Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek: 06/30/15
Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek by Elizabeth Rusch is a graphic novel about a boy who just wants a chance to get dirty. His parents, though, have a very firm no mud rule. Unfortunately for all of them, they live in a town with frequent rain and near persistent mud.
Tired of being teased by his friends for having to stay completely mud free, Max takes the offer of a bike ride from a friend. He ends up completely covered in mud. It's like the mud just jumps right onto him. But nothing bad seems to happen, save for a small rash.
Convinced now that there's something up with his parents' fear of mud, Max begins two investigations: one into his parents' past, and the other into the mud of the nearby marsh. In the process he discovers some long buried secrets of his family, some abilities he didn't know he had, and a way to bring his family closer together.
Muddy Max is a healthy blend of genres: mystery, superhero, and, horror. It's currently a standalone story, but there's enough wiggle room at the end to spawn a series. I would certainly read more of Muddy Max's adventures if I were given the chance.
After posting my thoughts on Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats, a reader tweeted me about their favorite series of Keats's books which feature a little boy named Louie. Curious about a series I seemed to have completely missed, I put all of the books on hold at my local library.
Louie by Ezra Jack Keats is about a boy who is another member of the gang of kids who play with Peter (The Snowy Day, Peter's Chair, Goggles, etc.) Louie appears to be one of the youngest kids, and one of the shiest.
The other children are busy putting on a puppet show for the neighborhood, with characters and props made from the things they've found in the alley and perhaps brought from home, 1970s up-cycling. Louie, though, is completely taken in by their work and is a little disruptive to the show.
Although Louie is eventually made to stay quiet for the play, the other kids don't hold a grudge or ostracize him. Instead, they find a way to include him, resulting in a heartwarming ending.
Saturn Apartments Volume 1: 06/28/15
Saturn Apartments Volume 1 by Hisae Iwaoka is about a window washer living with the rest of humanity on a giant ring built around the Earth. The environment was destroyed on Earth but instead of putting everyone on massive ships, à la Wall-E, they now live in orbit above it.
Those who can afford to pay for it, have a window to the outside. The best views are those of the planet. They're also the most dangerous to wash. Mitsu is one of those washers, taking up where his father left off, after he was tragically killed years earlier.
As this is the first in the manga series, there are lots of questions posed. What happened to Earth? What's it like down there now? What really happened to Mitsu's father. What's happening to the ring everyone lives on?
Journey is Aaron Becker's debut picture book. A girl living in a drab urban area needs to entertain herself. She finds a red crayon and begins to draw. Her imagination and perhaps a little magic transports her into a world of colorful surprises.
The girl navigates through this world by following the red trail. It's not as obvious as Oz's yellow brick road but it's there in the details. There is adventure, and danger, uncertainty, and beauty in her journey.
For fans of the Harold and the Purple Crayon books by Crocket Johnson will see a little nod to the classic at the end of the book.
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 7: 06/26/15
Volume 7 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by CLAMP ends the Oto story arc, introduces more of Syaoran's past, and throws in new enemies.
The ending of the Oto arc pivots on the same dream-state / reality conundrum that leads up to the Rô piece of the companion series, xxxHolic. Oto isn't what Syaoran et al believe and as they've entered under magical means they haven't been privy to the truth.
The big show down though brings these false pretenses shattering down. The man behind much of Oto's strangeness is tied to Syaoran. And that connection between mentor and student reveals further layers of subterfuge between reality and the current state of things.
Behind all of this though, are a man and a woman, shown watching the events from some undisclosed location. They are set up as being in opposition to Yuko. While I realize they are probably the "big bad" for both series they come off as clichéd.
My biggest problem though with volume 7 is the vast amount of pages wasted on the "woosh bang" swirling fights between Syaoran, his ex-mentor and the others on the team. Lots and lots of sword swipes, swirling dust and other pointless theatrics.
The Gray Prince: 06/25/15
The Gray Prince by Jack Vance is the first of the Gaean Reach series. It's sometimes also published as The Grey Prince or The Domains of Koryphon. The multiple title confusion is just the start of this mess.
