March Monthly Wrap Up

Books I Read

March was a great month for reading, I got a chance to read eighteen fabulous stories. Here are some of them:

Books that I Picked up/Added to the Never ending TBR

April Goals

I have some pretty lofty goals for April. Firstly, I am going to start on my quest to read a publishers entire catalog. The publisher I am going after is Vault Comics. They specialize in science fiction and fantasy comics. I love what I have read so far, so I am going for it.

Here are some of the titles I hope to read and review this month:

How did I do For March Goals?

12/21 – Goal Books read. Not the most fantastic goals reading month, but the last half of the month I was traveling and did not have the energy to concentrate on reading.

Lingering – Melissa Simonson Buddy read with Evelina

Rijel 12: The Rise of New Australia: An action-packed thrill ride of rebellion and hope – King Medlin (Science Fiction)

Cryptofauna – by Patrick Canning (fifty percent completed)

To Best the Boys – Mary Weber (YA)

The Blighted City – Scott Kaelen (fantasy)

The Bastard from Fairyland – Phil Parker (fantasy)

In the Shadow of The House of God – Jeffrey G Roberts (novella)

Ethereal Custody – Byron Allavren (Novella)

The Clown – E.M McCarthy (Novella)

Forged in the Storm – RE Houser (Novella)

The Unkindness of Magicians – (urban fantasy)

Baba Yaga – Jane Yollen (poetry)

Transmetropolitan – Reread/buddy read with Paul from Paul’s Picks

Vagrant Queen by Magdalene Visaggio

Valentina 1965

Blue is the Warmest Color

Men of Wrath

Brazen Woman

The Fox and the Star

Little Moments of Love

Mooncop (read)

#Bookcook – Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Book Synopsis

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

So, punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

Now, we all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with. 

This is a fun one. What is a recipe that has shoots and leaves in it? My first and only thought was Pho. Pho is one of those dishes that can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. You can add thirty things or three. The choice is up to you.

ifoodblogger.com

This recipe was taken directly from ifoodblogger.com as it is a fantastic representation of how diverse you can make this.

Ingredients

For the pho bo broth:

  • 3 lbs beef knuckles or neck bones (with meat, see notes)
  • 2 lbs beef oxtail (see notes)
  • 10 cups water (or enough to entirely cover the meat)
  • 2 large yellow onions (peeled)
  • 1 fresh ginger root (½ size of a small palm, roughly peeled)
  • 4 whole star anise (with pods)
  • ½ Tbsp whole cloves
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic (smashed)
  • 1 daikon (peeled and cut into 3 pieces)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 small shallots (peeled)
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce (see notes)
  • 1 Tbsp salt (plus more to taste, the original recipe calls for 2 Tbsp)

For pho bo assembly:

  • 12 oz flat rice noodles (pho noodles, see notes)
  • 1 pound sirloin or top round steak (sliced paper-thin against the grain)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (sliced paper-thin on a mandolin)
  • 6 scallions (chopped into rings)

For the garnish:

  • Sriracha chili sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Green limes (quartered)
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Thai basil leaves
  • Perilla leaves
  • Coriander leaves
  • Fresh whole red or green chiles

