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.

View all my reviews


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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

Review: The House of Shattered Wings

The House of Shattered Wings
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #20 for 2017
#AWSFF Reading Challenge:
– Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel
– British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel
Personal Challenge Tasks:
– A book about a haunted building
– An award-winning book
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book based on mythology
PopSugar Challenge Prompts (maximum 3):
– A book by a person of color
– A book based on mythology
– A book about an immigrant or refugee
Better World Books Prompts:
– A book set in a place you want to visit (Paris)
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a person of color
– A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Prompts:
– A book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative
– A fantasy novel
GenreLand – April: Thriller & Suspense
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book with an Award
– A Book with an LGBTQA Character
– A Book by an Author of Color
Follow the Clues: Trail 1, Clue 5

I liked this book quite a lot, yet at the same time, I don’t feel like I got to know it very well. There was all this lush and darkly beautiful world-building, but I got mere glimpses of it out of the corner of my eye as I followed along. To some extent, this is explained by the fact that most of the characters were also feeling their way in the darkness, trying to figure out just how they came to be where they were, but I did not feel a shared journey with any of them. I was constantly held at arm’s length.

Perhaps this is also because the tone of the book was very purposefully Parisian. It is elegant and chilly, with just enough whimsy to keep you from losing interest. De Bodard did a great job with the atmosphere, and most of the time her language was perfectly suited to the setting.

I am a sucker for mythological mashups, so this was right up my alley. I do wish the author had given us a bit more on Philippe’s background, though. I was also disappointed in the murder-mystery aspect of the story. It was there, and it was resolved, but it didn’t feel at all central to the story. Perhaps that is more of a marketing issue, though. There was enough here that I’m interested in reading the next book in the series, but I also can’t help but wonder if maybe I’d be happier with this author’s Obsidian and Blood series.

View all my reviews

Review: 2017 Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards Poetry Contest: Winning Entries

2017 Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards Poetry Contest: Winning Entries
2017 Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards Poetry Contest: Winning Entries by Poudre River Public Library District
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I am a contributor to this collection, and my honorable mention poem appears on page 14. I hope you like it!

Book #19 for 2017
Personal Challenge Task: A book with a cat on the cover
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge: A book with multiple authors
PopSugar Challenge Prompt: A book with multiple authors
Better World Books Challenge Task: A book of poetry
Read Harder Challenge Prompt: A book published by a micropress
Book Bingo Possible Squares:
– A book with multiple perspectives
– A book from the library
– A book with multiple authors

I was glad I could attend this year’s awards event. It really makes a difference when you can hear the poets recite their works, even when they have a visual component.

I don’t remember who actually won, but here are my top three picks in each division:
“This Man, This Me” by Erik Rock
“The Other Eggs” by Morgan Taylor
“Phases of Our Dying Sun” by Erik Rock
“Burning Ballet” by Emma Boice
“Before Dawn” by Gabrielle Nadig
“Glass” by Mariah Reis

This annual collection always boasts great variety and is nice if you’re looking for a quick read. It’s available for free download from the library’s website.

View all my reviews