Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #25 for 2017
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending
Personal Reading Challenge: A book about a road trip
Read Harder Challenge: A debut novel
Possible Book Bingo Square: A Book About Mental Illness
PopSugar Challenge:
– A book by or about a person who has a disability
– A book involving travel
– A book with an unreliable narrator

I’m thinking of giving this book two stars. I’m really not sure how to evaluate this book. I had the meat of the thing sussed out around page 25, and that’s the same page that clinched it for Tom, so that points to either sloppiness or an underestimation of the audience. Or both. From page 25 on, it was largely just watching the thing play out and yawning whenever Jake started getting overly philosophical. Reid has a gift for creepiness, though, because even though I already knew what was up, whenever he wanted me to be creeped out, yeah, I was well and thoroughly creeped out.

I have to be somewhat vague, or else this review would just be one big hidden spoiler, but I will try to explain my major gripes about the story.
1. The presentation of the neuroatypical person as a ticking time bomb. It’s bad enough that every time some white guy shoots up a place, the media focus is squarely on his autism or his bipolar disorder or whatever they want us to be scared of that week. But as one of those quiet loner types myself, I have to wonder, is this how the neurotypical world views me? ::sigh:: I suppose it is, and that is part of the point of the interludes of non-Jake dialogue, but it still feels like Reid’s promoting it more than not.
2. The “question” theme. It just felt too pat, and looking back post-gotcha, it was far too coherent.
3. The post-gotcha text doesn’t make sense in light of the non-Jake interludes. Unless this is some massive clue to an entirely different interpretation of the whole book — one that every review I’ve read has missed — it’s a huge plot hole.
4. The gender confusion issues. Reid broadly hinted at them being really important, but then he didn’t really do anything with them.

If I knew more about the authorial intent, I would have a better idea of how well Reid executed this. I could feel a lot of Jackson and Cormier influence, but the atmospheric manipulations were sometimes too transparent, and I found I resented them for being effective anyway. And even if it was meant to be just part of Jake’s character, the super-pretentious psychobabble got old fast. As it is, though, I have to wonder if that’s more Reid than Jake. And if so, what does that mean for the story? On the other hand, if all of this post-read rumination is what Reid was going for in the first place…. Gah. I’m getting to the point I don’t care anymore about Reid or Jake or his girlfriend or his parents. I’m giving the book two stars, and you’ll just have to decide for yourself what you think.

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Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #24 for 2017
#AWSFF Challenge:
– Locus Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Book
– Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Adult Literature
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge:
– A fantasy novel
– A book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A book with a female heroine
– A book by an author of color
PopSugar Challenge (maximum three):
– An audiobook
– A book by a person of color
– A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
Better World Books Challenge:
– A young adult novel
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a person of color

I listened to the audiobook for this one, and I think that may explain why I liked it better than the other readers in the book club. The narrator, Anika Noni Rose, brought out the musicality of the language and even sang at times. Ultimately, though, this is an extremely visual story, and I think it would benefit greatly from a more visual format. A graphic novel would be nice, but with so much music in the story, I think film would be ideal.

Film would also give me a better feel for the setting. Of course, much of that is on me. I’ve never been to NYC (unless you count a 4-hour layover at LaGuardia, which I’m sure you don’t) and don’t really have any desire to visit, so geographical designations like “Brooklyn” and “Queens” and “Upper East Side” have pretty much no meaning to me. Even when I’m watching a movie or TV show, my brain just lumps them all into a generic urban setting and focuses on plot. Thankfully, Older was able to provide some good flavor through the characters and their Puerto Rican community.

Sierra was the only character who truly interested me, though, so I guess it’s a good thing she’s the protagonist. The other characters felt less developed, more utilitarian. And that goes along with the heavy reliance on your standard teen-with-mystical-legacy tropes that made this book something of a disappointment. Sierra was kickass enough to hold my interest, though, and the mystical legacy was imaginative and intriguing. The melding of visual art with music was often expressed beautifully, despite the limitations of the textual medium.

