Brain on Fire: my month of madness

brain-on-fire

An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

—               —              —

Brain on Fire is sooooo good you guys. I read it in one sitting after work and it is a decently large nonfic. It was already on my radar and then my amazing coworker April was talking it up in the breakroom one day so I picked it up as soon as she returned it. I already knew the premise of the story and that it was based on a true story, but I could not put it down all night.

Cahalan spent months researching her “lost period” by putting together diary excerpts her parents wrote at the time, watching video feed of herself, reading medical reports and interviewing anyone who she had contact with while she was slowly losing her mind.

Using her journalism skills, she recreated the account of her illness as closely as possibly and turned it into a compelling story that not only touches the reader but has transformed the lives of so many others who would ultimately be diagnosed with the same rare illness, thanks to the publicity Cahalan’s story has created.

As incredibly smart as most medical specialists are, and as remarkable as the machines and tests mankind have devised are, when you are in a situation such as Cahalan’s, you realize that medicine is more of an art than a science. Doctors don’t know as much as you think they do.

At first I thought that Cahalan would be diagnosed with schizophrenia or something similar, and to be fair she was. Incorrectly. Her medical diagnosis would be much more difficult to pin down and require dozens of tests, more than a million dollars, and a considerable amount of luck.

As the book progresses, less and less of the story is told from Cahalan’s own recollections and journal entries of the time and therefore becomes more heavily reliant on third party testimony, as her ability to communicate deteriorated. It has the potential to be depressing except that it is an autobiography of sorts. So you know that there is a happy ending coming from somewhere, even if you don’t know from where.

Brain on Fire: my month of madness is a compelling story of a mystery medical diagnosis, and the race to discover a young women’s illness before her dire symptoms become irreversible.

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xx

 

Power Game by Christine Feehan

Power Game is the 13th novel in the Ghostwalker series by Christine Feehan.

Ghostwalkers are physically and psychically enhanced military personnel with some truly amazing powers. This book is about a man from the fourth GW team and the woman of his dreams.

power-game

When members of a United Nations joint security force are taken hostage by radical terrorists in Indonesia, Captain Ezekiel Fortunes is called to lead the rescue team. Part of a classified government experiment, Zeke is a supersoldier with enhanced abilities. He can see better and run faster than the enemy, disappear when necessary and hunt along any terrain. There are those in the world willing to do anything for power like that…

A formidable spy genetically engineered to hide in plain sight, Bellisia rarely meets a man who doesn’t want to control her or kill her. But Zeke is different. His gaze, his touch—they awaken feelings inside her that she never thought possible. He’s the kind of man she could settle down with—if she can keep him alive…

—                   —                   —

I feel so lucky to have read this book already! It just came out yesterday and I was able to get it from the library on release day. Thankfully I had today off because I stayed up until 4:30 am reading it! Whoops …

Zeke and Bellisia are super cute together and I love their instant connection. Normally I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief when two characters fall insta-in-love with one another, but part of the idea behind the Ghostwalker program is that each person was “paired” with one another by the same mad scientist (Whitney) who experimented on them. He messed with their pheromones so that they are chemically addicted to the smell of their partner. Add in the other universal gifts such as a superior sense of hearing, and it is no wonder that each couple has fallen in love at first sight … or in this case, first scent.

Power Game felt a little different than the other recent game books. It had the usual military action scenes and political intrigue, but it felt like Ezekiel and Bellisia had a deeper connection than other couples.

There is a moment right after they meet for the first time that she is convinced Ezekiel has betrayed her and is sending her back to the evil scientist who has held her as a captive science experiment her whole life. She is fighting to escape from Ezekiel and his teammates but cannot force herself to kill anyone in order to escape, and specifically cannot bring herself to harm Ezekiel. On that instinctual level, they both knew that they were destined to be together and even knowing that Whitney had paired them together, they didn’t fight the connection.

I loved that this couple had that deep connection right away, and that their relationship started out emotionally, rather than physically. We have been through the normal concerns of a couple who doubt their emotional connection to one another – believing it is just a chemical result of the experiments Whitney conducted – and while that is a completely valid concern, I don’t want to go through that whole thought process with every couple as they fall in love.

I think it would have been better if the author expanded upon the chapter where Bellesia was taken captive by Ezekiel’s team. This was a major point in the book and has happened very rarely in the series, but I felt like it was only brushed over instead of being given the attention it was due. Especially since Ezekiel himself was not the one “locking her down”, but his teammates, and given that they were providing emergency medical treatment to Ezekiel at the same time, there was a lot going on!

