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Food Allergies, by Scott H. Sicherer.

December 14, 2017

Food AlergiesFood Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating when Your Life Depends on It,  Scott H. Sicherer.  John Hopkins Press, 2017. Second Edition

4 stars

Another volume in the John Hopkins Health series providing people with basic information on health problems; here the focus is food allergies and how to handle them.

Given the current medical establishment,  many of us do not get enough information about diagnosis to understand what is needed for us to live with our problems.  Johns Hopkins Press is publishing a useful series to help us out.  Specialists in various ailments provide detailed answers to questions we may have.

This book is a second, expanded and updated volume containing a wealth of information about allergies.   Scott H. Sicherer, a specialist on the topic, provides us with a scientific explanation of how allergies behave in our bodies. In doing so he defines medical jargon and differentiates between a true allergy and other physical responses.  He goes through five frequent allergies discussing where their triggers appear and how to avoid them.  He even discusses topics like fitting an allergy regime into everyday life.

The book is structured around questions and answers, and I believe it would be useful, particularly for those recently diagnosed with allergies.

Dynamic Aging, by Kate Bowman.

December 11, 2017

Visions of Mary
Dynamic Aging, Simple Exercises for Whole-Body Mobility, by
Kate Bowman. Propriometrics Press, 2017.

4 stars

A book created to help the elderly, and others, get moving through a holistic understanding of how balance and mobility can be regained even while we are aging.

Kate Bowman is an expert teacher who combines scientific knowledge with the detailed experiences of real people trying to enhance their ability to move their bodies with painlessness and ease.  She has worked extensively with elderly people trying to regain and preserve their mobility.  In the process she has developed an understanding of how our bodies work and age. Her books and workshops help her share her knowledge. In Dynamic Aging, she partners with four women, now in their late 70s and early 80s, who have worked and trained with her for the past ten years.  Their stories provide details of their particular experiences.

In the first half of the book, Bowman and her co-authors take us through the entire body, discussing how aging can affect each component and what can be done to regain mobility.  Staring with the feet and working up, they offer suggestions for simple changes that can affect the balance and mobility of the whole body.  In the second half, they provided fuller descriptions of exercises and routines which readers can adopt.  Much of the value of the book, however, is the discussion of how simple, mindful adjustments in daily movements must play a role in meaningful changes.

I am not easily impressed with “exercise books,” but I was impressed with Dynamic Aging.  While I will not promise to follow all the guidance it offers, I have already started working with my feet which Bowman recognizes as the foundation of any improvement in mobility.

This book is a fine choice for anyone who wants to work with their body in simple holistic ways.  I recommend it especially for others who are aging.

Paris by the Book, Liam Callanan.

December 6, 2017
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Paris by the Book

Paris by the Book, Liam Callanan.  Dutton Press, 2018.  FORTHCOMING

3 stars

An amusing novel about a woman and her daughters wandering around Paris after their husband/father is “lost”.

Liam Callanan studied at Yale and at Georgetown University, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at George Mason University.  He teaches creative writing at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he is also active in literacy programs.  This is his second novel to be published.

The plot of this novel centers around an ordinary man, loved by his family, who is simply lost.  The wife and almost teen-aged daughters don’t know what happened to him or even whether he is dead or alive.  The family had all dreamed of going to Paris someday and, when tickets there are found, the remaining family members decide to go there.  Running a bookstore seems a good way to stay in the city, but all three continue to look for, and think they see, the lost man. The situation does not seem like it can last, but it does.

Parts of Paris by the Book are charming, but these are not strong enough to make up for the confusing beginning and ending.

Visions of Mary, by Jill Geoffrion.

December 3, 2017

Visions of Mary
Visions of Mary: Art, Devotion, and Beauty,
by Jill Geoffrion.  Brewster, MS: Paraclete Press, 2017.

4 stars

An inspiring combination of art, history, and religious understanding of the images of  Mary in the Notre-Dame de Chartes Cathedral.

Jill Geoffrion is a scholar with a Ph.D. from Union Institute in Cincinnati where she focused on Women’s Studies.  She is interested in spiritual embodiment and has written seven books on labyrinths.  She defines herself as “Serving Christ as a contemplative minister and artist by compassionately and creatively inspiring others to seek a deeper relationship with God and a more meaningful life of service.”

Born and raised as a Protestant, Geoffrion only discovered the rich traditions around Mary as an adult.  She credits Catholics for helping her understand what Mary has meant since the medieval era.  As a woman, trained in Women’s Studies, she has identified with Mary in her various roles, usually presented alongside others in the images at Chartes.  Geoffrion has organized the book around the various images of Mary in the Cathedral: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God. Mother of the Church, and Mother of Us All.  She also carefully tracks the bible stories on which the images are based.

Visions of Mary is a strikingly beautiful book, full of beautiful vividly-colored photographs of stained glass and statues. Some of photographs focus on details or unusual angles, all taken by Geoffrion.  These are far superior to most ordinary illustrations. (Since my NOOK only reproduces black and white images, I read the book online. I urge others to do the same or find a way to read the actual volume.)

Geoffrion has a website and a blog where she has reproduced some of the images from Visions of Mary along with prayers and scripture.  I recommend it along with the book itself.  Whether or not readers share Geoffrion’s faith, what she offers is worth seeing.

Timeless Truths for Modern Mindfulness, by Arnie Kozak.

November 26, 2017

Timeless TruthTimeless Truths for Modern Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to a More Focused and Quiet Mind, by Arnie Kozak. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2018.  FORTHCOMING.

4 stars

Yet another book on mindfulness by a New Englander who writes, speaks, and consults widely about meditation based on classical Buddhism.

