Jul 23, 2014

A Long Time Gone by Karen White (Unabridged Audio Version)

A LONG TIME GONE is the multi-generational story of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi. This sweeping and emotional story focuses on Vivien, Carol Lynne, and Adelaide Walker, who each grew up in a different time but faced many of the same obstacles in life. Their story is steeped in rich history that is plagued by deep family secrets and is told in the first person by each of these troubled women. Vivien in current day, and Carol Lynne and Adelaide from the past.

After being gone from home for several years, Vivien returns to her family home in Indian Mound to try to piece back together a life that has not worked out for her, no matter how far she tried to run. Coming off a painful divorce and having nothing to show for the years she's been gone, she is reluctant and nervous to face the people she hurt when she left without ever looking back. She's especially not looking forward to seeing her mother, Carol Lynne, who was rarely around while Vivien was growing up, causing deep hurt and resentment in Vivien's soul.   Carol Lynne's story is told through diary entries and follows her life as she drifted from place to place from the sixties until the early 2000's when she finally returned home for good. Her's is a sad and lonely story that desperately needs to be told before its too late. Adelaide's story is the most riveting and emotional story of all and begins in the 1920's.

Vivien arrives home to see the sheriff and a few other people gathered in the back yard where a downed cypress tree lies and crime scene tape has cordoned off the area.  As she approaches she sees a shallow grave containing skeletal remains. Suddenly her arrival home is not the only news of the day. The mystery of whose remains they are and who buried them there is what drives this intricately woven novel.

My Thoughts On the Story:

It didn't take me long to get caught up in the story since Vivien's return coincided with the discovery of the body buried in the yard.  The awkwardness of her return is present but takes a back seat to the mystery of the identity of the bones and how they ended up there.  Vivien and her family assure the Sheriff they will do all they can to help shed light on who it might be by revisiting family history.

My favorite character was Adelaide with her innocence and hope for a beautiful future in a troubling time, yet White doesn't actually reveal who Adelaide actually is until much later in the book. The Walker women all have one thing in common, or at least they think they do. Each of them believes their mothers abandoned them, either by choice or circumstance. In Vivien's case this fact has had a huge impact on her life and the choices she's made. Because of that, she comes across as a hard person to get to know but once she let her guard down, I really liked her. My least favorite character was Carol Lynne, though she is the most misunderstood out of all of the Walker women.

The story was very well-plotted, though at times I wished it would pick up a bit. But even with that said, I never got bored with it. There are many different stories being told from different times but each one is easy to follow and none of them get overshadowed. They are all very relevant and important to the main plot.  If you don't mind the time-jumping you will probably really like this book because the characters are so well connected to each other. Vivien is who keeps the connection strong and has the most to gain from digging into her family's history and that's why its such a well-rounded story, though its not my favorite Karen White novel.

My Thoughts On the Audio Performance:

There are three different narrators in this audio and they all did a fine job. At first I felt Vivien sounded a little flat but as I continued to listen, I gained an appreciation of the different people's voices she also interpreted while telling Vivien's story, both female and male, and I think she did an outstanding job. I believe hers was the most difficult of the three. The narrator of Adelaide also did several different characters and did them all very well. Carol Lynne's story, being told through diary entries was the most straight-forward and I felt her lazy and laid back way of talking slowed the story down a bit. The bottom line is that I'm glad I chose to listen to this book and I would recommend it highly as your next audio.

A LONG TIME GONE (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Karen White
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: June 2014
Length: 17 hrs 3 mins

 

Jul 14, 2014

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford

The summer he was thirty-one, Arlo Crawford returned home for the summer harvest at New Morning Farm—seventy-five acres tucked in a hollow in south-central Pennsylvania where his parents had been growing organic vegetables for almost forty years.
Like many summers before, Arlo returned to the family farm's familiar rhythms—rise, eat, bend, pick, sort, sweat, sleep. But this time he was also there to change his direction, like his father years ago. In the 1970s, well before the explosion of the farm-to-table and slow food movement, Arlo's father, Jim, left behind law school and Vietnam, and decided to give farming a try. Arlo's return also prompts a reexamination of a past tragedy: the murder of a neighboring farmer twenty years before. A chronicle of one full season on a farm, with all its small triumphs and inevitable setbacks, A Farm Dies Once a Year is a meditation on work—the true nature of it, and on taking pride in it—and a son's reckoning with a father's legacy. Above all, it is a striking portrait of how one man builds, sows, and harvests his way into a new understanding of the risks necessary to a life well-lived. (Synopsis provided by Amazon)

