Author Archives: lindsayjohnna

Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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Mid-Year Book Tag

I don’t think we’ve ever completed a tag for which we weren’t nominated. We’ve been fortunate in that many beautiful souls have nominated us for various tags and awards throughout the years (btw, we just passed our 6 year blogiversary!), and we complete as many as we can – what with our busy schedules, aka inconsistent postings – but I don’t think we’ve ever completed one without first be notified of the tag through our nomination. Well, that trend ends today.

This is the Mid-Year “Freak Out” (why are people freaking out about it?) Book Tag that I stumbled across in my readings of peers’ blog posts. No need to give my nominator a shout out, but I’m happy to name Lauren at Gossamer Pages, since hers was the post that inspired mine. She’s doing great things over there, so go check her out.

So anyway, the goal is to answer the questions only using books I’ve read so far this year. I’m mid-slump so I’m way behind on my Goodreads goal, so we’ll see if I can do it!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2018? Looking back at my conquests this year, it’s been a very bland reading year, with a few exceptions. That makes this one easy but it would be my answer, regardless. Hands down, Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman. I was already in pretty deep with Scythe, but this sequel was exceptional, and I do not use that word lightly. Recommended for: anyone who enjoys YA thrillers, Dystopian futures, artificial intelligence, multiple POVs, strong female protagonists, series works.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2018? I hate doing this, but the answer for this one has to be Thunderhead, also. I’ve only read two sequels so far this year and the other one is decidedly dedicated to another one of these questions.

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to? Again, easy: Circe by Madeline Miller. I adore re-tellings of classics, especially from a feminist perspective and this one promises to please. Looking forward to reading it and, if possible (based on potential relevance) including it in our Odyssey unit this year (if I do, I’ll be sure to post about it).

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of 2018? Easy, easy, easy: Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey. It’s the 8th in a nine-part series, Expanse, which I’ve been devouring since 2015. I was recommended to read the first installment, Leviathan Wakes, after I enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian so much. I guess more people are aware of it now, since it’s a TV show. For those who keep up with the show, how jazzed are we that Amazon picked up what Syfy so stupidly dropped?!?! Recommended for: anyone who enjoys SciFi/Space Operas, multiple POVs, series works, very looong books, and character-driven stories.

5. Biggest disappointment? No difficulty there either. While I was in absolute bliss over Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star by Pierce Brown, he extended the series and the forth installment was a huge let down, in my unprofessional opinion. I never wrote a review because I’m just too devastated and I’m hoping that time will dull my disillusionment. I suppose it has; now, instead of remembering what all I hated, I just remember that I hated it. Nonetheless, I will never stop recommending this series/author. NEVER! Recommended for: anyone who enjoys SciFi/Space Operas, series works, Dystopian futures, political strategizing, series works, multiple POVs.

6. Biggest surprise? Hmmm, well I guess I was surprised by Cantero’s Meddling Kids. I honestly expected to consider it somewhat sacrilegious to my beloved Scooby-Doo, but I tried really hard to go into it seeing it as an “interpretation” and was pleased. It was sometimes silly, sometimes genuine, sometimes spooky, sometimes ridiculous. I genuinely enjoyed it. Recommended for: anyone who enjoys mystery/thrillers, SciFi/Fantasy, re-imaginings, mental illness/addiction, LGBTQIA, stand alone novels.

7. Favorite new author? Ryan Graudin is new to me. I genuinely enjoyed Wolf by Wolf but never got around to writing a review. I expect that one day I’ll come across the sequel, and I imagine I’ll enjoy that one, too. Recommended for: anyone who enjoys WWII/Nazi history, strong female protagonists, historical re-imaginings, adventure/thriller, series works.

8. Newest fictional crush? I’m thirty years old. Pass.

9. Newest favorite character? Yael from Wolf by Wolf was a delightfully positive female protagonist, and I just love those.

10. Book that made you cry? It takes a great deal to make me cry and no book has succeeded in doing so so far this year.

11. Book that made you happy? I read Tom Hanks’ book of short stories, Uncommon Type and it was delightful. It also made me realize I read too many “cruel” books that contain plot twists and I always expect that a good thing will go bad at any moment. It was a wonderful change of pace for a good thing to just be good. Recommended for: anyone who enjoys short stories, multiple POVs, happy endings!

