The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

From the book flap: Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

Bryan from Still an Unfinished Person brought this book to my attention. It’s a sort of Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap mashup, with a lot of philosophy about what it means to be yourself mixed in. Aiden Bishop has eight hosts to solve a murder, a race against time in a day repeated eight times, starting with no memory at all at the beginning of the first host’s day, but carrying over into the next, then the next, then the next. Some of the days weave in and out of the book, making a lot of the story a bit of a loop with clues scattered throughout previous days. That made the mystery just about impossible to unravel ahead of time (nice!) and made me want to go back and reread to spot all the different things I’d missed. I have yet to do so, because it’s also a ponderous kind of book, a bit slow (in a good way), which means I want to give it some time to really percolate before revisiting.

Irony: In most thriller/mysteries, I lament the current trend toward extra unnecessary twists. In this book, I was expecting more twists at the end, and felt that the ending/solution/explanations were a bit too simple for me. Heh. However, I’m pretty sure I won’t feel the same about the ending on second read. This is the sort of book that gets more satisfying with a deeper reading, and the ending – while too simple on first read for me – will be thicker and more meaningful once I’ve read past all the actual plot sections to the more philosophical sections. I look forward to that.

I don’t want to say more because there would be way too many ways to accidentally say too much and take some of the magic of discovery out of the novel’s unfolding. Even the book flap and GoodReads descriptions really say too much. I don’t usually care too much myself about spoilers, but this is a fun one to unravel, so I recommend going into it as blind as possible.

Posted in 2019, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

11 Facts for 11 Years

Eleven years ago today, I wrote my first book review. My first blog was born. I’ve changed blogs several times since then, but have carried those reviews along with me ever since, and I still celebrate Feb 15th as my blogoversary. I thought I’d so something a little different to celebrate today, and offer 11 facts-about-the-blogger to celebrate 11 years of blogging.

1. I’m an extrovert reader with situational social anxiety. I love people. I love meeting new people and seeing old friends and just being out among people. However, I do not like new situations and new places. I don’t like noise chaos (especially created by children/babies) or changing-plans chaos. I like things organized, planned, and routine (I am obsessed with spreadsheets, y’all), and I definitely need time to decompress alone when I get knocked off center. So yes, I have social anxiety any time it comes to going to places I don’t know, or going into situations where I’m not sure of the dress or etiquette (or even the parking situation), but I absolutely love being around people and getting to know new people/places/things in the right (ie safe) setting.

2. I didn’t read much as a teenager. Unfortunately, my parents and librarians could only introduce me to formulaic genre fiction, often too young or too old for me, and at school I only got classics that were inappropriate for teenage audiences. (Inappropriate meaning they weren’t really relatable to teens, thus didn’t make for engaging reads.) For many years, I mourned the fact that there weren’t books out there that worked for me. It took until I was in my 20s to connect with books again, and until my 30s before I connected with modern fiction (instead of classics).

3. I never finished college, and frankly, I have no desire to go back to school. I was good at school, but it bored me to tears 90% of the time. This probably has a lot to do with where I went to school and the fact that I’ve never yet decided what I want to do in life beyond raising my family and writing. I know I need to go back to school and get a real career in a few years, but I dread this. Literally dread. I have recurring nightmares about going back to school. I love learning, but I really dislike the traditional school setting.


4. Speaking of raising a family, I spent my entire childhood and adolescence dreaming about getting married and having children. But after I had kids, I discovered that I don’t actually like kids or being a parent. Go figure. Plus I have a very complicated relationship with being a stay-at-home-mom, which I never wanted to be. It’s important to me to have someone home with the kids, but I grew up taking care of my younger siblings while my parents worked to keep us fed, so I feel like I’ve been taking care of children since I was ten years old and have never done anything else with my life.

5. I cannot wait to be in my 40s. Probably this has a lot to do with the fact that my children will all be in college by the time I’m 44, but it’s also because I’ve never dreaded that magical number 40 like other people. I’ve felt 40 years old my entire life, and it’s going to be awesome to actually be 40 when I feel 40 for once. Just two weeks to go! And then, who knows? Maybe after I pass the 40-year mark, I’ll start feeling younger than my actual age rather than older. Maybe I’ll feel 40 when I’m 60! Might happen. I felt 40 when I was 20, after all.