***** Spoiler Ahead *****

 

 

Also, FINALLY, Violet got hers. Anyone who reads the Ghostwalker series should remember Violet as the GW who betrayed her sisters and sold them out. She is evil and power hungry and I am so glad she was finally killed.

I loved the newest book in the Ghostwalker series and would recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction, military action or romantic suspense.

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xx

Water Bound by Christine Feehan

Water Bound is the first book in a new Sea Haven series by Christine Feehan, called Sisters of the Heart. It follows the last book of the Drake Sisters series but can be read as a stand-a-lone. The plot picks up on the same day as Hidden Currents ended.

water-bound

The last thing Lev Prakenskii remembered was being lost in the swirling currents of the ocean and getting sucked deeper into the nothingness of a freezing black eddy off the coastal town of Sea Haven. Just as quickly, just a miraculously, he was saved—pulled ashore by a beautiful stranger. But Lev has no memory of who he is—or why he seems to possess the violent instincts of a trained killer. All he knows is that he fears for his life, and for the life of his unexpected savior.

Her name is Rikki, a sea~urchin diver in Sea Haven. She has always felt an affinity for the ocean, and for the seductive pull of the tides. And now she feels drawn in the same way to the enigmatic man she rescued. But soon they will be bound by something even stronger, and their tantalizing secrets will engulf them both in a whirlpool of dizzying passion and inescapable danger.

—                        —                          —

Water Bound was the first book I ever read with an autistic heroine and I love how the author portrayed her. She has lots of quirks and concerns but never comes across as stupid, ignorant or selfish. She knows that she needs things a certain way in her life and is mostly comfortable with that fact. She has sisters she chooses to make a life with and tries to overcome her taciturn, solitary lifestyle in order to give back emotionally to those she loves.

Rikki is incredibly independent and fears being a burden on her family, probably due to her background in foster care and state run facilities. I like how she and Lev work together and Lev’s journey into understanding how she thinks. Lev shows a remarkable understanding of what changes Rikki can accept and how to slowly introduce new things that challenge her perceptions of her limitations in life. Of course he makes mistakes sometimes but hey – to err is to be human.

I’ve included one of my favourite humorous scenes in the book. Rikki is caring for Lev after his head injury and he is getting pretty tired of eating the PB she thinks constitutes the perfect food.

<Rikki speaking>  “I’ll fix you a sandwich.”

He looked pained. “I don’t eat peanut butter.”

That genuinely shocked her. “Who doesn’t eat peanut butter? It’s the perfect food.”

He shuddered. “Even to make up for all the things I’ve done wrong, I don’t think I can do it.”

“For a man who carries around as many weapons as you do, you’re a bit of a baby.”

“It isn’t being a baby not to eat peanut butter. I don’t think babies eat the stuff.”

“That’s un-American.”

“I’m not certain I am American,” he pointed out.

She had to agree with him there. “Fine. You can put peanut butter on waffles. Blythe bought some of those frozen thingies that you put in the toaster. I’m not sure how old they are. Do frozen foods last like four years or more?”

He groaned and dropped into the nearest kitchen chair, pushing his head into his hands. “Death by peanut butter. I never thought I’d go that way.”

Feehan, Christine. Water Bound (Sea Haven-Sisters of the Heart Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2038-2048). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Water Bound introduces the idea of a new type of magic where certain people are born with a special affinity to control an element, but it’s more than just the ability to use fire or water. There is an emotional connection to it as well, and unlike the previous magical gifts we have experienced in Sea Haven, using element “magic” does not drain you of strength. But your gifts are also limited to that one element.

Clearly each of the remaining Prakenskii brothers are going to be paired up with one of the Sisters of the Heart <so called because they are not biologically related > in the series. I hope we learn more about them and get to see them reunite with each other.

The next book in the series is Spirit Bound so I will try to review it in the next few weeks, as I count down the days until the last book in the series is released in March!

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xx

Reaper’s Fire by Joanna Wylde

Reaper’s Fire is the 6th book in the Reaper’s MC universe … aka the best MC romance series going!  This book is great but I definitely do not suggest reading it as a stand-a-lone.

Also, trigger warning. I do NOT consider the hero (Gage) to be a cheater but some others would. Gage is undercover and “dating” this (incredibly unlikeable) girl as his “in” with an out-of-control MC when he meets his one true love. He becomes friends with the heroine and they like each other but he keeps sleeping with the other chick. The hero and heroine do not have intimate relations with one another until he breaks it off and can commit to his one true love. He eventually comes clean but if you are super sensitive about cheating, this may not be the book for you.

reapers-fire

The club comes first.