12. Favorite book to movie adaptation you’ve seen this year? I have not been to the movies in at least a year, so any movies I’ve seen will be well out of date. I did watch Jurassic Park: The Lost World the other day and I have to say that I give 10 out of 10 to anything with Jeff Goldblum.

13. Favorite review you’ve written this year? I really enjoyed doing the pros/cons review for Shadowlands.

14. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year? I’m obsessed with the copy of The Heroes of Tolkien by David Day that Hannah gave me for my birthday. It’s cerulean leather with gold embossing of the title, as well as a beautiful line drawing of Boromir embossed on the front. It’s one in a series of Tolkien-related texts, all of the same quality; I also have the “Dictionary” and intend to get the “Atlas” and “Book of Battles,” too. Recommended for: anyone who enjoys Tolkien works, fictional histories, mythology, character development.

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year? So many! Just to highlight a few:

Normally, I nominate others at this point. I actually get really peeved when people are nominated and then are like “oh, I don’t feel like it.” Rude! Someone thought enough of you to take the time to nominate you, so take a beat and nominate others. It’s the best way to show people that you appreciate what they’re doing. The only reason I’m not doing it this time is because it’s already halfway through July and the people I’d nominate have already done some sort of mid-year review. However, if you haven’t done it and you have books worth reviewing, please link your review in the comments so I can read. I’m recovering from a slump, you see, and I need all the help I can get.

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Review: Blum’s “The Poisoner’s Handbook” and Requests for YOUR Opinions

Who’s to blame for a reading slump?? Whom can I blame? I’m rarely inclined to blame myself for anything, but sometimes, when several books in a row are a swing and a miss, you just have to assume that the issue is you, right? That’s not to say that I’m questioning my taste; certainly not. In my opinion, my opinion is solid gold. However, it is entirely possible that either these texts aren’t right for me, or that I’m just encountering them at the wrong time in my life.

I just finished Deborah Blum’s nonfictional account of the rise of forensic toxicology in the wake of widespread poisonings that took place in New York’s in the 1920s. It was a very niche topic. It was recommended at my local bookstore for people who are interested in true crime, so I picked it up.

Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s Handbook Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can’t always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler’s experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed “America’s Lucretia Borgia” to continue her nefarious work.

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler’s laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren’t the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist’s war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham’s crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

So, who’s to blame for its contribution to my slump? The “slumpishness” in this case is entirely my fault… I think. I was immensely interested at the beginning, but I have to admit that while I was interested in the forensic details and the rise of toxicology, the political minutiae and all the chemistry bogged me down. I repeatedly caught myself rereading the same sections since I had long since quit paying attention to what I was reading. I am not cut out for science-heavy readings, as I am not scientifically-minded, and I’m afraid that at times, I just was not smart enough for this book. But then again, should I have to be?

I rather enjoyed the majority of this reading, but the fact that it took me over a month to finish it is evidence of the slump. Although it was dry, I expected as much since it is nonfiction. It followed the careers of Norris and Gettler and gave a great deal of credit to their efforts in making forensic science a more credible resource in crime investigation. While nonfiction is notorious for being slow to excite, the upside is that it’s also packed with facts and I learned a great deal from this text.

However, one book does not a slump make, so in addition to myself, whom else can I blame? Well, we all know that my most recent YA read, Kate Brian’s Shadowlands, had the opposite problem of The Poisoner’s Handbook: it took me no time at all to finish but was of rather poor substance.

Similarly, although I found it to be interesting, McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was somewhat of a let-down in terms of what I was “led” to expect.

Before these, I was underwhelmed by Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, so much so that I had nothing to say about it and didn’t write a post, as well as Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The last book I recall enjoying was Cantero’s Meddling Kids, which I read back in April. So that means I’ve been bored by my books for three months.

THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN! I trust the readers in this social “circle” to recommend something that will redeem my esteem for reading. Any and all recommendations are welcome. Shout out titles, name a series or author, or even just pop in links to your own *spoiler-free* reviews of texts you think I might like! I’m in reading quicksand; HELP!! SAVE ME!

