The Savvy Bookworm

My Personal Book Review Site

The China Study

Written By: Erika - Dec• 31•07


by T. Colin Campbell

I read this book after a recommendation I saw on a bulletin board I frequent. I had heard it gave compelling evidence as to why a vegan or vegetarian diet eliminates disease and encourages longevity. In short, it was about health and a study that was done on the impact of meat products- actual meat, as well as eggs and dairy.

Let me start out by saying that this was a very dry read. I expected a book along the lines of a fad diet book- a little bit of dialogue, followed by an eating plan using the information from the first section of the book. Instead, I found scientific study after scientific study, and I have to admit that a lot of that, I really skimmed over. I wasn’t so much interested in the actual science, I just wanted to know the results and conclusions drawn from said science. What I found was indeed, a very compelling arguement for switching to a plant-based diet. And had I just rested on this book alone, I would have made a switch immediately. However, there are holes in the science found here.

For example, a lot was made about dairy products causing early puberty in teen girls, as well as causing breast cancer later on in life. But there wasn’t any information as to whether the dairy examined was hormone-free or organic, or perhaps even unpasteurized. What if it’s actually the pasteurization process that causes these things? And what if it’s hormones. These variables weren’t addressed. I can see that loud and clear, and I’m not even a scientist.

I can’t recommend this book one way or the other, because it was very informative, and did give me a lot to think on. But I could easily see someone reading this and then instantly giving up meat and dairy because they’re afraid for their lives- it’s a little alarmist in that respect. However. If you are looking for some good scientific information, I don’t doubt the studies done, I just think they’re only one aspect of the big picture. This book did make me take a good hard look at my family’s diet, and we will be making some changes because of it. I do plan to move more towards a plant-based diet, because I think in the long run we’ll be healthier because of it. But I don’t think we’ll be eschewing meat altogether, just making it less of a focus.

I’ve also decided that I’m only going to buy milk that is completely hormone free- and organic if feasible at the time. I have never been one to harp on my children to drink all their milk, but I’m going to also stop giving them milk to drink every night at dinner. Sometime, sure, but as evidenced in The China Study, there is plenty of calcium and vitamin A in many of the foods my children already enjoy eating. There’s no reason for me to go overboard, just because the milk marketing board wants me to do so.

In order to make a clear judgment, you’ll just have to pick this one up for yourself. Just be forwarned, it’s a science book, and the study referenced-The China Study actually makes up very little of the book. If you do read this one, I would love to know what you think, as I am sure the information I gleaned from it will be in my mind for a very long time.

Sister Of My Heart

Written By: Erika - Dec• 30•07


by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I loved this book. I would read a little, then put it down and spend a lot of time thinking about what I had read. Then I would smile to myself and pick it up again and read a little more. It really was a beautiful story of love, friendship and family, and it was beautifully told.

The story is told through the eyes of two girls, cousins who were born on the same day. Sudha and Anju were both born prematurely the day both their father’s lives were ended. Living in the same household, the girls were raised together and grew to love each other as sisters. We spend the first few chapters of the book getting to know these two girls, and the three mothers who raised them. As they grow, we discover that Sudha is a rare beauty, the girl who’s face will enchant any man, while Anju, is rather plain looking. While this matters not to the two girls, we are soon to learn that their eternal happiness could be destroyed by this fact.

This story is wonderful. As each chapter unfolds we get yet another glimpse into life in India, and what it would be like to be part of an arranged marriage. Each section is even more beautiful than the one before, and we find that in the end, love triumphs over all.

I highly recommend this book, and I will be looking for more by this author. Such a beautiful manner of storytelling cannot be unique to just one novel. I dare you to read this book and not be enchanted and swept away.

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Written By: Erika - Dec• 03•07


by Kate Jacobs

When this book opens up, we meet a young woman in her late thirties named Georgia Walker. Georgia is a single mother to a vibrant twelve year old daughter named Dakota. Georgia is also the owner and proprietor of Walker & Daughter, a yarn and knitting shop in New York City. It isn’t long before we start meeting some of Georgia’s associates and customers. One at a time we are introduced to individual woman who are all very different. What began as a lark and as an impromptu gathering quickly becomes a regular nightly event, dubbed the Friday Night Knitting Club.

