Book Review: The Underside of Joy (With a Side of Eat. Live. Be.)

Books are a true joy of mine. I love the ones that make me curl up with a blanket, a big glass of water and a plate of veggies and dip for a long dive into a different world. That’s why I have been happy to review a few books through BlogHer lately.

The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halversonis the newest BlogHer Book Club book selection. It’s a fictional story about a family living in a California town called Elbow. Joe, the dad, runs the family grocery in town and the family lives in his grandparent’s home — the one they built — where they have chickens and an amazing garden. Their life is happy and joyful and seemingly perfect. Their mommy is Ella. Though she’s actually their stepmom, she loves them as fully and deeply as if they were her own kids. But in fast motion everything changes. Joe is suddenly killed by an act of nature, leaving Ella and the kids reeling. Meanwhile Ella discovers that the family business  is in deep trouble just as the children’s birth mother returns and wants to reestablish herself as their mama.

Did you get all that? It’s a complicated and messy story — much like real life. And just when it seems that everything is okay, twists and turns and unexpected discoveries keep things changing.

When I first started reading this book, I couldn’t get into the first pages. They just seemed like a jumble of words on a page that didn’t come together into a story for me. So I took a long break from reading it and then returned to it. When I started again — from page 1 — I fell madly in love with the family and their struggles. I found myself as conflicted as Ella as she faced myriad challenges, disappointments and glimpses of hope.

Though my first impressions of this book were less than favorable, I think it was me — not the book. This is a story that requires you to be ready and willing to soak in the words and visualize the story. It’s a story that needs you to be a devoted and attentive reader. And it’s one that draws you to read slowly and deliberately over a few days.

Be sure to check out the discussions about The Underside of Joy on the BlogHer Book Club page.


Eat. Live. Be. Reboot

Eleven. That’s how old I was the first time I dieted. I wasn’t overweight or in need of shedding a lot of pounds — I just wanted to try it. It seemed so grown up — something that my mom and grandmother did but I couldn’t until they finally said ok. My diet, the infamous cabbage soup one, lasted about two days. That was all I needed. I loved the diet (fruits! veggies! veggie soup!) and the results too.

I can’t begin to count how many diets I have been on since then. As I got older and had something to lose, I did the low-cal thing, the low-fat thing, the low-carb thing and the drink-a-ton-of-water thing. All worked at the time, until I stopped and the weight returned. It was frustrating. And just a month ago, I got ready to do the Weight Watchers thing again but I had such a hard time starting that I just hadn’t gotten beyond a day or two.

Then I read Why Women Need Fat and everything changed. The ideas in the book struck a cord with me. No, they did more than that — they made me rethink my eating and dieting habits altogether. I’ve long wondered why it seemed so much easier for my family in the early 20th century to stay lean and trim — and looking at how diets and weights changed together totally opened my eyes. I’m ready for that huge lifestyle realignment.

So, it’s official: I’m done with dieting. I am done with counting calories or points or anything else. I am done with nonfat milk. I am done with worrying about butter and olive oil and cheese. Instead, I am going to eat and cook like my great-grandparents did. I’m going to go crazy on fruits and veggies. I’m going to keep enjoying my whole grains and bake when we want a sweet something. I’m going to butter my bread and love it without feeling a tinge of guilt.

Some things won’t change. I don’t eat a lot of red meat because of my asthma. I’ll be sticking with what works. But I will eat more Omega-3s — that means more salmon, flax and other goodies. I’m excited to see where this leads — these lean, natural eating habits. I know I won’t suddenly be thin again, but I am hoping that in the coming months, these changes will mean a leaner, lighter, more energetic me.

I’m excited.

Be sure to check in with Cate, Joanne and Patsy — the ELB girls — to see what they are up to this week. And if you want to join our Eat. Live. Be. group, leave a message on the ELB Facebook page.


More from Sarah W. Caron of Sarah’s Cucina Bella

Disclosure: I am being compensated for review on The Underside of Joy by BlogHer. All opinions expressed are my own.


  1. says

    I totally understand what you are saying! I did well on WW in previous attempts, but could never get back into it when I tried to go back to it. I’m focusing more on adding in tons more fruits and veggies and watching my portions so that I can eat to satisfaction rather than being “full”.

  2. says

    Exactly why I love clean eating so much. I could never get into all the counting and measuring that so many diets require. Eat right, treat your body right, and the rest just takes care of itself. Good for you!

  3. says

    I’m totally a numbers person which is, I think, why the points work for me. But I definitely wish I could just trust myself to eat intuitively (and to stop calorie counting in the back of my head). I think this is a great approach, Sarah, and I can’t wait to hear about your progress!

    • sarah says

      I’m not a numbers person, but I can definitely say that I’ve had that running tally of calories in my head for a long time. It’s only in the past year that I have silenced my inner counter.

  4. says

    I read The Underside of Joy for Blogher Book Club as well. I am right there with you that the book took me some time to get into, and I just had issues with the main character in general and her blinders she had on to the world. Thanks for sharing your review!

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