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Review Via Pros and Cons: Brian’s “Shadowlands”

You know my policy: when in doubt, hash it out (via pros vs. cons). Today’s subject of uncertainty is Kate Brian’s Shadowlands, which is the first in a trilogy. As always, we start with the obligatory summary.

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection program. Entering the program alongside her, is her father and sister Darcy. The trio starts a new life and a new beginning leaving their friends and family behind without a goodbye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. Just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?
 

I’m very unsure about how I feel about this one, so the only thing to do is to weigh the pros and cons. Here we go!

PRO: I read it in two sittings. That has to say something favorable about the book. Undoubtedly, there were issues with the story, but I found it compelling enough that I plowed through it. I saw several reviews that said they “couldn’t put it down” and, to be honest, I agreed.

CON: I’m afraid that the “must keep reading-ness” of it wasn’t due to it being good, but rather was due to confusion. I was constantly confused by this text. It contains dream sequences that reveal themselves after much ado, and I grew to distrust the heroine’s POV. Additionally, some of her experiences are so wildly unbelievable that I needed an explanation because I was becoming, in a word, peeved with the whole thing.

PRO: I’m still thinking about it. Again, this ins’t a specific complement, like “the characters were compelling” or something, but I looked online for the next installment immediately after finishing this because I feel strongly that I must continue the series.

CON: A LOT of questions were raised during this reading, which is in no way a problem. The problem is that the majority of those questions, which are essential to understanding the plot, are not answered in this novel. Goodreads gave a sneak preview of the next book in the series and I got answers to 90% of the questions raised in book one in the first chapters of book two. Where is the sense in that?!?! I would’ve gotten the next book regardless, so at least give me some resolution in this one.

PRO: I hope to bond with a student over this novel. I had one delightful student who found time to talk to me about how much she loved this book. In fact, I walked by her as she finished reading it on the last day of school and she closed it, let out a sigh of exasperation and relief (which I now understand), physically hugged the book for a moment, and handed it to me so I could read it and add it to my classroom library. If she comes to see me next year, I’ll be ready to geek out with her.

CON: It’s very stereotypically YA. The protagonist is a standard “nerdy” girl with a standard “popular” sister and a standard “disconnected” parent. Although I would think that being hunted by a serial killer would be all-consuming, apparently cute boys still manage to be a huge distraction. As per usual, I’m not thrilled with the depiction of teen relationships, but I rarely am.

CON: I might be too critical of an audience, but the depiction of law enforcement in reaction to a serial killer is insulting. Without including spoilers, I’ll just say that I find it hard to believe that the FBI would be as aloof about the threat to this family as they’re depicted in this novel. After a very invasive and intense threat, the family is sent off without escort, without access to phones, and without a way to contact the FBI should the threat continue. To say the least, law enforcement is not portrayed in a positive light.

CON: Who is this person on the cover?? You’d think it would be the protagonist, Rory, but it is very clearly stated, on multiple occasions, that she has blonde hair, so who is this brunette? Also, what’s with the crows?? And the clouds? None of this is relevant!

CON: On a similar note, what is the title referencing? This term is not used even once in the novel. I got that sneak peek and it is explained (poorly) in the first few chapters of book two in the series, but if it won’t even be mentioned in the first book, why name it that?!?!? WHY???

CON: The POV very occasionally swapped from 3rd person limited omniscient (Rory’s perspective, thoughts, and feelings) to those of the serial killer. Those chapters should have been more thought out or left out entirely. As a character, the killer wasn’t developed enough for us to care about or understand his POV. In fact, it was very specific at times (he wants to eat her hair) which implies a really juicy backstory, but it was painfully clear that his perspective was only present so that we would know his progress in hunting her. He wasn’t developed outside of his obsession over her. It was forced and inorganic.

I’m afraid it’s painfully clear how I felt about this novel, and yet, I’ll be darned if I’m not going out to find the next volume tomorrow. Whether you love a novel or hate it, as long as you want to talk about it, isn’t that the goal?

