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Cat Vs Human: 07/31/15
Cat Vs Human by Yasmine Surovec is a collection of the author's cat-themed web comic. These are single or sometimes double panel, quick to the punchline comics about a woman and her cats.
Imagine if you will, a comic based on the "before" scenes of a typical My Cat From Hell episode. So there's lot of bad cat behavior, questionable human behavior and the humorous results when those two intersect.
As a life long cat owner, I relate to these situations. Take for instance, how the woman meets one of her cats. She's standing in a shelter looking at all the cats, when one reaches through its cage and pulls on her clothing. Her reaction: "Oh! Hello there!" I ended up adopting my first cat as an adult in a very similar fashion.
And then there's the feeling that the one cat might be lonely. Or maybe there's a stray who needs a good home and you just can't say no. Cats can live together, right?
Sure but it takes work. And there's bound to be some hurt feelings, like this:
My daughter and I both read the book and enjoyed it thoroughly. The author also has a couple children’s books.
Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel: 07/30/15
Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel by Ronda Thompson should have been the start of a fun, cozy, paranormal mystery series. Sadly, though, the author died shortly after finishing this book.
Lou Kipinski is a supermodel at the prime of her career. But she's also a bit hairy. See, she's a werewolf. Something happened to her in high school and now her curse is threatening to tear her life apart.
Women are being murdered — ones who could be her twins. A detective begins to question her part in these murders. While she believes in her heart of hearts that she could never murder anyone, their deaths align with when she was wolfed out. Worse set, she's been dreaming about the murders in vivid detail.
Lou, like Goldy in Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson, has to prove her innocence and figure out who is behind the murders before she is either arrested or killed.
Thankfully the book has a satisfying end; the loose ends are wrapped up. Nonetheless, I would have loved to revisit Lou and see how her quest for a werewolf's cure was going.
The Golden Rule: 07/29/15
The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper is about a grandfather teaching his grandson the golden rule as they walk through town one day. Their discussion is framed as a Socratic dialog with both asking and answering questions on what they observe.
More importantly the grandfather introduces many different versions of the golden rule, as it is taught in different cultures. Beyond the do unto others message is a more uniform one, that people are people and each person should strive to do the right thing to make the world a better place.
Glasses: Who Needs 'Em?: 07/28/15
Glasses: Who Needs 'Em? by Lane Smith is about a boy who doesn't want to wear glasses. An optometrist with a sense of humor and great patience finally convinces him to.
The story consists of an illustrated conversation between the two. It gets sillier and sillier, with examples that include potatoes, dinosaurs and little green men.
The book is well suited either to young children who have to wear glasses and might not want to, or for siblings who don't know what to make of the new glasses on their brother or sister.
My daughter and I read the book together after my son got his first pair of glasses. Remarkably he was fine with needing them — relieved actually once he could see properly. His friends at school were also very supportive. But my daughter, wasn't so sure at first.
Houdini: The Handcuff King: 07/27/15
Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes is a graphic novel that follows the events of one of Houdini's escapes. Rather than being a biography with a lengthy timeline, this book takes apart the set up for one of his big escapes.
For this escape, Houdini is planning to jump off a bridge, his arms bound and his body chained. He does this with the support of the local police and in front of a throng of fans.
The success of the trip relies on physical strength, lung capacity, showmanship, timing and an innocent looking co-conspirator.
Through his back and forth cutting between Houdini and his wife, Lutes plays up the importance of timing to dramatic effect. His wife has the key he needs to get out of his handcuffs. The trick is to slip to him in her good luck kiss. This time, though, she's stuck in traffic and the police don't believe she's the real Mrs. Houdini. Can she get through in time before he has to either admit the trick or drown?
Clink, the titular character in Kelly DiPucchio's picture book is a robot who specializes in making toast. He's been waiting his turn in the robot shop, hoping to find a forever home and now it looks like his time is up.
Clink, though, is getting rusty. He's missing parts. He burns his toast. And yet, in his heart of hearts, he longs for someone to take him home.
Matthew Myers's illustrations are colorful and vaguely retro. His paintings have a similar style to Mark Tegue. The book's best suited for fans of robots or kids who like to tinker with stuff.
It's My School: 07/25/15
It's My School by Sally Grindley is about that time when the younger sibling is heading off to school in the older sibling's footsteps.
Tim loves going to school. It's his chance to get away from his pesky baby sister. But now Alice is old enough for elementary school and Tom doesn't want her blowing his carefully crafted reputation.
