Year: 2014

What I read: September 2014

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Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire #3), by Mark Lawrence (hardcover, 434 pages). Two out of five stars. Worst conclusion to a trilogy I’ve read in a long time, and that’s including the lackluster ending of The Night Angel trilogy.

Here’s the deal: the book itself was really good. We’re wrapping up Jorg’s story, learning more about some of the things that are driving his quest to become Emperor and also more about his enemies. The writing as usual is great. So what kills it? Simply put, out of nowhere the last fifty or so pages of the book take a sudden sharp turn into philosophy about the afterlife and man’s myth of a higher presence and heaven. It was so weird and out of place with the rest of the book that it felt tacked-on.

I also thought the resolution with the Dead King was kind of…well, people will get mad if I say “dumb”. But I was hoping for a kickass Boss Fight, and what I got was so not that and also such a disappointment that it ruined the buildup for me. I know endings are hard, but this was honestly one of the biggest let-downs I’ve ever experienced in a series. It was bad enough to make me feel that I would never recommend this to any of my friends, because why pump yourself up for three books only to end with that? (If you want to see a spoiler for the ending, I’ve posted one on my Goodreads profile.)

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1), by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (paperback, 585 pages). Four out of five stars. This is a really interesting mash-up of the mythical vampire and the medicinal vampire–that is, vampirism as a virus. It definitely hooks you from the start and keeps you turning the pages. That said, I hope the plot will move a little faster in the next two installments of this trilogy. At times it did feel like a lot was happening without the plot moving forward at all.

I’m also knocking off a star for some of the dumb decisions made by some of the main characters. I know they were necessary for the plot, but they still annoyed me. (Kind of like when you yell at characters in a movie, “DON’T GO THAT WAY! NOOOOO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1), by Pierce Brown (hardcover, 382 pages). Did not finish about 1/3 of the way in, but I would give it two out of five stars. A lot of people seem to passionately like this book, and I think they’ll really hate me for saying that I didn’t like it. But I stopped about one-third of the way in and just couldn’t go any further. It took me a while to decide why I wasn’t clicking with this book and then it finally dawned on me: I just didn’t care about Darrow. He seems very cardboard to me. He’s so average as to be bland, and yet he’s so perfect at everything he tries to accomplish. Hmm. Also: the death of his wife, Eo, which is supposed to set him up for his future as a rebel son, has no emotional resonance for me. We meet her so briefly, and Darrow’s memories of her all seem to revolve around her being pretty, so her death just doesn’t touch you the way it ought to.

I don’t think this is a terrible book. Someone else might really like it. I just don’t feel like slogging through it when I have so many other books on my TBR shelf. I might come back at a later date and give it another go, but for now, I’m moving on.

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Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8), by Diana Gabaldon (hardcover, 825 pages). Three out of five stars. You can view my GR profile for some spoilers on why I didn’t like this book as much as the previous seven in the series. I waited and waited for the library to call me and say my hold had come in, and then once I picked it up I felt so disappointed, hence the reason I didn’t fly through this as quickly as I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, Outlander is still totally one of my favorite book series ever…I just feel like this book was padded out a bit more than was really necessary.

First thing that made this book drag a bit for me: I think one of the things that hurt this book was the lack of a sense of peril for certain main characters. Things happened to make you think that they were in danger, but I never really felt that there was a genuine chance we’d lose any of them. It’s not that the writing was poor, the sense of peril just wasn’t there for me.

Second thing that caused me knock off a star: It didn’t feel like the plot moved forward very much. A lot of things were happening, sure. Time moved by. But as far as major plot elements moving forward and new storylines opening up? Just not enough (for me personally, anyway) for an 800-plus page hardcover book. In a way this book reminded me of some sections of A Song of Ice and Fire. Lots of pages and lots of things happening…but the plot is crawling.

Third thing, and then I’ll wrap it up, I promise: Certain storylines seemed to exist merely as padding. At times I felt like some of these subplots existed only to stretch out the word count, or else they were being grossly overstretched with no resolution.

In conclusion, I’m glad I read it, after the cliffhanger ending of the last book. And I’m interested to see where Gabaldon takes her characters in the next book. But this definitely wasn’t my favorite installment in the series.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (paperback, 159 pages). Four out of five stars. I read this for Banned Books Week (September 21-28). There’s not a lot to say about it that hasn’t already been said. I used to avoid Bradbury because a) I’m not a hardcore sci-fi fan and b) classics are kind of dull, right? Combine the two and I was sure I wouldn’t care for his work. I ended up having to read The Martian Chronicles earlier this year for school and loved it, so when Banned Books Week rolled around this autumn I thought I’d try another Bradbury story–fittingly, one about banned books!