I would be interested to know if this Puerto-Rican teen-filtered view was an accurate portrayal. If so, yay for diversity in YA fantasy! This book may not have been written for me, but if it fills a neglected niche, then more power to it. Even if it’s not a perfect story, Older got so much right with Sierra that I hope he gives her some good adventures in future books.

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Review: Dragon of the Red Dawn

Dragon of the Red Dawn
Dragon of the Red Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #23 for 2017
Mt TBR Challenge #8
Better World Books Challenge:
– A book with a color in the title
– A book set in a place you want to visit (Japan)
– A book under 200 pages
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a female writer
– A book set in Asia
– A book about a historical event
GenreLand: May – Historical Fiction
PopSugar Challenge:
– A book involving travel
– A book involving a mythical creature
– A book with a red spine
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book Under 150 Pages
– A Book with Pictures
Read Harder Challenge:
– A book set more than 5,000 miles from your location (Fort Collins, Colorado)
– A fantasy novel
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with a red spine
Personal Challenge: An illustrated children’s book

This is also part of the “Merlin Missions” sub-series. I gave it to a friend’s nine-year-old daughter, and she was delighted to have it. I probably would have enjoyed it when I was her age, but as an adult (and a non-mommy), I wasn’t crazy about it. The story contained all sorts of interesting information, but the reportage-style exposition annoyed me. I gather that’s common for this series, as several adults have mentioned it to me as something they like about the books. So, yeah, YMMV.

I also thought the plot wandered all over the place and seemed unrealistic, even for a story about a magic tree house and an ancient dragon. Probably what bugged me the most, though, was that there was zero explanation for everybody speaking English. No babelfish. No translator microbes. Not even an “it’s just magic, get over it.”

Nice illustrations, though.

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Quinoa Salad

A few weeks ago, I needed to prepare potluck dishes for two events, each of which involved a dizzying array of food allergies, sensitivities, and disgusts. I consulted the Facebook hive mind and was presented with a plethora of ideas, many of which I intend to experiment with later. What I settled on for that weekend, though, was an old standby that I hadn’t made in a long time: quinoa salad.

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

It had been so long, in fact, that I had forgotten how to make it. And it was one of those things I never wrote down. So here I am, a few weeks later, trying to remember enough to preserve the recipe for posterity.

First I had Brian prepare a 12-ounce box of quinoa (more or less according to the package instructions). We used the kind that doesn’t require any rinsing before cooking. I loathe rinsing food.

While that was cooking, I chopped things. I chopped up a small red bell pepper, a medium tomato, and a seedless cucumber. I tend to chop pretty coarsely, as you can see in the photo. I normally chop up half of a sweet onion as well, but I discovered that I had none. What I did have was a tiny amount of freeze-dried red onion and some freeze-dried chives, so I added them to the dressing mixture, and it turned out surprisingly well.

Now, this is where things start to get fuzzy. One of the purposes of this dish is to use up pickle juice. I don’t remember exactly what kind of pickle juice I used this time, or how much, but I’m going to guess it was roughly a cup of bread & butter pickle juice. I added a few elbows of maple syrup (which I’ve discovered works much better than honey in salad dressings), the aforementioned freeze-dried bits, a bit of lemon juice, and a bunch of garlic salt, herbes de Provence, and ginger powder. There was probably something else I’m forgetting, but you probably have favorite things you like to include in salad dressings, so have fun experimenting!

Oh, yeah, I’m sure I used some kind of oil in the dressing. Not olive oil, because that is a huge no-no in our kitchen. So probably sesame or grapeseed. Maybe rice bran.

I shook up the dressing (with the jar lid firmly attached), let it sit for a bit, then shook it up a bunch more and poured it over the chopped veggies. I stirred that mixture really well, then let it sit for a while as the quinoa finished absorbing its water. Once the quinoa was ready, I dumped it in with the veggies and mixed it all together.