Did anyone else read it? What does everyone else think? Interested in other Pros Vs. Cons reviews? Check them out here and here.

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Review via Pros and Cons: McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”

All the hype surrounding Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark made it clear that a lot of readers found it to be extremely upsetting to read this at night before bed, or really at any point at home alone. In fact, I listened to a press release where Patton Oswalt told (sensitive) people to read it during on a sunny day in a public, well-populated area. To me, this level of hype is irresistible. I’ve never succeeded in being scared by a book, but I very much yearn for it. So, I ran off and bought it, along with another, shorter toxicological history of poisonings, which has been my night reading and which I’ll review when I finish soon.

Now, my husband and I bought a house last year and are adjusting to life without immediately available neighbors. We have a security system and a fierce beast of a dog and we truly enjoy our neighbors, but we have odd schedules and, like anyone, I do spend a bit of time at home alone. Since I have a natural proclivity for paranoia, I elected not to torture myself with nocturnal readings. I’ve been reading it during lunch breaks or weekend mornings, patiently awaiting the promised disturbing information, so this means that I have spent weeks trying to pencil in short sprints of time in order to make progress on this book instead of devouring it as is customary. The issue is that not only does this mean it’s taking forever to read this, but also I’m frustrated every time my bright, populated readings aren’t disturbing at all!

Let me be clear: I am not as bothered by this as I thought I would be, but it is undoubtedly bothersome and I can easily see how it disturbs and disrupts lives. I have been ingesting true crime for years and have a natural interest in psychologically challenging subjects, so I’ve nonchalantly been entertained by stories that others cannot tolerate. Different strokes, yadda yadda yadda. However, foundationally, the history of the Golden State Killer is that which keeps me up at night. His story fuels and validates my paranoia. I assume you’re all out to get me. Having said that, reading the details has bothered me but little. I don’t know how to feel about this book, so I’m including my famed “Pros/Cons” analysis below.

PRO: It’s true crime! As much as I love true crime, I equally hate fake crime. Fabricated mystery almost feels insulting to the victims of REAL crimes, so I avoid it like the plague, for the most part. McNamara spent decades researching the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer and her dedication is palpable and deserves the credit it’s due.

CON: It was published shortly before the GSK was finally caught. I see this as a con because it means that I have so many more questions now that the horrific perpetrator has been caught. Now, we know more about him and who he was while he committed these heinous crimes, so it almost feels like there are unfinished chapters containing resolution that I wish could have been included.

PRO: It was published shortly before the GSK was finally caught. Yes, I see this as a pro and a con. While I do feel unresolved now that we know the GSK’s identity and I have more questions than the book had answers, it also gives such a unique perspective to the unsolved, decades-old-mid-investigation. It conveys the desperation and grasping at straws that was felt by investigators, victims, and anyone else who followed the case. It’s a true reflection of a feeling and a time that (thankfully) has changed.

CON: There was a lot of down time. Because McNamara was an obsessed civilian, the information conveyed is not pure investigative journalism, a.k.a. facts on facts on facts; it is mixed in with her own personal struggle with her obsession and the roads it took her down, which were interesting, but often made the story feel a little too disconnected and stream-of-consciousness. At one point, she finished a paragraph saying a man asked asked a witness a question and when the next paragraph went off on a sidebar story, I didn’t find out that question until over twenty pages later and I’d long since forgotten the thread.

PRO: I like the personal narrative aspects of the book. I know some people (HVA, looking at you) are worried that the book will be more about McNamara than the GSK and the corresponding investigations. However, I think it gave unique perspectives, especially since McNamara gives an everyday-woman POV while having really important connections, meaning you get to see the emotions of society AND the investigative, secret details.

PRO: It has pictures of many of the victims. It also has a map of the locations of some of his crimes.

CON: The map is not all inclusive. I was hoping for a map of all 50 rapes and 12 murders. However, I realize the book isn’t big enough to include a map of that size and detail. Nonetheless, I want it.

PRO: Paul Holes. (#HotForHoles #AnyMurderinosOutThere?)