We get glimpses into Georgia and Dakota’s daily life together, and we learn that Georgia is a very strong woman, and her daughter is taking after her. And then Dakota’s estranged father enters the picture, regretful of missing the first twelve years of Dakota’s life. Georgia is very cautious about letting him back into their lives, their relationship ended when he became unfaithful, and he left without even seeing his daughter once.

This novel was touted as a great story about women and friendship and family. And I get that, I do, but I really found this novel lacking in so many ways. I enjoyed the storyline for the most part. I found it believable, and it almost had me digging out my knitting needles to give knitting another whirl. But the dialogue really bothered me. It really was poorly done- the conversations these people had with each other simply didn’t make sense some of the time. A conversation that should be deep and meaningful is wrapped up in just a sentence or two. The dialogue just felt really contrived to me at times, and really took away from the story, in my opinion.

Other things just seemed inconsistent to me. One of the characters creates a line of felted purses, and of course, another club member knows a buyer for Bloomingdale’s and gets Bloomies to order some of these felted purses. I know a thing or two about retail and buying, and that just was not believable to me. Idealistic and nice, maybe, but not realistic in the least.

I don’t know. I did enjoy the book, I enjoyed the characters, but felt there could have been so much more substance to each one of them. I also just learned that a movie is in production, featuring Julia Roberts as Georgia Walker. It will be interesting to see, but I daresay (without spoiling the ending too much) we’ve already seen Steel Magnolia’s once. I think a movie version could give some great depth to the people in this novel, so with any luck it will improve upon the story.

I recommend this book with reservations. There are many, many holes, unanswered questions, and unresolved issues. I can only hope that a sequel is in the works to shed some light on the lives of the other members of The Friday Night Knitting Club. It’s an enjoyable enough story, but it didn’t move me to tears, or keep me up late into the night. It was a good read, but not one I’ll likely pick up again.

Dark Angels: A Novel

Written By: Erika - Nov• 26•07


by Karleen Koen

Where do I begin with this one? There was so much going on in this novel, that it’s difficult to find a place to begin! I guess I can begin with the fact that this novel is historical fiction. Set in the time of King Charles II and the time of Restoration in England. The story revolved around King Charles’s court and the people within.

Our main character is Alice Verney. A young twenty-something maid-of-honor to the Queen, although temporarily on loan to Princess Henriette of France. Alice is a busybody and a meddler, thinking she can match-make to her heart’s content, and she is also ambitious, setting her cap for a very old, very wealthy Duke in the hopes of becoming his Duchess. Our novel begins with the arrival of Princess Henriette and her entourage to the court of King Charles. Henriette is the sister to the king, and they have not seen each other for about 10 years. The next few weeks are full of frivolity and excitement. Alice is eager to return to the English court and find out how things have progressed in her absence. There is a lot going on in this time of fun, including the signing of an ultra-secret treaty with King Louis of France.

The parting of Princess Henriette and her entourage is sad at best. No one wants her to leave, including herself. But leave they must, and shortly after returning to France, the princess is poisoned, and Alice finds herself headed back to King Charles’s court, searching out the princess’s poisoner and the man behind it.

So begins a novel full of intrigue, romance and excitement. Many actual historical events were expertly woven into the fiction, presenting a fantastic idea of what could have been. The details of life at court were very believable and well-done. My problem with this novel is that there were so many loose ends that never got tied up. And some of the ones that were tied up were tied up just a little too neatly. The novel seemed to me to come to a sudden abrupt halt. And while I was satisfied with the conclusion, it still left me wanting more and wondering about all the other bits and pieces. Only after reading this book, did I find out that it is a prequel to two other works by Karleen Koen. I’ll be searching those out to continue the story, but I can only hope that there is a sequel for the prequel in the works to fill in the missing pieces.