My Thoughts:

When I was contacted about receiving a review copy of this book I wasn't familiar with it but after reading the description, I was immediately interested. Being raised on our family's little farm with our large garden, chickens and various barnyard animals with corn and wheat fields all around us instilled in me deep appreciation for the life of a farmer.  So, its easy to understand why I would want to read Arlo Crawford's book. 

I found Arlo's story and his memories of growing up on New Morning Farm interesting and even though in the beginning I felt he didn't appreciate the hard work his parents and the hired workers did, I did change my mind about that. His parents were so dedicated to the work they did, especially his dad, Jim. Though believe  Arlo didn't reach his full appreciation and understanding until this trip back to the farm.

This is an uncomplicated book about a simple way of life though a very hard and rewarding way of life. Along with stories of farm life is a memory Arlo shares about his father's friend and fellow farmer, Bert, being murdered on his own farm by a man known around town as being a mean drunk. That story, being told throughout the book, brings it to a different level and sets an emotional tone.  

This book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes gardening, working with vegetables and fruits, and those who have a fondness for farmer's markets.  Summertime is the best time to read this book since we are in the height of the growing season.  A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR reminds us how important our farmers, their land and the items they produce are so important to our economy and our culture. Its a book that will leave you smiling when you finish it. 

Author: Arlo Crawford
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Published: April 2014
Length:  272 pp

Jul 13, 2014

[TSS] Progress Report: The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse

Well, I've reached the halfway mark in my 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse and thought I'd share with you how it is going.  First I'll talk about the smoothies, since that is the basis for the whole cleanse. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty these smoothies are. There is a specific recipe for each of the 10 days and so far I haven't had one that I didn't like. I do have my favorites, like the Apple Berry from Day 3. So you know exactly what goes into a smoothie, I'm sharing the recipe with you below. And don't worry, you don't need any special or expensive blender. I'm using my regular-sized Hamilton Beach 400 watt blender that I've had for years and it is working great!


DAY 3: APPLE BERRY

1 handful spring mix greens
2 handfuls spinach
2 cups water
11/2 cups frozen blueberries
1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cored and quarterd
1 packet Stevia
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
(Optional) 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder

Blend greens and water first, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy

That's it! Its very simple to do. I peel my bananas, put them in a freezer bag and throw them in the freezer. That helps make the smoothie cold and that is the way I prefer mine. All of the frozen fruit helps with this as well. I even keep my seedless grapes in the freezer. The best part is that you only have to blend smoothies first thing in the morning because each batch makes your entire day's meals. They make 3 12oz. servings. I drink mine out of a frozen mug also. 

The flaxseeds are already ground so you don't even notice them. They are a great source of fiber and they are a 'good fat' source and very important to the detox process. The protein powder I use is 100 soy. It will help give you energy, keeps your metabolism going and makes you feel full. 

Along with drinking 64 oz. of water daily, you are encouraged to snack throughout the day so you don't go more than 2-3 hours without eating, because that's when your body starts storing fat. Some pproved snacks are: carrots, celery, apples, hard-boiled eggs, and unsalted nuts. I love raw green beans and cauliflower so I eat those as well. I can honestly say I have not gone to bed hungry one time. I am hungry in the morning, but once I've had my cup of herbal Detox tea, I prepare my smoothies for the day and after that first sip, my hunger pains diminish quickly. I drink water all day long and before you know it Its time for my next smoothie. I've done other detoxes and I've gotten pretty bad headaches but I have only had a slight headache a few times. All in all, this detox has been a positive experience. 

