Friday, May 10, 2019

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings is the first part of the Androma Saga (which I have to admit is super hard for me to internalize since I keep wanting to say Andromeda Saga). As far as I can tell, this "saga" consists of this book and a sequel that is coming out later this month.  Calling it a saga is a bit of hyperbole, but there you go. It's a space adventure about a plucky crew of four mismatched girls and women roaming around a universe divided by war, trying to make money to support themselves while staying off the radar of law enforcement. Meanwhile, there's this boy...

This has been a controversial book because Alsberg and Cummings are big in the world of book YouTube (booktube) and it seems like the publisher really only published this book because they imagined that the booktube community would rally around the book no matter what. It has created some tension in the Goodreads community.  I had not idea about any of this controversy before I read the book, though.

Things I like about this book:
1) Two young female authors writing together. This strikes me as sort of a fun lark I would have liked to have done with my BFF when I was young.
2) There are strong female characters and more than one of them is given a backstory. Not all the female characters are perfect, but they're complicated. 
3) The leadership in this made-up universe seems fairly equitable. The king doesn't want to name his son his successor (for reasons), and he doesn't hesitate to pass his rule on to a woman. The 90s girl power punk in me cheers for this sort of thoughtless equality (thoughtless in a good way - like sex doesn't even enter the equation about leadership).

Things I didn't like about this book:
1) The world building. The authors throw around a lot of capitalized terms (Guardian, Sentinel, Moon Chew) and never really gets around to explaining them. Good authors can actually use the world around them to do some exposition and maybe someday Alsberg and Cummings will be those authors, but they aren't right now.
2) The boy sub-plot. I fell in love with a boy and he ruined my life, but now he's back and he apologized and I forgive him and all is well.  My eyes cannot roll back in my head enough at this tired trope.
3) The actual character development. I like that there are female characters, but I think Alsberg and Cummings should go back and figure out how to show character traits instead of just saying that they exist.  Our main character's nickname is The Bloody Baroness, but she's so angsty about every death that you have to wonder how she earned it. There's a thirteen year old moppet who I know nothing about except she likes to kill, paint fingernails, and has a cat-like creature as a pet. 

I wouldn't recommend this book. I think it's a fine first draft and I have no idea how it got to print in this form.  But then again, Alberg and Cummings had a built-in fan network, so I guess that's how.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Cage Match Revisited: More Diet Coke Flavors

Last year around this time, I did a cage match of the new Diet Coke flavors. It turns out that I was not able to get the OG Diet Cherry Coke after I hit "publish" on that post and I have been drinking plain Diet Coke since then. I did not fancy any of the 2018 new flavors enough to change my buying habits.

To recap:
Best: Zesty Blood Orange
Terrible: Feisty Cherry
I'd Drink to be Polite: Twisted Mango
Meh: Ginger Lime

There are two new competitors in the cage.  2019 brings us Strawberry Guava and Blueberry Acai.

Strawberry Guava: Over Easter, my sister-in-law asked if I'd tried these flavors. I had not and, admittedly, didn't even know they existed. We began the conversation attempting to figure out exactly what guava would taste like.  It turns out none of us knew (frankly, I don't even know what a guava looks like) and so began a huge family joke about what this flavor would be.

Here's the text I sent to the family:
This tastes like someone put a strawberry in a Diet Coke, but forgot to wash the berry. So I guess guava tastes like dirt.

This has sort of a musty flavor that I, for my part, did not enjoy.  Drinking how my unfinished attic smells is not an awesome experience.  I took a few sips and dumped the rest of the can down the drain.  I now have seven more cans of this crap.  I'll bring one to my SIL the next time I see her, but in the meantime, anyone in southeastern Wisconsin want to try this?

Blueberry Acai: This was perfectly acceptable. Upon cracking open the can, you definitely get a whiff of something fruity, but I'm not sure I'd identify it as blueberry so much as I would identify it as grape or citrus.  Anyway, it tasted mostly like Diet Coke, but with a brief flirtation at something fruity. I finished the can, but probably won't ever go back for more.

New Diet Coke rankings from best to worst.
1. Diet Coke
2. Zesty Blood Orange
3. Twisted Mango
4. Blueberry Acai
5. Ginger Lime
6. Strawberry Guava
7. Feisty Cherry

I don't think I'm young enough to enjoy these new flavors, so I'll be sticking with the OG Diet Coke for now.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Podcast Roundup April 2019 Edition

I laugh at a lot of podcasts and occasionally I'll dance along with a song, but I'm not really a person who cries along with podcasts. Until Eric Klinenberg, a guy who wrote a book about social infrastructure, started talking about public libraries on an episode of 99% Invisible called "Palaces for the People." 