Overall, this was a great read for me. I read it in just a few days, and at times there were parts that were confusing and fast paced, but eventually I got into the rhythm and really enjoyed the book. Parts of this book may be disturbing to some, as there are some bedroom scenes, not as many and certainly not as detailed as they could be, but they are still there. One of the scenes of disaster in the novel is a homosexual brothel, so that give you an idea of some of the imagery included. However, there was little of it, but be forewarned that it is there a couple of times. Being a time of debauchery in the court of England, there could certainly have been much, much more and I am grateful that there wasn’t. I enjoyed this book very much, and I’m looking forward to reading her other books and finding out what happens to Alice Verney much later on in life.

The Blood of Flowers

Written By: Erika - Nov• 16•07


by Anita Amirrezvani

We begin by meeting a 14-year old Iranian girl who remains nameless throughout the novel. She is our narrator, as well as our heroine, and she does a fantastic job transporting us to 17th century Iran, and the world of the rug makers. The novel begins with an ominous sign- a comet in the sky signals a troubling year ahead for our heroine and her family. Of marriageable age at last, she is looking forward to a future arranged marriage, until the comet brings forth prophecies for an unlucky year ahead.

Sure enough, a short while later, our girl’s father dies of a mysterious illness and her and her mother are left to fend for themselves. Without the income from her father for a dowry, she is unable to be matched to a suitor, and her and her mother find themselves reaching out to a distant relative for assistance. A short while later, the half-uncle of our girl summons her and her mother to live with him in the great city of Isfahan, and they leave their rustic village behind with hopes of earning favor and a life.

Our young woman has a talent for rug-making, and it is to her delight that they find their relative to be a master carpet-maker, a subject of the Shah’s royal court, her uncle Gostaham quickly learns of her talent, and agrees to teach her, even though rug making is a man’s job. Her and her mother also become household servants, grateful for the place to lay their heads at night, but well aware that they need to find a way to earn money for a dowry as well as freedom for both of them.

Then a marriage proposal comes to our young lady. At first, her mother is very excited, the marriage proposal is from a wealthy man and could secure a future for both of them. Then they learn that the marriage proposal is a short term deal called a sigheh. For a period of three months she agrees to the temporary marriage with the hopes that she will be able to someday earn the right as a permanent wife.

This book was wonderful. It was so vibrantly written, I could see myself wandering the streets of Persia, getting caught up in the smells and sounds of the marketplace. I could almost see the vibrant colors of the many Persian rugs we were told about. My heart rose and fell with our heroine, and I felt like I was a part of her tiny family. Many of the twists and turns were unexpected, but very realistic, and I am certain, very accurate historically. It was fascinating hearing details of how those beautiful Persian rugs were made, and how carefully each one is designed and put together.

Interwoven within the novel are short stories from Iranian culture, and they added such a wonderful layer to the story, and so many of the stories were what gave our heroine the courage she needed to tackle her next obstacle. I loved this book, and really didn’t want to put it down. I am very glad to have read it, because it gave me a glimpse into another world that I truly know nothing about. I feel enriched having read this.

I definitely recommend this book, and I think both men and women would enjoy it, however, I do have to warn that there are “adult situations” and the accompanying language throughout. There are sensual moments, but I didn’t feel they were extraneous or un-necessary. For the most part, they were essential to the flow of the story, and tied right in with our girl’s rug making.

Coming Home

Written By: Erika - Nov• 02•07


by David Lewis

I’ve decided that I need to start a label for Christian books. It seems that about half of what I read these days is Christian fiction, and while that may not be for everyone, I thought that maybe for some, that would be what they would prefer. So over the next few days I’ll be getting that label up and in the sidebar.

But to the book. David Lewis happens to be the husband of author Beverly Lewis, whose books I’ve also enjoyed reading. This was his first solo novel, and judging on my reaction to it, I bet it won’t be his last.

