It’s fascinating and scary thinking that the center of our bodies can contemplate its own demise. Our brains can study, research, and fear ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s. And finding a healthy combination of these reactions might be our best chance at avoiding these terrible conditions. Dr. Shantha Kumar’s Functional Nutrients for Brain Health: A Vegetarian Perspective seeks to help readers find that balance.
Dr. Kumar undertakes a noble, yet challenging, task: helping the mind keep pace with a body that continues to live longer and longer. To do this, she applies her knowledge and experience to a full body type of medicine. In other words, the book’s advice goes beyond nutrition and includes commentary on exercise, sleep, and stress. In our current hashtag nutrition culture, where foods are elevated to savior status with little to no explanation, Dr. Kumar’s words become particularly refreshing. Take this passage for instance, “Olive oil is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fat which is a healthy option for the brain, although it is more cholesterol genetic (increasing blood cholesterol) than other unsaturated fats” (12). Rather than just uplift olive oil as a cure-all superfood, she takes the time to explain how some substances that increase brain health can simultaneously put other parts of the body under duress.
Additionally, the book provides a wealth of nutritional information that though aimed at vegetarians can apply to anyone. I particularly liked the section on fruits – which she lists hierarchically to indicate that not all fruits contribute to the same level of brain health. Just as useful was what food to avoid. I’ve heard a lot about why I shouldn’t eat artificial sweeteners or food coloring, but only now do I know it’s because they “increase free radical formation” and can “trigger generalized allergic reactions” (24).
Unfortunately, this fantastic information is buried in technical jargon. It’s not unusual to come across passages like, “the major apolipoprotein constituent of HDL-like particles in the CNS is ApoE which transports cholesterol and other lipids made by astrocytes and microglial cells to neurons” (14). Passages like the one above, as well as charts that occasionally stretch on for multiple pages, can discourage the average reader. In fact, one might think the book is intended for a professional audience were it not for the lack of sources backing up the information. Dr. Kumar is upfront about this approach. But this combination of medical terms and missing sources leaves the book in a weird middle ground: too complicated for average readers; too simple for medical experts.
Yet, discouraged readers should commit to reaching chapter four’s “Menu Planning Criteria and Strategies.” Here Dr. Kumar breaks away from the medical jargon and dives into specific dos and don’ts of brain health. This chapter transitions into recipes – which again prove more useful than the early sections of the book: even this meat loving reviewer admits that the bean salsa sounds delicious. People motivated to improve their brain health can trust they’ve found a worthwhile guide.
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The Dragons of Alsace Farm by Laurie Lewis is a contemporary romance with a deeply engaging plot that will pull at the emotions of the reader. Despite dragons being in the title it is not a fantasy fiction book. The three main characters of the novel are Noah, Agnes, and Tayte. The common bond that brings these three together is woven throughout the novel and each chapter provides a new twist in the plot or a deep divulge into the past lives of the characters that make their story all the more endearing. The romance in this novel is slow building. You will not find steamy sex scenes, rather you watch the deep connection between Noah and Tayte form over their mutual love of the women Agnes.
The novel starts out with Noah living and working in Myrtle Beach South Carolina. The initial impression you get of Noah is a gruff biker with a past that you don’t want to mess with. His story however is borderline tragic and it is only by the grace of his uncle John that his life turns into something beautiful rather than just existing, hiding in the back rooms and shadows of SC. Next you meet Agnes, an old French woman living on a farm in Fredrick Maryland. Agnes is suffering from dementia and is haunted by her past having trouble separating the past from the present. Last we meet Tayte, an artist living in Miami Florida running from her own past. Tayte has challenges forming intimate relationships with people and also has OCD with things being clean and neat.
Noah is brought to Fredrick Maryland by his sick uncle, in a last ditch effort to mend the wrongs of the past before cancer takes him away from all that he loves. At the same time Tayte is brought up from Miami to attend the funeral of her parents that have died in a car accident. Tayte is the estranged granddaughter of Agnes. The three are brought together through Agnes. Noah comes on to help Agnes with her farm and keep an eye on her while his uncle and wife Sarah spend his remaining days together. Noah’s specialty is woodworking and his uncle John encourages him to put those skills to good use. Noah and Tayte are both hired on to work on a special community project to honor a local hero, Ely Eppley. The Eppley’s are a modest family with two children that won a prize to have a custom deck built and portrait painted with hand carved frame built. The project throws Noah and Tayte together in addition to them both living and helping Agnes. The reader may wonder what the point of the project is, as the Eppley’s seem to have no clue how they were even awarded this honor. The answer to that comes in the end with a dramatic turn of events.