I’ve lived by those words my whole life—assumed I’d die by them, too, and I never had a problem with that. My Reaper brothers took my back and I took theirs and it was enough. Then I met her. Tinker Garrett. She’s beautiful, she’s loyal, and she works so damned hard it scares me sometimes . . . She deserves a good man—one better than me. I can’t take her yet because the club still needs me. There’s another woman, another job, another fight just ahead.

Now she’ll learn I’ve been lying to her all along. None of it’s real. Not my name, not my job, not even the clothes I wear. She thinks I’m nice. She pretends we’re just friends, that I’ve still got a soul . . . Mine’s been dead for years. Now I’m on fire for this woman, and a man can only burn for so long before he destroys everything around him.

I’m coming for you, Tinker.

Soon.

—                           —                            —

I really liked Reaper’s Fire and would still recommend it to anyone who reads romance. But it was my least favourite novel in my very favourite series so please forgive me if this novel comes across as highly critical.  When you are as passionate as I am, it can be easy to focus on the things you didn’t like so much. I’ll try to be brief.

As Gage is undercover on the other side of the state from the rest of the cast of characters who comprise the Reapers MC, there is a markedly smaller amount of page time for those characters. Which is fine. I guess. Except that the interactions between all the different family members is what makes these books so great. I dislike series that focus exclusively on the hero/ine instead of building on this world that the author is attempting to create. If you are making a set of standalones, don’t market them as a series, right?! And this author, Joanna Wylde, is usually so So SO good at balancing the couple’s story with the bigger world they inhabit.

Now, you do see a few familiar faces. A remarkable number really considering that CDA is several hours drive from the setting in Reaper’s Fire. But it still made me grumble.

The time line falls back several years from where the previous book left off. It makes sense why that happened and I expected it, but definitely read these books in order. Even if you skip the earlier ones in the series (although why in the HELL you would do that I don’t know), make sure to read Reaper’s Fall before Fire.

As I explained at the top in the trigger warning, Tinker and Gage start their relationship off as employer and employee, and then as friends. So the sex inevitably comes much later in the book than readers would probably expect. This didn’t bother me and I am glad that Gage did not sleep with Tinker and the crazy chick at the same time, but it felt like there was this huge long build-up – BAM he comes clean – insert wild action scene and then book over. I needed more of a cool down period. I would have liked to see some of the earlier pages cut and more of the length of the book in the back-end of the story.

Gage and Tinker are bother older than the typical couple in a romance series. They are in their very late 30s to mid 40s. This doesn’t really make a difference to me but if you are looking for a slightly older couple in your romance, here’s your couple. It does reflect in their behaviours at times, where you can see they are just slightly more mature than certain individuals in previous novels.

I do want to make one note about this series that I have been pondering for the last few books. I think I am itching for Wylde to go darker. She usually has at least one dark scene per book, but her series is lighter than some of the others that I read. And the material is right there. Outlaw biker badasses. Let’s get dark.

The series began with a pretty dark premise when Horse essentially kidnapped the woman he liked and made her his house mouse to punish her brother for crossing the club. Usually a series gets a little darker as it goes on, and I would love to read just one really dark book with an almost unredeemable hero. Gage, being the Club’s Enforcer, could have been this character but hopefully it will be someone else down the line.

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xx

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

Note: I read this book for the “debut novel” category of Book Riots’ 2017 Reading Harder Challenge. Also, this review is shocking devoid of spoilers.

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An atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.

Following the death of her last living relative, Hetty Deveraux leaves London and her strained relationship behind for Muirlan, her ancestral home in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She intends to renovate the ruinous house into a hotel, but the shocking discovery of human remains brings her ambitious restoration plans to an abrupt halt before they even begin. Few physical clues are left to identify the body, but one thing is certain: this person did not die a natural death.

Hungry for answers, Hetty discovers that Muirlan was once the refuge of her distant relative Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and naturalist who brought his new bride, Beatrice, there in 1910. Yet ancient gossip and a handful of leads reveal that their marriage was far from perfect; Beatrice eventually vanished from the island, never to return, and Theo withdrew from society, his paintings becoming increasingly dark and disturbing.

What happened between them has remained a mystery, but as Hetty listens to the locals and studies the masterful paintings produced by Theo during his short-lived marriage, she uncovers secrets that still reverberate through the small island community—and will lead her to the identity of the long-hidden body.

—                          —                           —

The House Between Tides is Sarah Maine’s debut novel. It is set in the Outer Hebrides, islands off Scotland’s Atlantic Coast. After reading the book, I looked up some tourism sites and discovered that the islands are not exactly what I was expecting! I imagined that they were extremely rugged and isolated (which they are) but somehow I was mostly expecting a continuation of the Highlands, which isn’t entirely accurate.

