If you see me mainlining a baguette in February, here’s why

whole30

 

I’m not a “diet person” and I’m especially not a trendy diet person. So it’s kind of surprising that I even latched on to this plan. However, as Melissa Hartwig will emphasize throughout the book, this is not a diet or a weight loss plan. This is a 30 day “reset” to help you change your relationship with food an understand how different foods affect your body. This resonated with me as someone who immediately begins stress eating as soon as things get tough. I like the idea of reducing cravings and having more energy so if those are the only two things to come out of the 30 days I’ll be counting it as a win.

In the interest of total disclosure, I skipped a couple of the chapters. I don’t have kids, I don’t have an autoimmune disorder and I won’t be traveling when I start my Whole30 on February 1 so I didn’t feel compelled to read about them. I also skimmed most some of the recipes in the back of the book. Obviously I’m unable to make any comparisons to any other “diet” books but many of the claims put forth strain credulity, especial the testimonials at the start of each chapter. But the instructions for the 30 day reset are clear and they covered just about every question I had regarding my upcoming whole 30.

Overall, this book was a clear, concise intro to what I can expect when I start my Whole30 on February 1 and the best ways to navigate any potential roadblocks. The author was honest about how difficult the fist week or two can be but emphasized that it was temporary and you’d start feeling great after that. Of course I won’t be able to comment on the veracity of those claims until after March 2, 2019 so updates to follow.

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Apparently “The Abyss” isn’t a big deal

whoever fights monsters

 

This book was the January non-fiction selection for the book club I run on Goodreads.com for fans of the My Favorite Murder podcast. Fans of the show Mindhunter on Netflix may recognize bits of this book from the show (as well as the book of the same name, obviously). This should not be surprising since both Ressler and John Douglas, the author of Mindhunter were founding members of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico and have traveled extensively interviewing some of America’s most brutal murderers as well as giving training seminars to Law Enforcement Officers in the hopes that serial murders and stranger murders will be easier to identify and solve.

Ressler gives details of his early life in the military and then the FBI. The post Hoover years were a time of change and he found himself having to do a balancing act between following Bureau protocol and plowing head using the adage “it’s better to get forgiveness than permission.” But the effectiveness of criminal profiling as a law enforcement tool proved to be undeniable. By the 1990s, FBI profilers had a someone glamorous, if not entirely accurate image in pop culture. He also relates some of his interviews with some of the most infamous American serial killers and uses the lessons learned from them to illustrate some of the major points in criminal profiling. Where the book falters, in my view is in Ressler’s arrogance. Granted, a certain arrogance is probably required to buck FBI tradition and go full steam ahead with a program that was unheard of at that point. But it would have been nice to hear about times when Ressler had been wrong about something or how he’d learned from past mistakes instead of how he was constantly showing up other profilers and local experts.

Overall this book gave me a greater understanding of the evolution of the Behavioral Science Unit and how criminal profiling developed as a discipline. Many of the anecdotes can be seen in the show Mindhunter but there is lots of new information in there. Despite the title, there is never indication that Mr. Ressler ever had any concerns about becoming a monster of the Abyss staring back at him. It lacks the ingredient that all great memoirs contain; a dose of humility and self examination.

“Grief is Love’s Souvenir”

This book was actually recommended to me by the awesome ladies at the Get Booked podcast. I requested some books that would help me get through some pretty rough stuff that I was going through in life and this book fits the bill. There are many things that Glennon Doyle wrote about herself and about existing as a woman in this world that resonated very deeply with me and gave me some direction on where to go and what to do next. What made it hard for me to relate to was that the author, being a well off white lady, didn’t really seem to have any financial limitations on her journey of self discovery. I wouldn’t say it’s as tin-eared as “Eat, Pray, Love.” She deals with some serious issues. But not all of us have families that can drop everything and come stay with us while we figure our shit out or time and money for regular therapy sessions and seemingly endless yoga classes.

Love Warrior dives right in as Ms. Doyle describes her early struggles with Bulimia and as she learns to put on a false face to the world in order to gain the acceptance of her peers. As she enters college she develops a pretty serious alcohol addiction. Her parents try unsuccessfully to get her to quit. It’s not until she discovers she’s pregnant that she decides to go into recovery and focus all her attention on being a mother and a wife to the baby’s father. After several years of what seems outwardly to be a happy marriage, she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful for almost the entirety of their marriage. What follows is Glennon’s journey to discover who she is to herself rather than someone’s wife or mother. She learns to relate to the outside world as her true self and not what anyone expects from her.

Overall I liked it, even if I didn’t love it. Some of her words shook me to my core and I truly felt for her. Other times I wanted her life so I could go to therapy and sleep all day while my parents took care of everything and I never had to worry how the bills would get paid.

“Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy”

Eleanor Oliphant

 

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Unless you’ve never in your life opened up a work of fiction, you can probably guess that Eleanor is the opposite of fine. However she spends the first half of the book telling herself, and consequently the reader, that she is. She has a perfectly ordered life working five days a week and on nights and weekends eating frozen pizza and drinking wine and vodka to pass the time (our first hint that things aren’t “fine”), and talking to Mummy every Wednesday night on the phone. Two consecutive events occur to shake up Eleanor’s world. First she attends a concert after winning a free ticket in a work raffle and falls in love with the singer. Second, she and a coworker assist an old man who collapses in the street in front of them. Once Eleanor find her life intertwined with other people, she starts to realize there better things to be than “fine.”

My immediate thought about Eleanor is that she may be somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. She clearly has issues with social interaction and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking and tends to be overly literal about things. That may still be true, but the more I learned about Eleanor and her Mummy, the more I realized she had much more reason to hide from the world than ASD. As Eleanor pursued her crush on the singer and became closer to her new friends, I became equal parts nervous and hopeful for how things would turn out for her. And that’s what opening yourself up to other humans feels like; nervous and hopeful. I don’t want to spoil anything but Eleanor experiences some serious ups and downs with these new changes in her life, but because of a chance meeting on a street corner, she doesn’t go through them alone.

I am suddenly living on my own in the first time in my life so this book rang a lot of emotional bells for me. Obviously my situation isn’t the same as Eleanor Oliphant, but it definitely drove home the importance of keeping up my current friendships and even forging some new ones so that I can more better than just “fine.”

“Stand up and do better”

oathbringer

Hoo boy! This 1200 page tome is going to be a doozy to try to review without spoiling but I’ll give it the old college try. Brandon Sanderson’s third installment of the Stormlight Archive is full of its share of world building, plot twists and some honest to goodness character development. I’ll try to keep things vague and broad but A LOT happens in this book.

*some spoilers for the first two books ahead*

Oathbringer picks up shortly after the events of Words of Radiance. Dalinar and his allied forces have used the newly discover oathgate to set up camp in the vast fortress of Urithuru. He is attempting to unite all the kingdoms in Roshar and dealing with a past he has largely forgotten. Adolin is living with the secret of having killed Sadeus, his fathers enemy. Shallan is learning to live with what it means to be a Knight Radian. Kaladin is still doing what he always does, being generally humorless and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. But most importantly, Jasnah is alive! Everyone’s favorite heretic scholar is back and still has no time for fools. There are some major revelations and a couple of serious battles in this installment. There are also some serious revelations regarding Dalinar’s aforementioned past and the true nature of the dreaded Voidbringers. Kaladin also spends some time with the newly freed Parshmen and sees that their dislike of humanity is quite justified.

Overall I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I had some issues getting through it because it was an EBook from the library and it kept getting auto returned before I could finish it. Then I’d have to wait in line on the hold list until I could get it back. I could have done with a lot less time plodding through Shadesmar (about 3/4 through the book). But otherwise it’s a great addition to the Stormlight Archive.

Enchanted and Spellbound, In the Silence they Lingered

wylding hall

 

This book had already ticked off so many boxes for me before I’d even opened it: Crumbling and isolated English manor, 1970s acid folk band, possible Wicker Man-like pagan horror. I was intrigued before I even started the book. This short novella by Elizabeth Hand slowly amps up the weirdness and dread and, though it leaves the reader with more questions than answers, it’s a deeply satisfying ending.

The book follows the the story of fictional folk band <i>Windhollow Faire</i> a small folk band who are sent to the titular country manor to record their next album. Though the album will be their greatest work as a group, the lead singer, Julian Blake, disappears in the course of recording it. The book is told in a documentary style as the former band members and associates gather together and recall the events at Wylding Hall that led to Blake’s disappearance. It is broken up into small vignettes as we see some incidents from varying perspectives. The elements that add to the feeling of unease are familiar but no less unsettling. The dimensions of the manor seem somewhat fluid (though it’s nowhere near House of Leaves territory). The townsfolk are standoffish and seem to cling to weird old pagan traditions. And Julian Blake himself has a fascination with the occult. These, and several other elements culminate in the vanishing of Mr. Blake.

I loved this book so much! I literally found myself sneaking off to read just a little bit more on the Kindle app on my phone. The feel of this book invoked the kind of general unease you get while watching old 70s occult movies. Things just seem a little skewed in a way you can’t always put your finger on. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the Folk Horror sub genre, this book is a great recommendation at less than 200 pages.

Same Song; Different Tune

bluebird bluebird

 

This is the first book I’ve read by Attica Locke and it definitely won’t be my last. Bluebird Bluebird is a complex and gripping mystery with social commentary that never feels ham-handed or preachy. I enjoyed it so much I may even check out Empire on Hulu (Ms. Locke writes for the show).