Bradbury writes about socio-political issues like censorship and environmentalism with a graceful lyricism that makes you forget you’re reading science fiction. His imagery is haunting. And as they’re fairly short and easy reads, they don’t feel daunting like some weighty classics that run on for hundreds of pages of tiny print. Total bonus points for that.

My Inventions, by Nikola Tesla (hardcover, 111 pages). Three out of five stars. Tesla has been called everything from a genius to a madman to a wizard, but the truth is unfortunately somewhat less headline-worthy: he was a brilliant but troubled man who suffered from a healthy dash of egotism and an inability to interact with the world in the way society dictates as “normal”.

Reading autobiographies is always a little hit or miss for me. In general people are not the most impartial narrators of their lives, and Tesla is no exception, so parts of his book are a little strange to wade through. On the other hand, as so much material has been written about him, it’s interesting to hear about some of his life and work in his own words, even if you often get the feeling you’re not getting the whole story.

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Strange Shores (Inspector Erlendur #11), by Arnaldur Indridason (hardcover, 296 pages). Four out of five stars. I’ve been waiting for some time for the library to get a copy of this book! It was nice to see Erlendur tackle a new case and also wrap up an old one at the same time.

The Absent One (Department Q #2), by Jussi Adler-Olsen (hardcover, 416 pages). Three out of five stars. Carl and Assad are back! I didn’t care for this novel quite as much as The Keeper of Lost Causes because it wasn’t a “whodunit” but more of a “whydunit” or a “howdunit”, and I really prefer whodunits myself. But it was still good.

A Conspiracy of Faith (Department Q #3), by Jussi Adler-Olsen (hardcover, 504 pages). Three out of five stars. This was good, but…a little overlong. I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t care for this book as much as some of the others. I’m going to chalk it up to “people doing stupid things that make you say ‘no, don’t do that!’ but then they do it anyway and suffer” syndrome. There were just too many different characters acting or reacting in ways I found implausible or just plain stupid. Nonetheless, looking forward to the next book in this series.

 

24-day diet challenge update

Unsplash Glen Carrie

(photo by Glen Carrie via Unsplash)

I’ve been promising to post about my diet for a while now, and I finally bothered to sit down and write up a meal plan! I’m in the middle of a 24-day cleanse challenge with a girlfriend and so far I’ve had great results.

A lot of people hear the word “cleanse” and automatically think of green juices, liquid diets, taking lots of pills and laxatives, etc. This isn’t any of those. It’s based around healthy, whole foods, lots of water, and a lack of the junk we typically inhale. You can take whatever vitamin supplements you wish. If you like replacing the occasional meal with a protein smoothie you can. But at the core, it’s just healthy, simple foods–lots of lean protein and vegetables–and no processed food. Simple!

On the cleanse you cut out:

  • Coffee, soda, alcohol, and any other sugary drinks (like juice or sugared tea)
  • Processed food (chips, packaged foods or “fast food”)
  • Fried food and any fatty add-ons like creamy dips and dressings
  • White sugar (basically anything with added sugar)
  • White flour (bread, pasta, etc.)
  • Most dairy
  • Red meat

 

Instead you eat:

  • Lean protein (tofu is perfect for me–my friend is eating lean chicken and Greek yogurt but obviously I don’t eat those)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Complex carbs (sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc.)
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, beans, hummus, etc.

 

You also drink a lot of water. As a general rule you take your body weight, divide that number in half, and drink that many ounces of water per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll drink 75 ounces of water each day.

Each day you have three meals based around a lean protein (like tempeh), a vegetable (or fruit for breakfast), and a complex carb (like sweet potatoes or quinoa). You also get three small snacks (of 200 calories or less) and endless cups of unsweetened tea and water. Here’s a sample meal plan from a recent workday:

  • 30 minutes before breakfast: green tea with lemon, no sugar
  • Breakfast: oatmeal* with a banana and a dab of peanut butter
  • Mid-morning snack: carrots and hummus
  • Lunch: veggie stirfry with tempeh; berries for dessert; more tea
  • Snack: apple
  • Dinner: large spinach salad with quinoa (for protein–could also use chickpeas or tempeh) and diced veggies; fruit for dessert
  • Snack: glass of warm almond milk

 

*I mix oatmeal with flax, wheat germ and chia seeds and shake it up in a large container so it’s premixed and ready to cook in the microwave. It’s tastier than plain oatmeal and gives you a nice health boost.