The description sounds so promising. A woman returns to her home after years in space to find her home planet vastly changed and under the threat of a race riot, lead by a man nicknamed the Gray Prince.
The problem is that Schaine Madduc is from the conquering aristocracy. Her family own a huge ranch. Along with the ranch, they own slaves. Much of the book is overheard conversations about how uppity the natives are becoming, when they used to be such nice, simple children.
The leader of the rebellion was a ward of the ranch, given a proper education and now he's expected to work for his family and appreciate all they done for him. What they've done is betray his trust and love! No wonder he's leading the civil rights movement. Duh! But they are too set in their privilege to see things from his side or to truly want to help to make things better for everyone. Because that would mean they would have to do actual work.
The Gray Prince was like reading a Zane Grey novel but in space. It has the same racist overtones. The same white privilege — just in space.
Hockey Saint: 06/24/15
The Hockey Saint by Howard Shapiro is the second of the Forever Friends series. It's about a college aged hockey player who is befriended by a BIG FAMOUS hockey player. The hockey player celebrity is a squeaky clean saint with an alcohol problem. Meanwhile, the EVIL competition wants to sully his reputation by digging up some dirt.
This book from start to finish gives me the heeby-jeebies. Tom Leonard, the college protagonist is drawn so that he looks very young and very effeminate. He looks vulnerable and completely taken in by whatever crap the hockey pro feeds him.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Johnson, is supposedly twenty-one but I think he's lying to lure teenage boys into trouble. He says and does everything so perfectly that he's clearly as well trained player. He's using the sort of language on Tom that predators use on their victims. It doesn't help either that he has long hair and scruffy facial hair, enough so that he bears a striking resemblance to Jesus. That just leads to thoughts of molestation of boys by various men of the cloth.
Throughout all of this, though, we're expected to feel sorry for Tom and Jeremiah. If only the authority figures (the media, the team owners, the private eyes, pesky grandmothers, wives, etc) would let them have their "pure" friendship.
What this book reminded me of more than anything is the manga series, Gravitation. There it's a famous musician preying on the new, up and coming guy with a rocking demo reel. That one, though, is at least explicit in its sexual content, rather than just hinting heavily while all the while pretending it's not there.
Pranks and Attacks!: 06/23/15
Pranks and Attacks! by Laurent Richard is the first in the Tao, the Little Samurai series. Essentially it's an omnibus of short panel comics that relate to Tao's time at the dojo.
What's missing here is some basic background. Why are Tao and the other kids learning to become samurai? Where do they live? How do they know each other?
I suppose it shouldn't matter since the humor is all situational but I never really felt I got to know anything about Tao. Not entirely true; he seems to be very bad at being a samurai. He's also lazy with his chores and his homework.
But if this is such an exclusive school, why do they keep him in? The "ho-ho Tao's goofed up again" style of humor loses its punch pretty quickly. But there's nothing else here to fill in the gaps.
Theseus and the Minotaur: 06/22/15
Theseus and the Minotaur by Yvan Pommaux is a comic book / graphic novel retelling of the minotaur myth. While the title puts Theseus at the forefront, he ends up playing a very minor role. Mostly the book is about the circumstances that lead up to Theseus hunting down the minotaur.
Basically the whole mess is another instance of "All magic comes with a price, Dearie" (Rumplestilskin in nearly every episode of the early seasons of Once Upon a Time). These gods and goddesses of the Mediterranean have a wicked sense of humor. In the case of Poseidon, he takes issue with his gift of a beautiful bull being slighted (or rather, kept alive and not sacrificed in his honor) and decides the Queen of Minos should thus get the hots for said bull.
And so it's dogs and cats (or queens and bulls) living (or lying) together. (For a longer, and NSFW retelling, check out the post by Tea Shoes and Hair on Tumblr)
The point is, it's a complicated, soap opera worthy plot, laid out as a comic book with included character cards and side bars to fill in the blanks. For any kid who has enjoyed reading the Percy Jackson books, or for adults like me, who also like Percy Jackson and might have grown up reading the Edith Hamilton mythology book, this one's a fun read.