Um yeah — so here's a book about an older brother having to learn how to get over his own self importance. He does this eventually by stopping a bully from bothering Alice. But the reality of school is that the different grades pretty much go in their own circles — unless it's a one room schoolhouse.
Imaginary Communities by Phillip Wegner and Slade Morrison: 07/24/15
Imaginary Communities by Phillip Wegner is a literary analysis of the utopian / dystopian story. Utopia is literally "no place", coined by Sir Thomas More in the book of the same title. It was written as a piece of political philosophy and the utopian / dystopian genres continue to be either political or social commentaries.
With books like Lost Horizon by James Hilton, and on the kids' side of things, L. Frank Baum's Oz books, Utopian societies became perfect renditions of the city state. If Utopia is now the best of the best (and perhaps the unobtainable perfection), then there must be a polar opposite, a worst of the worst. Therein lies dystopia (or "bad place").
Imaginary Communities attempts to outline the evolution of the utopian / dystopian dichotomy through a lengthy historical outline from More's book onward through some modern classics. Unfortunately it gets laid up on three things: a never ending rehash of other philosopher's ideas on the subject, a similarly long promise of analysis that never materializes, and pages and pages of plot summary where the original analysis should be.
After slogging through the book I was left with no good sense of what Wagner's views on utopia or dystopia are. I know which books he read and I know which theorists he's a student of. But his thoughts? His contribution to the understanding of the genres? I'm still left wondering.
Cars Galore by Peter Stein and Slade Morrison: 07/23/15
Cars Galore by Peter Stein is a picture book that celebrates all things car.
There are traditional cars and cars that seem like they belong in Richard Scary's Cars, and Trucks, and Things That Go. Then toss in a rhyming scheme that's similar to Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss.
The book is a short, fun read. It's one with enough detail and humor to warrant a re-read or two. She and I had fun trying to match up the cars to the ones named in the text. For those extra cars, we tried to make up our own names and rhymes.
The Warren Commission Report by Dan Mishkin and Slade Morrison: 07/22/15
The Warren Commission Report by Dan Mishkin is a nonfiction graphic novel record of the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. It was released to mark the 50th anniversary of the original report.
For readers who have heard about the report but maybe don't want to slog through a longer, more scholarly book or are wary of the many conspiracy theory books out there, Mishkin's graphic novel is a decent introduction.
Interestingly the book does take the time to try to explain to younger readers (who by this point would be most of the readership) the obsession that Baby Boomers have with JFK. It's summed up succinctly in the introduction through two panels: one which explains how the Boomers' parents were obsessed with the Depression, having survived it, but Boomers were too young to have been through it and for older siblings, it was only a vague memory; and television and radio made getting the news to everyone nearly instantaneous (within 4 hours of the event, nearly everyone had heard about it). If something like that happened now, it would probably be within the first hour Given Social media and Smart Phones combined with TV and radio.
Please, Louise by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison: 07/21/15
Please, Louise by Toni Morrison is a picture book about a parent teaching a child how to trust the world, even when it seems dangerous and scary. The story follows a girl as she walks to the library just as a rainstorm is brewing. The route there is full of unknown, scary things and shifty looking people.
But the story isn't about finding safety and solace in the library. Sure, that's part of it, and libraries should be welcoming places. But it's a bigger message — learning to trust people, and learning to see the best in people, rather than danger.
Now stop and think for a moment about who wrote the book, Toni Morrison, a nobel prize winning black poet. It was published in a year marked by a number of senseless murders of black youth by white police officers. Sure, the illustrator, Shandra Strickland opted to make the main character possibly Asian, but the message is still there: please, Louise, I hope you can live in a world where you can trust your neighbors because you should be able to.
Fear the Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm: 07/20/15
Fear the Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm is the sixth book in the Squish series. The new hot horror movie is out and Squish doesn't want to be left out. There's just one problem: he's afraid of scary movies!
Holm's graphic novels seem really obsessed with peer pressure. Sure, it's a thing. And sure some kids are pressured into doing things they otherwise wouldn't want to do, or are bullied for not wanting to participate. But making book after book based on peer pressure gags and lessons gets repetitive, less effective a message, and frankly, dull!
In the case of the horror movie — which features a water-bear — there's the problem of all these elementary school aged children going to a horror movie unsupervised. Perhaps in the petri dish that is Squish's universe there isn't a movie ratings system, but in the world where the children will be reading it, there is. The tamest of horror films are rated PG-13 and the most violent ones are rated R. Given that the water-bear movie appears to be in the Aliens ilk, I'd suspect it would have an R rating. So where are the adults? How has this horror film of all things become the new big hit of Squish's elementary (or possibly middle school)?