Overall this book is very compelling, the reader is drawn into the lives of main characters learning about their pasts, and how all the other characters fit into their complex story lines. The way that Noah goes from rough and unapproachable to the compassionate loving gentleman friend to elderly and children is a beautiful transformation. The emotional journey Tayte makes is complex and deep, this isn’t a novel where everything ends up perfect, it shows real life struggles, and shows that sometimes even the best intentions are not going to work out every time. Tayte is a very relatable character. All the characters come off as real and genuine, no one is too good to be true and perfect, everyone has flaws and good sides.
Dragons of Alsace Farm will draw the reader in, it will stir up emotions and will leave the reader with a sense of “this could happen” rather than being so far out of the norm. From dealing with aging loved ones, losing loved ones, mending family rifts and finding love after believing your unlovable, this book has something for everyone.
Pages: 376 | ISBN: 1534909141
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Worth Holding On To is a memoir about how you found and lost the love of your life. Why did you decide to write about something so beautifully tragic?
It goes without saying that writing this particular book was no easy task. I remember dating the real life Cyrena (which is an alias, of course) just like it was yesterday. In fact, I remember all elements of that romance and its fallout just as vividly, but I wanted to write these things all down so that should there ever come a day when my memories start to fade, I will still have captured the reality of what was while it was still “fresh,” if that makes any sense. I will never forget her or what we shared; that, I’m sure is evident, but I also wrote this novella as a form of closure. What began as a writing project simply with the end-goal of a sort of ‘self-improvement’ exercise became a source of immense interior strength and spiritual journeying that I felt compelled to share with the world. I knew I wasn’t the only one who ever had experienced a love like this… I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last, but hopefully as readers take the journey with me through the book, they will reflect on their own loving relationships eventually coming to the realization that I did. Love is not an illusion; it is not some made-up philosophical construct. Love is alive; Love is transcendent; Love is a Person. God is Love and if we are all made “in His/Her image and likeness,” then Love is, as God is, all-good, unending, and cannot be overcome by darkness, evil, hatred, sin, sorrow, or shame.
There is a sense of love and innocence throughout the novel. How were you able to capture those feelings and put them into words?
When I knew the real Cyrena, she was indeed a very “innocent” young 18 or 19 year old woman. Of course, then, I was only 20 or 21, but in a number of ways was “not so innocent.” This may sound like the beginnings of a sort of “tale of corruption,” but as the book itself well demonstrates, I never thought of Cyrena as any sort of a “romantic conquest” or anything even remotely close to that. In fact, she was my turning point. What I mean by this is that prior to her entry into my life, I was rather cavalier with the women I had dated. She changed that… The whole experience changed that aspect of my life. I no longer date with the intention of “good feelings,” but rather with an eye, a mind, and a heart towards being for another person what they have yet to find. Rather than showing them another man who “only wants one thing,” the aim now is to show them not even myself, but the reflection of the One greater than I who lives through me.
There is so much to be said about love in this book. What do you hope your readers take away from your story?
Memories are a beautiful thing… of that, we can all be certain. For every single one of us, we also can be sure that there are painful memories. These are all things that are subject to change, however. Memories fade. Experiences do not. There is “something” – maybe it’s in the ether or maybe it’s ensouled within us – but there is definitely “something” that remains with us even when the memories have faded or the experiences are long over. And, we can always carry that with us; we can always go back to it; no one can take it from us; it even follows us into the next life. I believe it is all bound together through, with, and in Love itself. Take this as an example: When a person with Alzheimer’s has reached the advanced stage, they rarely recognize people they have known their entire lives. They truly appear to be a mere shell; almost completely devoid of who we’ve known them to be, but the fact remains that they ARE! They are who we’ve always known; who we’ve always loved. What, then, is it exactly about them that has NOT changed? That is what I want readers to take away from this novella: When we encounter good in this life – no matter how great or how small – there is an “essence;” that “something” about which I have just spoken that we carry with us… That goodness pushes us forward. It gives us hope for better and brighter days and “hope does not disappoint!”
I understand that you currently serve as life-coach and chaplain. Do you feel that these experiences influence your writing?
Certainly, I think they do. As much as others think I am helping them, I find that I am often helped just as much, to be entirely honest. When you interact on a regular basis with the teen struggling with a number of life changes, I see myself in that person and know that I was once where they are. When I encounter the ill child fighting cancer but still desiring to be happy, to experience life, and to “be normal,” I see in them that very hope that I know I need to press on and that we all need from time to time. The people I encounter in my work are not just people; they are reflections of God’s very self.
“You never forget your first love,” according to the old adage. Most of us would probably agree that this is true. However: contrary to what would seem reasonable, our first love need not necessarily be the first, second, or even third romantic relationship we’ve held. Neither must it be the longest one by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, our first love typically ‘touches’ us, indeed, ‘moves’ us in an inexplicable way that is unique and different to each person. What causes one person to love so dearly may repulse another and the other way around, but the real measure of the sincerity of this loving is when someone ‘imprints’ their very memory within your heart.
Posted in Interviews
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