Instructions

  • Place the beef bones and the oxtail in a large stockpot. Add the water. The bones should be completely covered with water. If not, add more. Bring to a boil and let the the bones boil while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cut two peeled onions in half. Char each half by holding it with tongs over open flame of a gas stove or place it under the broiler. This will bring out the aroma and deepen the flavor of the broth. Repeat the same with the ginger and set aside.
  • In a small skillet, lightly toast, frequently stirring, the anise pods. cloves, peppercorns, and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  • Check on the boiling bones in the stockpot and skim off any scum that has accumulated.
  • Add the toasted spices and garlic, charred onion and ginger, daikon, cinnamon stick, and shallots to the stock. Boil for 15 minutes, then bring down to a gentle simmer.
  • Add the rock sugar (optional), fish sauce, salt, and stir well. Continue to simmer for 2½ hours, uncovered, periodically skimming off any scum or fat as they accumulate. The broth will be ready to eat after 2 1/2 hours,  but the longer you simmer the better it will become. Continue simmering, covered, for up to 10-12 hours in total for the ultimate pho bo.
  • When the broth is done cooking, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool a little. Remove the bones and oxtails and set aside. You can use the meat and the bone marrow in the soup. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a new stockpot. The broth should be richly colored but clear. Bring the broth back to gentle simmer.
  • Fill a large pot with hot tap water. Soak the rice noodles in the water for about 10 minutes. They should soften just slightly: the hot pho broth will cook them the rest of the way.
  • Drain the noodles and place them in six individual soup bowls. Arrange the sliced raw beef on top, followed by thinly sliced onions and scallions.
  • Slice the oxtail meat and add it to the bowl as well as any of the bits of meat and bone marrow taken from the bones.
  • Pour the boiling hot broth into the soup bowls, making sure it covers the raw beef. The broth will cook the beef as well as the noodles. Give it a few minutes to do so, then serve with the pho garnish platter. A squeeze or two of lime juice will help cut the richness of the broth. The sauces can be added to the pho bo or used as a dipping sauce for beef. Using them as a dipping sauce will prevent from spoiling the wonderful flavor of the broth.

Notes

I had a hard time finding beef knuckles of beef neck bones at local supermarkets and ended up buying what was called ‘beef soup bones’. They worked really well.Oxtails are not cheap. I’ve tried this recipe with and without oxtails, and both times the broth turned out fantastic. The difference was barely noticeable.The original recipe calls for rock sugar – ½ cup rock sugar, roughly palm size. If you like sweetness in your pho, add this ingredient. I usually omit it.The original recipe calls for 1 cup fish sauce, which I found to be a little too much for my taste. 1/2 a cup was just perfect for my taste. You decide for yourself.Pho noodles or rice noodles are what’s used traditionally, but they are a bit rubbery and quite tasteless. Personally, I like using ramen noodles. You can’t go wrong with those.

Nutrition

Calories: 645kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 63g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 200mg | Sodium: 3115mg | Potassium: 608mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 2.6% | Vitamin C: 24.8% | Calcium: 12.3% | Iron: 49.5%

Grief and Artificial Intelligence in Lingering by Melissa Simonson

“Whenever I think of Clarissa, I always think of her mind. I told her that once, but she called me a liar around a plume of smoke she’d been exhaling.”

Lingering by Melissa Simonson

About

Death doesn’t have to be the end. 

With Lingering, your departed loved ones are only ever a phone call or text message away.*
Say all those things you should have said. Get their advice, hear their comforting words. Let them celebrate your achievements and soothe your fears like they used to. 
Everyone is welcome, and consultations are always free. 

*Some conditions may apply. Please call our office for details.


Stats

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • ebook
  • Self Published
  • 326 pages
  • Expected publication: March 31st 2019
  • Edition Language English

My Thoughts

Lingering by Melissa Simonson is a story about a man who is dealing with the sudden and violent death of his fiance and the grief therof. The story begins with the main protagonist, Ben visiting the graveyard of his newly deceased fiance. He is a mess, as one would be after experiencing his loss. Simonson talks a lot about the all-consuming viciousness of grief and how it can change your perspective and personality. This particular day at the cemetery Ben is accosted by a woman named Jess. Jess, much like a dealer to a junky, mentions that she has a way for Joe to speak to his fiance Clarissa again.

“She examined the dismal paint job on a thumbnail. “What would you say if I told you you could talk to her again?”
I pressed a hand to my eye hard enough to make red patterns bloom. “I’d say you’re a real bitch with a serious lack of anything better to do, trolling around a cemetery. What is this: your singles lounge?”

Lingering by Melissa Simonson

She has a way to ease Joe’s pain, and it is rather disgusting. Her character comes off as a used car salesman selling pain relief. She claims she is a Lingering Specialist.

