“I waited for you winterlong”

bear and the nightingale

I chose this book when we were in the midst of the Polar Vortex because it seemed like a great cold weather book, and it was. It was also a beautifully written fairy tale of a historical fantasy novel that is the first of a trilogy. The story centers on takes place in medieval Russia and centers on Vasilia Petrovna, the youngest daughter of lord of a remote village. The villagers have always left offerings for the various forest and household spirits of Russian folklore but Vasya is actually able to see and speak with them. She soon catches the eye of Morzko, the Frost King who wants to claim her for his own for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but him. The real trouble begins when Vasya’s father returns with an fiercely pious wife from Moscow (Vasya’s mother died when she was born). The wicked stepmother is followed shortly by a charismatic new priest who frightens the villagers out of worshipping the old gods and spirits. Soon the village is beset by crop failures and bad luck which they blame on the “witch-woman” Vasilia.

There was never a moment that I was not completely enraptured by this store and this writing. It’s definitely not necessary to wait until mid-winter to feel the wind and the chill or the warmth of the kitchen oven that is the center of the family life in Vasya’s home. Yes there is an “evil stepmother” but she’s more tragic than she is truly evil. The characters are richly drawn and the imagery is lovely. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who wants to get lost in a fairly tale for a little while.

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“Beautiful girl, lovely dress. Where she is now I can only guess”

good as gone

How does it affect a family when the worst thing imaginable happens? How do parents influence their child’s decisions without even realizing that they’re doing it? How do you deal with the fact that your long lost loved one might be an imposter? These are some of the themes throughout Amy Gentry’s suspense novel Good as Gone. The novel begins eight years from the present day when young Julie Whitaker is taken from her bedroom at knife point by an unknown abductor never to be seen again. The only witness is her terrified younger sister. We rejoin the family in the present and a young woman whom they immediately recognize as Julie knocks on the door. After the initial excitement dies down, her mother Anna begins to have doubts that this young woman is her long lost daughter. She is contacted by a private investigator who only serves to inflame those doubts.

While I did kind of figure out where this book was going, it was after several wrong guesses and it was very late in the book. The book switches perspectives between Anna and MaybeJulie and once you get used to the format it flows nicely. The characters are a little bit infuriating but given their history of trauma and loss it’s understandable. The action moves along swiftly but it never feels rushed or glossed over. The ending is the sort of neatly tied up package the never happens in real life but sometimes that’s just what you need.

I immediately added Amy Gentry’s next book, As Long as We Both Shall Live to my TBR list as soon as I finished this one. She has the potential to be as great a suspense writer as Megan Abbott.

“Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings”

flavia deluce 2

This is the second book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series of which there are currently ten. For those that don’t know Flavia is a precocious, motherless eleven year old with a passion for poisons who lives in a crumbling country house in the village of Bishop’s Lacy in England in the 1950s. She lives with her father who has emotionally checked out and her sisters Ophelia and Daphne who seem to despise her. Like all protagonists of mystery series, Flavia lives in a town with an inordinate amount of murders and manages to come to the aid of local law enforcement whether they’d like her to or not. This second book finds Flavia investigating the mysterious death of puppeteer Rupert Porson, who is electrocuted during the performance of a show.

Half the enjoyment of a good cozy mystery isn’t merely solving the puzzle but meeting all the tertiary characters in whatever setting the mystery takes place. Bishops Lacy in 1950 has these in spades. There’s a vicar (there’s always a vicar) and his deeply unpleasant wife, the late puppeteer’s lovely but somewhat shifty assistant and two delightfully dotty old biddies that run the local tea shop. This particular volume seemed to wander a little bit more but I don’t mind this so much early in a series as there’s a lot of scene setting that needs to be done. Flavia herself is aware of her weirdness and does her best to disguise it around most people. Reading her adventures through town is a lot of fun.

A good cozy mystery is like a palate cleanser for a lot of heavier reading if you can find a good series. If you’re all caught up on your favorite cozy mystery or you’d just like a new one I’d highly recommend the Flavia de Luce series.