More pros than cons tells me how I feel about this book. I must admit that I never doubted that I was enjoying the experience of reading it, and I’m not usually into non-fiction, so to enjoy this speaks volumes. Like all stories, it has strengths and weaknesses that a reader must navigate, but the overall it’s a massively informative and insightful book.

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Me, Myself, and I: DIY

I’m getting ready to embark on a HUGE project. As I mentioned in a recent post about my distracted mindset, my hubby and I bought a house in October. She’s a beaut and I adore her in every way, but let me be quite clear that she’s a work in progress. Since we moved in over my school’s Thanksgiving Break with Winter Break quickly to follow, there was a lot of time at the onset for our amateur renovations. We managed to sand, paint, screw, and redecorate our way through renovations of the kitchen and hallway bathroom. We LOVE these renovations and, while our style choices may not appeal to everyone, we can’t be bothered to care, because they appeal greatly to us!

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Wood on wood on wood.

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Can you tell that gray + white is our jam?

Anyway, like I said, all our improvements happened right after move in and for the last few months, we’ve made additional plans for other aspirations. The one we’ve decided to try to tackle over Spring Break is updating the exterior of our home. Red Brick is the style for most people on our street, but I cannot claim to like red brick. I know the value of it and I appreciate the low-maintenance upkeep and durability, but I just don’t like red. I reached out to my aunt for help with the landscaping plans, so before I pay trillions and break my back planting beautiful, green things, we’re giving the red brick a makeover via German Smear.

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Now, first things first, I know this has nothing to do with books. So what? My blog.

I looked up a lot of websites about the process and most of them seemed helpful but I’m worried my experience will reveal some hidden truths. So, in the interest of authenticity, I decided that I will relate my thoughts on this endeavor by doing multiple installments of my thoughts and experiences: pre-, mid-, and post-project.

PRE-EFFORT AMBITIONS:

The original plan was to Limewash, not German Smear. However, despite how many true crime podcasts I listen to, I didn’t know that the purchase of lime is strictly monitored due to its common use in quick decomposition, so it turns out that lime is relatively inaccessible and expensive (compared to the $30 cost we expected based on the LIES Pinterest tells me). So, the plan has changed to German Smear, largely supported by some promising how-to blogs and the all-knowing Bob Vila.

I have no delusions about what a large endeavor this will be for the hubby and me to do ourselves. However, we are die-hard DIY-ers and we’re painfully cheap, so we’ve committed our last 3 days of Spring Break to completing this project. Let the fun begin!


MID-PROCESS LESSONS/IMPRESSIONS:

Future Lindsay, here. I’ve now spent several hours over the last few days working on our Smearing. My back is killing me and my right arm is full-on throbbing. Oh well.

Because I didn’t want to dive in and do my “learning” on the house exterior itself, I started in our sunken sun-room. This room was added onto the house and is home to a brick-encased gas fireplace. I used this as my trial space, as well as the brick wall that used to be the exterior wall but now is the adjoining wall. Since this was my first attempt at it, it was slow-going. I was hopeful that the process would quicken once I got outside and was able to be less cautious about floors/trims.

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den

Formerly black brick now white

Upon finishing the fireplace and interior wall on Friday, I spent Saturday starting on the exterior of our home. We’re starting in the back so that we can work as slowly as our schedules allow without having a partially complete look visible to the road.

We have the most delightful covered porch, which was where I started. Once I was past that porch, I needed help from the brave, ladder-ready, high-reaching hubby. I left that last corner to him. This seemingly small section of brick took 3 hours of solo effort (while listening to back-to-back episodes of “My Favorite Murder,” so it was a pleasure). Sunday was spent similarly, working on the other side of the sun-room. Again, hours of work spent on precious little space.

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All of the brick on the back of the house is done!

