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Rocky Rates It: French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano

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Prepare for gushing, fan-girling, and mad props!  This is the most common sense, effective, simply glorious non-diet diet book I’ve ever read!  There, I’ve said it.  Now, you need to understand I’m pretty well-versed in dietary lore.  I’ve flirted with the likes of Pritikin, Atkins, and–Lord, help me–Suzanne Somers.  I’ve sweat to the oldies, boogied with Jazzercise, and pushed it to the edge of Insanity with Shaun T.

I was a lifelong runner until it came time to pay the piper with a bionic knee last summer.  Since my “good” knee is only a couple of injection cycles away from a similar fate, I decided to give up my running shoes and hop a bike.  The truth is that I never really worried about getting fat because I took for granted that I could literally outrun it if push came to shove. My eating habits reflected the same philosophy:  a thirty-mile week covers a multitude of  sins.  I didn’t really believe I could become overweight until I found myself precisely there.

Guiliano describes a similar situation of letting weight sneak up on her in the opening of the book.  Then, she explains precisely what changes she made to shed those extra pounds, not just for some event like a wedding or the upcoming swimsuit season, but forever.  The advice is practical.  The advice is doable.  The advice doesn’t involve mountain-climbers or burpees.  It most certainly doesn’t involve the requisite list of no’s we are accustomed to.  This book will transform your perspective on dieting.

If you’re ready to quit (Yes, I just said QUIT) dieting and still drop those saddlebags, read this book.  If you’re ready to stop obsessing about calories, carbs, fat content, points, etc., read this book.  If you’re ready to learn why French women don’t get fat, read this book.  It will open your eyes to a different mindset about weight management.

This is probably my 4th read of French Women Don’t Get Fat.  I love the positivity it brings.  I also love the recipe for leek soup.  Whether you incorporate the French approach to eating or not, you owe it to yourself to try this soup.  It’s THAT good!

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars!  Best “diet” book I’ve ever read.  The ONLY one I’ve read multiple times.

Rocky Rates It: Silence by Shusaku Endo

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I don’t usually select a book by its cover, but the artwork depicting a priest at prayer against the backdrop of a bleeding sun was the catalyst for pulling this book off the shelf.  That, and the title, which if you’re like me and are surrounded by hundreds of teenagers every day, was rather appealing.

The book is a novel, but begins with a preface which reads more like a history tome.  Remember having to read The Scarlet Letter in high school and being so zombified by the sprawling preface that you ran for cover in the Cliff’s Notes?  Well, Silence is kind of like that, but my advice is to put on your big kid breeches and wade through the preface.  It’s worth it and will help you better understand the crusade of Fr. Rodrigues.  This is definitely what my kids call a “thinking book”.

We follow Fr. Rodrigues to Imperial Japan as he attempts to re-establish the former Christian stronghold stamped out by repression, torture, and the corporate apostasy of the previous priests attempting to initiate Catholicism to “the ends of the earth”.  The book is not so much about the outward adventure (yes, there’s LOTS there to mull over), but about the internal crisis of faith Rodrigues grapples with as God remains doggedly silent in the face of atrocity.

The book also parallels the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and lends perspective on their relationship.  Will Fr. Rodrigues be able to withstand the trials of faith even when it puts others in grave danger, or will he renounce Christianity altogether in the deafening silence?  I think the answer will surprise you as well as inspire you to examine your own spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

Rocky Rates It:  4/5 Stars

Rocky Rates It: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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I read Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible several years ago and decided a re-visit was in order.  I was impressed when I approached it from a reader’s perspective, but from a writer’s perspective, the sheer magnitude of Kingsolver’s craft left me–for lack of a better term–fangirling my way through the novel.

Kingsolver lays bare five souls, six if you count the Congo itself, as the baggage of a renegade Baptist missionary determined to save souls at any cost.  That price, which happens to be the surname of the transplanted family, becomes steeper and steeper as the novel progresses.

The book shifts points of view amongst Orleanna Price and her four daughters as they  chronicle their African experience and the indelible mark it leaves on each.  The reader sees each character with her triumphs and failures, both real and perceived.  They each struggle with religion, culture, and the inflexibility of the self-righteous and overbearing patriarch of the family.

On my first read so many years ago, I recall being a bit frustrated that Kingsolver didn’t put readers into the head of “Our Father”.  This time, however, with a lot more experience and presumably a more discerning eye for narrative technique, I see the wisdom in her decision.  He is close-minded, egotistical, and emotionally unapproachable.  Kingsolver reveals he has his own demons, but deals no absolution for the stiff-backed preacher just as his favorite punishment for his daughters–The Verse–offers neither forgiveness nor comfort.  Brilliant.

This is a novel that will grip you with its poignancy and mystify you with its eddying depths of family dynamics, faith, politics, and oppression.  It is the kind of story that you’ll find hard to swallow, until you realize it’s the kind of story that swallows you.

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars  This one is awesome!

Rocky Rates It: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

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I didn’t even buy a pumpkin this Halloween.  Didn’t decorate.  Didn’t wear a costume.  Didn’t have any trick-or-treaters come knocking at my desolate door.  But do you know what I did have this Halloween?  Vampires!  Loads and loads of vampires!

I had frights aplenty with King’s Salem’s Lot.  This tale made it to the big screen back when I was a kid and I can remember my mama calling it one of the scariest movies she’d ever seen.  That was even before Poltergeist and Amityville, I think. My mother adored horror and had no qualms whatsoever about scaring the bejeezus out of us kids.  Reading Salem’s Lot was a bit of a family reunion for me as I could almost feel her spirit  lingering over my shoulder as the suspense built.