Along with detoxing your body of all the free radicals and toxins, you also get the benefit of weight-loss. This is the perfect detox to jump-start your diet. Once I have completed this cleanse, I am anxious to stick to healthy foods and stay away from the things that make my body sluggish. I will be eating high protein meals (chicken or fish) with veggies and salad instead of heavy starches and pastas. I'm working hard to get my body healthy and I plan to keep it up even after the cleanse. I have my check-up with my doctor next month and I can't wait to see what my numbers look like for my kidneys and liver as well as my weight loss. I'm sure he will be pleased with me.  

I'll be posting again once I've finished the last five days and I will then report my total weight loss. I weighed myself this morning and I'll just say that I am COMPLETELY satisfied with how its going! I'm losing weight, feeling good and even sleeping through the night, which is a problem for me. 

I hope this information is useful to some of you, especially if you're looking for a healthy cleanse to try. I'm only halfway through but I can tell you that this one delivers everything it promises! And I'm learning so much about my body and nutrition and I have JJ Smith to thank for that! 

Jul 8, 2014

The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse by JJ Smith

As a rule, I am not a fan of cleanses. There are so many versions out there and I've always been skeptical of them, mainly because I am of the belief that your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to function healthily and by removing certain types of foods all together you can actually do your body more harm than good. That's why I surprised myself when after seeing JJ Smith on The Steve Harvey Show and listening to her explain her Green Smoothie Cleanse, I immediately downloaded her book and began reading. Right away I was more than intrigued. As a nutritionist and professional weight loss coach, Smith is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about health and nutrition. JJ's theory behind this cleanse is that it is the perfect way to jump start a healthy diet and that most people lose 10 to 15 pounds during the 10 days of the cleanse.

Very soon after I began reading I had already made up my mind that I was going to try this cleanse. The first step I took was reading the book from cover to cover.   This is very important because in it she outlines how the cleanse works, what you can expect and how to maintain and incorporate this lifestyle change into your daily routine once you've completed the 10 day cleanse.  The information included is so easy to grasp and even has links to websites if you are looking for further research.

JJ Smith describes in detail the basis for this cleanse and how it works to eliminate toxins from your body so that when you do start eating healthy, you are starting with a clean slate. This cleanse will rid your body of all of the unhealthy things you've previously put into your body. She explains it in terms that are very easy to understand. She is also available on Facebook and Twitter to help with encouragement or any questions you may have. The fact that she is very approachable in that way only shows her commitment to this program and that she believes in it, as do her thousands of supporters.

Two other great things about The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse book is that Smith includes a shopping list of items you will need for the first 5 days and then another list for the remaining 5 days. Its important to have all of your ingredients ahead of time so you're not running out the store or running out of an item and skipping it. These recipes are strictly tailored for the maximum benefit of the cleanse and should not be changed. This brings me to the other great thing included in this book. Not only does she tell you exactly what smoothie to make for each day, there are over 100 other smoothie recipes for future use. Those are perfect for maintaining your health and allowing variety which is very important. If you give your body the same thing day after day, it gets smart to that and will start storing it as fat and the benefit of a healthy meal plan will be lost. Variety is very important in any meal plan when trying to lose weight.

I'll be starting my cleanse on Wednesday, july 9 and finishing on the 19th. I'll be posting daily blogs of my experiences while on the cleanse here at Southern Girl Reads. I hope you'll visit often during that time and check out my progress. At the end of the 10 days I'll give my personal assessment of the cleanse itself and post my results: weight lost, inches lost etc. Though I'm excited about this journey, I'm also a little nervous. I'm really going to miss my coffee every morning but I'm totally dedicated and ready to do this! Wish me luck!

 

Jul 6, 2014

[TSS] Summer Reading Overload



One thing is fur sure: There is no shortage of great books out there this summer to choose from. Personally I find myself a bit overwhelmed by all the great titles available. Currently I've got three books going, including one audiobook, but I don't seem to be making much progress with any of them. Instead I keep adding books to my reader! In my defense, I have been sick for over a week and just haven't felt much like reading (or doing anything else for that matter). But my TBR pile is growing like the weeds in my yard after endless days of rain.

