Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Whew, boy, do I have opinions on this one…  This year has been a deep dive into self help and motivation for me.  I decided to give this one a try after it came up on a couple of podcast I listen to.  I knew going into it that Hollis was religious but at this point in my own journey I draw wisdom and inspiration from all faiths so I didn’t think it would bother me.  I got the audiobook and was pleased to see that it was only six discs long.  I got started right away.

I enjoyed probably the first two thirds of this book.  Sometimes I found Hollis a little annoying, a little too religious or a little too preachy or a little too “sunny side up” or a little too naive BUT it was kind of like listening to a podcast and I kept on because it was just fine.

I was on disc five out of six when I seriously considered completely chucking it and I honestly only finished because at that point I was damn well going to count it as read.

First, if you’ve ever read a self help book there is a good chance that you are not going to get anything new from this.  There’s nothing wrong with that, most self help is like that I think there’s value in hearing things again and again.  Hollis definitely represents a demographic that I recognize.  It’s true that a lot of her problems don’t seem big to other people that doesn’t mean they aren’t big to her.  I am one of the luckiest women alive and I have still struggled with trauma, anxiety, depression, weight issues/eating disorders, drinking to deal with my toddler.  And it’s true that a lot of people find her approach of choosing happiness and choosing to pull yourself up to be belittling and grating.  I get it.  On the other hand, maybe her advice matches her problems.  This is what is valid for her.

And now… Hollis started to lose me first when talking about the relationship she first had with her husband before he “changed” and how unhealthy it was but it all worked out in the end but it probably won’t for you.  I shrugged it off.  That’s not really what her story was about, anyway, it just hit me wrong… Then there was the chapter about foster care and adoption.  It was long and heavily peppered with judgments and A LOT of holier than thous.  She followed that one up with talking about her weight, at which point she complains about being a size 10.  I’ll admit I was getting a little throat punchy…

Then there was the chapter about drinking and I swear to God that this was what pushed me over the edge.  I don’t think it’s right to tell people that they are doing the best they can and then right away tell them that they need to face their addictions and their lies, and not just alcohol but also she mentions food and romance novels.  Running totally isn’t an addiction or escapism, though, apparently.  I also found it really annoying that she compares self medicating to taking antibiotics when you’re sick.  If you’re sick and you take antibiotics your immune system will never get strong, she argues, and this bothers me and makes me feel very icky on so many levels.  Where do we draw the line with what we consider to be medicating?  Can you have no indulgence if you’re a mother because it will make you too weak to be there for your children?

Hollis means well and I know that there are some people who will definitely find something useful in all of this.  She ALWAYS makes it clear that this is her personal experience and she suggests seeking therapy a number of times and I have to give her kudos for that.  She’s upfront and honest about her experiences, life lessons, and feelings.  However, this just was not for me and I can’t see it being for a lot of people.

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Nightingale by Amy Lukavics

When I first read the description of Nightingale, I knew that it would be a book that I added to the collection.  It sounded right up my alley.  1950’s, not wanting to conform to the norm, wanting to be a writer.  Then add the insane asylum (an iffy trope for me) and something that sounds like maybe cannibalism and I knew that I would have to read this.

Nightingale goes back and forth in time, dividing this time into “the institution” and “days past”.  We learn that June is in the institution because she believes that her parents have been replaced.  Leading up to this incident, June has been under a lot of stress.  She has been writing a horrific sci-fi novel and wants to be published someday.  While her parents map out the perfect future for her with her father’s boss’s son, June has secretly applied to a writing program.  But the morning after her disaster of an engagement party, June’s mother calls her “nightingale” and June is sure that her parents are no longer her parents.

Shipped away to Burrow Place Asylum, June finds herself in a strange kind of nightmare.  She befriends her roommate, Eleanor, who thinks that she is dead, and Eleanor’s friends and quickly discovers that things are not normal here.  The nurses and doctor seem off.  The medical treatments are brutal.  The sanitation is questionable at best.  Even worse, when someone speaks up they are bound to disappear or die.  Can June unravel the mystery of the asylum and of herself in time to save them all?

