American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent

(Caidyn)

4/5

Admittedly, I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. But, Tamer’s voice shone through in what could have been a very dull book to make it interesting. In short, this is the story of an undercover agent (and Tamer Elnoury is not his real name) who went from busting drug rings as a police officer to being an FBI agent dealing with terrorism. Not only was this book interesting to listen to, I really found it enlightening.

Tamer, as a Muslim, spoke about how hard it was to work with and against radical Islamists since he grew up as a mainstream Muslim who grew up succeeding in the American dream. His beliefs align with the five pillars, that Islam is not a violent religion and that jihad is an internal struggle with God in order to submit. It’s not about harming and killing innocents.

He also showed how hard undercover work is and what it’s like. I think that because of police shows, we have an idea of what that means and entails, yet you don’t really know. It’s hard work. And when you’re confronted with becoming friends and confidants to people who take something so personal to you and weaponize it, that’s not easy.

Finally, I really found it enlightening about how many plots get foiled and how. It’s not just that the country finds out and destroys it (what I’d call an external cause), but also internal. Tamer stated that not all terrorist groups are the same. There are many opinions and they all vie for the same resources.

This book, while about a very serious topic, was fun and interesting. It also had a great message of unity to it. The only way to take away this threat is to understand it, even if we don’t want to. To do that, you have to hear the voices of the mainstream and not block them out. If that’s not a good message, I don’t know what is.

 

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Become the Force: 9 Lessons on Living as a Master Jedi by Daniel M. Jones

Become the Force: 9 Lessons on Living as a Master Jedi

(Caidyn)

4/5

In college, I studied religions. And not just the typical religions, like Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam. No, I also took a course that was focused on new religious movements. So, we talked about Scientology and Christian Science and Unitarianism. We also talked about Jim Jones and alien religions and paganism. I have experience that covers the more typical religions and the odder, perhaps more “out there” religions.

This was nothing new to me. It was basically what I learned about in school and what I grew up in, since I grew up nontraditionally with religions. It didn’t blow my mind, in other words. It didn’t broaden my horizon. However, I thought that it was interesting and fun to see the founder of Jediism talk about his religion and how he practices it and struggles to practice it.

I do think that Jones had a great purpose since people hear “Jediism” and immediately think that it’s a bunch of nerds trying to bring Star Wars to life. It’s mainly about taking concepts that have been defined in various ways in various religious traditions and explaining how they’re explained in Star Wars, along with how being a Jedi offers a complete moral pathway.

And that’s it. That’s the book. I think the only “problem” I had was that it was rather repetitive. Certain phrases were said in each and every chapter, but that’s a minor complaint. I liked how Jones succinctly explained the precepts of Jediism, explained how it works in his life, and also offers ways to incorporate Jediism into your life that (for me) sounded exactly like Buddhism.

I Love Hannibal and why you should too

(Caidyn)

Developed by Bryan Fuller

For reference, I’m talking about Hannibal the TV show, not the books. The books are good but not great.

I love this show. Chantel knows it. Most people know it who have talked to me in depth. It was canceled in 2016 after, somehow, lasting for three seasons. It’s gory. It’s gay. It’s graphic. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s a smart show that you have to pay attention to so you can understand it.

And it’s fantastic.

If someone asks for a show recommendation, I always give this show. It’s three seasons long, 13 episodes per season, and (for the moment) complete. There are discussions about doing a fourth season.

Obviously, based on the title, it involves Hannibal Lecter. The three seasons weave together Red Dragon, Hannibal (the book), and Hannibal Rising. The characters from the show are pulled from those three books, but mainly Red Dragon. Yet it’s not until the final few episodes of the third season where they actually deal with the plot from Red Dragon.

The show focuses on how Hannibal was caught, yet it even takes the heart of the story and blows it up to something new. Like, I can’t even describe it. The first season sets the story up. The second is about trying to nab Hannibal. The third season deals with that and the plot from Red Dragon.

What is at the heart of the story are two men, Hannibal and Will Graham. How they are separate people who, somehow, weave into one. I remember telling Chantel that the story that matters is Will Graham’s character arc. When we watched the final episode together, she understood it.

So, why do I love it?