After a challenging evening, Ben closes his hand around something in his pocket, the card he had received in the cemetery. On a whim, he calls Jess and sets up a meeting to find out what she can do for him. After the initial call, the story moves at a quick pace. Ben is drawn into the world of Jess and Nick. Nick is the technology behind the company Lingering. A revolutionary way to speak to your deceased loved ones via gathered social media data that is collated into a profile and voice of your loved one. Something of a painkiller for your grief. The new reincarnation of an almost-but-not-quite perfect Clarissa pulls Ben from the world and his friends. Specifically, a man named Joe, who is also dealing with the grief of losing his wife. Joe acts as a counterpoint to Lingering. He is dealing with his grief in a real an entirely human way unlike Lingering that is exploitation and has a wrongness to it. The story progresses, and Ben gets pulled further and further into Lingering until the story has a very dramatic emotional climax and cliffhanger.

Simonson has written some very believable but not entirely relatable characters. Specifically in the character Nick. I can see a person like him existing in the world. His ethical boundaries are non-existent, and he seeks to exploit a piece of technology that he has created. I find him a completely irredeemable and well-written character. His smug smarminess practically dripped off off the page. The issue that I have with the story is Ben. He is a well-written character but, for me, he jumped the shark a few times and threw me out of the story. I had a few times where I thought, “absolutely no way would someone do this.” Maybe they would? But, I had a difficult time understanding his choices. This led to a level of disbelief for the story. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the premise.

The story is marketed as science fiction; however, I found that it had a tough time finding its voice. Was it a murder mystery? A treatise on guilt and grief, or a science fiction about AI? I think if Simonson focused more on the science fiction aspect of it and less on the grief and murder aspect it would be a more successful read for me. To her credit though, Simonson created a very original idea. It is an intriguing, AI to deal with grief. Science Fiction has explored a lot of the AI plot ideas; power, desire, sexuality but this is the first I have read about grief. Although I might not be the correct reader for this story, I am looking forward to Simonson’s next read. She has a great voice inside of her, and her next book will be even better.

*quotes are taken from an eARC and may change upon publication.


Let’s Talk

  1. What do you think about AI being used in grief abatement?
  2. What are some other stories that use AI run amok?
  3. How do you think grief is handled in literature?

Procurement

I received an eARC from the author in exchange for my open and honest review.


About the Author

Slave/mother to a herd of animals, Loch Ness monster enthusiast, breaker of many a wine glass. 

Do not challenge her to Harry Potter trivia unless you wish to be slaughtered.

Mirrormask by Neil Gaimon

Synopsis

Helena is about to embark on a most amazing journey.

Raised in a family of circus performers, she’s always dreamed of leading a more ordinary life. But when haunting music draws her into a strange and magical realm, one where anything can happen, her real life is stolen by a runaway from the other side. Helena must rescue the realm from chaos in order to win back her own not-so-ordinary life.

MirrorMask is a breathtaking film written by bestselling author Neil Gaiman and brought to life through the vision of acclaimed artist and director Dave McKean. This original novella is Helena’s tale in her own voice, written by master storyteller Neil Gaiman and accompanied by original art by Dave McKean and images from the film; it is a stunning and magical journey.


Stats

  • Hardcover
  • 80 pages
  • Published October 31st 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2005)
  • Original Title MirrorMask
  • ISBN0060821094 (ISBN13: 9780060821098)
  • Edition Language English

My Thoughts

Helena leads the life of most children’s dreams. She is born into a family of circus performers. Literally, the most wished for dream aside from astronaut for most kids. Yet, Helena dreams of a more normal life. Her and her mother get into an argument as kids do with their mothers and shortly thereafter Helena’s mother is hospitalized and is found to need surgery. Of course Helena can only blame herself. That night Helena wakes into a fever dream of sorts where the fantastical and incredible come to life.