6. Y’all already know I’m a crazy cat lady. However, I only became one very, very recently. I grew up with way too many pets. By “way too many,” I mean we once had thirteen pets in a 1000-square-foot house, in addition to five humans. (They weren’t all cats – we had cats, dogs, birds, fish, guinea pigs, a rabbit, and a hedgehog.) By the time I left home, I never wanted another pet in my life. When 2009 came along, we ended up getting two cats because Jason wanted a cat badly. (He won’t admit this now, but it’s true. It wasn’t something I would have done for myself.) For a few years, I didn’t even like having a cat (the second kitty passed away after six months from cancer). But then I came to love cats, and now five of them live with me…

7. I have what’s known as a super-taster gene, passed down from my dad’s side of the family. Taste is my best sense (or at least it was before the distorted sense issue of the last year, but I’m still hopeful that can be resolved!). I can taste how many days away milk will expire. If iceberg lettuce has ever touched my food, I can taste it. And if a taste is too strong, it’s like a sensory overload and I won’t be able to taste anything at all. Example: my grandmother once gave my cousins and me some dill pickles that she’d accidentally pickled for 15 years. While everyone else was doubled over with the sourness of them, I couldn’t taste them. It was like eating solid water. Coffee was the same. Until a few years ago, it just tasted like hot water.

8. I didn’t begin drinking alcohol or coffee until I was 34 years old. Up until that point, coffee didn’t taste like anything and alcohol tasted strongly of rot (not in a good way). I think all my work with food (expanding what I could eat through force) in 2011 and 2012 made a change in the way my super-taster tastebuds functioned, or perhaps they just dulled with age. Either way, I could suddenly taste coffee, and wine no longer tasted like death. Now whether or not taking up these two habits was a good thing is debatable…

9. I dislike nearly all fruits and vegetables, and what I do like, I only like under specific conditions. With fruits, it’s mostly a sensory thing (plus they’re often way too sweet). I have a hereditary neurological condition (sensory processing disorder) that could have been corrected with occupational therapy in toddlerhood if I’d been diagnosed, but doctors didn’t even know the disorder existed at the time. (My middle son has it, and he had the occupational therapy, whew!) The texture of fruits is unbearable. With vegetables, it’s the taste thing. Like I said above, everything tastes much stronger, and the bitter flavor of most vegetables is overwhelming. Iceberg lettuce is one of the strongest, nastiest flavors I’ve ever encountered, and many people say it has no taste! Because of these strong dislikes, I rarely ate any produce growing up, and even less in adulthood. I only started putting major effort into eating more in 2011, when I started small (one serving per day, six days a week) and worked forced my way up.

10. I enjoy doing laundry. I don’t know why. Most chores I don’t particularly like, and I downright loathe cooking (which is why Jason does it). Laundry doesn’t bother me, though. I do it twice a week no matter what and I don’t let anyone do it for me. Now, I don’t fold anyone’s clothes except my own (my teen boys are well old enough to do their own!) but even when I did, I didn’t mind. However, I only found this zen in laundry after I stopped sorting loads before washing. Growing up, I had to sort the entire family’s laundry into whites, darks, reds, jeans, purples, towels, delicates, etc. About a year after I began staying home with the boys, I said to hell with it and just started throwing everything in together. And you know what? It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to the clothes. Life just became a whole lot less complicated. Also, I love my dryer. We didn’t have one growing up, and line-dried clothes are the worst things ever. I don’t even like indoor-drying clothes that can’t go in the dryer. Dryers are the best.