Our main character is Jessie, a 24 year old woman about to embark on her dream to move to the state of Oregon. Her boyfriend is supposed to move with her, and the eve of their move, he decides instead to break up with her, citing her mental health as the reason for the split. He has a point. As the story continues we find that Jessica is a young woman with a past that she doesn’t want to remember, and in her attempt to repress those memories, she’s also lost her happy memories. Jessie decides to head to Oregon on her own, and along the way takes a detour- the road less traveled, and heads to her old hometown, which is full of haunted memories for her. Before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s sitting in her car in front of her estranged grandmother’s house, where her grandmother is hiding a few secrets of her own.

This was a strange book at first. I was drawn into Jessica’s life easily enough, but the strange dreams and flashbacks were almost disconcerting at times. The introduction of her childhood friend, Andy was a welcome diversion from her strange musings for a time. I really enjoyed his perspective on Jessie and her life. With Andy’s help, Jessica decides to find out the truth of her past, and tries to get rid of the ghosts that haunt her dreams. Scattered throughout the story is also Jessie and Andy’s lost faith. They both grew up in Christian homes, but have lost their faith upon reaching adulthood, and both of them wonder if there really is a God. The spiritual journey of both of these people was very realistic, and very well-written. It was very, very believable.

I enjoyed this book a lot, it really had some teeth to it, and a whole lot of heart. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the end. It wrapped up much too quickly and really felt a little contrived at the very end. Still, it was a sound ending and I was happy for it, I just wanted more to it.

Annie’s People

Written By: Erika - Oct• 31•07


by Beverly Lewis

What can I say about these books. Once again I found myself drawn into the world of the Amish. So much so this time. There are three books to this series, The Preacher’s Daughter, The Englisher, and The Brethren.

Our heroine is Annie Zook, the daughter of an Amish preacher with a secret. Annie loves to paint and draw and has a natural talent in that area. In her Ordnung though, art is strictly forbidden, so she must perform her art in secret only. When one person sees her artwork, she convinces Annie to enter the painting in a national contest, and much to Annie’s dismay, she wins, with her painting gracing the cover of a magazine popular with the Amish community. The first book deals a lot with her struggle to paint, and the struggle with her father. She has been expected to formally join the church for some time now, and she continues to put it off because she knows that once she kneels and says her vows to the church, that her painting will be lost to her forever.

The second book continues the struggle for her art, as well as introduces a new struggle for her- a forbidden romance blossoms with an outsider and Annie struggles with the choice between her father and her people and the thought of a life with this Englisher. Adding greatly to this story in both books is the English woman Louisa. Louisa has been Annie’s pen pal since they were young children first learning to write. In a desperate attempt to escape her life, Louisa finds herself in Amish country, a guest of the Zook household. She blends in as best as she can and does all she can to learn about her best friend and the world she lives in. Louisa adds such a fun element to the story, I loved reading about her and her learning the Amish ways of doing things.

I loved these books. I won’t discuss it too much more, because there is so much treasure inside. These are such beautifully written novels, and they really swept me away for a time. I’ve said before that I love reading about the Amish, and this was no exception. Beverly Lewis is such a a descriptive writer, I felt like I knew my way around Paradise, and knew how everyone looked and behaved. I felt like I could walk down the road and I would know everyone on sight. These were great books and highly recommended. There is a Christian message to these books, and it is pretty blatant, so take that as you will. Highly recommended, and an excellent idea for the bookworm on your Christmas list.

Peace Like A River

Written By: Erika - Oct• 30•07


by Leif Enger

I could not let October pass by without a review. Oh my gosh, so much time has passed since my last review. I just haven’t been reading as much, I guess. But still reading, so I have a few reviews to put up. Nothing real hard core or intense.

But this book, Peace Like A River was recommended to me by my sister-in-law. We seem to have similar reading tastes, so when she recommends a book, I always have to read it. :-) This book was just so different than anything else I have read. To be honest, I’m not even sure I liked the story, but it truly drew me in. I laughed with the characters, I cried with the characters, and I completely empathized. Our hero in the story has asthma, and I have never in my life read such an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to have asthma. I know what it’s like, and I found my lungs tightening up when his did, the imagery was just amazing.

