Book Review: Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne (North Carolina Author)

Cover of Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne
Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne

Barefoot to Avalon, a Brother’s Story, is David Payne’s sixth published book and memoir that is insightful, raw, and gut-wrenching. It’s the story of an unconventional childhood and a dysfunctional family whelmed by tragedy. Barefoot to Avalon focuses on the violent death of David’s brother, George A., and the years and moments leading up to the horrific accident—a familial thread of resentment and feelings not communicated. Feelings not spoken just hours before George A.’s death, which David witnessed. Their father pitted the two against one another since childhood, while their mother did nothing to mitigate. David’s brother lived with mental illness for much of his life, and because George A. was high functioning, his breakdowns were difficult for those around him to understand and he received little empathy. Yet, when David was wrestling with a declining career, alcoholism, and a marriage near its breaking point, George A. was there to help him move from Vermont to North Carolina for a chance at a fresh start with his wife and children. After a week of near silent brotherly bonding while reducing David’s life to the contents of two trucks, David and George A. set out on the highway. George A. lost his life, and David could only watch.

While I enjoyed David Payne’s novels Gravesend Light and Early from the Dance, I was utterly engrossed in his memoir from beginning to end. Barefoot to Avalon reads as though it were written from the author’s heart and with brutal honesty. At times, I found the writing style difficult to follow. There are stream-of-consciousness narratives that tripped me up, and the author shifts from one time period to another often, sometimes more than once in a paragraph. I understand why he may have written in that fashion, possibly to convey the chaos in his heart and mind, but I personally prefer a more fluid, chronological structure. It did not, however, take away from the story of his relationship with his brother, his brother’s battles, and his own battles. It is a sincere glimpse into the life of an acclaimed novelist and into the heartache and tragedy of human life. If you enjoy memoir, I highly recommend Barefoot to Avalon.

If you would like to order Barefoot to Avalon via my very own Amazon Associates link, clickity-click here.

Cheers,
Kelly

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Cover of All the Light We Cannot SeeSet during World War II, this novel delicately and seamlessly weaves the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner together in a way that is spellbinding. The story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, the much adored blind daughter of a French museum locksmith, and Werner Pfennig, a brilliant orphan turned German soldier, is a story of wonder, self-preservation, love, and the human desire for redemption.

Marie-Laure was a young child when she lost her sight, and only 12 when she and her father fled Paris to live obscurely in the French countryside with an agoraphobic uncle until the war ended. Marie-Laure did not know of the treasure they carried with them. Werner and his sister lived in an orphanage in Germany and had little time or resources for entertainment, until Werner discovered the world of radio waves with spare parts and his inherent ability to understand circuitry. He and his sister would stay up through the night listening to a gentleman broadcast a children’s show from worlds away. That very talent led Werner to attend the academy for Hitler Youth, tearing him from his sister and the only home he knew. Both Marie-Laure and Werner were set on dreadful paths not of their choosing, yet their lives would intersect tenderly amidst the chaos.

Each character is so clearly developed and vividly portrayed, I felt akin to them. This book is not simply set in World War II, it transports the reader to occupied France. The voice of Marie-Laure makes you feel her blindness, listening to and feeling the world around her, as that world crumbles. The voice of Werner sets your heart racing with fear: fear of losing everyone he cared about, of enduring the merciless academy for Hitler Youth, of giving his life for country.

From the very first chapter, it was difficult to put down. Doerr’s language is like poetry, conveying volumes of insight and feeling, yet this novel reads easily. I could read this book again and again.

If you’d like to purchase this book via my Amazon link, click here. Many thanks!

Cheers!
Kelly

Book Review: “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”

The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

“The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz is a research-driven, anthropologic, narrative history on how we have come to be entrenched in our misguided belief about fat, our diet, and our health. Although Teicholz references studies and clinical trials, and meticulously shows the reader the actual results and not just the pieces that have been lifted and manipulated, this book reads like a novel. There is a protagonist (the health of the entire U.S. population), antagonists, plot, and drama. It is sad that this is a true story—one which we do not yet know the final outcome.