The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy: 06/21/15
In the Discworld books, anything imagined by enough people has the chance to become an entity. For instance, there's a tooth fairy. Some entities have assistants or other versions of themselves. In The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy by Martha Brockenbrough, the tooth fairy business has gone way back, to the age of the dinosaurs.
The dinosaur tooth fairy has been spending her time in a museum. She has samples of teeth from all the dinosaurs which she keeps polished and organized. But she craves for something new. She decides to try being a human tooth fairy.
Human children aren't like dinosaurs. They like different things. They're smaller. They scare more easily. Etc. etc. And hilarity ensues. Sort of.
My problem as an voracious reader is that I imagine crossovers as I'm reading. It's not something I do on purpose; it just happens. So kept imagining the dinosaur tooth fairy using the human tooth fairy's collection to revive the dinosaurs or some other apocalyptic ending.
The actual book though goes for a more straight up moral about sharing and trading. The human and dinosaur fairies each swap a tooth to expand their collections.
But just imagine ZOMBIE DINOSAURS.
Taking books on vacation: 06/20/15
Summer's here in the northern hemisphere and so much of the book talk now is about "beach reads" and how many books to pack for vacation. Since I'm going on a week long vacation to England and Wales, which involves an 11 hour flight each way, I though books on vacation was a perfect topic.
This trip will be my second longest flight — the longest one being the flights to Tasmania, Australia which taken all together comes out to almost an entire day of travel. In that trip, I was flying by myself (well, with a group but I had to be responsible for carrying my own stuff) and that meant being able to handle enough clothing for both going to school and later, hiking. This trip was before the advent of the internet, smart phones, and ebooks. I ended up taking a blank note book and one book to read on the flight, the idea being that I would purchase a new book in Tasmania (I did; Nova by Samuel R. Delany).
For this trip, I'm taking along my digital camera, lenses, and my MacBook (not to blog, but to back up my photographs). I'll also have my smart phone to contact my friend in Wales. This time, I'm traveling with family which means I'll probably be schlepping my kids' stuff too.
So as GoodReads asked recently in a poll: how many books will I pack. One in print. Which one, I'm still debating, but the one at the top of my list right now is The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust (Volume 3 of In Search of Lost of Time). Why Proust? Well, it's long and it's complex, meaning it will take hours to read. I'm currently reading it so I won't feel weird about starting a book just for the flight. It might even last me for the flight home (although we're going to Heffers and I do intend to get some Chris Riddell illustrated Neil Gamain books).
Why not just ebooks? My daughter has a bunch of apps installed on my phone and I'm sure she's going to want to play them on the plane. There's also the issue of battery life.
I might put an ebook or two on there just in case. These I'll just pick based on what tickles my fancy when I check out the library's ebook collection. I doubt I'll be reading many of them.
Frankly, I doubt I'll be doing much reading at all as I very rarely read when traveling. I travel with my eyes open or my camera on. I plan to take many photographs. I plan to spend a day gabbing with a pen pal I've known for more than a decade and have never met in person.
In all of this, reading is my last priority.
Trickster: Native American Tales: 06/20/15
Trickster: Native American Tales edited by Matt Dembicki is an anthology of supposed Native American trickster tales, each illustrated as comics. Whether they are inspired by, or are retellings of, actual Native American tales is left to the reader to discern.
Trickster tales are certainly a part of Native American and American folklore. As I'm a west coast resident, I'm most familiar with the tales from the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. The tricksters from here are typically the Raven, Crow, or the Coyote. Tricksters are used to explain the oddities of nature. For the cultures I'm familiar with, the Trickster tales are associated with creation stories. But my knowledge of these tales is limited and lacking a full cultural grounding as my cultural foundation is that of a British and Northern European, multigenerational American mutt.
So, what I was hoping to see from this book was a way to expand my knowledge of trickster stories, especially beyond the few tribes / nations I am already familiar with. This book has twenty stories and an afterword with brief biographies of the authors and illustrators. But it doesn't have any sort of introductory information or source material for the stories.