Our story begins with the Land family. We have father Jeremiah, 11-year old Rube (our narrator), older brother Davey, and younger sister Swede- a young poet with a passion for cowboys and a great imagination. The family dynamic here is portrayed so realistically- at times the father almost seems aloof, like he’s not sure how to be a father. And everything is told through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, which makes it all the more interesting. Rube finds himself (several times) witness to bona-fide miracles, which somehow circle around his father.

Now I mention the miracles, and I could mention a whole lot more, but I have to say I really don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a Christian book, although the subject of God and heaven do come up, but it isn’t preachy in any manner. And really, by the end of the book, you are just left with lots of thought. It gives you something to think on. I can definitely recommend this book- the author writes absolutely beautifully, and I would love to read more by him. This is his first book, and I can only imagine they can get better from here.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Written By: Erika - Sep• 07•07


by Khaled Hosseini

I’ve had this book on my table for awhile now. I have been waiting and waiting for this book to arrive since it was first announced because I loved The Kite Runner. I couldn’t wait to see if Mr. Hosseini could write women as well as he did men. So when the book arrived I set it on my reading table to wait for a day I could read it. I just knew that once I picked it up I wouldn’t be putting it down. Yesterday was the day, and I did just that.

You know, sometimes it takes a while for a book to grip me, for me to become invested in the story. Not so with this book, the first chapter sucked me right in. I was hooked, I was already emotionally drawn in and I was a part of the life of Mariam, an Afghan child born out of wedlock to a bitter woman. Mariam’s father was a wealthy man with four wives already, so when Mariam’s mother was found to be with child, she was quickly sent away to avoid bringing disgrace on Jalil, Mariam’s father. Rather than abandon her altogether though, Jalil spent time with his daughter for a few hours once a week, much to the dismay of Mariam’s mother, who thought it unfair that Mariam was kept in hiding. Mariam adored her father growing up, but then once she became a teenager she realized herself how unfair it was that she had brothers and sister that she’d never met, and that she’d never even been out of sight of her tiny humble home. Mariam makes a decision that changes her life forever.

Later on, we meet Laila and her best friend, Tariq, a little boy with only one leg. We watch them grow up together in Kabul, we see how they interact and care very much for each other as best friends should. And then we notice that Laila’s feelings have changed and she realizes that she has, in fact, fallen in love with her best friend, and would he return those feelings?

It takes a long time for Mariam and Laila’s lives to intersect in this story, and once they finally do, it is quite the intersection. I dare not say any more about this book as much else would lead to spoiling bits of the story. And like I mentioned, I did not put this book down, it was that good. I loved this book. It made me laugh, cry, cheer, and I completely fell in love with both Laila and Mariam. Though this is a fictional book, I also wonder how factual the events of Afghanistan are in the book. At the end there is a bit about a few liberties taken, but I suspect that while this is fiction, that a lot of it is based on fact and firsthand experience.

Overall, Khaled Hosseini does write women well. I thought he got into the heads of these women very well. One thing that really struck me in this book was the time when it came for these women to don the burqa. The burqa is a very thick and long veil, designed to let women look out, but not let anyone see the women. While their initial thoughts on wearing the burqa were worrisome, it wasn’t long before they were grateful to be wearing the burqa, they both appreciated the anonymity it provided them when they were out of the home. It just struck me that this was another way to show how groups like the Taliban can get away with what they do, because it is quickly accepted as normal, the reasoning works for those involved.

An excellent book- instantly one of my favorites. As I understand, The Kite Runner has been made into a movie and will be released later this year. Khaled Hosseini writes so beautifully and wonderfully, that I just can’t imagine that the screen adaptation can even come close to conveying the emotions in his books.