One thing I admire about King is that he isn’t afraid to kill off characters, even main characters.  He also isn’t afraid to kill off characters who happen to be children.  All the more horrific, and that’s the point!    Another thing I admire about King is his ability to craft a wrenching funeral scene.  Now, those of you who read me know very well I have more than a passing appreciation for funeral scenes.  King is a master of minute detail, and the funeral scene in Salem’s Lot could easily become the text for a graduate course in how to combine grief and horror.

Salem’s Lot gained most of its steam through the chain-reaction infestation of the town.  The undead fed off  loved ones with alarming ease, an idea more terrifying to me than the vivid descriptions of the actual vampire who moved into the creepy old house, his  finger on the pulse of the town.

I don’t know if it’s really accurate to say I enjoyed the book;  I pretty much cringed my way through it, which was precisely what I was looking for in a Halloween read.

Rocky Rates It:  4/5 Stars (the repeated descriptions of the town itself got a bit tedious)

Rocky Rates It: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

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Sometimes I just need to lose myself in a good ‘ole family saga.  Put that family smack dab in the middle of haute Victorian London and I’m hooked.  I’ve read several works by Follett, so I knew I could expect dips, twists, and hairpin turns as I followed the fortunes of the Pilaster family.  I also knew I could expect a birdseye view of the political culture of the times smattered with just enough sex and violence to keep things entertaining.

I was not disappointed.  I love this kind of escapism.  Follett seamlessly weaves history and fiction to create a multidimensional story.  For me, this is just plain fun reading. Follett keeps me turning pages with an almost lightweight suspense.  Oh, the book’s no kiddie ride, but neither is it a heady tome that one has to “think about”.

The book is lengthy enough to spend a little time with, and I think that definitely helps readers build a sort of camaraderie (dare I say relationship) with the characters.  That being said, Follett does not plumb the depths I’d like to explore, particularly with the Pilaster matriarch and the coat-tail hanging Micky Miranda.

Overall, A Dangerous Fortune is an entertaining romp and I would recommend it for people who enjoy sagas.

Rocky  Rates It:  4/5 Stars

Rocky Rates It: Love Your Life by Cheryl Marks Young

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Love Your Life is a comprehensive workbook for discovering your passion and actually doing something productive if not profitable with it.  It is most decidedly not an “if you can dream it, you can be it” guide of feel-good psycho-babble.  The text hinges on the metaphor of a master gardener; a metaphor that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, cultivated methodically throughout the book.

Straightforward and no-nonsense, Love Your Life calls for significant introspection as well as identification and mobilization of support people to help you achieve your goals.  It proscribes a logical, measured process that is facilitated by the dedicated reader response space throughout the workbook.

Young engages readers with a practical voice that is never condescending. Furthermore, she does not pad the text with an exhausting litany of anecdotes/testimonials like many other books of this genre.  I found it both useful and refreshing.

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars

Rocky Rates It: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

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The Emperor’s Children is the most “adult” book I’ve read this year.  Every character is mired in his/her own sense of inadequacies, be they real or imagined.  From the self-possessed Marina who strives for a name beyond that of her famous father to the hapless Bootie, whose idealism threatens his own destruction, Messud presents a cast of characters varied and beset with personal demons.

Messud blindsided me by incorporating national tragedy in the plot line.  I found myself hoping the characters would be able to shake themselves from their narcissistic stupor by the sheer force of history in the making.  I wanted them to transcend an agnosticism that seemed as pervasive in this novel as Sunday-go-to-meeting in my own life.

I found the characters rich, fraught with problems of their own making, and multi-dimensional.  The jacket calls this novel a “tour de force”.  I usually scoff at such, but in this case, Messud delivers.

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars

Rocky Rates It: Bicycling Magazine’s 1000 All-Time Best Tips edited by Ben Hewitt

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This is a decent compendium of tips for cycling with a very useful glossary of lingo. I found some of the tips to be repetitive and several that were just plain common sense, but overall, I feel better educated about cycling. As a newbie, I would have appreciated a section on shoe selection and an explanation regarding clipping in. I would also have appreciated links and/or anecdotes involving racing at the amateur level as well. Some pacing charts would have also been helpful so that beginners can gauge their performance.

This book succeeded in getting me fired up about riding and piqued my curiosity about races that may be held in my region.

Rocky Rates It:  3 Stars

Rocky Rates It! Paisley Memories: The Beginning of Me by Zelle Andrews

 

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At times poignant and at times comical, Paisley Memories traces the angst and gaffes of a high school drop-out thrust into the hard-knock world of survival. With her only support system buried and a special needs baby on her hip, an unwed and virtually penniless Tess travels to Florida in a beat-up old Thunderbird to grasp at an “anywhere but here” future.

Andrews creates a totally believable teen, struggling for a toehold amidst regret and despair. Tess wrestles with the idea of giving up her baby, vacillating between her own egocentrism and her view of her less than perfect child as a reflection of her less than perfect life. She is not the most likable character-petulant, selfish, and awkward-, but I found myself rooting for her to recognize her own worth and accept the circle of people surrounding her who teach her that picking yourself up doesn’t mean everyone is trying to knock you down.

This is a coming of age story artfully told with a colorful cast of characters. The pacing is quick, but not hurried, and the depiction of the psyche of the protagonist is spot on.

Rocky Rates It…5 Stars!

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