And so while the stories are entertaining, they aren't educational.
Spacedog by Hendrik Dorgathen is a wordless graphic novel about a dog trying to find its place in the world. This includes a brief stint as as a space dog.
The titular dog is a red, square shaped creature. The artwork that takes him from the farm, to the city, to the lab, to space and back reminds me of a cross between 1950s commercial art and a quilt.
Sticks and Stones: 06/18/15
Sticks and Stones by Peter Kuper is a wordless graphic novel about a war between the stone people and the stick people. It is about the rise and fall of powerful empires and the dangers of power.
It begins with a volcano and a stone giant who in turn finds or creates a stone village. They built a castle for the stone giant and he becomes their ruler. Things reach an uneasy quietude until a new village of people are discovered — this time stick people.
War it seems is inevitable. Maybe it is the birth from the volcano thing. Maybe it's the imbalance of power between the armored stones and the hunter gatherer sticks.
In the end though, it's not the conquering empire that is the great equalizer. It is nature herself who giveth and taketh away. With death and destruction comes renewal. Whether or not it also brings redemption for the survivors, is left to the reader's imagination and interpretation.
Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit: 06/17/15
Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit by Catherine Rayner is another fun interactive book that involves children directly in the story. Ernest the moose wants to be in a picture book but he's just too big. He doesn't fit. He tries all sorts of different things but he just can't squeeze into the book. Finally his chipmunk friend helps him come up with a solution.
This book is about friendship, perseverance, creativity and DIY. It has the same sort of back and forth banter with the audience as There Are Cats in the This Book by Vivian Schwarz, Press Here by Hervé Tullet, if written) or We are in a Book! by Mo Willems.
The simplicity of the text and the large, outrageous illustrations make Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit a good choice for group story time.
The Endangered Species Road Trip: 06/16/15
The Endangered Species Road Trip by Cameron MacDonald is a memoir of a road trip to photograph a variety of endangered, threatened, or otherwise rare species in the continental United States and Canada. The author is based in Vancouver, so that's where the trip begins and ends, with the majority of the trip being in the Lower 48. The project stemmed from his university students asking if he had taken any of the slides he uses in his lectures and his answer always being no.
To be honest, I would have read this book for the discussion of the different species and the tricks in finding and photographing them, but I was drawn to the book this time for it's subtitle: A Summer's Worth of Dingy Motels, Poison Oak, Ravenous Insects and the Rarest Species in North America. Specifically, it was the "dingy motels" part that got me reading.
I am looking into the language of the road and stories that interact with the road trip. Now most of these road trips that I'm looking at are fictional, either literary or cinematic. As I'm especially interested in Supernatural, a paranormal series set in the United States but filmed in Cananda that deconstructs the road trip, with heavy references to Jack Kerouac's semi-autobiographical On the Road, a memoir of a U.S. road trip taken by a Canadian family was just the thing to pique my interest.
MacDonald's book, though told chronologically from the start to finish of the trip, still has three intertwined themes: descriptions of the species searched for (and either found or not), descriptions of the road trip (including places stopped at), and descriptions of traveling with his family. What isn't exactly addressed but is there for the observant reader, is the author's bafflement at just how blinded he's become by his middle class urban lifestyle but that dichotomy is a standard part of the road trip, especially those initiated by the urbanites escaping the city for the adventure of the open road and a return to "simpler times."
MacDonald, though, as a modern day road tripper takes things to extreme sometimes. First, there's the concern over the family's carbon footprint and worrying if he should purchase carbon offset credits before heading out. He doesn't and rather than opting for a small car (and leaving the dog behind), he goes for a minivan. I have to laugh at this detail especially considering a recent road trip we took from California to Vancouver in a Ford Fiesta. The boarder crossing guard did a double take and even asked us twice if we had really and truly driven all that way (953 miles, one way) in such a small car.