11. I’ve had a “cow-pillow” since I was a senior in high school. I was never a fan of cows and I didn’t use any kind of chest/stomach/body pillow back then, but my boyfriend at the time liked both. I found this ridiculous cow-print handkerchief and made it into a pillow for him. The foam I stuffed it with smelled AWFUL though, so for a week before I gave it to him, I used it as a body pillow to try to negate the smell. (That didn’t really work, notably.) After using it for a week, I was hooked. I bought another cow-print handkerchief and made my own pillow. Only then, I left my pillow in a hotel in France while studying abroad when I was 20. Later that summer, I was in Ohio for my dad’s wedding and found the exact same cow-print handkerchief in a five-and-dime store. !!! I made myself a new one. A few years later, I bought a pack of 24 identical cow-print handkerchiefs off ebay. Now, I make myself a new cow-pillow every couple years as the previous ones get old and smelly and lumpy and flat. I even made one for Laurence once at his request. I shall never be without my cow-pillow!!

So there you go. Eleven facts about the blogger, some I’ve discussed here before and others that are new. Hope you are all enjoying your day. Thanks for reading all these years!!

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Wellness Wednesday – 100 Days

On my birthday last year, I made a list of 40 things I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40 (March 1st). I have a few weeks left and there are a few of those goals that I either failed or abandoned (impossible to complete before the deadline), but I’ve completed the majority of items on that list. Of the eight that are left, two of the really big ones will be complete today: go 100 days without a binge, and go 100 days without any alcohol.**

This is not the first time I’ve gotten close to that 100-day mark in the last year. During the summer, I’d gone 93 days without a binge before anxiety took over. It was only a small binge (half a bag of popcorn and two cookies), but the mentality of a binge was there nonetheless, and I started the clock over. I tend to binge when I’m having a lot of anxiety, particularly if I don’t know the root of that anxiety (which makes me even more anxious). I’ve worked really hard over the last year to try to get this habit in check. I wasn’t a binge-eater before life fell apart in 2014, and I’d like to minimize this destructive disorderly eating as much as possible. Since my last birthday, I’ve only binged on 11 days. Several of those were in-a-row days, and so if I combine those into one long uber-binge, that cuts down to only 8 binges. Today is Day 100 of my current streak, and I plan to continue that streak as long as possible. I’m trying to teach myself longterm habits to handle and deal with binge-inducing emotions without attacking my body with food.

My reasons for trying to go without alcohol for 100 days straight were twofold. First, I’d noticed that I tend to eat a lot more when I drink alcohol, especially wine. This is true even if I drink only a small amount. Looking at the situation from a bodily perspective, I’d guess this is my body’s way of protecting me from dehydration and all those hangover-like effects of alcohol. Notably, I’ve never had a hangover. Even when I’ve been smashing drunk, I’ve had no hangover, probably because I tend to eat a ton of food and drink lots of water at the same time that I drink. The only times I don’t overeat while drinking alcohol are when I haven’t had anything to drink in awhile and I’m in a social dinner situation (having a glass of wine at my dad’s house or out at a restaurant with family, for instance).

Second, I seem to hold onto weight for weeks after drinking, and I wanted to see if going for a long period of time without alcohol would help me lose weight. A couple times over the last year, I went 35-40 days without any alcohol and that did seem to help me with weight loss. However, the effectiveness seems to diminish after about a month, as far as I can tell with so little data. The effects of a glass of wine on rare occasions don’t seem to undo  or stop weight loss, either – only if I’m having alcohol regularly or in large quantities. This makes sense given the bodily self-protection mode I discussed above. So I’m going to continue to abstain from alcohol today, on my day 100, but tomorrow I’ll have a glass of wine when Jason and I go out for Valentine’s day. Afterwards, I’ll just keep that to the very occasional glass on special gatherings and cut completely again if my weight starts to suffer.

**Note: Despite these two goals beginning/ending on the same day, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand. Last summer, for instance, I went 93 days without binging despite alcohol being a regular part of my diet. I just happened to have my last binge on a day that also included alcohol.

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Top Ten Couples

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks about our favorite couples in books. I decided to go with traditional couples this time around and picked the first ten that popped into my head (that I loved, of course!). In order of which I thought first:

1. Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte from Possession by AS Byatt
Their relationship grew through letters! We named our first two cats after these two. Christabel passed away of lymphoma after six months, but Ash is still with us.

(Hi, Christabel!)