One of the books I'm reading is THE GOLDFINCH, a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I'm plodding along slowly with it. Not that its not a good book, its just....very wordy. Does that make sense to anyone? I also have Chevy Stevens' new thriller, THAT NIGHT, but I haven't actually started it yet because I have my eye on A BETTER PLACE, a new release, by Barbara Hall that I'm expecting to receive any day now. (Hall is the writer and executive producer of a new show coming on CBS this fall called MADAME SECRETARY).  I'm also reading a non-fiction book, A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR but I've set it aside because I just don't care much for the narrator. Being raised on a farm in the Midwest, I have a lot of respect for that life and I feel he takes it for granted and doesn't appreciate it, but I'm hopeful that is going to change as I keep reading.  I really need to pick that one back up again because I think its going to be a good one. The audiobook I'm listening to now is Karen White's A LONG TIME GONE. Its very engrossing and I'm enjoying it but secretly I'm anxious to finish it because my next audiobook, THE MARTIAN, keeps nagging at me. I've heard some great things about this book and I'm told the audio is a real treat. 

Along with these new books, there are some older ones I thought I'd get to this summer but at the rate I'm going, that may not happen. The days are flying by so fast. This is the fastest summer I can remember. They're even showing Back To School ads on TV already! What's that about? I know for a fact my teacher friends aren't happy about that! 

I know there are worst things than having too many great books to read but my summer reading goals are biting the dust. Are you having a similar situation? Or are you on track with your summer reading list? Share with me what books you're anxious to read - I'd love to know!  

Jun 19, 2014

The Vacationers by Emma Straub (Audio Review)

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(This review contains no Spoilers!)
Emma Straub's new novel, THE VACATIONERS, is a quirky, enjoyable read that though it has a good amount of family angst and problems, was not at all full of knuckle-biting, full on drama. The story centers around a Manhattan family, the Posts, and their two-week vacation in Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. On the trip are Franny and Jim Post, their daugher Sylvia, who just graduated from high school, her older brother Bobby and his girlfriend Carmen who live together in Florida. Also on the trip is Franny's close friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. They'll be staying in a house owned by one of Charles' friends.

Early on we learn there is something going on with Franny and Jim's 30-something year marriage, but that isn't divulged right away. Hints are dropped and conclusions are made by the reader. Sylvia, the only child still living at home, knows what's happening and just wants to start her new college life in the fall. Bobby and Carmen don't know what the trouble with his parents is but they do have a hidden agenda for coming on this trip with Carmen being the driving force and Bobby feeling very uncomfortable about it. Charles and Lawrence are at a point where they are ready for the next step in their lives but it brings a lot of uncertainty and they aren't quite yet ready to tell anyone, even Charles' best friend, Franny, who thinks Charles tells her EVERYTHING. With all of these diverse personalities and complicated issues, this family vacation is full of surprises and realizations. Hopefully they can all get through it.

My Thoughts:
I was looking for something a little different when I chose this book. I wanted an entertaining summer read that was fun but also had a good story. The Twitter-verse was buzzing about Emma Straub and her new book and I was looking for my next audiobook. After sampling the narration, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for.

The Post family, though flawed, is a great family. One thing I liked right away was that the story was told by different family members, giving a broad knowledge of all their personalities and their perceptions. My favorite was Sylvia in all of her young, sometimes naive knowledge, and the innocence of not yet living life on her own yet. Honestly, I liked all of the characters and they liked each other, though there were some issues.

The Posts were in beautiful Mallorca for two weeks so Straub broke down the chapters by days. There was a different chapter for each day and I thought that was a great idea for the theme of this book. There wa such great ebb and glow with this novel. I literally breezed right through it in a matter of a few days. The house in Mallorca sounded so fabulous, I just wanted to be transported there so badly, I think I lived vicariously through them.

I've never read anything else by Emma Straub but I can easily say that I did like her writing style. Listening to this book was was much like sitting down with a group of friends and chatting. I'm positive that the printed version would be a quick, easy-flowing page turner. Her writing is not complicated its straitforward and to the point.

