it you’ll be trading in your Audi for a pickup. But the starting point is to take control of what you can and smile with how things are. Find your own happiness and dance with it.”

The last section of the book contains all kinds of resources for each topic discussed in the book. I found my copy at Greenville’s Mast General Store on a buy-one-get-one-free sale; you can get yours on Amazon for about $10, too (also available for Kindle)!

I think it’s great anytime anyone tries to make small changes towards simpler living, whether it’s setting aside an hour on Saturday morning for a quiet cup of coffee and a good book, choosing an organic head of lettuce instead of conventional from the grocery store, starting your own garden, or buying a farm, take one small step at a time and enjoy every moment of it! This book doesn’t necessarily have a Christian worldview, so remember that whatever you do is for the glory of God. If you have a desire, recognize that it may be from God, and trust Him to fulfill your dreams. As a side note, you might be interested in the Simple Living section of one of my new favorite blogs: Frugal Granola. And feel free to stop by my blog anytime and leave your comments!

RECIPE: The Perfect Salad

 

1.       A Leafy Green Base: the darker the green, the more nutritious. Be creative and try a new lettuce variety, especially if you’re stuck on Iceberg; Bibb, Red Leaf, and Romaine are always good options, or you can branch out and add spinach, kale, or other greens likes collards, mustard greens, or Swiss chard. My favorite is the Organic Girl brand at Publix (when I can’t get it from my own garden).

via eating-in.com

2.       Add Some Color: I suggest at least one from each color group below…

a.       Something Red: grape tomatoes, red pepper, strawberries, pomegranate arils, sliced beets, dried cranberries, radishes, apples

b.      Something Orange or Yellow: bell peppers, carrots, banana peppers, mandarin oranges, mango salsa, corn

c.       Something Green: peppers, cucumbers, sprouts, green beans, granny smith apples, pears, zucchini, artichoke hearts, celery, broccoli, peas

d.      Something Blue or Purple: blueberries or other berries, purple cabbage, grapes, purple carrots, raisins

e.      Something White: mushrooms, onion, cauliflower, garlic or shallots

3.       Add a Protein: this can be grilled chicken or salmon on top of the salad, or something simple like a half cup of rinsed and drained beans (kidney beans, black beans, whatever your favorite is), a hardboiled egg or an ounce of low-fat cheese.

4.       Add a Healthy Fat Source: 1 Tbsp. of olive oil or chopped olives, ¼ avocado, or a small handful of nuts and/or seeds. You need healthy fat in your meal if you want to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins available in the rest of your salad!

5.       Add Some Flavor: balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, freshly cracked black pepper, etc. Stay away from high-sodium and saturated fat laden options. Something crunchy is always fun too (depending on what you’ve already added): whole wheat croutons, asian noodles, or these salad toppers from Oh She Glows are all fun ideas.

Bon Appetit!

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you! And Congrats to Julia on 6,000 hits on her blog! Keep up the great work, Julia!

Enjoying the Journey, Melissa


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