“Sometimes, “I told him, as the darkness swirled closer and closer, “you just have to say you’re sorry.”
It’s more than that, and I think by then I knew it. It’s more than saying sorry. 
It’s meaning it. It’s letting the apology change things. But an apology is where it has to begin.” 

Mirrormask by Neil Gaiman

Originally this story was a movie written by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, and with the movies success it was thus turned into a novel. It is surprisingly short at only 80 pages, however, the narrative of the story and visual descriptions pack a punch. Much like the movie, the book uses descriptive visual language to describe the dream atmosphere that Helena enters. It reminds me a lot of Labyrinth and Dark Crystal – Dark fantasy. All the imagery has a dark edge to it and not all is wonderful and sweet in the mirrormask realm.

The book is great, especially if you enjoy Neil Gaiman and I do. It isn’t as good as the movie, but it is an enjoyable dark romp into the mirror realm.

Procurement

I listened to this on Scribd.

About the Author

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman born Neil Richard Gaiman, 10 November 1960)[4] is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, and films. His works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels StardustAmerican GodsCoraline, and The Graveyard Book. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newberyand Carnegie medals. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book (2008). In 2013, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards.

What am I Reading Wednesday? 3/27/2019

What am I reading?

After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward

2018 Winner of the Best Indie Book Award in young adult fiction!

They tell me the country looked different back then. 

They talk of open borders and flowing rivers. 

They say the world was green. 

But drought swept across the globe and the United States of the past disappeared under a burning sky. 

Enora Byrnes lives in the aftermath, a barren world where water has become the global currency. In a life dominated by duty to family and community, Enora is offered a role within an entity that controls everything from water credits to borders. But it becomes clear that not all is as it seems. From the wasted confines of her small town to the bowels of a hidden city, Enora will uncover buried secrets that hide an unthinkable reality. As truth reveals the brutal face of what she has become, she must ask herself: how far will she go to retain her humanity? 

I am reading this as part of a blog tour. Look for both a review and author interview of this!


The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

From bestselling comic-book franchise writer Charles Soule comes a clever and witty first novel of a twentysomething New Yorker who wakes up one morning with the power to predict the future—perfect for fans of Joe Hill and Brad Meltzer, or books like This Book Is Full of Spiders and Welcome to Night Vale.

Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site—as it’s come to be called—and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust—including a beautiful journalist—it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.

I am reading this as a buddy read with Evelina at https://linktr.ee/avalinahsbooks


What Have I Just Finished?

Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street by Warren Ellis

After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy. 

Classic graphic novel read with Paul. As amazing as it was the first time. Definitely worth the reread.


What am I Reading Next?

A Memory Called Empire
by Arkady Martine

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is an interstellar mystery adventure.

“The most thrilling ride ever. This book has everything I love.”—Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

Hello good ole’ space opera. How I have missed you so.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

“Star would light the way for fox as he foraged for beetles and ran wild in the tangled thorns.”

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

About

From the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Hardcover Classics comes a beautifully illustrated fable about loss, friendship, and courage

The Fox and the Star is the story of a friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the frightfully dark forest. Illuminated by Star’s rays, Fox forages for food, runs with the rabbits, and dances in the rain—until Star suddenly goes out and life changes, leaving Fox huddling for warmth in the unfamiliar dark. To find his missing Star, Fox must embark on a wondrous journey beyond the world he knows—a journey lit by courage, newfound friends, and just maybe, a star-filled new sky. 

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake, The Fox and the Star is a heartwarming, hopeful tale which comes alive through Bickford-Smith’s beloved illustrations, guiding readers both young and grown to “look up beyond your ears.”