So, relatively quick and easy. And it’s good to make a big batch because the flavors keep blending in the fridge over the next few days and it just keeps getting better. Well, I presume there is a point at which it would start to spoil instead, but it’s never lasted that long in my house.

Review: In The Dead of Winter

In The Dead of Winter
In The Dead of Winter by Nancy Mehl
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #22 for 2017
Follow the Clues: Trail 1, Clue 7
Personal Challenge: A book featuring a bookstore
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with one of the four seasons in the title
Possible Book Bingo Square: A Book with a Female Heroine
PopSugar Challenge: The first book in a series you haven’t read before
Better World Books Challenge: A book by a female writer

This was labeled as Christian fiction, so my expectations were quite low. This might explain why it was rather better than I had expected. It’s definitely Christian-themed, but it’s not terribly obnoxious about it. For me, it almost counts as nostalgia, as it is more about the sense of church community and support, and Mehl’s portrait of a small-town congregation rings true.

The mystery story, not so much. I pegged the killer straight off, mostly because of the author’s obvious ‘tude about the character. Ivy (our amateur sleuth) was inconsistently written, too often veering into dingbat territory. And Amos (one of Ivy’s suitors and also oh-so-conveniently a sheriff’s deputy) followed police procedure that was just all over the place. But I suppose if he had been consistent in his investigation, he’d have solved it himself right away and this would be a really short book. I also felt like the puzzle’s sense of fair play for the reader was compromised, but I won’t say much about that because it’s a very spoilery discussion.

The primary characters weren’t bad, but the quirky and eccentric townsfolk felt contrived and tedious, especially when they were used to drive plot through lack of communication. It’s frustrating to me as a reader to sit there thinking, “Well, if these people would just, I dunno, TALK to each other, maybe they’d actually get somewhere with this.”

This isn’t a bad book, really, just very solidly mediocre. If you’re looking for a quick little Christian murder mystery with a rural Americana setting and a hint of romance but nothing graphic, you could do a whole lot worse.

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Review: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #21 for 2017
Better World Books Challenge:
– A book about a historical event
– A book that’s been adapted into a movie
PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge (maximum 3):
– An audiobook
– A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read (true crime)
– A book by or about a person who has a disability
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book-to-Screen Adaptation
– An Audiobook
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book by a person with a disability
Follow the Clues: Trail 1, Clue 6

Scott Brick’s narration style is perfect for this kind of book, so he saved it from being a total slog. Well, okay, maybe not a total slog. But for all the hype, this book was kind of a snooze. I had bought this specifically for the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon, but it turned out to be neither suspenseful nor thrilling, let alone horrifying. Sadly, that may just go to show how jaded we’ve become in the past 50 years or so.

Compared to how such a crime today is both sensationalized and treated as the same-old same-old — which is quite the trick if you think about it — Capote treated the descriptions of the crime scene and the victims’ final moments with delicacy and respect. And he managed to make them pretty dang boring. The only really interesting parts were the ones focused on investigative procedure, especially given the vast differences now in both technique and technology. But despite Capote’s jumping around all over the timeline and trying to get into the criminals’ heads, the story was disappointingly straightforward. The bad guys weren’t nearly as fascinating as Capote seemed to want them to be, and that he became friends with one of them really squicked me out.

I also didn’t appreciate Capote’s depiction of rural 1950s Kansas and its residents. I grew up in 1970s/1980s Missouri, which was remarkably similar, and I lived this life of 4-H projects, harvesting crops, and the occasional legal dispute over livestock issues. I felt mildly violated by Capote’s “oh, look at the quaint farm folk” attitude. It seemed like he had nothing emotionally invested in the places or people he wanted to scrutinize under his literary microscope.

Okay, maybe this is a groundbreaking work in the true crime genre and Capote deserves some credit for inventing the “nonfiction novel.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t vastly overrated. I won’t be watching the movies.

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