First reason: Female rep

The books are very male. The only female characters in the whole book series were Clarice Starling, Margot Verger, and Beverly Katz. Yet, this series doesn’t have Clarice Starling. So, what did they do? They made traditionally male characters women, played up the role of the one female character they kept, and added new characters.

Dr. Alan Bloom becomes Dr. Alana Bloom.

Image result for alana bloom gif

Alana is just a fantastic character. She’s strong and emotional and loving and hateful. She is like any other woman that you might meet. I think that she’s a fantastic character because her femininity was never shied away from and yet she’s not stereotypical. They made her a true woman, full of conflictions and problems.

Freddie Lounds keeps the name, but changes gender.

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In the books, Freddie was a male tabloid author who only talks about true crime. Fuller made a very wise choice to change the character to another female role that is always in the background. And, you know what? She’s ten times better than in the books. I absolutely loved to hate her and yet found ways to be afraid for her and root for her.

Margot Verger gets a far larger role than in the books, beginning in the second season.

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I’m going to spend more time talking about her later, but she is not a stereotypical victim of an abusive older brother. She is strong and survives. And, her sexuality does not define her and, I mean, if you didn’t pay attention you’d miss the drop that she’s lesbian. If you read the books, you know that, but it’s barely mentioned in the show. Why? Because it’s not a huge deal. Her sexuality does not define her.

Beverly Katz has a large role for the first and second seasons.

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BAMF. That’s all I can say about Beverly. But, really, she’s fucking amazing. She shows a more masculine, law enforcement (all while being a technician with the FBI) side of womanhood. I absolutely adored her.

Bella Crawford is the wife of Jack Crawford and she’s fantastic.

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In the books, by the time Bella was mentioned, it was in past tense because the character has cancer and it’s a big thing that Jack’s dealing well with the death of his wife. The show? Doesn’t shy away from cancer and develops her so you can actually know her, see her relationship with her husband, and, by God, feel when it inevitably happens.

Bedelia du Maurier is an additional role, played by Gillian Anderson.

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Du Maurier is Hannibal’s psychiatrist… who needs one of her own. I mean, she’s a character that is amazing and has been a part of Hannibal’s world. She is the prelude to what everyone else will become, yet she is still amazingly fun and interesting to watch on screen. And it’s not just because she’s Gillian Anderson.

Abigail Hobbs is another addition.

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Abigail is very hard to describe since talking about her just gives away spoilers. However, she’s introduced from the first episode and is a recurring character throughout the series. She’s, again, a very real character. A victim who stubbornly refuses to be a victim.

Miriam Lass is yet another addition.

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While Miriam is a very minor character, she takes the book role of Will and of Clarice (in a way). She didn’t have too much screen time in the show, yet I was always very impressed by how they handled her character.

Chiyoh (very minor role in Hannibal Rising), Molly Graham (minor role who gets slightly expanded on in the show), Reba McClane (who they changed from a white woman to a black woman), and as I sit here I keep generating more and more women that held some sort of role in the show that was integral at some point.

DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN. LOOK AT ALL THE GLORIOUS WOMEN WHO ARE IMPORTANT TO THIS. LOOK AT THEM.

It’s probably one of the best shows I’ve seen with rep of diverse women.

Second reason: Gay relationships all the way

Yes. You heard me say it. I’d say spoilers since the relationships don’t develop until the end, but from the first episode there’s gayness. Lots.

The first I’ll go over is Will and Hannibal. From the first episode, it was so fucking gay and it just got gayer. I mean, I’m going to link the finale to the show here BECAUSE IT IS SO GAY, but do not watch it unless you want to be spoiled for the finishing things.

What really made this show even better with LGBT+ characters was the fandom. This fandom, besides for Orphan Black, was one of the best I have been in. I mean, they made such gems for gifs about Hannigram (which is the ship name).

 

Okay but that’s actually a quote from the show.

 

Okay but this is actually another quote.

 

 

Wait this is another actual scene.

Shit another scene

Next, Margot Verger.

Image result for margot verger gif

That gif is literally the most the show states about her sexuality. That one little statement is about it, then they move on from there. The book basically made her this insane body builder who is supposed to be male and, well, terrible rep. Just plain awful.