I'm not saying that children don't (or shouldn't) watch horror films, but it's not something that usually done en masse in a first run theater without any parents. Horror films and children are usually brought together with slumber parties or late night cable (or now Netflix) watching.
So ultimately what sets me off this book isn't Squish being afraid of horror movies or even being dismayed at their sudden popularity, it's the unrealistic set up for this morality play. And so often with the Babymouse and Squish books, it's the situation that causes the most trouble. These set ups are poorly thought out, leaving many missed opportunities for relatable conflict and humor.
Clementine, Friend of the Week: 07/19/15
Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker is the fourth of the Clementine series. It's her turn to be the Friend of the Week, meaning she gets to be line leader, milk money collector, and get a booklet with nice things written by all her classmates.
Clementine is too wrapped up in getting good things in her booklet that she ends up getting herself in trouble and angering her competitive best friend. At the heart of things is a sad story of her friend's booklet.
Everything comes together for Clementine, her neighbor and the kids at school when a kitten goes missing. They are able to rally around a single cause and come back together.
I happened to read it at a time that my daughter was going through her class's equivalent of the Friend of the Week. For her it involved getting to take home the class stuffed animal and having to do an autobiographic presentation in front of the class. These things are supposed to foster camaraderie among the students but they often do seem to result in hurt feelings and new cliques.
Brown Rabbit in the City: 07/18/15
Brown Rabbit in the City by Natalie Russell is about a old friends seeing each other for the first time in years. The city rabbit has the entire trip planned to give her friend the best experience imaginable. Brown Rabbit, though, is overwhelmed by all the things they have to do.
Anyone who has traveled to visit friends or family after a long time away will probably have gone through the same thing. There's a delicate balance between catching up with loved ones and playing tourist. It's impossible to do everything and what you might think is the best things to see and do might not be what your host has planned.
In Brown Rabbit in the City there are two characters acting at the extreme ends of stubbornness. There is the visiting rabbit who is going to all the places but isn't trying to have any fun at any of the places they go. Then there is the host rabbit who continues to drag her friend to all these places even though its obvious he's not enjoying them at all.
Hamlet: The First Quarto, 1603: 07/17/15
Hamlet: The First Quarto, 1603 by William Shakespeare is a reproduction of an earlier version of Hamlet. Included with the play is a lengthy discussion of its history as well as it was known in the 1960s as well as some thoughts on why this version is so very different from the one performed now, written by Albert B. Weiner.
Now I'm not a Shakespearean scholar — just a casual consumer. Hamlet happens to be one of my favorite plays. The reason I read this version was I wanted to look up Claudius's name just to verify that I'd remembered the king's name correctly. Turns out in this version, the king didn't have a name and most of the other characters didn't have the names they have now.
So while the First Quarto didn't help me answer my initial question, I got sucked into the discussion of piracy and story tropes. If you think the internet has made piracy worse, I would argue this book shows it hasn't.
While Albert B. Weiner argues in his introductory essay that Hamlet wasn't outright pirated, piracy did exist back then. Copyright, though, wasn't owned by the author. It was owned by whomever commissioned the play just as modern day patents are often owned by the company who hires the inventor.
But plays were remembered by audience goers and there were probably guys there who were great at whatever the Elizabethan version of shorthand was. So just as cellphones are now used to record films in theaters, plays were watched, transcribed, changed up a bit and shipped out to other places to be put on.
So if you're interested in reading something that is clearly Hamlet but isn't quite, I recommend reading the First Quarto version. It's really no different than the numerous relaunches of various comic book stories that Marvel and DC have done. But it's Hamlet!
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom: 07/16/15
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans won the 2012 Coretta Scott King award for illustration. Told in the dark blues, lavenders and grays of night, it follows a family as they try to make it to the next stop along the Underground Railroad.
Have you ever walked at night without benefit of street lamps or flash light, trying to take a path you might know by heart in daylight? What about a trail that you've never visited? Now imagine having to do this quietly because your life and your children's lives depend on it.
The stark illustrations, really nearly abstract drive the experience home. There is danger and urgency in the eyes of this family. The only break in the monochrome pallet is the light in the cabin, signally arrival and safety.
Underground can be used as a visually stunning introduction to an important part of U.S. history and help children think about what it might have been like to take the Underground Railroad.