Then there's the constant struggle between wanting to eat fresh, organic foods but on a budget while sticking to the Blue Highways (for the most part). The Blue Highways are the U.S. and State Routes that were bypassed by the interstates. They go through smaller towns, and the remains of once thriving towns brought to their knees by the bypassing. They go through the food deserts of the United States, places where boxed food and junk food is cheaper and easier to come by. To make matters worse, they are often hoping to find such fresh food in the minimarts attached to the gas stations where they are refueling.
Interestingly, this very conundrum is played for laughs repeated in the early seasons of Supernatural. Specifically, in "There Will Be Blood" it's discovered that demons have been poisoning convenience foods to make humanity more docile. Happily vindicated, Sam buys nothing but organic vegetables to make Dean a proper, healthy meal.
Finally, though, there are the endangered species and the author's desire to see them and photograph them in their native habitat. The book contains some of his attempts (some more successful than others). Here, as a hobby photographer, I have to wonder why the author didn't practice at home first before heading out on a tricky road trip where he'd only have one chance if that in some cases to get photographic records. So much effort could have saved by getting to know the equipment better! That's not to say he'd have been guaranteed to catch every single creature but he would have certainly spent less time fumbling early on!
The Secret Language of Color: 06/15/15
The Secret Language of Color by Arielle Eckstut is an exploration of the visible spectrum in human history and in nature. The book is divided by color and by different topics in nature (the universe, earth sciences, plants, and so forth).
It's a concise introduction to color and the various sciences that use and study color. It's an oversize book so a little awkward to read in bed (as I did) but the size allows room for the numerous full color photographs included.
The Power to Go: 06/14/15
The Power to Go by Merrill Denison was written in an era when Detroit was thriving and the American automobile could do no wrong. It was the middle of the Baby-Boom and their parents needed station wagons for growing families and sports cars for midlife crises.
The midpoint of the 20th century was defined by the automobile culture. It was still a few years away from the Beach Boys and their numerous songs devoted to the car, but the pump was primed. So 48 years after the Model T brought the automobile to the masses, Merrill Denison decided to explore the automobile's history and influence.
For my research into the linguistic interplay between the road and driver and the road trip narrative that arises from it, The Power to Go was perfect. It was just the right ratio of history to theory.
Especially interesting was Denison's comparison of the European automobile industry to the American one. In Europe where cities were well established (many being hundreds of years old), cars were built to fit the landscape: being small and maneuverable. Whereas in the United States cities were new, many only a few decades old. They were growing up alongside the automobile and therefore the roads and landscape could be tailored to the driving experience.
As with the other books I'm reading for this project, I live blogged my progress. To see all of my favorite quotes and thoughts as I progressed through the book, check out my Tumblr.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes: 06/13/15
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr is a book from my childhood that I revisited at the insistence of my son. Sadako loves the festivities of Peace Day (August 6th, to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). But that changes when she falls ill.
Though Sadako was born after the bombing, she is diagnosed with radiation poisoning. When it becomes clear that she won't recover from it, she decides to make a thousand paper cranes for good luck. Most of this short chapter book is the winding down of a young life and the lasting effects of the bombing.
Sadako's story is a fictionalized account of a real girl's short life. The back of the book includes a short biography. Though it's short, this book always makes me tear up.
Blankets by Craig Thompson is one of those graphic novels that seems to be on everyone's list that for one reason or another I hadn't read. One reason stems from it being published in 2003 which is before I had even considered reading graphic novels (I'm not even sure by then I'd heard the term).
Anyway, Blankets is about a pair of brothers being raised in a hyper religious and abusive home — and the older brother's coming to terms with how that has affected him as an adult. He begins with a flashback to the time when he and his brother had to share not only the same room, but the same bed.
The bed up in the attic in the winter was too cold (like dangerously so) and in the summer, too hot (and also probably dangerously so). If they got into fights, one of them would be locked into the storage area between the walls, a dark, scary place with spiders and who knows what else.
Then there are the Christian summer camps which for a poor kid are hell on earth. But it's at one of these that he meets his girl friend and begins to learn how to rebel. She teaches him how to play within the rules, and when to outright break them.
