The Bird King

The Bird King

The Bird King came across my library holds list after I perused some of the best of 2019 lists. It was billed as a great fantasy read, and you all know I’m always down for those. I finished this book, the first finish in a little bit, and I am really sad to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the story. It moved quickly, it was easy to follow, and the ending was moving, but as a complete package it wasn’t anything to write home about.

It’s difficult for me to write about how the story even works without giving a ton of stuff away. It’s set in 1491 on the Iberian peninsula, and Fatima is the last Circassian concubine to the sultan there. Her best friend Hassan is gay as well as a magical map maker – he can make doors appear to places just by drawing a map. When the Holy Order (read: Spanish Inquisition) comes a-knocking Hassan and Fatima must run for their lives or be tortured, killed, or in Hassan’s case, used for the Order’s purposes.

The best part of the story is the first third leading up to their escape. G. Willow Wilson paints a beautiful picture of Fatima and Hassan’s friendship as well as her relationships within the harem and with the sultan. She is just beginning to see that she could hold real power and is waiting to see if she becomes pregnant with the sultan’s child when everything falls apart.

Their escape and subsequent journey to Qaf  where the King of the Birds resides is a bit of a mess storytelling-wise. The villain isn’t scary, Hassan’s powers are not clearly defined and how he uses them is not made clear, and without giving too much away, how they find the island and defend it seemed rushed and strange.

The ending was moving enough for me to ask you to read it, but don’t be shocked when you feel like giving up around page 300 (if you’re reading the hardcover). I pulled a rare “I made it this far, I might as well finish” and made it to the end, and I’m glad I did. It’s a nice story. If you have a gap in your reading schedule, pick it up and enjoy.

The Record Keeper

The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion was provided to me as an advanced reader copy by Titan Books in return for an honest review and a spot on a blog tour. The Record Keeper is on sale now and is available in both paperback and ebook formats.

Read the synopsis for The Record Keeper here.

In the past three years of reading and reviewing books in earnest I have learned to recognize when books are available for me to read and yet not written for me in the sense that there is minimal content with which I might relate. Some reviewers make the mistake of writing a book like this off, claiming it was boring or not compelling, missing the fact that not everything is for everyone. There is a significant difference between a poorly written book and a book that is not about you. While I did have trouble connecting to this story (especially as it was touted as based on the life of Frederick Douglass, who I only know a small amount about thanks to history courses) it is undeniable that its premise, and the style in its telling, are laudable.

The Record Keeper is written in a way that will cause you to hear, taste, smell, and feel what is going on in the story. Gomillion writes so evocatively that at times it felt like the book was singing to me. At no moment was I bored and the amazing writing style matched up well with a story that did not stop moving forward…

…until about the last 25%. Suddenly the story had to stop to give all the information that we needed to understand what was going on. Because the story is told primarily from one point of view, and that character’s point of view is limited to always following the rules and trying to do what’s right in order to maintain her status, we miss out on a lot of the things that might be brewing in the underbelly of this strange society. A story that was chugging along nicely came to a screeching halt, and made for an ending that was less than exciting.

I am glad that this book gives a SFF viewpoint of the intra-black relationships and struggles that exist due to white oppression. Right from the start a society has been set up where some black people are meant to take care of and ‘rule over’ others. This speaks to many different concerns in the black community, from light vs. dark skin (colorism) to issues of hair, education and assimilation into white culture in an effort to rise above – we see a clear break between black communities in this post-WWIII world. I’ve read too many books that only deal with white and black relations, when it’s important to see the effects of those white oppressive techniques on the black community when the white instigators are taken out of the picture.

A story mechanic that I really enjoy with any character who thinks they know it all is the slow cracking of a shell. The main character Arika thinks she has everything under control, but then she witnesses one thing that contradicts what she’s been told, which leads to other ideas being questioned, until her entire shell comes crashing down and the truth of her situation is that she never had any control, in fact her belief that she had control was what the people in control were using to keep her under their thumbs. The moment Arika sees how the workers are treated, how sick they are becoming, with no help in sight, the novel takes a turn down a darker path where we know she will need to look at herself in the mirror and decide how she will reconstruct her worldview around these new truths that have come to light.

If I had to ask for anything, it would be that I wished for more world building. We’re in the eastern United States and that’s pretty much all we get. Other SFF series use this same idea – nuclear war or other such conflicts constrict society to certain areas where they vie for resources and rebuild society in some primitive way in which one group of people obviously come out on the better end of the deal. It’s a tale as old as time in the current SFF genre, especially in YA literature. A little more worldbuilding here may have set this book apart from The Hunger Games trilogy, or Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, or Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy. I hope this will come in the future novels in the series, due out in 2020.