The Red Tent

Written By: Erika - Aug• 14•07


by Anita Diamant

First off, I have to confess that I wasn’t certain what this book was about. I knew it was a fictional account of what could have happened to Jacob’s only daughter Dinah. When the book first started out, I immediately recognized the setting from Genesis, in the Bible. When the first inaccuracy appeared, at first I was a little miffed. But then I chided myself and reminded myself that this was in fact, fiction and should be treated as such. So I cast aside any thoughts that this would be Biblically accurate and then I was able to fully enjoy the story.

This book did give plenty of insight as to what life could have been like for the women of the Bible. We so seldom read about the women in the Bible and their daily account. I do imagine that the tediousness of everyday life was correct for the time. The women spent much of their time harvesting, preparing, or preserving food. Times of leisure were not to be had, as there was always wool or flax to spin into threads and fabrics. Life was not easy for women, childbirth often met with death for either the child or the mother. Yet life was well-celebrated by the women in the red tent.

I also have to admit that I was taken aback by the constant celebration of menstruation. The women in this book all generally celebrated their time of the month together in the red tent. Men never entered the red tent, and children did only while nursing. The days in the red tent were a period of time for women to bond with each other and discuss whatever needed to be discussed. The coming of age celebration for Dinah was, um, interesting. But overall, I found the story to be wonderfully told. The celebration of the strength of women was apparent, and it was fun to see how the women would actually be the ones running everyday life while allowing the men to think it was them. I also enjoyed seeing the pattern of life through Dinah and how she approached each crossroads in life with increasing maturity.

This was an enjoyable book for me, and I certainly recommend it for the ladies. I don’t think it out of place though to remind anyone interested in this book that it IS fiction. It is not Biblically accurate, but I also don’t think it was meant to be. Enjoy it for what it is- a nice work of fiction.

Emma

Written By: Erika - Aug• 13•07


by Jane Austin

When I first started with this book, it took a little while to get into it. Many of the terms and language took some getting used to, and it also took some time to distinguish which people were being discussed. Was it Mr. Knightly or Mr. Knightly? And when a Miss became a Mrs. sometimes she was still referred to as a Miss. It was a bit confusing. But after a while, I settled in and was able to enjoy the story.

Just as with Sense and Sensibility I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved reading about all the social engagements, and could just see all these well-dressed people parading about the park. And I could completely identify with Emma, and her constant desire to play matchmaker, and then realizing the horror of selecting the wrong match for someone. This novel was fun and engaging, albeit a tiny bit predictable, but that didn’t spoil the book for me a bit.

In addition to being a major movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma was also twisted and turned and adapted in a teen version? The movie Clueless is loosely based on Emma, and at one point in the book I though, I know this dialogue, and racked my brain until I stumbled upon the movie Clueless. And after thinking about it, while the movie claims to be loosely adapted, I think they did a fantastic job staying true to the heart of Emma in making the movie- even right down to the Mr. Elton/Elton character.

I truly enjoyed reading Emma, and will certainly continue to make my way through Jane Austin’s other books. They are just so engaging and delightful, and worth a few hours on a balmy afternoon.

Children of God

Written By: Erika - Aug• 01•07


by Mary Doria Russell

I stand corrected. I stand completely corrected. A few weeks ago I read The Sparrow, by this same author, and if you read the review, you saw that I was uncertain about it. My biggest problem with it was that so many questions were left unanswered. Often times, that’s perfectly fine for me in a novel- it leaves endings to the imagination. But in this case, it just seemed… unfinished. And there was a reason for that. It was unfinished. Completely unfinished.

The very beginning of Children of God answers a question or two and then continues to answer throughout. We see reason for prior events, and we discover new events that we find we care about immensely. Unfortunately, in this case, I have to say that I cannot say much about this book. Saying much of anything will reveal things about this book that are best left unsaid, and allow the reader to reveal for themselves in due time. I can say that I could not put this book down, not in the least. I can also say that I highly recommend the pair of books together. They go together like peas and carrots, and The Sparrow by itself is seriously lacking. Children of God by itself would lack the emotional drama, not to mention the sheer confusion that would abound. Together they make a complete story that makes one want to rise and give a standing ovation.

And Someone thinks that these books will be added to the household library and read again in the future.