I was surprised by the direction this one took.  It definitely had a twist that I should have seen coming but didn’t.  I don’t know what was more horrifying: the institution or watching June being forced into a mold at home.  This was a great read and much more horror than I expected.

Firestarter by Stephen King

It always takes me a little longer to get through a Stephen King book than I would like.  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy them.  Obviously I do.  He’s one of my top three favorite authors.  i do go into the books expecting it to take me a while, though, and coming out of a King in less than three weeks is almost unheard of for me.  So, when I read reviews and people talk about reading a King book “in one go,” I almost die of jealousy.  Now that you know all of this back story, I can tell you that I had the audiobook checked out for three weeks and was just shy of finishing and then switched to the print version, which I owned, and lost a few days convincing myself that this was the right thing to do.  My reading experience was a little disjointed.

But the day I started Firestarter was the day I used a vacation day to practice some self-care and I listened to the first quarter of this book in pretty much one go.  It was magical.

This is the story of a broke college kid, Andy, who needs money to go into the graduate program and signs up for an experiment.  There he meets Vicky and they have a telekinetic experience together.  They marry and have a daughter and they also have some side effects from the experiment.  Vicky often does things like turn the radio on and off without noticing and Andy can “push” people, use his power to convince them to believe things and do things.  Soon after her birth, it becomes apparent that Charlie can start fires.

Only, The Shop has been watching the participants since the original experiment and when they become spooked that Andy and Charlie may have ran, they kill Victoria and start chasing Andy and Charlie down.

I don’t want to give away too much because there is so much to enjoy here.  This was one of those books that pulled me right in.  I wanted nothing more than for Charlie and Andy to be free in the world and I audibly swore at characters and I shook my head and I argued with the narrator.  It was great.

This is probably not in my top 5 Kings but it was a fantastic book.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Alright, I love John Green.  For a while I worried that it made me too “mainstream” but that’s just stupid.  He’s a great writer.  I love his characters.  He makes me FEEL things.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from Turtles All the Way Down, which is Green’s first book in six years.  That gap felt huge and I worried that he would have lost his touch.  I can see how this was a hard book to write, though, and Green deals with mental health excellently.

Aza lives in her own mind.  She suffers from anxiety and OCD.  She is constantly worried about bacteria and the fact that she may not be a real person, just a fiction or a vehicle for said bacteria.  Her best friend Daisy is her opposite, outgoing and daring.  Daisy writes fan fiction and works at Chuck-E-Cheese.  She’s saving up for college so when she realizes that Aza knows a missing billionaire’s son, Davis,  and that there is a reward for information leading to the arrest of the billionaire, Daisy convinces her to paddle down the river in a canoe to Davis’s property and snoop.  Davis saves them from mansion security and Aza and Davis start a maybe-more kind of friendship.

Aza wants to be normal.  She wants to be able to listen to conversations without falling into her own thought spirals.  She wants to be able to hold hands and kiss without thinking that the other person’s bacteria is invading her body.  She wants to be a good friend and daughter and girlfriend.  Aza is trying but things are getting harder and harder and the spiral is getting tighter and tighter.

One of the highest praises that I can give to this book comes from my own experiences with anxiety.  Green describes this thought pattern so well that when I was talking to a fellow anxious person he actually told me to stop because it was such an apt description that it was going to give him a panic attack.  High praise indeed.  This book also made me laugh and cry and feel grossly romantic a couple of times.  Excellent read.  He still has it!

Elevation by Stephen King

Months ago I heard that there was going to be a new Stephen King book and prepared myself for a thick doorstopper of a book so I was surprised to find that Elevation was so short.  Then I was pleased to hear that King was billing it as a sequal of sorts to Gwendy’s Button Box, another slip of a novel that I really enjoyed.  It’s true that there is a brief mention of something that happened in Gwendy’s Button Box but other than that the only thing these books shared as a setting.

In the town of Castle Rock something strange is happening.  Scott, a web designer, is losing weight.  He’s losing weight but not actually dropping sizes.  He’s losing weight but he’s not trying.  He’s losing weight and even if he’s holding something when he stands on the scale he weighs the same.  There is no explanation for it and Scott has decided to keep it to himself and a retired doctor friend because he doesn’t want to spend his days in a clinic or government facility.  Really, he feels great.