Lessons Learned and Henceforth Shared:

  1. There’s no way in the fiery depths of Hell we’ll be done this weekend. Or next. Maybe even the next. The hubs has been navigating his own stuff lately, what with his own school and a night job, so I did all the work this weekend by myself. I spent several hours each day and feel like I made NO PROGRESS, but that’s just because I’m dramatic. I made plenty of progress and will make more when one becomes two.
  2. Go into it knowing what look you want. I know most people associate German Smear with that one episode of “Fixer Upper,” but that is NOT the look we want. We want almost full coverage with lots of texture; we’re lucky we have a variety of brick colors already, since we LOVE GRAY and the gray bricks add variety. We have no plans to scrub off or expose any of the brick after smearing.
  3. Only make as much mortar wash as you can use in one “session.” Nobody on any of the how-to sites mentioned that this stuff is technically cement. I should have put this together, no doubt, but I did not. I almost lost my bucket and stirrer thing to hardened smear I hoped to be able to use the next day. Alas, it was wasted. Now we make less at a time or just work until we finish the bucket.
  4. Add the mortar to the water. I tried it the other way around and it was just like clumpy cake mix that never fully integrates.
  5. A natural bristle broom head is my weapon of choice. Others use a mortar brush or a mortar sponge, or even just their gloved hands. We have brick that is more porous and textured than usual, so I’ve found that my hands are taking quite the beating; I reserve my gloved hands for small spaces, edges, and corners. Otherwise, I use the broom head. Works like a charm. Also durable elbow-length gloves are my VIP. Honorable Mention goes out to the mixer/stirrer attachment for my drill. Without you, I’d be lost.
  6. A “honey” texture is too high maintenance. That’s what I used on the fireplace in the above pictures, and you can see how thick the coverage is. As I’m working, I’ve decided that “batter” is better. This all depends on the finish you want, of course, but the thicker the mixture, the less it spreads, so not only does it take twice as long to apply, but it also uses twice as much smear and is twice as thick in terms of coverage. We want light coverage, meaning we can still see the variance in brick colors but without any shades of red, so “batter” is better for us.
  7. It may be too early to say, but pressure-washing and wetting the brick before smearing isn’t, like, THE most important thing. The hubs pressure-washed the back wall and it hasn’t really done much to help. Similarly, I saw a lot of people say you *MUST* wet the brick before applying the mortar wash. I’ve forgotten over big swaths of wall and see literally no difference, as of yet.

So, I’m going to get back to work and Future Lindsay will update you soon with the end results!


POST-LABOR REFLECTIONS:

Way Future Lindsay, here and HOLY. GUAC. AMOLE.

That took forever, y’all. This is not hyperbole, but I literally spent HOURS on this *ish* and I’m so over it! In fact, there is still one small, unfinished side of the house that isn’t visible to anyone other than one neighbor and I’m in no rush to finish it because it looks finished from where I’m standing, ifyaknowwhatImean?!?!?

In all honesty, I’ve spent over 22 collective hours (plus 3 to 5 expected on that DARNED unfinished portion) German Smearing my home and don’t forget to add more hours for painting trim, shutters, doors, et al. I mentioned earlier that I started over Spring Break, which was in early March, and it is now the end of May, so take that as you will. All of the lessons I mentioned above are important, no doubt, but I think the most important lesson is LOOK AT YOUR BRICK! NOT ALL BRICK IS CREATED EQUALLY! Okay, I knew the brick on my home was fugly, but its true uniqueness didn’t really hit home until it was way too late to turn back. Our brick is not only ugly because of the wild variations in color, but also because of the wild texture. This is not smooth brick; this brick has many a nook and cranny, which made each smear a genuine arm workout.

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My bis and tris are truly gettin’ at it these days. I also got a friction blister on the tip of my thumb and let this be a PSA that you need to appreciate the tip of your thumb before you lose it, okay?!

We wore down (to little stumps) three natural-bristle brushes (again, the texture of our brick is unparalleled) and went through at least 4 or 5 bags of mortar. This means that everything Pinterest says is a lie and you can’t trust anyone, including me! What do I know?!? Anyway, our property and belongings are spattered with drops of cement, meaning that our stepladder has barnacle-like permanent accumulations on the steps and handle and we’re thankful that we’re re-doing our landscaping because our shrubs are lazy with cement droplets.

Now, what we’ve all been waiting for, AFTER PICTURES!!

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None of the pictures I take give enough credit to how bright the front door is. Our visitors have commented on the awesome door color, and I have to give that credit to Brice.

