Monday, March 26, 2012

The Flatey Enigma

The Flatey Enigma
Author: Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (translated from Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon)
Amazon Crossing, 2012 (originally published 2002 in Iceland)
224 pages

It's 1960 and off the west coast of Iceland, a family hunting seal on the uninhabited island of Ketilsey stumbles upon a decomposing human body. Kjartan, a representative of the district magistrate, is sent from Reykjavik to the nearby island of Flatey to identify the body. There he finds a harsh environment and several quirky characters, including an elderly man with dementia, a man who sees fairies, and a reclusive female doctor.

Flatey is also home to an ancient Icelandic saga called The Flatey Book, which contains an unsolved puzzle known as The Flatey Enigma. When the dead man turns out to be a Danish researcher whose life's work revolved around unlocking the puzzle, the plot thickens. But it gets even more thick when another stranger turns up mutilated in the cemetery.

Kjartan transitions from investigator to cryptographer as the mysteries are uncovered. There are more twists and turns in The Flatey Enigma than there are fjords in Iceland, and each of them has credibility. It's almost like three different stories sometimes: 1) the murder mysteries; 2) the historic tales of the saga; and 3) the incredible descriptions of daily island life and survival.

The Flatey Enigma is a solid crime thriller, but it's much more than that. It's magical. My resolve to go to Iceland has been strengthened, and my attraction to the northern isles is now more intense than ever.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly
Author: William Davis, MD
Rodale Books, 2011
304 pages

When I came across Wheat Belly (subtitled Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health), I was intrigued. I mean, seriously . . . what nerve? Give up bagels, sandwiches, tortillas, naan, and pita? Not to mention cake, CUPCAKES, and assorted other sweet things. Are you crazy? Yet after reading only a few pages, I decided to give up wheat, just to see what happened. It's been three and a half weeks, and I'm still wheat-free.

As far as diet books go -- and believe me, I've read several -- this is about the most well-written and well-researched I've come across. The author starts out by giving us a sort of history of wheat, arguing that the genetic changes in wheat over time -- along with how it's processed nowadays -- isn't good for us humans. It's a convincing argument, but there were a few times when I thought I might be able to fill in the blank and insert anything (dairy, meat, sugar, whatever) considered "not good for us" over the last forty years or so. Still, like I said, the argument is convincing.

The next section of the book goes through several health problems/issues, such as celiac disease, inflammation, diabetes, skin conditions, dementia, etc. and presents studies that show removing wheat from the diet can improve conditions or maybe even make them go away entirely. Some of this was section was a bit too scientific for me, but I kept going.

Following the health section, there's a sort of call to action, with a list of foods to avoid as well as foods that are acceptable. This is followed by a recommended eating plan (for one week) and some recipes. Some of the recipes looked pretty tasty to me, and I'll probably try a few of them soon.

In case you wondered, I've lost 9.8 pounds since I gave up wheat shortly after starting to read Wheat Belly. I don't know how much longer I'll keep it up, but for now, I'm wheat-free.

OK, my next book is going to be a mystery/thriller from Iceland, so if you've missed that genre lately, check back again in a week or so. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower
Author: Octavia Butler
Grand Central Publishing, 2000
329 pages

This book is a radical departure from my usual mystery/crime thriller, but I do enjoy an occasional diversion. With all the hoopla surrounding the upcoming release of the movie The Hunger Games -- another example of dystopian fiction that I enjoyed -- I thought I'd check out Parable of the Sower by the late science fiction author Octavia Butler. It's the first of a two-book series that was originally published in 1993, and after reading it I can't help but wonder how many other books could have followed if not for Butler's untimely death in 2006.

Main character Lauren Olamina is a rather complicated young woman living in the 2020s. Her father is the local preacher, a man of great intelligence and a big temperament. Lauren lives with him, her brothers, and stepmother in southern California. The United States has gone to hell in a hand-basket, so to speak, the result of decades of economic and environmental disaster: it's now a third world country. Things are bad -- really, really bad.

Lauren has a sort of ability (some might say disability) in that she can feel the pain and pleasure of other people. This hyperempathy is a result of her mother's abuse of a drug while she was pregnant with Lauren; no doubt this is a huge reason for her complexity. But she's also a very forward-thinking young person, and while she's a teenager she begins putting down verses in a notebook that will eventually become the foundation for a new faith.

In the meantime, things go from bad to worse, and Lauren loses her family. Along with two others, she sets off on a journey to the north, where supposedly there are jobs and not as much chaos as in southern California. On this journey, Lauren will see the darkest sides of humanity, but will grown in strength and resolve. We know from reading the book's description that eventually she's going to be some sort of leader, so Parable of the Sower is really the back story. I'm looking forward to the second book, Parable of the Talents, which I seriously hope will come out on eBook sometime soon.

If you like dystopian stuff, this is a must read. However, it's very heavy. Hopefully it will make you think. And possibly act.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Exit 22

Exit 22
Author: p.m. terrell
Drake Valley Press, 2008
328 pages

A few weekends ago I was visiting with my old friend "TJ" (old as in we've been friends since grade school) and I asked her what she was reading. She replied that she'd just started Exit 22 by p.m. terrell. (Apparently, it's p.m. terrell, not P.M. Terrell.) I admitted being unfamiliar with the book and author, and "TJ" explained to me that she learned about them from the recent Book 'Em North Carolina event held on the campus of the local community college. (Check out Book 'Em North Carolina - it looks like a great organization!) "TJ" said she was really enjoying it so far, in part because the story actually takes place in our hometown.

Naturally, I had to buy and read it asap. This was a bit of rough week for me personally, and I had a lot going on, so I didn't read quickly at first. But last night, I couldn't stop . . . I was literally on the edge of my bed, biting my nails, completely oblivious to anything else going on around me.

Quick plot summary: Chris, a political strategist who lives and works in Washington, DC, is driving down I-95 to Florida. There's an ice storm, and just as he's approaching exit 22 (the number of the exit from I-95) in Lumberton, North Carolina, he has a car accident. Since his car needs repairs, he checks into a motel, thinking he'll just be in Lumberton for a day or two. But while dining in the motel restaurant, he meets Brenda, a mysterious, beautiful woman who's about to take him on the ride of his life.

You see, just as Chris arrived in Lumberton, a double murder of a successful banker and his pregnant wife took place on a farm just outside of town. Local Sheriff's deputies Alec and Dani are trying to piece together the incident and find the killer. Nosy neighbors tell them that the dead man was having an affair with a woman named Brenda. Hmm.

I don't want to give any more of the story away, so I'll leave it at that. The characters are fresh and the two deputies (especially Alec) are completely real. The storyline is believable, as in YES, THIS COULD HAPPEN . . . and it could happen in a place like Lumberton. The setting is different (again, fresh) -- so if you're used to reading crime thrillers/mysteries set in California, DC, New York, or Europe and you want to try something new, check Exit 22 out and read all about a new-to-you place. 

It seems as if p.m. terrell has a couple of other books set in this area (some are called the Black Swamp Mysteries). I'll be looking for them. And I'm gonna ask "TJ" what she's reading more often. :)