Unbeknownst to us, fat, specifically saturated fat, has been proven time and again to not be the villain as it has been portrayed. For example, it is known that “LDL-cholesterol…is a largely unreliable predictor of heart disease risk.” Yet we are told to curb our fat intake for the sake of our cholesterol levels. Saturated fat actually increases our good cholesterol level. Further, studies show a link between eating carbohydrates and sugars (not animal fat) and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The author pulls the curtain from the studies and clinical trials that for 60 years have proven the low-fat diet to be a failure in weight loss and in good health. Still, the idea that fat begets fat is so ingrained in our belief system that credentialed scientists and our own government have turned their backs on real data. Add to that Big Food and the media, and you end up with a food pyramid prescribed to everyone and healthy for no one.

Nina Teicholz did her homework for nine years reviewing existing studies and trials, interviewing the scientists who conducted them, and researching our own history and the history of other countries–those who are healthier than the U.S. and those who are not. There is one constant: fat is not what we’ve been told it is. I found this book fascinating and incredibly informative. I couldn’t put it down.

Cheers!
Kelly

If you’d like to purchase this book via my link to Amazon, click here.

Book Review: Brain on Fire – My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire My Month of MadnessI give five out of five stars to “Brain on Fire – My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan, a memoir written with honesty, courage and raw insight to a degree few of us will ever achieve. It is the story of a young journalist, Susannah, who develops psychotic symptoms and behaviors over a short period of time. Cahalan eloquently tells the story of the events immediately prior to and after her breakdown, and has journalistically pieced together the month she lost while suffering a debilitating, potentially fatal disease of which the medical community is only beginning to become aware. This true account of one woman’s fight for her life is maddening, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. It is a fascinating look at matters of the human brain as well as matters of the heart. Furthermore, this memoir has the power to raise awareness of a little-known disease that may be affecting thousands; awareness has the power to save lives.

This book needs to be read far and wide not only because it is impossible to put down, but also for its potential to start much needed and overdue discussions about mental illness and its stigma, misconceptions, and in this case, misdiagnosis.

Cheers!
Kelly

If you would like to purchase this book from Amazon via my link, you may use the link above or click HERE. Many thanks!

Book Review – “The Author Training Manual”

The Author Training Manual” by Nina Amir is a detailed, well thought-out and comprehensive guide to get you from wanting to write a book to actually being published. The book is divided into three sections: Manual, Sample, and Training. The Manual section is further broken into 12 chapters taking you step-by-step through the author training process.

The Manual section is the bulk of the book, and it facilitates the development of what Amir refers to as an author attitude, looking at your idea and your writing objectively, and creating a polished business plan and book proposal ready for submission.

The Sample section of the book is helpful as it shows samples of actual business plans and book proposals, complete with feedback from agents and editors. This is a huge plus for those of us who are visual learners.

The Training section of the book includes training exercises that correspond with the chapters in the Manual section. These exercises are extensive and can be completed after each chapter is read or after reading the entire book.

I like the simplicity of the language Amir uses – any layperson should get as much benefit from “The Author Training Manual” as would a seasoned business person or author, which is helpful since you are likely a first-time author if you are reading this book. I also appreciate the methodical layout. If you follow the manual and exercises through each step, you should be able to produce a solid business plan and book proposal. That is, of course, if you have a good book to write – which Amir discusses in the second chapter “How to Begin: Evaluate Yourself and Your Book for Success.” She provides references to websites, books, and apps to help you further understand, evaluate, and manage your process. If I were pressed to provide constructive criticism, it would be that there is almost too much information – and that is purely personal preference. There are so many suggested readings that it almost becomes overwhelming. Being thorough, however, is not a bad thing if you’re serious about publishing a book. I give this book four stars and recommend it to anyone contemplating their first novel, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, or memoir.