Stats

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcover 
  • 64 pages
  • Published November 10th, 2015 by Penguin Books (first published August 27th, 2015)
  • Original Title The Fox and the Star
  • ISBN0143108670 (ISBN13: 9780143108672)
  • Edition Language English
  • Literary Awards Waterstones Book of the Year (2015)

My Thoughts

Never mistake a children’s book for something simple. There is a story I heard once about a famous chef and how he hired his sous chefs. He asked them to simply, “Cook me one egg.” One egg. When paired down, cooking a single egg is the synthesis of multitudes of culinary skills. You either know your stuff, or you don’t. The same is true for the creation of a beautiful children’s novel. It is the synthesis of timing, pacing, language, character building, protagonist, antagonist, and the language of pictures. All in a small package paired down for the mind of a child. It is an amazing thing if done well, and well-crafted children’s books, generationally, stand the test of time. I myself found a great bit of joy in “There is a Monster at the end of This Book” when I was a child. That book was written in 1971. I was reading it to my four-year-old daughter yesterday. There is nothing dated about it. Literally, three generations of mothers/fathers could have read it to their children and those children were equally excited by it. This is an effective children’s book.

The Fox and the Star is an effective children’s book. 

It does not have the longevity yet, but a story like this will be around in thirty years. For one, this book is profoundly beautiful. I don’t say that lightly.

Bickford-Smith took what a normal children’s book feels and looks like and turned it into a palace for her story. The cover is dark midnight colored woven cloth inked with an arts and crafts style illustration of a twisting winding web of thorns and a fox. The interior pages are as illustrative – simple in line work, but profoundly well done. The images themselves, delicate and beautiful, feel almost fierce. It feels as if the fox is about to leap off the pages at you, or you are about to catch your shirtsleeve on a thorn.

The story is about a fox that misses his star. His one star in a sky of multitudes that belongs to him and he to it. The fox journeys through time, weather, and loneliness to find his star even when all he has to do is look up. At the conclusion and what really is the beginning of foxes journey, he finds that in the sky there are many lovely stars, but none of them belong to him. It gives him hope for the future because “he knew that somewhere out there was a star that once was a star that was his” and “beneath the blazing sky of the stars, Fox made his way through the forest.”

It takes a lot of skill and finesse to make something both easily understandable and profoundly beautiful. Bickford-Smith’s books are both. This book is no exception. The writing is superb and the story brought a tear to my eye. It is truly a beautiful read.


Procurement

I checked this out from the library.


About the Author

Coralie Bickford-Smith graduated from Reading University after studying Typography and Graphic Communication and currently works in-house at Penguin Books. Coralie’s book covers have been recognized by the AIGA (NY) and D&AD (UK) and have featured in numerous international magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Vogue and The Guardian. Her work with Penguin Classics on the clothbound series attracted worldwide attention and harks back to the world of Victorian bindings and a golden age of bookbinding.

First Chapter, First Paragraph – Oracle Year: A Novel by Charles Soule

Synopsis

From bestselling comic-book franchise writer Charles Soule comes a clever and witty first novel of a twentysomething New Yorker who wakes up one morning with the power to predict the future—perfect for fans of Joe Hill and Brad Meltzer, or books like This Book Is Full of Spiders and Welcome to Night Vale.

Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site—as it’s come to be called—and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust—including a beautiful journalist—it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.


First Paragraph

Anything can happen, Will Dando thought. IN the next five seconds, in the next five years. Anything at all. He Tipped his beer up, finishing the last few swallows. He set about the task of getting the bartender’s attention, which looked like it could be an ordeal. The bar hadn’t been crowded when he arrived three or so hours earlier, but it had filed up once the game started – Jets/Raiders.

The Oracle Year: A Novel by Charles Soule

Doesn’t seem like we have learned much from the first paragraph other than setting a scene for what we think is going to be our main character, Will Dando. Bars are funny things to write about, they can either be sad pitiful places where depression is almost a tangible thing. Or, they can be written as a place of debauchery. I think in this case though, it just a normal bar with people watching a game drinking a beer after work. It isn’t written as anything but a transition point for Will. I don’t know, we will have to see where the story goes. I do like how Soule writes though. So far it is very setting oriented, which I appreciate.