2. Vin and Elend from the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
There’s this one scene I love so much: Vin is joyous and hugging Elend, wearing nothing but underclothes despite being in public (long story), and he’s uncomfortable and telling her that this whole hugging-in-underclothes thing is making him feel very awkward. Ha!

3. Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Of course!!

4. Zuzana and Mik from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
Reading their first-date story in Night of Cake and Puppets was equally awesome.

5. Lazlo and Sarai from Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Oh to meet in dreams…

6. Sophie and Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Of course!!

7 & 8. Blue and Gansey // Adam and Ronan from the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
I cannot wait to read more about these characters! Ronan-trilogy coming in November!!!!!

9. Nazira and Fatima from the Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White
They may not be main characters, but their relationship is so awesome. Love it.

10. Celia and Marco from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I love their story more each time I read this book.

Who are some of your favorite couples in literature?


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 6 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Steroids

Back in late December, I was getting dressed for bed when I noticed a round, red patch on my thigh. It was so regular that I thought at first that it might be ringworm. I wasn’t sure how I’d come in contact with ringworm and suspected that I needed to check over the cats. I put some medicine on it and dismissed it from my mind.

The next day, the red patch was gone. That evening, multiple red patches appeared on my legs and abdomen. I realized this was not ringworm but hives.

That was late December. I thought I’d identified the culprit – the probiotic I was taking, because the hives always appeared within 15 minutes of taking it in the evening. I got off the probiotic (which caused problems since it was no longer countering my antibiotic), but the hives didn’t go away. They weren’t as bad as they were with the probiotic (I did multiple experiments over the last six weeks) but they kept coming back in varying degrees every night. Additionally, I had a regular facial rash under my skin, so that my face was itchy and raw and inflamed but only on the inside. I couldn’t scratch it. It was so difficult to get a good picture and the one I posted before didn’t really show the damage. I finally got one that showed the rash well. This photo is from Tuesday morning after a cool shower (because even a warm shower made all the hives and rash come out). Needless to say, this was awful.

In the past, whenever I’ve come in contact with something I’m allergic to and I get hives, they don’t go away until I’ve had a round of steroids. I avoided this as long as I could this time. I got off all medications and supplements. I looked for patterns. I took antihistamines, hoping to decrease the inflammation that way. Nope. Every night, the hives returned. Finally, I had my follow-up with my doctor on Thursday, he gave me a steroid six-day tapering pack. I took the first day that evening. (Also, if you’ve never taken these things, they are the worst-tasting medicine on the planet. I literally have to nestle them into a bite of food that I can swallow straight in order to keep the pill from touching any part of my mouth or throat. It’s TERRIBLE.)

That first night, I slept better than I have in months. I woke up full of energy. Not only did I feel like exercising, but even after I exercised, I was on the go all day. I remember what it felt like to not be crushed down with unspecific fatigue! And it wasn’t just the full night of sleep – every part of my body felt lighter and freer. My bones and joints didn’t ache. I went from feeling bodily-elderly to bodily-young. Better yet, I only had one (mild) hive that day and no facial rash! The second night, I slept horribly (this is more common with steroids). However, despite the lack of sleep, I did really well during the day. My yoga didn’t completely sap me the way it’s been doing for weeks now. I had energy all the way up until bedtime. Other things to note: Starting the second day, my facial skin looked healthy for the first time in months, if not years. (Seriously – rosy and glowing rather than either inflamed or sallow – I didn’t even know I could look like this anymore!) I got no hives at all after that first day. My non-exercise activity level doubled and I suddenly had no trouble hitting my daily step count goals. I also dropped several pounds. Woohoo!

I still don’t know what exactly caused all the inflammation in the first place, but I really hope that now that it’s under control, I can keep it that way without having to resort to medication. And I’m so thankful that medicine like this exists. I hate having to take steroids but I’m so grateful for the way they help.

ETA: Oh seriously…an hour after I posted this, I suddenly got full-body hives and rashes. &*!##%@$. I’m supposed to get allergy tests soon, but MAN this is frustrating!