Darren Matthews has a lot going on. He is a black Texas Ranger is East Texas. His career is in jeopardy after sticking his neck out for a family friend. His marriage is in jeopardy for the same reason. He might also be a high functioning alcoholic. As a favor for a friend, he goes to the tiny town of Lark to look into two murders. A black lawyer from Chicago, followed a few days later by a white local girl. The prevailing theory put forth by the local authorities is that the white girl was killed as retaliation for the black man. If the patent ridiculousness of this story wasn’t already apparent, it becomes clear as soon as Darren arrives in town that there is a lot more going on. He must look into secrets that the small town is unwilling to give up to an outsider, along with the generations old ties between the black and white residents of Lark. We also see that, despite the reverence with which the Rangers are held in the state of Texas, they can’t protect Darren from the violent racist elements in town.

If you are a fan of mystery and suspense and you haven’t picked up an Attica Locke book, I highly recommend that you do. If I had the free time I feel like I would love read through her entire scope of work in a week or so, even if it left me a little more cynical about the state of race relations in the U.S. that I already was.

Get to the Next Screen

altered carbon

 

What does society look like if your consciousness can be saved to a device and installed into a new body making death theoretically impossible? While this sounds like the plot of an episode of Black Mirror, it’s actually the main conceit of Altered Carbon, published in 2006 (and adapted into a series on Netflix this year). At birth, every human has a cortical stack implanted at the base of the skull that contains their consciousness. Only the destruction of the stack results in what’s known as Real Death. It’s in this world that we meet Takeshi Kovacs, a former elite soldier who has fallen on the wrong side of the law. Kovacs’ stack has been put on ice which is what now serves as a prison sentence in the 25th century. He is brought to earth and put into a new body by Laurens Bancroft, an ultra rich business man who wants Takeshi to solve his own murder. The police have written it off as a suicide and are unwilling to put any more time and effort into investigating the “death” of a man who can never really die. The ultra-rich are able to have their consciousnesses backed up to a secure facility every day or two, so that even if their stack is destroyed, they still live. Death is no longer the great equalizer.

Takeshi’s investigation takes him through all levels of society and naturally, nothing goes smoothly. There are twists and turns and sex and violence throughout this hard boiled cyberpunk detective novel. I’m not even halfway through the Netflix adaptation so I can’t tell you how how true to the source material it is, but the book follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk authors like William Gibson.

“The Sky is Falling. Life is Apalling”

the obelisk gate

Reading this book was a bit of a chore. Not because N.K. Jemison’s work isn’t amazing, but because I checked it out as an ebook from my library, not realizing that I couldn’t renew it if other people had it on hold and it would be automatically returned before I could finish it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did its predecessor, The Fifth Season, but it is still an intense read that gives us a deeper understanding of Essun, the main protagonist along with her allies in the underground city of Castrima. It also adds the point of view of Nassun, Essun’s daughter who it was believed was lost or killed in the Season that started at the beginning of the first book.

The action does slow quite a bit in this second installment of The Broken Earth trilogy. Essun spends the entire book learning to navigate her new surroundings in the city of Castrima, which is unique not only in the fact that it exists underground using ancient technology but because it contains Orogenes and Stills (non-Orogenes) living side by side in relative peace. She also must deal with her former lover Alabaster, who was revealed to be alive at the end of the previous book. Nassun’s story fills us in on where she was at the start of The Fifth Season and catches us up until both mother and daughters stories are on the same timeline. We see her come upon her father, Jija, after he has just beaten her younger brother to death after discovering that he is an Orogene. Much of the emotional impact that was contained in the first book is to be found in Nassun’s chapters. Though we understand her motivations, it is frustrating to watch this young girl try to maintain her father’s extremely conditional love. She also unwittingly allies herself with an old nemesis of her mother’s.

Though it may not have the action of the first book, we learn so much more about the characters who inhabit the world of The Broken Earth trilogy and see the setup for what promises to be a stunning finish in The Stone Sky.

And the worms ate into his brain

surfacing

I would have liked to read this book over a day or two without interruption so that I could immerse myself in it. Reading it in fits and starts while I was on hold at work (I have the Kindle app downloaded to my desktop) and before bed it at night really didn’t allow me to feel the growing feeling of unease and dissociation that Margaret Atwood’s book conveys. Though I wouldn’t call it my favorite work by Ms. Atwood (Cat’s Eye wins that hands down), it’s a thought provoking short novel.

Surfacing follows a nameless protagonist as she returns to her childhood home on an isolated island in Quebec after the mysterious disappearance of her father. Though very little as far as action happens in the novel, the woman’s experience of suddenly being immersed in a a past that she fled from slowly drives her into delusion and madness. Many of the themes, such as not fitting in with your childhood world or your current one and the societal expectations put on women, I found very relatable. I must confess that running theme of Canadian independence was beyond me.

Surfacing is one woman’s story of leaving home because she did not fit in, only to find the new life that she’s constructed is equally foreign to her. She confesses that she does not love Joe, the man she lives with, and that her career is something she fell into. Though most of us aren’t driven mad by alienation, most of us can relate to it.