Cheers!
Kelly

Click HERE to purchase The Author Training Manual at Amazon using the Chubs Lived Here link.

I think I’m turning very French, I think I’m turning very French, I really think so!

I’ve decided to become more French. By pedigree, I’m not even a pinch French, but I read “Lessons from Madame Chic – 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris” and have become fascinated with a lifestyle that seems elegantly simple. You know I’ve always been a fan of classic and understated, so I say Oui!

I ordered Madame Chic from Amazon.com after we signed up for Amazon Prime. AP is a dangerous thing. Once you get that “free shipping” breezy sort of feel in your hair, everything seems like a great deal and it’ll be on your doorstep in just a day or two, so why not order it? That’s how Madame Chic came to be in my mailbox at work. Honestly, I expected a superficial mindless read just a rung above a Cosmo article, and I was okay with that. I was pleasantly, sweetly, surprised. Yes, this book contains chapters such as “Find Your True Style” and “Practice the Art of Femininity,” – GASP – but author Jennifer L. Scott also talks about valuing quality, rejecting the new materialism, and enjoying life by living it and not by trying to win the “I have the biggest or the most” contest we seem to get caught up in here in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, the book has that Cosmo-esque skin care and fashion fluff, but there’s some meat to it as well.

The key to enjoying entertaining is to be genuine, warm, and not obsess over every minute detail. People love to socialize and to be invited, and they are in your home because they like you. Enjoy the company of your dear friends over deliciously simple food and drink and enjoy that often. Treat yourself, your family, and your guests with respect and delight in using the good China – every day –  or at least every time you entertain. Why not? What are you saving it for? There is a chapter about simplifying your life by reducing your wardrobe to 10 items. Yes, 10 items!

The underlying message is to enjoy life, and as cliche as it has become, to not sweat the small stuff. Take care of yourself, and understand what really matters – family, friends, good health, and cultivating the best of each in a joyous way. Sign me up!

I started with the wardrobe issue. Although I doubt I’ll ever have a 10-item wardrobe, I have done some major thinning of the textile herd. I purchased a few quality items that I previously would have left on the rack solely based on price. No more cotton sweaters that fade and pill after three washes. Merino wool or cashmere please. If I own just a few sweaters, the cost is not such a big deal. Two merino wools will last me years vs. 25 cotton sweaters each lasting a season. And the quality fabrics feel luxurious…I feel like I’m really treating myself to something special. I’m okay with wearing the same outfits each week. I used to feel that I had to wear something different every day of the month. If it fits well, looks great, and makes me feel beautiful, then I would rather wear that each week than something new each day that doesn’t necessarily live up to those standards. Makes sense to me. Kudos to Ms. Scott – a lovely little book with precious smart advice and a fashionably fabulous “moral of the story” to boot!

Another French-like quality I’m trying to embrace is to finally, for the first time in my life, wear a big girl perfume. I’ve always used whatever body spray from Target or Bath & Body Works. Love the light and fresh scents, but a few spritzes stay with me maybe three hours. By lunch time I can’t detect even a trace. So on the prowl I went for my signature scent. Those of you who know me, know I have a tough time with fragrance. So much of it gives me a headache, or smells manufactured to me. I want something that smells like roses, or honeysuckle. Period. Not roses with a hint of sandalwood and musk and just a trace of patchouli. Blah. My nose was offended my most everything I sniffed. And I sniffed a lot and on several occasions. I would leave the store with a headache. Alas, I found what I hope becomes my signature scent…Dahlia Noir by Givenchy. I’m sure it’s every bit as manufactured as any other, but it has a sweet, clean scent that spoke to me. And it didn’t give me a headache.

Ken and I are going to a fundraising cocktail party this evening and I’ll wear my big girl perfume for the first time. Look at me all grown up! Or should I say, smell me all grown up! Ha!

Cheers!
Kelly