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The shutters and trim are a nice Olive Green and all rust-colored trim is now dark gray. Thus, unintentionally, the gray/white obsession evident in our kitchen and bathroom continues! A few neighbors have stopped by while we’re outside working to tell us how good it looks and I must say that I agree. We still need to paint the rust-colored addition and porch in the back, but the front looks done enough for me to be happy and proud of us!

 

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Review: Cantero’s “Meddling Kids”

First things first, I recently posted about my love for tea and as much as I hate that the internet monitors my searches, it sure does benefit me from time to time. Pinterest recommended a monthly tea subscription service and I got my first delivery a few weeks ago. I was able to tell them about my aversion to cloves and got a very kind “Welcome!” email from the CEO and the Facebook group community. My first style was an Orange Blossom Black Tea and it is so fragrant and delish! They also have a shop with lots of other varieties (all hand blended without any unwanted, mass market additions) and tons of covet-worthy accessories. I’m in love and already spreading the recommendation far and wide, hither and yon. Very much looking forward to my next delivery in a week or so. I was going to put this at the end, but it’s important to talk about what you love.

 


I recently finished Edgar Cantero’s novel Meddling Kids and, overall, I very much enjoyed it. But it made me think: why must there always be a love interest? Why?!?

From the moment I found out that this novel existed, I was excited to read it. It ticked several of my boxes, being inspired by my childhood obsession (Scooby-Doo and the Gang) and containing elements of the supernatural and true crime. I want to say I first hear about it on a list of books that “will legit scare you;” it did not scare me even remotely, but it was a good mystery/thriller, nonetheless.

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
 

For a while, I was worried that it might risk irritating me, since I was far from casual about my love for Scooby-Doo. Call it what it is: obsession. Sometimes, if things based on beloved originals take too many liberties, it risks offending the sensitive feelings of the fans, especially if formerly innocent teen characters are portrayed as drug-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal, mentally unstable twenty-somethings. However, I went into it knowing it was one person’s interpretation, so if it didn’t parallel my interpretation, or at least entertain me, I could always opt-out.

At times, the supernatural elements got a little eye-roll-inducing. However, it was at least consistent. It didn’t pepper it in there for occasional flavor; it established a supernatural element pretty early and maintained the “wtf is happening”-ness, but it at least had the decency to have the characters acknowledge the oddness of it all. Cantero meshed some characters, so that both of the girls had Daphne elements and both had Velma elements. Fred’s character (they have different names) was dead but still an active participant (hello, supernatural), and Shaggy’s was decidedly un-Shaggy-like throughout. He made the characters his own while still leaving “Easter eggs” of relevance for the die-hard Scooby fans. I’m also a big fan of a mystery that surprises me; I get a little bummed when I figure out the big reveal before-hand. I didn’t see this one coming and it was a nice surprise.

So that just leaves the ill-fitting love story. Why did that have to exist? In no way is it a spoiler for me to reveal that there was something of a lesbian interest constantly bubbling on a back-burner. That was made evident within the first few pages. However, this was one of those rare, end-of-the-world scenarios that was somehow overshadowed by inconsequential arguments and confusing emotions. These “kids” would find out that supernatural beings exist, and they’d put a pin in that in order to get to the more pressing matter of someone unexpectedly saying the l-word. And what’s with the unrealistic depiction of a girl who is loved by and lusted for by every single other character?!? Please. Enough.

I have little patience for jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit in order to appeal to more readers, and this just felt like pandering. It’s as though Cantero wrote a perfectly love-free novel and his publishers went back and said, “okay, but this won’t appeal to people who like love stories, so we need to force that in somehow.” No, you don’t. Some books appeal to some people but very few (a.k.a. none) appeal to all, so why taint those that truly appeal to one audience by diluting them with essence-of-other-people’s-interests? The love story was uncomfortable and inorganic, and after suffering through it for 300 pages, it wasn’t even resolved in a way that offered a satisfying ending. They have a VERY rocky road ahead of them.

I won’t even go into my thoughts on a thirty-something male writing the perspective of a teen lesbian. I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie.

Anyway, I gave it four stars, since the overall experience was a pleasant one. Worse comes to worst, I can always skim sections that are dripping with unnecessary sappiness. Am I alone in this?

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