Summerland by Michael Chabon is one of those books that had been sitting on my TBR shelf for so long, I couldn't remember when or where I got it. I liked the cover and was hopeful I'd like the book too
When a cartoon series needs to stall for time because it's lacking plot, it tosses in a base ball game or a beach episode (or an onsen episode if it's anime). Baseball may be the American (and Japanese) pass time but it doesn't make an interesting television show or in this case, fantasy novel.
Clam Island in Puget sound is renowned for its perpetual summer weather and perfect baseball games. Except Ethan Feld can't play. He's terrible at the game and now the safety of the world.
So Ethan ends up being recruited to a fairy baseball team, representing Clem Island. His team is up against a team who if they win will bring about "Rag-Rock." Ugh. Even Ragnarok is cutesy in this book.
Fullmetal Alchemist 26: 07/14/15
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 26 by Hiromu Arakawa is the penultimate issue. It's also the volume that is mostly made up of over-the-top fight scenes.
There is no time left as the eclipse has begun. Everything is timed to the moon's shadow cast across the land. Here though, there is one more point of departure between the manga and Brotherhood. When I saw the equivalent scenes in Brotherhood I doubted for a moment if I'd read this volume!
Arakawa keeps the battle planted in Central. Although the other homunculi and humans join in, the battle remains mostly a continuation of a decades old squabble between Hohenheim and the homunculus in the flask. And so in the end, it's Hohenheim's methodical planning that saves the day more so than anything anyone else does.
Rust: Visitor in the Field: 07/13/15
Ages ago I read Rust: Secrets of the Cell as part of the CYBILs (though I didn't review it until I went back and re-read it a year later). Afterwards, I decided I should finally read the book that came first: Rust Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp.
Rust is the tale of a farm going through a dust bowl era depression in a post child soldier war. Besides children (really more like child cyborgs), the war used actual robots who continued to fight when none of the human soldiers were still standing. Now all that's left are rusted out hulks of robots, the dirt farms, and one cyborg child who is desperate to find the remaining power cells left so he can continue to live.
The boy is given a home at the farm in exchange for his labor. The man who runs the farm sees the scrap bots as his opportunity to make something of his farm. He's willing to risk danger for the slim chance that they will be usable.
It's a dreary start — more mood piece than plot. In 2014 a third book was published, Death of the Rocket Boy which I will be reviewing in August.
Voltron Force Volume 5: Dragon Dawn: 07/12/15
Dragon Dawn by Brian Smith is the fifth of this six part graphic novel series. The new team is nearly trained and the original team is getting ready to settle into their mentorship roles. Meanwhile Lotor has found a new way to invade — by disrupting communications through the use of space dragon eggs!
This plot reminds me most of the Hero's Duty bug infestation in Sugar Rush that ends up being the climax of Wreck It Ralph. Here, though, the new Force members are on top of things — though accidentally.
For me though, the most interesting part was seeing the old Force taking responsibly for their charges. Apparently Lance is quite the task master, being very strict. He was the prankster and now he's making sure the new team doesn't fall for the same temptations that he did.
The other interesting thing of note is that Lotor isn't as in control of things as he thinks he is. He is in more danger than he's ever put the Voltron Force. In fact it's the unrest among the Drules that makes me wish there was a second series. I know the series that spawned the graphic novels is ended but there's so much potential for story telling here!
Passports, boarding passes, and other carry on items — or Sarah loses things: 07/12/15
If you travel abroad, you need a passport. Sometimes you also need a visa. Thankfully we only needed passports. That meant a passport and boarding pass for each person: eight items. As I carry an over the shoulder handbag, we all agreed I'd be in charge of them. Normally, that's a good thing.
But airports and airplanes add an extra layer of confusion. Besides having to show the passports and boarding passes at every single bloody line we queue up at, we also have paperwork to fill out and of course our carry on luggage.
Airlines try to do their part by offering the paperwork on the flight, but let's face it, there are plenty of other things they also have be doing. So the flight attendants get the paperwork passed out as soon as possible (when you don't need it and on't have the extra hands to hold it). On the flight out, we were given the entry paperwork for the UK just after take off before the first round of drinks, and just as we hit a huge pocket of turbulence over the Sierra Nevadas. On the way home, we were given the United States's customs form with our boarding passes at check in just before walking to security.
The one thing one can't lose when traveling internationally is one's passport. I was in charge of my entire family's set. As you can imagine I was so intensely focused on NOT LOSING the passports, that I wasn't thinking about the bigger picture.
The good news is, I didn't lose the passports.