So to help set you in the right mood, here are some pictures borrowed from Visit Scotland.

Ready to move here yet? I sure as heck am!

I am in love with The House Between Tides. I’ve already pimped it out to my flatmate and mother, and have been talking it up among my coworkers … speaking of, if any of you are reading this blog, want to plan a trip? 🙂

But in all seriousness, I am awed that this is along the first of Maine’s novels. It is detailed and layered, a perfect composition of intrigue, mystery, romance and adventure, with a bit of the mysterious mixed in. Selkie legends anyone?

I was kept guessing all the way through as to whom the bones belonged. It is clear to the reader that it must be one of a handful of characters, but I was surprised at who they actually belonged to. This individual would have been my second or third guess. I detest predictable novels, so I was perfectly content with the outcome not being what I expected.

The House Between Tides is aptly named, as most of the story develops on the estate or adjoining island, which is accessible only by land during low tide. The story flashes back and forth between 1910/1911 and 2010, although the vast majority of pages are devoted to the past. Every once in a while you will surface for a few chapters to catch the modern-day characters up on the mysteries surrounding Muirlan and to allow the reader to appreciate the impact past events still have on the village today. I haven’t read a multi-generational book like this in a while and it was a great reminder of how touching it can be to read about the ancestor and the descendent. There is certainly added depth to the tale.

The pacing of the writing carries on at a reasonable rate, keeping the book moving forward without the loss of details. I was drawn into Maine’s story and couldn’t put her book down, pushing forward to the end so I could discover the truth behind the mystery of the bones and what happened to all these beloved characters you have just spent a year and a half falling in love with.

The ending is tragic, which you might expect from the description. Clearly someone has died for bones to be found. And yet, I still was surprised by the emotions that overtook me as I read the final pages. Definitely one of those books where I was bawling my eyes out at 3am as I finished the story! There were far more layers put into the outcome than I had anticipated.

I am eagerly awaiting the second novel of Maine’s, to be published in 2017, called Beyond the Wild River. It is based closer to home, in 19th century Thunder Bay, Ontario area, and features a new cast of characters.

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xx

 

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017

Earlier this week I wrote about Book Riots’ Reader Harder Challenge 2017 that is designed to get you reading outside your comfort zone. Expanding your horizons is a great thing, but lots of people like to stay in their favourite genres for a reason. And that is okay too.

One of my coworkers, who – like me – was less than enthused by the categories in that reading challenge this year, came across the Popsugar Reading Challenge and decided to do it instead. Well you know librarian-types, the second challenge flew around the office in no time and several of us have decided to do both!

I love the Popsugar Reading Challenge because it is designed to encourage you to keep reading throughout the year, without forcing a person to go outside their normal genres. There isn’t the inherent, if unintended, guilt-trip for a person who prefers to read trashy romance novels or Victorian mysteries over and over, rather than reading “smart” novels that focus on social issues.

Even though I intend to do the Book Riots challenge too, I am still going to read and review all my favourite authors, and erotica are my fave. Thankfully, the Popsugar list lets me get “credit” for reading those books too, and romances are a heck of a lot quicker to go through than a book of feminist essays! Hopefully working on both lists at the same time will keep me enthused and moving forward.

Here’s the link for the printable Popsugar Reading List.

xx

Read Harder Challenge 2017

So that time has come again.

Read Harder Challenge 2016 has finished. Bring on 2017 and a brand new challenge!

This challenge is put on by Book Riot each year. I participate along with most of my co-workers. Essentially, Book Riot prepares a list of 24 categories and challenges you to read a book from each section to complete the list over the course of the calendar year. The purpose is to expand your reading outside of your comfort zone, to experience new genres or ideas.

Here are the categories for 2017, although the link above will take you the printer-friendly version:

  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigrationnarrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of colour goes on a spiritual journey
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
  21. Read a book published by a micropress
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of colour

There are lots of  hyperlinks as you can see. These will take you to suggestion pages that Book Riots has created, if you need help finding something suitable in a given category.

Personally, I am not nearly as excited about the categories this year as I was last year. They are clearly (in my mind) aimed at an American audience when this is supposed to be an international challenge. The NUMEROUS categories aimed at LGBT and racial discrimination is surely at least partially a result of the current political and social climate of the United States.

I don’t know that I want to fully finish the challenge this year as a result, but I am  going to work on it for as long as I can at least. No matter what, it is still good to broaden your horizons and try new literary works, and this list will at least force me to do that.

In fact, I am well on my way towards completing my first book! I am reading The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine, for the category of debut novel. Expect a review forthwith because it is excellent!

xx