Overall I feel like this book is one to add to your TBR, but more importantly I think it’s one that English or History teachers might consider adding to their curricula. 8th graders and up could benefit from a side by side analysis of the story Gomillion is telling and actual historical events. The Record Keeper would be perfect as a class set for any classroom that is willing to dig into societal issues using excellent writing as a foundation for discussion. Either way, definitely give it a try!

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 11.02.44 AM

Double-U Double-U Review

If you caught my summer preview post you probably picked up that one of my downtime goals is to lose some weight, not to be skinny or pretty or anything, but to be more comfortable traveling and sight-seeing. I decided to take advantage of a deal and try Weight Watchers, which is for some reason calling themselves “WW” in an attempt to rebrand themselves as a lifestyle as opposed to a weight loss plan. I’m not joking, I had to call into customer service about an app problem, and the agent said “thank you for calling double-u double-u” like I didn’t know I was calling fucking WEIGHT WATCHERS, but that’s only part of the story.

I’ve been using the plan for about a month and a half, and while I have been able to lose about 5 pounds, I’ve discovered some issues that might be something you would want to know about if you were considering some help in this kind of endeavor.

The basic idea of WW is the same as it’s always been: you get a set of daily points based on your gender, current weight, age, and a few other attributes. In addition to these points that reset daily, you get a set of weekly points that give you a little wiggle room on the daily or help with eating out or splurging that would take you way beyond your daily allotment. If you exercise you can also earn FitPoints, which you can choose to use to bolster your balance, or avoid using altogether to help boost your weight loss.

These were in place when I used the program in 2006 to lose almost 50 pounds. What was nice then was that it was relatively easy to gauge how many points an item was worth. The general rule of thumb was that 50 calories roughly worth 1 point, with higher fiber or protein values bringing the point value down, while higher fat values increased the average. Plus there were guidelines about what you should eat: dairy, servings of fruits and veggies, a basic amount of water, and you could check these off and work them into your day.

I have watched the plans slowly change over the years. First everything you ate had a point value that you had to track. Then fruits and veggies became zero points, and how your daily points were calculated changed. Then what a point meant changed, requiring the purchase of a point calculator or you could use the app/website. And then Oprah came on the scene, talking about how much she loved bread and cauliflower pizza dough and the plan changed yet again to include about 200 zero point foods, expanded to include fruits, veggies, seafood, boneless skinless chicken breast, 99% fat free ground turkey/chicken, and eggs.

At first I was kind of excited by the large number of things I could eat that I didn’t necessarily have to track. But something about it nagged at the back of my mind – how could we just call these things zero points when they have nutritional value and calorie content? So I started using the plan and discovered a few things very quickly.

First, this plan bases point values on saturated fat, sugar, and protein. Calories aren’t even used, nor is fiber. At first this made sense to me given the current research on sugar consumption and trans/saturated fats. What didn’t make sense to me was how 230 calories of M&Ms could equal 12 points, 30% of my daily allotment. I know none of this is an exact science but gosh that’s…that’s aggressive. The commercials love to say that it’s such a flexible plan, you can eat anything! Which I guess is true, you COULD eat M&Ms, but the point structure sure as shit is gonna scare you away from doing that.

Which leads me to my second point: ALL IS EGGS. Holy shit, every WW recipe, community recommendation, whatever uses 9782347263847239 eggs. I am convinced that anything you could ever do with eggs has been discovered by current WW members trying to stretch their points as far as they can go. And the pictures of these recipes – god it looks like an eggplant shat out a terrible skillet scrambler in the most terrible nightmare diner. “Look at this amazing meal, and so tasty!” Bullshit Carol.

And third. You think Facebook or Instagram is a nightmare? Well then come on over to the “Connect” section of the WW app or website. WOW. If it isn’t people posting side by sides with the after picture filtered so hard that Barbies (holy unrealistic skinny waist batman) and anime characters (HUGE EYES WOW) would be jealous, it’s men paying to use the app to pick up chicks or EVERYONE IS CHRISTIAN AND PRAYING FOR EACH OTHER PRAISE JEEBUS. I have seen more juuuuuust almost naked pictures of people than I ever saw anywhere else, especially dudes leaving their junk just out of view. It’s a festering pit of everything weight loss/lifestyle changing shouldn’t be, but exists in WW.

So this week I started using the free app MyFitnessPal alongside WW to see how they compare. The thing I like about MFP is that you can set different nutritional goals. Does your doctor think you need more protein? You can set that daily value and track towards it. Need to lower your sodium intake for blood pressure or other reasons? You can set that limit too. It takes the weird point calculation system, simplifies it, and makes it very individualized. And it tracks with Fitbit, which is a plus for me.

My reasoning for losing this weight is not to get super skinny, but to be in better shape and be more comfortable in a plane seat. I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to compromise my happiness or foods I enjoy to reach this goal, I was going to exercise more to help bridge the gap and just eat smaller portions. Only a month and a half on WW made me feel like I was in an egg cult that was slowly brainwashing me away from bread and cheese. That’s not the goal here. So I think I’m going to call it on the WW experiment and stick just to MFP. I shouldn’t have to pay $13 a month for something I can get for free that’s more about what my body needs.