But the meat of the story is the time he takes off from school to spend at her house. It's a chance to experience a very different family setting, with its own family problems.
While it's played for romance and certainly both teens are under the spell of hormonal driven passion, their time together is more disturbing than romantic (at least seen through this adult's eyes).
And all of this coming of age tale is told through Thompson's blue and white drawings. They are poetic and dramatic, filling in the blanks let otherwise unspoken by the text.
Sin Titulo: 06/11/15
Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart is an urban fantasy, horror story told as a graphic novel. Alex Mackay goes to visit his grandfather at the convalescent home, only to find that he had died a month ago. In trying to get the story behind his grandfather's death and to get a hold on whatever personal effects left behind, Alex stumbles upon a mystery.
There are clues laid out for Alex to follow if he so chooses: a sinister male nurse, a mysterious woman, a memory of a tree, and a recurring dream of a woman walking on a remote beach. These pieces all do all fit together. How they do, though, would require some major spoilers.
Thematically the story reminds me most of a typical Spanish Prisoner con, where the victim is convinced of a cock and bull story involving a recluse or a prison, who the victim is asked to help out. For his generosity he's invited into an inner circle of friends, but when he goes back to revisit the person he's helped, he finds the place empty, and himself framed for a crime. Except here, after the smoke clears, the con ends up being the true part of the story.
Artistically Sin Titulo reminds me of Neurocomic by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella. The woman on the beach and the windswept tree bears a striking resemblance to the neuron forest the man finds himself in, and the woman he is so desperate to return to.
The Sinister Pig: 06/10/15
For Proust, flavors evoked memories. For me it's books. A place will evoke the book I was reading, and conversely, a book will take me back to the place where I was reading it.
The Navajo Mysteries, written first by Tony Hillerman, and now by Anne Hillerman, primarily take place within the bounds of the Navajo Nation. And although I've visited, I've never read a single one of the mysteries there. And yet, the books all evoke places to me — UCSB, Salinas, Pine Cove, and now Hayden Island.
Bear with me. Until recently, The Sinister Pig was the last the original series I hadn't read. Library and local bookshops didn't have a copy, and while I love the series, I just didn't feel the need to do a special order.
Our favorite hotel in Portland maintains two "take one, leave one" libraries. On our last summer trip there, I spotted a hard cover edition of The Sinister Pig. Bonus! I knew we'd be coming back in December on our trip to Canada, so I made it my goal to read it and return it then.
The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman is the 16th in the original series. Bernadette Manuelito has broken up with Jim Chee. She's now working off the Rez for the Border Patrol. She spots something unusual at a so-called exotic animal ranch that sets into motion a whole bunch of trouble. Meanwhile, a federal investigator has been murdered as he was in the middle of investigating something going on at the border.
Many of the books in this series are references to Diné stories but this time with the story only vaguely on the reservation, the title is instead a three way pun. There is the potentially corrupt cop (a sinister pig), there are the pigs that clean out pipes, and there are the pigs that get other pigs to do things, like the bellwether sheep. These three types of pigs related directly to the three mysteries of the book.
And it takes three characters to pool their resources to see the big picture. It takes Joe Leaphorn's understanding of how things were, Jim Chee's current investigational skills, and it takes Bearnette Manuelito's curiosity and out the box thinking to bring the clues together.
Now having read the other books in the series, and especially Spider Woman's Daughter, it was interesting to see Bernie and Jim figure out their feelings for each other. I knew how it was going to work out but I wasn't sure how they would get there. That was a fun bit of 20/20 hindsight.
And in case you're wondering, I did finish the book in time for the Canada trip. I dropped the book off on our way up and it was gone by the time we had returned just before New Year's. I picked up a copy of How Stella Got Her Groove Back which I plan to read and return the next time we're up that way in December.
Twenty-eight years of being a serious reader: 06/09/15
Today marks the end of my 28th year of keeping track of my reading. I've covered the whys behind my list before (Why I keep a list and Twenty-Five Years of Reading). Instead I'd like to reminisce about how my reading has changed over the years.