And, also, Margot has a relationship with one of the women in the show towards the end. I loved it.

Third reason: So. Fucking. Literary.

This show is a literary show. There’s so much symbolism scattered throughout it. It’s also quiet and somewhat slow so you have to pay attention. Some of my favorite symbols are:

Hannibal and the Wendio

Will and the Stag

More stag

Even more stag

Fourth reason: All available to stream RIGHT. NOW.

If you have Amazon Prime, you should have access to all three seasons. Need I say more?

Fifth reason: Amazingly developed characters

I talked a lot how there are gay characters done well and tons of female characters that were purposefully inserted. However, the characters are so well developed outside of that and you can’t help but like all of them.

Will Graham, for me, is where the show lies. His character arc is, for me, the point of the series and it comes to a brilliant close at the series finale. Hugh Dancy is Will Graham. He captures him perfectly, showing you all the sides of that character from his love of dogs to his dark side that you want him to go with yet desperately don’t.

The same goes for Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Hannibal. Instead of going with the Anthony Hopkins version of an American Hannibal that you can’t connect with, he goes with the Eastern European Hannibal who you like yet are afraid of. He makes a cannibalistic, psychopathic (and I genuinely mean that when I say psychopathic, not just bandying the term for fun) man likable and you want him to win even in the back of your mind.

Laurence Fishburne adds a level to a very aloof and nonexistent authority figure from the books. Despite Freddie Lounds being horrible, you still like her and, at least for me, come to see that she really saw things for what they were. Dr. Alana Bloom turns from sweet and emotional to aloof. Abigail Hobbs can easily go from victim to survivor and back to victim.

Sixth reason: Took a popular series and turned it into so much more.

There are constant homages to the original series and, if you’re familiar with the books or movies, you’ll realize them. You’ll catch most, if not all, of them. There’s a constant line of remembrance to the books.

Not only that, but they never forgot the fans of the show. They remembered original fans by having a constant remembrance to the books. Then, this show has a fantastic fandom. We fought hard to get it picked up, yet that never happened. And, there are always lines that are directed towards current fans, yet they never took it as far as BBC Sherlock by writing for the fans and trying to keep them happy while, sadly, failing to do so. There are running jokes, such as with Dr. Frederick Chilton or everyone seeing how gay Hannibal is for Will.

This show is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Even if I’ve watched it, like, five times, it feels brand new every time because I catch more and more of it.

I sincerely hope you watch this.

Yule Bingo Has Defeated Caidyn

(Caidyn)

I give up.

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I set my bar too high and there’s no way that I’m going to finish it. I should have gone with one or two Houses at most, not all four for a blackout board.

At least I can admit my defeat.

I’m a mood reader to my core. I can set rough goals about what I want to read, but I usually fail and just read whatever I want, then suddenly remember that I was supposed to read something else.

This is me formally announcing my defeat. And, you know what? It’s okay.

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Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

(Caidyn)

2/5

I think a fun fact about me is that the first time I ever contemplated being a psychologist (of any type, too) was when I started getting into serial killers. God, I was such a nerd about serial killer facts. I could tell you all about Ted Bundy’s upbringing, John Wayne Gacy’s crimes, Jeffrey Dahmer’s near miss with the police. I wanted to be a criminal psychologist. I wanted to be a profiler.

Now, I see what John Douglas does as a whole bunch of Freudian guesswork on par with dream interpretations and his id/ego/superego.

Aka, a whole bunch of bunk.

I literally just listened to a book by Malcolm Gladwell where he included a piece on Douglas that talked about the issues of profiling. (Link here.) I was impressed with how he covered why profiling is so cool and captures our minds — look at the popularity of shows like Criminal Minds and Mindhunter, the latter based off of Douglas’ life and work — and why it’s just wrong.

Profiling takes highly unstable factors and pretends that their stable. It also makes highly variable statements that contradict one another so that if one’s right, holy shit, this is amazing!!

I took a class where we talked about psychopathy. We spent no time talking about profiling. We just talked about stable factors that have been found and verified through studies. Why? Because it’s not verifiable. Douglas even mentioned that you can’t take profiling and look at it to create an algorithm. Since he was reading it, he sounded almost proud that a human beat a machine. However, if you can’t create some sort of algorithm to help make predictions, doesn’t it mean that the predictions are likely, well, unpredictable and made up?