Arnie Kozak is an “expert” on mindfulness meditation.  Trained in both clinical psychology and medicine, he has created a range of activities for teaching and sharing a way of thinking and being outside of the strictures of the American mainstream.  In addition to authoring several books, he teaches in universities and has created his own consultation service offering individuals, businesses, and communities his simple Buddhist-based methods.

In Timeless Truths, Kozak provides a clear, simple introduction to mindfulness.  What sets this book apart from numerous similar books is his emphasis on taking apart many of the “myths” that have emerged as Buddhist-style mediation has gained popularity in this country.  He states convincingly that Buddha is not to be considered a god.  Buddhism is not a religion, despite the various religious traditions that have developed from Buddha’s teaching.  Mindfulness is based on the practical, psychological teaching of Buddha.

As Kozak takes readers through the basic account of mindfulness and gives instructions for how to begin the practice, he regularly points out its fundamental challenge to many of the assumptions we live by today.  Mindfulness is about learning deeply and intimately about ourselves.  It is not about relieving stress, becoming calmer, or being wise.  These are the regular results of meditation, but should not be seen as goals.  Striving to be good at meditation is not the point. Mindfulness will probably be tumultuous at times, but we can use the tumult to learn not to violently react.

I am no expert on Buddhism or mindfulness, but I have great respect for the tradition.  I know enough about the practice to understand the need to correct the trend toward shaping Buddhism to our desires rather than be reshaped by it.  I believe that Kozak’s book is a solid place to start for anyone who wants learn and practice mindfulness.

The Philosopher’s Flight, by Tom Miller.

November 23, 2017

[My ebook edition of this book included a summary and author note for Gospel of Trees by April Anderson Irving before the actual ebook of The Philosopher’s Flight.]

The Philosopher’s FlightThe Philosopher’s Flight, by Tom Miller.  Simon and Schuster, February 2018.  FORTHCOMING

4 stars

A light-hearted adventure that relates both fantasy and history about an early twentieth-century America where a large group of women can fly and a young man that dared to join them.

Tom Miller was born in Wisconsin, graduated from Harvard, received a MFA from Notre Dame and an MD from Pittsburg.  His employment is equally varied.  In his first novel he continues his pattern of invention and creativity.

In Miller’s novel, a new branch of science has developed. It is called empirical philosophy and involves drawing symbols, or koru sigil, on minerals to create a variety of results —  from growing vegetables, to transporting people long distances, to flying.  A woman had discovered or created the process before the Civil War, and it had become common throughout the United States and beyond. Women were obviously and significantly better at flying than men and controlled access to the professions. Sigilry had furious opposition, however, who viewed the practice as evil and sought to wipe it out.

Robert, an adolescent boy in Wyoming, dreamed of following his famous flying mother and flying himself.  The United States was about to join World War I, and he wanted to be part of a Rescue and Evacuate Unit (RE) which was organizing to go to France.  His mother and sisters had taught him to fly, but as a male, he had no hope of getting the further training he needed to join the elite RE team.  After he performed an amazing rescue, he was admitted to the flying school at Radcliff where he made a variety of good friends.  Talented in many ways, and absolutely determined, he struggled to fly as fast as the women could. In addition, those opposed to empirical philosophy made life dangerous for Robert and those he loved.  Even if he could achieve his life’s dream, he faced a decision over whether or not to accept a position in RE despite the opposition of the woman he had come to love.

The Philosopher’s Flight is fun.  It is an enjoyable, fast-paced adventure story with lots of opportunity for satire aimed at various groups.  Some of the book humor and insight is a result of the gender reversals throughout the book.  This is primarily the story of a man who is trying to break down the barrier that women have constructed on the basis of their very real superiority in their ability to fly.  Most fantasies that upset our assumed gender order have been written by women.  Miller has turned the tables. The women he has created are strong and good and beautiful in various ways.  The main character with whom readers identify most is a man trying to enter a world dominated by women.

Among Miller’s achievement is the invention of a world that is shaped by both history and fantasy, combining provable facts and imagination.  If the book were more serious, that would be a problem.  If women had had the powers Miller gives them, the factual history would have been totally changed.  But this book was obviously written to be fun for readers, and probably for Miller himself.  It is not the book I would have written, but Miller has done an excellent job within the framework he has created.

I strongly recommend Philosopher’s Flight for any readers opened minded enough to appreciate it.

Starlings, by Jo Walton.

November 19, 2017

StarlingsStarlings, by Jo Walton.  San Francisco: Tachyon, 2018.

Forthcoming

4 stars

A collection of short prose pieces and poetry by the author of some of my favorite fantasy novels.

Jo Walton is an award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction. She was born and raised in Wales and now lives and writes in Canada.  As she explains in the introduction to Starlings, she considers herself a novelist and poet.  Short stories eluded her until after she established herself with her novels.  She also wrote poetry.  Yet for years she experimented with short fiction, some of which is included in this anthology.  She wrote exercises and extended jokes.  She wrote the first chapters of what might have become novels but didn’t.  Finally in recent years, she has been able to create successful short stories which she includes.  The difference from her earlier attempts, she claims, is that she was able to write endings that are “weighty” enough to balance the rest of the narrative.

Starlings allows Walton’s readers to see the process by which she has developed her talent.  After each selection, she includes notes about its context and publication.  Some of the stories are fun and “show promise” but are not up to the expectations I had from her novels.  Most are basically science fiction rather than fantasy, with creatures living in strange societies on other planets.  One actually is about an urban, second-generation society living in a starship.  In addition, Walton includes some of her poetry in the anthology.  Some of these are based on classic pieces of literature. All reflect Walton’s attention to words.  The book itself takes its name from one of her poems which defines starlings as “little stars” released in the universe.

I recommend Starlings to those who love and know Walton’s work and more generally to fantasy fans curious about how an author’s mind works.