In 1987 when I started the list, in a blue Precious Moments diary, given to me as sixth grade graduation present, I was 13 going on 14. At that age, I was feeling oh so very grown up and my grandmother was giving me carte blanche to check out the maximum number of cards on her card. The public library at the time required a driver's license for all cards, so I couldn't get my own. As I spent most of my free time with my grandmother, I used her card.
So while trying to look as grown up as possible in my reading, and in my oh-so-important list, I picked what seemed like dangerous, devious, and deliciously entertaining books for page one. In the first volume of the book diary, one page held eighteen titles. The first book completed and entered into the list: To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer. In fact, many of those first slots are Farmer's books, intermingled with my first run through Agatha Christie's mysteries, and some classics for the summer reading list (Les Miserables, African Queen, and House of the Seven Gables).
So in the years I should have been reading YA, I wasn't. I remember one teacher recommending Judy Blume — the one that's recommended to all girls of a certain age. Except I'd already hit puberty and I was an atheist. The idea of talking to God about something that just wasn't that big of a deal but making it a big deal, basically turned me off YA until I was well into my thirties. (Although I'm still pretty much avoiding Judy Blume; save for Freckle Juice which my son insisted I had to read)
What I'm trying to say, is despite my almost three decades of tracking my reading, I'm still prone the same fickleness and immaturity I was when I started it. I'm reading more tween and YA literature now than I did when I was the target age. I'm reading more books too than I did back then. Of course I had homework and other things to do (chores, family trips, summer jobs). That first year, I read a whopping 72 books. I've also learned that when I'm happy, I read more.
With the birth of my daughter and the transition from web site to book blog, I read a crazy number of books, mostly picture books. She's now reading graphic novels, non fiction animal books, and YA memoirs, so I'm pretty much back to reading what I want and, of course, blogging about the most memorable ones.
Midori by Moonlight: 06/09/15
Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Nelson Tokuaga is set in San Francisco. Midori, a young Japanese woman has come to the United States believing she has an offer of marriage. But the man was just sweet-talking her and now she's at a loss.
Midori's situation could have given the opportunity to explore cultural differences and to see how her character adapts. Unfortunately, every opportunity is squandered. Midori is a mere caricature of a Japanese woman. Her unfortunate set of circumstances are played up for jokes on her "Engrish" and her complete cluelessness.
I couldn't get beyond the first couple of chapters.
Alanna: The First Adventure: 06/08/15
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce is the first of the Song of the Lioness series. Alanna, dissatisfied with the life of a young lady, decides to change her destiny. She takes on the name Alan of Trebond so she can learn how to be a knight.
She and her fraternal twin (how convenient!) trade places. He sneaks off to be a wizard and she goes in his place to be a knight in training. She has to put up with hazing, keeps up with her studies, and push herself physically.
It made a nice distracting read on a long series of BART rides. If I were a tween, I probably would have eaten this book up and jumped into the next of the series. As an adult, though, I'm still contemplating continuing through the series.
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel is a roman à clef about a young woman who after a chance meeting in 1969 decides to relocate to the Biscayne Bay area south of Miami. Basically she meets a boy who lives on a house on stilts and is so smitten with both him and his house that she misses enough days of work that's she's laid off. She takes that as a sign to move down to live with her boyfriend full time.
As this is women's fiction (and not, say a bodice ripper), the book chronicles their time together. They are married by the second chapter. By the third chapter their daughter has had her first period — and yes, that's in there too. And by the end of the book as you expect things to come to a quiet close, the husband is ill with ALS. Cue the sad, swelling music and roll the credits.
I chose the book because of its location. A location can drive the plot, bring out interesting characters. Here, we have hippies and drifters growing old, responsible and I guess, stagnant. The setting could have been ANYWHERE — which depending on your idea of a good novel, is either a good thing, or a frustrating thing.
For me, it's the latter. I am not cut out for reading "women's fiction." I'm not sure I'll ever be. If you are a fan of the genre, you'll probably get more satisfaction out of reading it than I did.