The most I can say for this book is that if I had read it a few years ago, I would have found it amazing. Now, I know that profiling is impressive but that’s just because it’s someone playing psychic but with a cloak of legitimacy surrounding it.

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

I have to say that this was average. A very average book that had many interesting stories (or adventures as Gladwell called them) but not many that stood out. I can think of four stories, technically three topics, that really stood out to me.

The first was one that dealt with plagiarism. Since I’m a new graduate from college, I definitely know all about that stuff and how important it is not to do that. Gladwell took a story — a woman who saw that a play had plagiarized her life — and reacted as most would: She sued. Yet, Gladwell spent so much time making us sympathize with the woman whose life was plagiarized, then took a chance to completely spin the story in a new way. He tried to make us see how the plagiarizer felt. And he succeeded in it. He grasped the way the woman felt, along with arguments against this being plagiarized. All in all, I thought it was an impressively written article that captured how plagiarism isn’t as clear-cut as we like to think.

Profiling is the next two articles he wrote about that impressed me. I’ll lump them together since they were on the same topic. Obviously, Gladwell has an issue with profiling, but the arguments were very different.

He wrote first about how criminal profiling came to be, examining the issues of it and how it’s nothing more than guesswork. It was interesting since I love Criminal Minds and I used to want to do that work. I wanted to be a profiler. I wanted to do that so desperately. What I liked that Gladwell did was examining profiling as if it was a psychic doing their work, along with pointing out all the ways it was that.

The second article he wrote against profiling was to do with pitbulls. I mean, how interesting. He took a topic that wasn’t too interesting and made it so. He talked about the reasons why banning pitbulls are wrong, along with offering a way to change it to make it better. Rather than caring about stable things (i.e. the traits of the owner) to pick out unsafe dogs, we pay attention to unstable things (i.e. dog breed).

And, lastly, the final story I enjoyed was the titular one. What the Dog Saw. It’s basically a piece on Cesar Millan. What I liked was how it tied his work with dogs into his life and how he had to develop as a person, much how the dogs he worked with had to develop into dogs. I grew up watching his TV show because my mom loved it. We even use some of his techniques in our house. However, I didn’t know about his life and it was interesting to see another side of him.

Those were my four favorite stories boiled down into quick summaries. There were quite a few stories, though, and not all of them I liked. It was an average anthology of Gladwell’s articles that I would recommend only to people who really like his work.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn

(Caidyn)

4.5/5

I am from a family of immigrants, as are all people in America. But, on my mother’s side, I’m the fourth generation born in America. My great-grandmother was Italian and her mother was brought over from Italy to marry a man that she didn’t know. While she passed some years ago and I don’t know the whole story, I do know that she largely lived in Italian areas, in New York City at that. While there, she married across immigrant lines. She married a Polish man.

So, this story felt very familiar to me.

Eilis was out of work in Ireland despite being very smart and good with numbers. Thanks to her sister and a priest, she goes to America to find her fortune. Along the way, she meets a boy who isn’t Irish and has to make a big choice after something drastic happens at home.

That’s the basic plot, without giving any spoilers away for those who haven’t read it or seen the movie.

I think that one of my favorite parts of this was seeing the prejudice among immigrants against other immigrants. You have the Irish hating the Italians and the Jews, making wild prejudices against them. In a way, it reminded me of when I learned about German Jews being prejudiced against the influx of Eastern European, and therefore Orthodox, Jews that clung to home traditions rather than assimilated as they had.

It also reminded me of my family. A good Italian girl marrying a Polish boy. She broke huge, invisible rules. And, to me, it really hit home about my own heritage. Just how big a deal that was when you could hear from your family and friends how horrible these people were.

Another theme I loved was the culture shock of going home again. One of my friends lives in very liberal Colorado during the school year, but she comes back to small-town, conservative Kansas a few times a year. This time, she told me how much of a culture shock it was, to be in this completely different area. Since I’ve traveled, I know that I’ve felt that. One of my memories is when I was in Japan as a child and my dad had me go through a changing room on my own to get to him. It was so different and frightening for a child.