Obviously I’m eating a lot, but amazingly enough, I’ve lost ten pounds in the past ten days. I can’t say it’s because I’ve upped my activity level, either, because I’m being as lazy as ever (hey, there are books to be read!). Since starting this diet I have so much more energy and I feel so much better. I thought I would miss donuts, noodles and tons of coffee with tasty sugary creamer in it, but I don’t.

By contrast earlier this year when I got in a rut and was not eating healthy at all, a typical day might include…

  • Three or four cups of coffee with flavored creamer
  • Toast
  • Fritos and an apple (at least I tried to be a little healthy) for a snack
  • Teriyaki noodles for lunch; more coffee or an energy drink; some kind of dessert
  • A donut or other “pick-me-up” for a snack
  • Pasta, French Toast, mac n cheese, or some other similar comfort food for dinner

 

Very little in the way of vegetables and fruits, not enough lean protein, and way too many carbs and processed foods. It’s no wonder I was sluggish and cranky. The weekends were even worse, with fried foods, soda and extra desserts thrown into the mix. I was still eating vegan, I just wasn’t being a very health-conscious vegan.

A big part of this diet has been learning to swap out my less-healthy old favorites for better options. Once a week I’ll still treat myself to my old favorite, pasta, but instead of a big bowl of white pasta with garlic bread on the side I have a small bowl of whole-wheat pasta with an extra-chunky veggie sauce and a salad instead of bread. I’m drinking tea instead of coffee. I spread a little peanut butter on a banana instead of eating a plate of toast.

How much I eat also depends on the day. If I have a busy workday and feel I need to up my protein intake, but don’t have time for food prep, I’ll mix up a vegan protein shake. If I’m at home all day and I’m not that hungry, I’ll sip lots of tea and graze on fruits and veggies instead of forcing myself to eat a big meal. I listen to my body and eat more or less according to what it’s telling me.

Another key has been learning to “arc” my meals according to the rhythm of the day. I used to eat very little until I got home from work, when I would load up on pasta, French Toast or other “comfort foods”. Now I try to get most of my carbs in the first half of the day, when I really need to power up my energy (and admittedly, my mood). I also aim to start the day with a boost of protein and a little fat, since these help with energy and tamping down hunger. As I shift into the second half of the day, I’ll shift to lighter snacks/meals based around fruits and veggies. By the end of the day I’m not really hungry or if I do need a little something, I can have a tiny snack and be happy.

So that’s it! Simple, really. I still crave potato chips, bread, desserts and lattes now and then, but the longer I stick to my protein/veggie/complex carb system of filling out my plate, the easier it gets.

Any questions? Anything I didn’t cover?

Ten on Tuesday: yoga, dark art, and autumn

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It’s time once again for Ten on Tuesday! Be sure to link up with Alyssa here. If you need motivation, she has an excellent cat photo on today’s post that I think you should see. (Well…it made me laugh, anyway. I can’t account for you if you have poor taste and do not like cat photos.)

1. Thanks to regular yoga I’m almost getting to the point where I can start doing back bends. My back and legs are still pretty stiff but we’re getting there.

2. I haven’t painted my nails in weeks. This needs to change…but I’m oh so lazy.

3. I officially have 10,000+ Pins on my Pinterest page now. Holy cow.

4. I’ve not had a cup of coffee in ten days now. Ten! And I can’t believe how good I feel. I know I’ve been promising more diet details and a meal plan for a while now, but I finally sat my lazy butt down and put one together for later in the week.

5. I love this poem by Mary Oliver. Poetry doesn’t have to be long and flowery. Sometimes the most simple pieces are the most powerful.

The Uses of Sorrow

6. Don’t ask me why but I’ve been into really dark and melancholy art/music/writing lately.

7. And yet at the same time, I can’t get “Good Day Sunshine” and “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. Those darn Beatles are just too catchy.

8. We had our first real fall rain last night and this morning. So refreshing.

9. I adore Natalie Dormer’s half-shaved hairdo for Mockingjay but since that obviously isn’t practical for my life, I think I’ll have to play with something like this instead.

10. Pumpkin-flavored everything is coming. And I could not be more pleased.

Music Monday: Of The Night

 

If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, it’s a mash-up of two ’90s Eurodance songs: “Rhythm is a Dancer” and “Rhythm of the Night”. Kind of a weird, depressing video, but then I like artsy videos that are like mini-movies, even if they’re not cheery. I find them much more interesting than people just standing and singing for the camera. I guess it’s my natural love of stories.