This character-driven story was full of complicated issues and conflicting personalities but I was pleasantly surprised their weren't more actual arguments. These are mature, intelligent charterers and even when punches were being thrown, it wasn't awful, just surprising, like 'Wow! I can't believe he actually did it!' I really enjoyed this story and the people in it and because its only 301 printed pages, I think its a great book for summer and I think its going to be a big hit this season.

AUDIO REVIEW:

As you well  know, narration can make or break an audiobook and for me, Kristin Sieh did an awesome job. To be honest, at first I wasn't sure, but soon her somewhat raspy voice won me over. I thought it was especially conducive to Sylvia's character, though she did an amazing job with all of them, even the minor characters with thick accents. Ms. Sieh completely pulled me in and made me forget I was being read to and put me right into the story. That is the mark of a great narrator!

Overall, I think THE VACATIONERS would be a great book to take on your summer vacation or to the beach. Its fun, light and a little quirky but underneath all that is a meaningful story about family, change, and the bonds of love that keep people connected.  

THE VACATIONERS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: May 29, 2014
Length: 6 Hrs 39 Mins
Printed Length: 301 pp

Jun 13, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Audio Review)

Sue Monk Kidd's latest novel is set in Charleston, South Carolina from early to mid 1800's. Its a richly told story about two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and Sarah's slave girl, Handful.  The story begins when Sarah was just a young girl and Nina hadn't been born yet. Though Sarah had reached the age to acquire a slave girl to attend to her daily needs, Sarah was never quite comfortable with this arrangement. As she grew older, she became more unsettled by it and she even attempted to buy Handful from her mother and father in order to free her, an offer her parents flatly refused. Though Sarah and Handful were never what you would call friends, there was a silent understanding between them that was as close to a friendship that they were able to have.

In her twenties, still unmarried and living at home, Sarah became more and more convinced that slavery should be abolished, which caused obvious problems for the family. Eventually, she made the decision to leave her family home and move to Philadelphia to live with a Quaker family she had met some years before. Since Sarah had secretly taught Handful to read when she was younger, Sarah was able to keep in touch with Handful over the years. Soon, Nina, too, had become active in the fight against slavery and she joined her sister.

Though Handful was enslaved, she dreamed of the day she would be able to buy her freedom and finally live the life she felt she deserved. She sewed quilts and clothing to sell and saved every penny to put towards her freedom. Many miles north, Sarah and Nina did their part in spreading the word about the injustices of slavery, along with the rights of women to have a voice. Though their lives were completely different, Handful and Sarah were fighting the same battle, which was very costly in different ways for each of them.

My Thoughts:

I was automatically drawn to this novel for two reasons: the obvious one is my love of Southern Fiction and the other is that I'm a huge Sue Monk Kidd fan! Oh, and another reason is that it takes place in Charleston, South Carolina.

The story moved along nicely through the years without becoming slow. I also liked how the chapters alternated between Handful and Sarah's perspectives. Slavery is not a roses and sunshine subject and it it could have easily grown tedious or depressing, but SMK didn't allow that to happen. Not once did I get bored or want to move on already. I felt it was perfectly paced and highlighted the most significant events.  I also appreciated the historical fiction element as notable events were incorporated and made the story even more genuine.

I didn't realize until after finishing and listening to the author's notes that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were actually real people and their story was true - save for the addition of the character of Handful. SMK became aware of the sisters while visiting a museum and was so intrigued by them that she decided to write a story around the two remarkable women. Knowing that just made the book even better for me.

AUDIO REVIEW:

There isn't much I need to say about the narrative performance other than to say it was FLAWLESS! Both Jenna Lamia (Sarah) and Adepero Oduye (Handful), were fantastic in their interpretations of these characters. This audio ranks right up with some of the best I've ever heard. I highly recommend the audio version if you are looking for a new listen. You will not regret choosing it.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS (Unabridged Version)
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: January 7, 2014
Length: 13 hrs 46 mins
Print Length: 386 pp