I thought that Tóibín highlighted that perfectly in Eilis. That confliction she felt about being home and seeing her family, then how strange it was for her. Her change in characterization also struck me well. In America, she learned to live on her own and to take care of herself. In Ireland, she lost that and went back to how she had been before, allowing others to make choices for her.

While I didn’t enjoy the pacing of it — it took so long to get to what the description discussed — that was my only con for the book. Other than that, it was a very good story with characters you could root for.

Bad Call by Stephen Wallfels

Books from #bookishfirst raffles!

A post shared by Caidyn and Chantel (@bwbookreviews) on

(Caidyn)

2/5 – DNF at 48%

When I won this book through BookishFirst, I was a little hesitant. The blurb for it didn’t do it for me and I remember thinking that I was interested, but not entirely sure if I’d like it. That feeling basically stayed with me.

In short, three college-aged guys decide to get some weed from somewhere and find a way to fake everyone out about it so they don’t get in trouble. After all, they’re tennis players. Big deal athletes. Then, a high school girl gets invited by one of the guys, yet isn’t told that his friends are all men. And she lies to her family, gets her best friend roped into this plot, and goes.

And that’s it.

Literally, I was halfway through the book and that was all that had happened.

Nothing interesting and the pacing was so bad. There was no tension, no mystery, no real intrigue. It was written well and that was the saving grace that would have kept me reading, but I picked it up to read it today and realized how much I was dreading it. And so I decided to DNF rather than read the rest of the book.

It was easy to get into and well-written, but not interesting and easy to space out through for me. While someone else might love this book, I didn’t.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

The End of the Affair

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

My first review of 2018 (even though I finished it yesterday) and I hope this doesn’t set the tone. Basically, I took too long reading this book. And then read The Child in Time, which was a lot like this book yet completely different and far superior to this book in working with the presented themes.

While the former was about childhood, time, and grieving, this book was about religion and grieving. Both books had a very meditative tone to them. One of those books that could feel very pretentious and as if there’s something very *~genius~* happening that annoys the piss out of me.

And, for this, the themes just didn’t add up. I think there were too many storylines that Greene tried to tackle and it simply didn’t mesh together. There was the narrator’s journey, getting over the end of an affair with a woman he loved. The husband of that woman, finally discovering her unfaithfulness to him… yet not exactly in the way he pictured. The woman, trying to be authentic to herself. Then you get the minor characters having storylines. It was far too much and distracted from what I felt was the heart of the story: grieving and religion.

While it was beautifully written, it felt subpar when I had just finished a very meditative book. Plus, I had taken too long in reading this one that I couldn’t remember all the details I wish I had. Definitely a good book, just not the right timing for me in the end.

The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

The Child in Time

(Caidyn)

5/5

For children, childhood is timeless. It’s always the present.

What a beautiful book to round out 2017. If I don’t read any other books past here, I’ll be a very happy man. However, this book is also hauntingly sad but beautifully written to the point that you don’t want to put it down and yet you want to just to prolong the experience. This is definitely a book that I’d like to own.

So, what is this book about, really? I could answer that question in so many ways. For one, it’s a story about the malleability of childhood. Another theme is grieving. Another is time, linked closely with childhood in this story. In short, it’s a typical McEwan book that tackles multiple themes that don’t feel they’ll come together and yet they do. And it’s probably my favorite by him so far.

The main plot follows Stephen and his grieving process after his daughter, Kate, is abducted from a supermarket. His wife and he grow apart rather than come together for their grief, his wife working it out through meditation and he through distraction. The way the story rounded out by the story was gorgeous. Spoilers, so I won’t get into it, but I absolutely adored the metaphor surrounding the finish.

And then there’s another plot with Stephen and his friend, Charles, who is enamored with childhood yet doesn’t think he can recapture it, all while trying to desperately find it once again. Time stands in the way, yet childhood isn’t a fixed point. Anyone can be a child at any point. I know times where I’ve recaptured that feeling of awe you feel as a child.

All in all, this is one of my favorite books by McEwan. Probably one of his most literary (besides when he tried to retell Hamlet from the perspective of a fetus) with themes, writing, and characterization. Again, one that I’d love to own and one that I’d reread to see if I could glean more from it a second time.