REPLICA – Lauren Oliver

“Replica” is an unusual book in a very physical sense: both covers show one butterfly wing, but one side says ‘Gemma’ and the other says ‘Lyra’. These are the two protagonists of the book, and their stories meet in the middle. Given this, there’s really three ways to read the book: start with Gemma and then read Lyra, start with Lyra and then read Gemma, or alternate, flipping the book over to swap perspectives. I chose the latter, and I expect I’ll do so again for the sequel, “Ringer”. Gemma is an only child, living with her very wealthy family in Chapel Hill; but Gemma knows very well that money can’t buy happiness, as evidenced by her lifetime of health issues, her parents’ extreme over-protectiveness, and the misery her classmates put her through for not being model-thin. (Gemma’s body issues are a recurring theme- she is repeatedly disgusted by being fat, which may be hard for some readers to deal with.) She has one friend, April, and a dream: to go to Florida over Spring Break like every normal teenager. Lyra’s life is very different; she is a resident of the Haven Institute, and she is a replica. That is, a clone. Like all of the other replicas, she lives a circumscribed life; and like the others, she is sick. Her understanding of the world is limited, and so too are her aspirations- all she wants is to live, and to read. It’s an engaging story, and I repeatedly got caught up in one perspective and had to flip the book and catch up with the other. I could have done with a little less in the way of romantic preoccupation on Gemma’s part, and I don’t love how that turned out, but overall it’s a good, quick read.

The #Whole30 Challenge

One of the best and worst things about working in a bookstore is that you see interesting titles and covers every day and you know that you’ll never find your way back to a solid 3/4ths of them. As the holidays approached, our (not insignificant) quantity of cookbooks swelled, and we flipped through them appreciatively. They didn’t tempt me too much, though- I don’t really cook. By which I mean I basically never cook.

Like many people I have a weird relationship with food. (The rest of this paragraph will be about it, so feel free to skip ahead if this is a difficult subject for you!) I didn’t grow up in a food-centric household; my mother hates cooking and would probably live on grilled cheese if it were possible, and my stepdad’s only contributions in the kitchen was frying pierogies. Cooking was a time-consuming chore, plus all the clean-up… As an adult, my favorite food is basically anything someone else makes. I go through intense eating phases where only one or two things will register to my brain as food, so I’ll eat the same thing for every (or nearly every) meal for weeks at a time, and then suddenly switch to something else. Between ADD, my ADD meds, and tea, my appetite is inconsistent at best. I hit a certain point when tired or hungry that I become essentially incapable of choosing food; and hangry is definitely a Thing with me. All in all, I don’t like thinking about food any more than I have to, and I prefer to be even less involved in the preparation if at all possible. Despite all this, though, I do not have my mother’s apathy; I really love food.

I probably saw and shelved the Whole30 books multiple times a day for a solid seven or eight months before I ever cracked the cover; my attitude towards diets is pretty uniformly one of disdain. Life is too short to waste eating shitty food. I don’t remember why I peeked, but I was surprised by what I saw, and after more than a month of consideration, chatting with coworkers and friends, and generally hemming and hawing over it, I’ve decided to give it a go.

If you’re not familiar with Whole30, here are the basics. For 30 straight days, you cannot consume: added sugar or sweeteners (including honey and Stevia); alcohol (even for cooking); grains; legumes (including soy); dairy; additives including carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. You are not allowed to make or recreate with approved ingredients any baked goods, sweets, or treats of any kind, on the basis that it’s missing the point of resetting your relationship with your food. You are also not allowed to weigh or measure yourself whatsoever during this period, on the basis that it also distracts you from the point of being more aware of your body and how you feel, and not just obsessing over a number. Finally, there is no calorie counting or portioning. After the 30 day reset, you reintroduce the off-limits categories one at a time (if you choose) to see how your body reacts.

I will be doing a Whole30 challenge from 1 February – 2 March 2018, and the 10 day reintroduction from 3 March – 12 March. The reason I’m waiting until February instead of giving it a go in January is that four days is not nearly enough prep time for me. Getting the fridge and pantry ready is going to be a feat, and I want to try a handful of recipes in January before diving in for the full month, that way I know there’s at least a few things I can make! I’ll be hunting down and compiling recipes, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way!

Wish me luck- I’m going to need it!

ETERNAL LIFE – Dara Horn

Would you want to live forever? This book isn’t the first media to ask that question, directly or not; two major ones spring to mind, namely Doctor Who and Harry Potter. In Doctor Who we have a few different versions of “immortality”, all being imposed on the character without their control: the Doctor, whose Time Lord biology allows him to regenerate (and whose regenerations and general shenanigans may have allowed him to regenerate indefinitely); Captain Jack Harkness, resurrected by the Bad Wolf; Ashildr, resurrected using technology by the Doctor at Clara’s prompting; Clara Oswald herself, pulled from the moment of her death by the Doctor with different technology; possibly the Doctor’s “daughter” Jenny, as well, as she shares the Doctor’s biology. In Doctor Who, immortality is bestowed by others but never acquired by one’s own interest. In Harry Potter, the choice is more active- Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes and Nicholas Flamel’s philosopher’s stone are both intentional, but these choices can (and are) undone. In “Eternal Life”, Rachel’s situation is different, and all the more stark for it: she made a vow, and now she has to live with the consequences. In the Who-verse there are others to blame; in the Potterverse there are loopholes to exploit. Rachel has neither, and can only live with her regrets and fatigue.