“Perhaps it’s just the way the light hits, but everything looks like a target to me”

deadly class

This is a graphic novel I’ve had on my shelf for quite some time but didn’t pick up until I heard the television adaptation had come out on SyFy. I love nothing more than being a smug book reader. I’ve heard it described has Harry Potter for assassins and the description is apt but I think you need to throw a little John Hughes in there to make it a perfect comparison. Deadly Class is the story of Marcus Lopez, a homeless teen in 1987 who is accepted into Kings Dominion, a super secret high school for potential assassins. Instead of jocks and preps, the cliques in his school consist of the kids of top KGB agents, white nationalists, South American drug lords and powerful Yakuza. Marcus fits in with none of them, making his high school experience exponentially more precarious than the average misfit teen from the 80s

This book, as you might expect is extremely graphically violent. So if that sort of thing puts you off, this is not the graphic novel for you. This first volume follows Marcus’ first days at King’s Dominion and introduces us to a slew of potential friends and enemies. He already has a reputation due to an incident at boy’s home that isn’t fully fleshed out in this volume. There’s also a mysterious mad man with a burned face stalking him due to the same incident. Volume one ends with some of Marcus’ problems solved but with much bigger ones on the horizon.

Aside from being a lovely bit of nostalgia for anyone who was a high school misfit in the 1980s (I did not see my teens until the 90s), this book starts out with interesting characters, great action and some genuine laugh out loud moments. Not to mention the fact that the art is stunning. If you’re not put off by the violence you should add this one to your graphic novel collection.

“You’ve got to pick up every stitch”

practical magic

 

I recently started getting into an actual magical practice. I’ve had an interest in it for years but never but never seriously practiced it. Since a lot of books on magic can be pretty esoteric, I wanted bare bones basic book to give me a general idea of where to start. Practical Magic for Beginners did a nice job of that. It begins with short exercises designed to improve focus and direct your energy works up to some basic rituals that you can personalize and make your own.

The instructions and writing are straightforward and easy to follow, though I could have done with some more illustrations as I am not a particularly visual thinker. It doesn’t dive particularly deep into particular types of magical practice bu that’s to be expected. I would have liked some references to different books or websites for those who wanted to study more about a particular type of magical practice. It did have some good tips. I have no started a magical journal which I add to daily and I am doing the basic exercises referenced in the beginning.

If you’re interested in started a magical practice or just curious about magic in general, this book is a great way to dip your toe in the waters. It also gives you some great hands-on activities you can do to get started.

“I got cabin fever, it’s burning in my brain”

cabin at the end of the world

 

Well this book ripped my jaded, horror-loving heart out and showed it to me.

This is the second book by Paul Tremblay that has hurt my feelings. The first being A Head Full of Ghosts published in 2016. While both books give us an intimate and ultimately heart rending family drama with ambiguous endings, they are very different stories. Cabin centers on seven year old Wen and her dads Eric and Andrew. The family has traveled to the titular cabin as part of a getaway to celebrate Wen’s upcoming eighth birthday. Naturally the cabin has no cell service. As Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, she is approached by Leonard who at first seems friendly but is followed shortly thereafter by three companions carrying menacing looking weapons. Wen races inside to warn her dads. While the four have no intention to harm the family they have a proposition that Eric, Andrew and Wen must listen to. What follows is a tense and possibly earth shattering negotiation with an ending that is both unexpected and inevitable.

The book is short so I don’t want to give too much away. I will tell what doesn’t happen. This little family does not turn on itself under the strain of the extreme stress of the situation which was what I smugly predicted at the beginning. They struggle with their situation and with their captors but their family bonds are never strained. That makes the ensuing encounter so much more suspenseful and intense that your standard “encounter with crazies.” Their invaders are also unique in that, for reasons that become quickly obvious, they don’t want to be doing what they are doing but they clearly feel they have no choice.

Given enough free time, I could have easily zipped through this book in a couple of days, pausing only when I needed to take a short break from the sheer intensity of it. I highly recommend it to any fans of horror, especially horror that punches you in your feelings.

“Two hearts girl get the job done”

 

the impossible girl

Mysteries that take place in old New York City are pretty much catnip for me. If you add in an interesting and capable female lead, I’m pretty much all in. Naturally, The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang roped me right in with both. Set in Manhattan in 1850, the book features a healthy dose of weird history, a mystery I only partially figured out and a protagonist with skill and grit that the author shows and doesn’t tell.

Before a change in legislation made it easier for aspiring doctors to obtain corpses for learning anatomy, they depended on grave robbers called “Resurrectionists” to supply them with fresh Corpses. Cora Lee is one of the most infamous in New York City, choosing to collect corpses with interesting physical anomalies which fetch a higher price. What no one who works with her has guessed is that she herself was born with two hearts, which makes her corpse very valuable. She has managed to keep this secret all her life until now. It seems as though someone has figured her out and she now has to scramble to figure out who knows her secret. At the same time, she has to earn a living so she’s not thrown out on the street. Her journey takes her from brothels in poverty and crime ridden neighborhoods to the sitting rooms of society’s elite. You might think you’ve guessed the ending, but you haven’t guessed all of it.

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.

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.