Do you guys remember when Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote an op-ed in Forbes about how Amazon should open bookstores in all the spaces where public libraries are?  It was quickly taken down as librarians attacked him (deservedly, in my opinion) and started listing all of the things that libraries do. Let's discuss.

1) Provides media (books, magazines, CDs, audio books, videogames) for free or low cost.

2) Provides public spaces where people can hang out without having to spend money.  Now, for those of with disposable income, it's fine to just meet at a coffee shop and shell out $5 for a delicious hot beverage. But what if you don't have that money, but you want to meet your friend after class for a chat?  The library is a good place to go. These public spaces are important places where people don't have to worry about the police getting called. 

3) Provides free internet service to people who can't afford it at home. People can set up email addresses and voicemail inboxes online and create resumes and cover letters while hunting for jobs, they can do their taxes, they can create professional portfolios and web pages, and they can just dick around on reddit like the rest of us.

4) Provides a variety of free to low-cost programming.  Our library offers public lectures, storytime for kids, cooking classes, and English as a Second Language courses.  Many libraries offer books clubs, STEM clubs for kids, and video game tournaments. 

5) Libraries are the great equalizer. I talked about this in the January roundup, but This American Life had an excellent episode about a girl who spent a great deal of time in a library when she was homeless.  Libraries in many places are de facto homeless shelters. They deal with people with dementia. They deal with people with mental illness. They deal with (at our library) kids who hang out in the library afterschool for hours and hours. They help immigrants deal with paperwork and bureaucracy. Libraries and librarians are MODERN DAY HEROES.  

(Imagine loud music swelling here.)

I'm not ashamed to admit that there were tears streaming down my face when I heard Klinenberg's defense of public libraries. They are our last defense against the tyranny.

 I want to like the podcast Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend, but I mostly don't. It's hard to take seriously a bunch of famous people sitting around talking about how hard their lives are. It's actually a reason I don't much like late night shows, either.  But there's an episode with Nicole Byer (episode #21) that is hysterically funny. Byer is sometimes a bit much for me, but her openness combined with O'Brien's up-tightness was an irresistible combination for me. I was giggling and giggling and couldn't stop.  And then there's a bit at the end when O'Brien is talking with his assistant, Sona Movsesian, about a texting incident that involved her dog and my stomach hurt by the time I was done laughing. I recommend this episode.
The brothers from The Adventure Zone (a brilliant role-playing podcast I've written about a bunch) and My Brother, My Brother, and Me (a comedy advice show with a huge back catalog that intimidates me so I've never listened to) and the two dudes from The Worst Idea of All Time (a show in which they watch the same movie every week for a year as their mental health slowly declines) come together once  year to watch Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, a movie for which none of them have seen the original. They then record a podcast about their experiences and it's called 'Til Death Do Us Blart.  There's only four episodes and they only release one a year, so you can catch up quickly.  They're funny people with great chemistry and I recommend you give it a listen.  You don't need to watch the movie to listen.

Friday, May 03, 2019

2019 CSA Preview #2

As I continue living Cynthia's life, I picked up her CSA again this week.

This week brings us nine vegetables:
Bok choy
Mesclun salad mix
Soy chum
Spring salad mix
Leaf lettuce

If I admit to all of you that I didn't actually get around to all the greens from last week, you won't get mad, will you?  I still have  most of the pea shoots and the bok choy from last week.

So this week I was ruthless.

1) I threw out the mesclun salad mix because I ate it begrudgingly for lunch last week and hate every bite. Look, I don't need to hate the vegetables in my life.  Yes, maybe I should figure out a better way to dress it up, but I don't have time right now because the end of the semester is here and all I'm doing with my life is grading.
2) I don't need frisee in my life. I tossed it.

So here we are.

I bet I can convince Dr. BB that we need to do tacos or something to use the lettuce. He'll make actual tacos with a shell and use like three pieces of lettuce and I'll make a taco salad using more of it.

The chives are just useful in everything. I used them in stew and risotto last week. I can probably even throw a few in the tacos.

I'll wilt the spinach with some balsamic and eat it in like three bites.  This preparation of spinach is so delicious and it makes me free so virtuous.  I don't know this soy chum, but it's a leafy green that the newsletter says I can use the same way I use spinach, so that's what I'm going to do with it, too.

The spring salad mix will be my lunch salad. We'll see how that goes.

I still have bok choy from last week and now there's two more heads! I don't know. Maybe I'll roast them?  Eh. If you know a good bok choy recipe, hit me up.

And that's it for the CSA previews. Next week Cynthia will be back living her best life and I'll be out of luck. But don't worry. The real CSA season will began in earnest before you know it!