Lady Susan: 06/06/15
Lady Susan by Jane Austen is an epistolary novella about an eighteenth century cougar, Lady Susan Vernon. While she is trying to marry her daughter off to the first man who will taker her, she is also looking for a second marriage for herself — to a man of means.
Lady Susan as a character reminds me most of Marcel Proust's Odette before she is wed to Charles Swann. Although Austen's book is significantly shorter than Proust's multivolume roman a clef, I found it a less compelling read.
As other reviewers have noted, Lady Susan is social commentary without the humor or romance of her later books. That's part of the problem with the book. Reading it as a series of letters, a la Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, leaves little chance to see the characters interact. It is through putting dissimilar characters together that Austen creates her most memorable scenes.
Shoe-La-La! by Karen Beaumont is about a group of girls trying to pick out the right pair of shoes for an upcoming party. It's a fancy dress up party and I guess the right shoes will make all the difference — but don't ask me, shoes have never been my thing.
Anyway, with lots of flouncing rhymes, the girls go through trying every last shoe in the store. The elegantly dressed shop employee gets more and more distraught looking as the piles of shoes grow.
But time is up and alas, alack, no shoes! What's a girl to do? Personally I'd go with wear sensible shoes, but these girls have a different plan. They decide to decorate their own shoes with arts and crafts and bits and bobs at home.
OK, I like the creative solution. My artistically inspired daughter adores that option. But a gendered, very pink book about girls (even a diverse cast as this one) going gaga over shoes and dress up and fancy balls, is disappointing. It would have been better if there was less pink and maybe a boy or two. Or maybe even some non-binary kids to make the experience more inclusive.
he Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf: 06/04/15
The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague is a retelling of the classic story. The three pigs are there with a limited budget. The first two spend most of their money on junk food and cut corners with their building supplies. The last one decides to spend her money on bricks, a sandwich and garden supplies so that she can grow more food later.
Then there's the wolf. He's hungry and he wants to buy food. Sadly, though, the village doesn't trust him. So he's left to resorting to violence to get the food he needs.
This version of the Little Pigs is about the rewards of taking risks, especially with strangers. Do right for your neighbors, even the ones who are different and who might seem scary.
Animal House: 06/03/15
In Animal House by Candace Ryan and illustrated by Nathan Hale, Ms. Nuddles goes to check up on Jeremy, her wildest student. Turns out the house he lives in is even more wild. It's literally built of animals, all of whom are one outrageous pun after another.
While the plays on words are fun by themselves, it's Nathan Hale's exuberant paintings that make this book. Even if a child doesn't understand the puns, the illustrations are funny by themselves.
The book two reads for us. First we just read the book and enjoyed the silly pictures. Then we went back and talked about the puns that the children didn't understand. We also discussed our favorite animals and puns.
Miles to Go: 06/02/15
Miles to Go by Jamie Harper follows Miles, his mother and his friends as they make their way from their homes to preschool. Much of the book is filtered through Miles's imagination, transforming a simple walk down the street into a grueling commute across town.
Miles and his preschool friends ride a variety of toy push cars to school. Miles imitates stopping for gas, avoiding road flooding and waiting in traffic. The front and back of the book include a map of Miles's route to school.
My daughter loved this book when she was younger. While she didn't ride in a toy car to school, she did ride some at school.
The Retired Kid: 06/01/15
The Retired Kid by Jon Agee is the story of a boy who decides he's done with school and chores and basic responsibility. He says goodbye to his family and his friends in San Mateo, California, and retires to Florida.
Brian's story revolves around the ridiculous situation of a child living in a retirement village. Of course in reality these places usually have an age limit (55 and up, for instance). Some don't even allow children as guests except on specific days and times.
To work, then, The Retired Kid requires that the other characters look the other way, that they be complicit in his "retirement". In this regard, I'm reminded of Le Grand's book, The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Fish in which the ice cream salesman plays along with the grumpy boy, telling him all the things he'll have to do as a fish instead of harping (or carping) on about what he'll miss as a boy. Here, though, Ethel, Myrtle, Harvey, and Tex, welcome Brian and give him the full-fledged retirement home experience.