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The Retreat, by Mark Edwards

Lucas is off to a writers’ retreat in Wales, very near where he spent the first few years of his life. He’s a horror writer hoping for inspiration, but doesn’t expect the house of his retreat to be embroiled in its own kind of horror. The proprietor, Julia, lost her husband and daughter in a tragic drowning accident two years previously, but Lily’s body never surfaced and Julia is convinced she’s still alive.

Sheila introduced me to this book and I’m glad she did. This was as fun psychological mystery/thriller with not-actually-supernatural undertones that totally hit the spot. I loved the idea that the scene was set at a writers’ retreat, and I laughed myself silly meeting some of the other writers. Especially the literary snob. I’ve met that guy at real life writers’ retreats, ha! The atmospheric tone of the book was perfect and I was quickly pulled into the story. I read the book quickly, but not so quickly that I felt sick afterwards. It was a good balance.

The story was also well-balanced. I had some suspicions about what was going on, many of which turned out to be wildly inaccurate, and one that came close to the truth. I never got even close to guessing the core of the mystery, though, which was nice. It was surprising, but not unrealistic.

The one thing I disliked was the epilogue, which is par for the course for me. There wasn’t an extra twist, thank goodness, or something that turned the entire book on its head. There was just an unnecessary element that closed out the book in a way I disliked. I can’t say more without giving away spoilers, but as per usual, I wish that the epilogue had been left off and the last chapter had resolved in a slightly different, more realistic (and compassionate) way.

Like I’ve said, that’s normal for me with these kinds of goods, and at least in this case the ending didn’t make me dislike the things that came before. I enjoyed the book and think I might go try out some of Edwards’ other novels.

PS – Isn’t that an amazing book cover??

Posted in 2019, Adult, Prose | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Wellness Wednesday – Overtraining

Overtraining is one of my biggest downfalls. At least once a year, I find myself working out too long, or too often, and/or too intensely. My weight loss stalls and sometimes starts to reverse, and I feel awful. Because I’m me, I tend to push and push, thinking that this is a wall that I’ll eventually get through. It takes me forever to realize that I need to rest.

I attribute this particular blindspot to my adolescent days as a competitive swimmer. For five years, I was exercising around 12 hours per week for ten months of the year. (Everyone got off for March and August, between long and short course seasons, for our bodies to completely REST.) For me, long intense exercise almost every day is what my brain associates with a good exercise habit. But here’s the thing: I’m not training to be a competitive athlete. Back then, I wasn’t eating at a calorie deficit (ha! I was eating like eight times a day trying to get in enough calories!) or trying to lose weight, and I still had 1-2 rest days per week. Our workouts were designed by experts to balance all the different things our bodies needed. That’s not the situation I’m in right now, and I’m not very good at remembering this.

(hello, swimmer-Manda!)

I’m not sure exactly why I decided to try to exercise every single day in December. I mostly succeeded, taking only three break days. That continued into January, and I went nine weeks of exercise with only seven total rest days. At one point, I went fifteen days in a row without a break. Not only is this particularly bad for me (I do well when I exercise on 65-75% of my days, not 90%), but I made it worse by continuing to ramp up how long I was exercising, too. In December, I was averaging four hours per week. In January, that upped to 5.5 hours weekly. (My body does best with 4 to 4.5 hours weekly.)

Now, I tend to do okay on a more intense schedule like this for a few weeks – I lost over 4 lbs in December, which was awesome! – but then I crash. Despite continuing my rigorous schedule and keeping up a constant calorie deficit, I didn’t lose an ounce for most of January because my body was holding on to every spare calorie. I forced myself to take walks and do yoga but hated both. I wasn’t enjoying the exercise I normally love! I was exhausted, with full-body muscle fatigue. I had to talk myself into showering and getting dressed, not because of any mental health reasons, but because the effort to do these things was more than I could contemplate. With a few days left of the month, I could feel myself moving toward binge territory and decided to take a few days off completely to reset. It didn’t take long to feel better. My sleep improved. I started to have energy again. My body didn’t feel like I’d been punched all over. I could shower without giving myself a pep talk first. Heh.

So. Lesson learned. Again. Giving it your all is great…but maybe let’s not give your all every day for weeks on end without ever letting yourself rest. Okay, Manda?

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