Don’t get me wrong, Weight Watchers used to work for me. I felt like I could eat what I wanted and I learned how to balance things I needed to eat with things I wanted to eat. I honestly don’t think the program is that kind of positive force anymore. If I were you, I would find a doctor you trust, a nutritionist that’s more about health than skinny, and an app you don’t have to pay to use before you try to become baptized by the egg masters. Skip WW, it’s not worth it.

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Tor Books via NetGalley as a digital ARC in return for an honest review. Magic For Liars went on sale on June 4, 2019 and is currently available for purchase.

Magic For Liars is the story of a pair of sisters, one magical and one not, who took very different paths in life: one a Theoretical Magic teacher at a prestigious magic school and the other a beat-down private investigator. When Ivy gets the call to investigate a magical murder at the school where her sister Tabitha teaches, the story takes us through Ivy’s struggle to connect past with present to solve the mystery.

It has a promising start. That dark, down on your luck kind of opening that any private eye kind of flick might have. I settled in, ready for a dark and dingy kind of tale. What I got was a whole lot of nothing through 75% of the book, where I finally decided to stop and move on to something else.

This book stays at one volume level the entire time. Ivy is endlessly interviewing students and then nothing happens. She confronts her sister and seems to make headway about their past as rivals and their magic/non magic issues, and then nothing happens. A teacher is dead, and while we meet many interesting characters and might have suspicions about a few, the tension never ratchets up enough where you feel like we might be headed toward a solution, which would then keep you reading to find out more. I have other things to read, other things to do, either give me something to nibble on or stop wasting my time.

It was really disappointing. It was a cool idea but difficult to pull off without any reveals or wrong turns or accusations in a world where Harry Potter already exists. Sorry fam, it’s a thumbs down from me out of sheer boredom.

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Date (The Wedding Date #1)

The Proposal (The Wedding Date #2)

The Wedding Party was received as a physical ARC from the publisher at the 2019 AWP Conference Book Fair. Scheduled date of publication is July 16, 2019 and preorders are currently accepted wherever books are sold.

There are four main elements to a Jasmine Guillory novel: an unexpected meeting, an intense physical connection, a miscommunication/makeup resolution, and some form of comfort food.

The Wedding Date had Alexa and Drew and doughnuts. The Proposal had Carlos and Nik and cupcakes. The Wedding Party presents us with Theo and Maddie and pizza.

The formula worked well in the first two books, mostly because the sex scenes were so hot and intense, and there was a pretty clear obstacle to the that the protagonists would need to eventually overcome to get to their happily ever after: Alexa and Drew had distance, and Carlos and Nik had Nik’s issues with safety and commitment. Plus the comfort food, there to give the audience another sense of connection and luxury, was more of a snack or dessert nature, something that we have as a guilty pleasure or as accompaniment to a meal. The cherry on top, as it were.

With the third and final installment of the trilogy, Maddie and Theo already know each other and have been rivals for Alexa’s attention. It’s an enemies to lovers type story that kind of deflates as it goes on. When they spend more meaningful time together and help each other out, it takes the teeth out of the enemies thing and just makes it a relationship. They decide to hide their escapades from Alexa, which seems really disingenuous considering they carry on for something like 8 months (spoiler alert, she notices).

The sex scenes in this book were really lacking. We see the start and the morning after, but none of the creamy center. Kind of ‘he spread her legs and dipped out of sight and she moaned – CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING THEY ARE MAKING COFFEE’ and I was disappointed. There was one scene where he went “in to the hilt” on the first thrust and then the scene ended and we were waking up the next morning. Also, Theo seems to have condoms stashed EVERYWHERE: his car, his desk, his bedside table, the kitchen, his pocket, in his ear, his wallet – I mean I get representing safe sex but this has got to be believable and it was NOT believable that in the middle of the livingroom Theo found a condom between the couch cushions, waggled his eyebrows, and then went to town. I found myself thinking, wait, where could that condom possibly have come from and why would he have had it stashed there? – and that really takes one out of the action.

Not only was the sex lackluster, the frequency with which they order pizza gave me heartburn and I wasn’t even the one eating it. “I’ll pick up a pizza!” “Let’s order a pizza!” “OMG I’m so hungry, let’s have Theo pop over with a pizza!” It was repetitive and only made me feel sorry for all of them. Honestly guys, your body starts to break down in your thirties and there was no way these characters, all in their thirties and gainfully employed, were eating this much pizza.

The ending was pretty formulaic, which was fine, but overall this last book did not wow me for all the reasons I’ve listed. If you’ve already read the first two you should read this one too, it has its enjoyable moments, but honestly if you haven’t read any of them yet you could read the first two and be fine skipping the third.