Thought Questions, #169-#175

Unsplash Amanda Sandlin

(photo by Amanda Sandlin via Unsplash)

#169: Who is the strongest person you know? Hmmm…not sure.

#170: If you could take a single photograph of your life, what would it look like? Me reading with my cats while the hubby plays Minecraft on the Xbox. Boring to some, but it’s one of our favorite ways to spend a day off.

#171: Is the reward worth the risk? I don’t know. Is the reward food? And will I have to cross any heights or bodies of water to get it?

#172: For you personally, what makes today worth living? Knowing I’m about to go snuggle in bed with the cats all night. It’s been a long week. The knowledge that my hard work is paying off in a cozy little home with the people (and pets!) I love surrounding me and plenty of books & tea on the weekends makes it all worthwhile.

#173: What have you done in the last year that makes you proud? Got a promotion at work. And also, figured out how to make my own vegan ice cream at home. That’s a big deal, people.

#174: What did you learn recently that changed the way you live? My husband would like to interject here that I’m a nicer person when I’m managing my caffeine habit. Which is true. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in a week (!) and feel great. (I’m still drinking tea and the occasional natural energy drink, but I cut out coffee, soda and Monster.) I guess I’ve realized that it really is worth it to stay on a strict diet, no matter how much I hate giving up the foods I love. I just feel so much better when I’m not eating tons of carbs and sugar. Though if you offered me pizza with extra green peppers on top or a dish of salted caramel fudge ice cream right now I’d probably inhale it without chewing. My willpower flags when I’m tired. Time to go to bed and stop thinking about food!

#175: What is your fondest memory from the past three years? Probably something involving sleeping in. I feel like I never sleep enough. Or food. Maybe the last time we scarfed pizza and binge-watched Fringe. I, uh, I’m detecting a pattern in my thought process today.

 

Ten on Tuesday: Concerts, bank drama and diets

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1. Saturday night’s concert was legitimately one of the best I’ve ever seen, live or taped. Thirty Seconds to Mars put on an AMAZING show–Jared Leto isn’t just a pretty face, he’s also a kickass showman. And Linkin Park was pretty awesome–Mike Shinoda is incredibly talented (he was rapping, playing guitar and hitting the keyboards, often all at the same time) and the band did a great job of blending rock, rap and electronic music all into one seamless two-hour set. Being in the pit in front of the stage was amazing. If you’re curious what the venue looks like, you can search “Gorge Amphitheatre” and get some photos that will give you an idea of the sheer size of the place. It holds almost 28,000 people!

Linkin Park tickets

2. I do kind of wonder why so many people purchase pit tickets just to stand there and take photos and videos on their smartphones. No dancing, no singing, no fun? And you know the videos aren’t going to be that great.

3. After all that, I’m worn out. We were up at 5 AM getting busy with all of our other weekend tasks (work, homework, etc.) and then had to make the drive to the venue. We were standing there from 3:30 PM on waiting for the show, and after it was all over we had to drive back home–we didn’t get home until 3 AM! Totally fun, but I’m glad we don’t do things like that more often.

4. The not-so-fun part of my weekend: finding out my debit card info was stolen and someone pulled $400 out of my bank account. Grrrrrr. Now I have to go through the fraud process to see if I can get the money back. There have been a lot of attacks on local businesses lately so it’s hard to even know how the number was stolen. I’m so careful with my card too, so it freaks me out a little. At least my bank has an awesome fraud department to handle these things.

5. We’re supposed to have warm weather with temps in the eighties for the next few days. Yay for an Indian summer!

6. I may just be converting my meat-eating friends to the wonders of a good vegan chili…nom nom nom. Will have to post a recipe soon.

7. On day two of the cleanse diet and I feel pretty good even without any coffee. I haven’t had much of an appetite lately which helps. I’m sure I’ll be craving bread and sweets soon though.

8. One month until a proper visit with the family.

9. I finally got a hold of the eighth Outlander book from Diana Gabaldon (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood) and it’s just as good as I expected. I’m halfway through it but I have to knock out 400 more pages before it’s due back at the library on Saturday. Wish me luck!

10. Go link up with Alyssa here!

Music Monday: Kings and Queens

 

My favorite Thirty Seconds to Mars song, and one of the highlights of Saturday’s concert. Although it’s kind of weird to watch this older video and see how different Jared looks, without seeming to have aged at all!