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I've heard that there are people who like to read standalone books, rather than books in a series. I am not one of those people. I really like to get immersed in a world (like the futuristic world of the In Death series or the magical world of Harry Potter or the slightly terrifying world of A Song of Fire and Ice) and just hang out there.  So it is no surprise that as soon as I finished the second book in the Department Q series, I immediately ordered the third. 

In A Conspiracy of Faith, our main detective Carl Morck finds himself involved attempting to solve a series of arson cases and a mysterious message found, in a stunningly cliched manner, in a bottle floating in water.  But I have written before that it is not the plot that is hooking me in these novels. It is the characters of Department Q themselves that are my guideposts.

Carl is tired, grumpy, overly protective of his space in the basement of the police department, and bound and determined to tick off every officer who dares take an interest in one of his cases. Assad, his assistant, is clearly hiding something about his past and while he maintains a relatively cheerful facade, there's something going on with him and I need to know what that is. This one plot line may be the only reason I continue reading these 500-plus page books.  But Rose. This character was introduced in the previous book and now it turns out she's a split personality, but her other identity comes to work and does her job?  There was a brief mention of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but this whole thing just didn't work for me.  The "other" identity was boring and I just wanted Rose to come back and be sassy to Carl.

But, regardless, I'm still plugging away at this series. I really want to know more about Assad and I find Carl sort of a joyless joy to hang out with a few hours.  I'm not sure I'm as enthusiastic about recommending this series as I was at the beginning, but I'm definitely still on board. 

My reviews:
Department Q Book 1 - The Keeper of Lost Causes
Department Q Book 2 - The Absent One

Friday, April 26, 2019

2019 CSA Preview #1

My friend Cynthia (seriously, that's her name - I'm not giving her a pseudonym or anything) is out of town on vacation. I basically get to live her life while she's gone. I'm taking care of her dogs and picking up her CSA. She bought the spring CSA (I did not), so for the next two weeks, you get a preview of what CSA season will be like.

This week we got eight vegetables and a dozen eggs.

1. Mizuna - This is a green that I don't care for much raw. I think I'm going to experiment with wilting it on the stove top and see what happens. 
2. Arugula - We have plenty of wild arugula growing in our yard. Neither Dr. BB nor I enjoy it, so (don't tell Cynthia!), I just tossed this.
3. Spring mix - This is one the farm's most popular farmers' market items. I had some with lunch yesterday and didn't love it. I think I need to come up with a better dressing for it.
4. Pea shoots - These are in the pint container. I just put a few of them on everything. Risotto? Just a few pea shoots at the end.  Eggs? Just throw some pea shoots on there. You're hungry in the middle of the afternoon?  How about a handful of pea shoots.

5. Baby bok choy - I'm going to make a risotto with this and eat it for my lunches this weekend. I might even get some mushrooms to bulk up the risotto a bit.
6. Spinach - I think I'll just wilt down this spinach on the stove top and then throw in a bit of balsamic and a sprinkling of Parm and call it a side dish.
7. Garlic chives - I used some of these in a rice dish we made for dinner on Wednesday night and I'll use the rest in the bok choy risotto I'm going to make. These chives are super mild.
8. Fingerling potatoes - I don't know what I'm going to do with these beauties. Smashed potatoes? Hash browns? I guess we'll find out!

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Absent One by Jussi Alder-Olsen

I read the first book in the Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes, last year, and I gobbled it up like candy and truly enjoyed it. The two main characters, a police detective named Carl Morck and his assistant Hafez el-Assad, are such a delightful pairing. Morck is tired and cynical and unable to deal with everyday social niceties and Assad is cheerful and hardworking and clearly hiding a certain darkness in his own past.  In The Absent One, we get a new member of Department Q, a seemingly supremely competent assistant/secretary named Rose who is sometimes acerbic, sometimes sweet, and, at least so far, not well-developed.

In The Keeper of Lost Causes, we established that Morck has been sent to Department Q to handle cold cases because the powers that be have lost confidence in Morck as a police officer and investigator. We pick up the story in The Absent One with Morck tackling a cold case that isn't really a cold case because someone is already in jail for the crime.  His superiors are not keen on his investigation, but he keeps persevering until he and Assad are involved in a shootout that involves a rabid fox and a crossbow wound.

This isn't a typical mystery, but more of a thriller. We know who did what from the very beginning. What we don't know is how our heroes (anti-heroes?) are going to figure it out on their end and find a solution for all of us.  I am not nearly as enthusiastic about this second book as I was the first book, but I'm definitely putting the next book in the series on hold at my local library.  The relationships between the characters is just too good for me to stop reading.
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