There is much more to the story than that, of course; at its core it’s a story about family and choices, about living with your past and looking ahead to your future. The historical elements are well done without being dry or overbearing, and Rachel is an interesting character. I do wish we’d been able to see more of her lives, more glimpses into different pasts, and though the tension with Elazar is curious it’s not quite as compelling once all the facts are laid bare.

WILDWOOD – Colin Meloy

wildwood The plot is appealing, and is sufficiently complex that I was curious about what was going to happen, but the writing style is too firmly grounded in the grade-school audience. Which is fine- the main character is a 7th grader, after all- but it was just too much for me. That said, I suspect this is a really awesome book and would encourage anyone who finds the blurb interesting to give it a try. (And the illustrations are pretty cute, too.)

THE SAD TALE OF THE BROTHERS GROSSBART – Jesse Bullington

grossbart
In the first chapter, the brothers brutally murder a man’s wife and four children so they can steal his horse, cart, and a sack of turnips. In chapter two, they murder some more, and there’s also a graphic description of one of the brothers killing a hunting dog by chewing through its throat. I did not get to chapter three; this is easily the nastiest book I’ve attempted to read in quite a while.

Looking Ahead to January 2018

Though we’re only halfway through December, I’ve decided to put together a post looking ahead to January. December is a notoriously busy month, and as the first fortnight has already flown past at an alarming rate I have no doubt the rest of the month will go speeding past just as quickly.

As the start of a new year, I feel compelled to the kinds of things associated with such times: cleaning and cleansings, resolutions and goals, all the banishing of the old and bringing in of the new that is traditionally involved. Historically, this has not been especially successful for me. (I know I am not alone in that, but the point remains.) On the other hand, this is (I think) the most emotionally balanced and mentally healthy I’ve been since I was a child, and years of failure have at least provided me with some examples of what not to do.

As I’ve previously posted, I’ve signed up for two year-long challenges: #BeatTheBacklist and #GetYourWordsOut. I don’t have a set number of books I’d like to read over the course of the year, aside from “more than I read in 2017”; I think 3-5 books total for January sounds reasonable, with 2-3 of them counting towards the BTB challenge. I think one of the non-BTB books will be the Whole30 diet book, which I am strongly considering giving a try. As for GYWO, 240 writing days for the year is 20 days per month, so that’s where I’m aiming.

Other plans for January involve a one-month resolution, which will likely be a “repeat” of my intended resolution for December: exercise. I want to get a box of A’s gifts in the mail before the 15th, and I want to complete my first hat (currently in the pre-chart set-up) and one other fiber art project, ideally something on my loom. And finally, a spoon-replenishing goal: getting a facial and/or massage at the spa college!

#GetYourWordsOut 2018

I’m so excited for GYWO 2018, and not only because it’s a fresh start; this year, they’ve introduced Habit pledges as an alternative to Word Count pledges, and I think it’s going to be perfect for me. I’ve signed up for the Journeyman pledge, which requires 240 writing days in the year, which averages to 4-5 days a week.

I participated in 2017, for certain values of “participation”, with the Modest word count pledge of 150k; the only reason I crossed the halfway mark was thanks to my NaNo 2017 win. Keeping track of word counts is really just stressful for me. I’ve tried only tallying up at the end of the week, or at the end of the month for the GYWO check-ins, but I don’t write as often when I do that because it slips off my radar more easily. I’m hoping the Habit pledge will help me stay focused without obsessing over numbers.

My stated goals in my pledge post are to finish the rough draft of my current historical fantasy WIP (ideally by the end of June); to begin the revision process of the same WIP; and to return to the HP AU rpg I was building. I’m really looking forward to writing more regularly in 2018, and if you need a bit of a push you should join us! Sign-ups end on January 15th, so don’t procrastinate too long!

#BeatTheBacklist 2018

I’m signing up for Novel Knight’s Beat the Backlist 2018 Challenge, which I attempted for the first few months of last year and then forgot about. Whoops!

For 2018, my goal is to read two backlist books I already own but have not yet read for every other book I read. I’d like to get back out of my recent reading slump and finish a book a month, at least- if I could get back up to a book a week that would be awesome, but I’m not setting any hard and fast goals because this is about my own pleasure and enjoyment. For the BTB2018 challenge, I’ve been sorted into #TeamBookBards!

I’m really looking forward to working through my extensive TBR pile, and if you have one of your own I encourage you to join us!