Except that he can’t quite get his footing with the couple next store, two married women who have recently opened a restaurant in town.  What starts out as irritation, because their dogs regularly use his lawn and they refuse to acknowledge it, quickly turns to something else when he realizes that their business is quickly going under.  Scott had not realized how many people would take offense to married lesbians.  He doesn’t like what he’s seeing but one of the women has made it clear that they don’t need a white knight.  Scott doesn’t want to hit zero weight without making one thing right.

This is a very short novella and it reads very fast.  It’s not your usual King flavor but I found it actually kind of heart warming.  It’s true that many conservatives will find something offensive in it but I honestly don’t think that anyone should be surprised by that.  King has made his political opinions known and you can’t expect him to keep it out of his work.  King’s writing has always had a bit of a political lean to it and if you don’t believe me go back and read The Dead Zone, which comes to mind because I read it recently.  Don’t go into this expecting to be terrified, though I did find it an interesting thought experiment.  I’m giving this a solid 4.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I’ve been on a bit of a Gillian Flynn thing lately and I just can’t help it.  Her mind is a scary, wonderful place and her writing manages to be somehow lyrical.  In fact, in this book there were a number of descriptions that made me gush, “OMG!  I think of it the same way!  I thought I was the only one!”  On the other hand, sometimes that kind of language can really notch up the thrill factor.

How is it that Gone Girl put this woman on the map?  I think it’s kind of her worst book.

Recently I’ve been attracted to narratives about Satanism for no apparent reason except that it popped up randomly a few months ago.  Since then I’ve been really thinking about the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and so this book managed to ring a couple of my bells.  It is the story of Libby Day who survived the murder of the rest of her family by her bother.  Her mother and two sisters were killed, the house thrashed, Satanic messages scrawled on the walls in their blood, but Libby hid by the pond and survived, losing some fingers and toes to frostbite in the process.

Understandably, Libby is not living her best life.  She’s managed to survive off of money from the sale of the farm and that was sent to her out of pity but the money is gone and she can’t face the idea of getting a real job.  How could she manage to work like a normal person when she can’t even manage to get out of bed some days?  Instead she ends up making contact with a man named Lyle who is part of a “kill club.”  Groups of people obsessed with unsolved or questionably solved murders get together and try to solve them.  He invites her to speak and for the first time Libby begins to question whether or not her brother is actually a murderer.

In a desperate grab for money that quickly becomes something else, Libby begins to sort through what happened that night.  What does she actually remember?  Who talked to her family that day?  What went so terribly wrong?  Mixed with Libby’s narrative are flashbacks to that day told from her mother and brother’s points of view, flashes that slowly build a picture of that last day and lead the reader closer and closer to the truth.

I loved this book.  It was the kind of read that had me wondering what was going to happen even when I was busy doing something else.  I would be making dinner only to pause and think, “What’s happening in my book right now?”  I found it positively engrossing.  I may be my favorite Flynn.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

I cannot lie.  I am completely in for Hygge now.  I don’t know what possessed me to check this book out months ago, in the blazing summer heat that I love, but I did.  Now that it’s fall and I finally got around to it, I’m in.  I listened to the audiobook, which was a super short 3.5 hours, and so I got the pronunciation down (I think) and now I pretty much walk around my house chanting, “Hygge!  Hygge!”

Basically, Hygge seems to me to be a lot about making things nice.  Just nice.  Cozy.  Good smelling.  Friendly.  Nice.  And, to be honest, I think that I could really use some nice right now.

While I checked this book out, I have put it on “to be purchased” list.  It includes lists, recipes, ideas, the sort of thing that I can see myself referring back to now and then.  The basic concept is simple enough.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that you’ll see a number of reviews that talk about candles.  There is a lot of talk about candles.  I’m not currently in a position to light many candles, as I have a toddler who likes anything he’s not supposed to have, but I don’t feel put off by that.  Hygge socks?  That’s a thing.  I HATE socks but I don’t feel put off by that.  Instead I feel inspired to make these coming winter months and every day before them a little more homey and nice.

I liked this one a lot.