But, I did lose my Olympus camera on the way out, and my boarding pass and our family entry paperwork to the United States on the way home (whilst still in the airport).
I did get all my lost things back and ended up with two cameras in the process, but that's a story for another day.
The Cats In Krasinski Square: 07/11/15
The Cats In Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse is a picture book based on a real event that happened at the train station in Warsaw during WWII. Cats were used to distract the Gestapo's dogs.
Hesse's picture book, though, sets the stage for an otherwise short anecdote. Her protagonist is a girl living with her sister just outside the ghetto as they are blonde and can pass as Aryan Germans. They help smuggle food, when they can, in through the cracks of the hastily built wall defining the ghetto. They have also taken to caring for the cats left behind in the forced relocations of the Jews.
It is in caring for the cats and smuggling the food that they come up with an idea to thwart a plan by the gestapo to arrest the smugglers meeting a train at the station.
Rather than rehash the story, I'd like to point you to a very thorough and thoughtfully written review on The Children's War Blog.
On playing Sherlock Holmes — or Sarah stares at shoes: 07/11/15
Sherlock Holmes is famous for sussing out a person's story through astute observation of his or her clothing. Taken to extremes he's spotting the tiniest mote of coal dust from some specific backwater region of the Empire and thus unraveling a lengthy set of lies perpetrated by the criminal mastermind. But in reality, there's a lot that can be learned from a person's clothing.
One spends a lot of time waiting when traveling. There are planes to catch, borders to cross, taxis to hail, trains to ride, tables to sit at. And to pass the time, I people watched. More specifically, I watched their feet and their shoes.
Originally I started the shoe watching while we were still at SFO waiting to board the Lady Penelope (isn't it great when a plane, train, or ship has a name?). We had about an hour to board and people were queuing up (I was already thinking in a muddled British English). We all had to have our passports and boarding passes out, which meant, I had a quick way of verifying my observations.
So here was the game: guess the passport by the type of shoes. Turns out it was pretty easy. I was able to ascertain the passport about 80% of the time based solely (haha) on the person's shoes. We like to assume our favorite brands and styles are world wide but they aren't. Trainers and sneakers look different, even if they serve the same purpose. Women and men's formal shoes look different too.
In the end I was most successful with finding UK, US, and French passengers by their shoes. The trickier ones were the Commonwealth ones: The Australians and Canadians seemed to wear close approximations to the UK and US shoes, and probably many were wearing the same brands or their regional styles were close enough to fool this untrained eye.
Women Aviators: 07/10/15
Women Aviators by Karen Bush Gibson covers the history of the women who contributed to the progress of aviation.
Most of the aviation books I've read cover exactly one aviatrix, to use an out of date term. I'm speaking of Amelia Earhart, of course. The one exception is Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming which mentions her female competitors as a way to put her flying career into perspective.
Gibson's book does a better and more even handed job by presenting Earhart in the midst of twenty-five other short biographies that include their planes and majors flights.
The Discworld Graphic Novels: 07/09/15
The Discworld Graphic Novels by Terry Pratchett contain the comic book adaptations of the first two Discworld novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
Here should be a no-brainer of a win for me. I love these two Discworld books. I love the miniseries that was made from them. I love graphic novels.
It just didn't gel for me.
Part of the problem, I suppose, is that these first two books are the foundation of the Discworld world-building and the establishment of Ankh-Morpork, though the city state changes radically with the introduction of the Night Watch series. It's also the introduction of Unseen University.
And together, they are the story of a very bad, but unfortunately powerful wizard (thanks to a spell that has infected him), given the arduous task of playing tour guide to an enthusiastic, wealthy but horribly naive (by Ankh-Morporkian standards) tourist.
As this is Twoflower's tour of Ankh-Morpork and the surrounding lands, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic are presented much as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is — as a tour guide. There's a lot of tell and very little show.
So that leaves the adaptors to fill in the blanks with action and dialogue. Interesting, both the miniseries and this graphic novel were done in 2008. So they were working with the same amount of Discworld material (36 books, or roughly 75 of the series as it stands now).
That gave plenty of leeway for the adaptors: either go with the series as it stood within the context of those first two books (rather primitive with enough holes in the map to fly several space turtles through), or fill in the blanks with stuff from the later books. The graphic novel chose the former and the miniseries chose the latter.
And I think that's why the graphic novel fell flat for me. Although my first experience with both books was within the context of just those two books (and my own experience as a tourist / exchange student to far off lands), my later recollections of them is within a greater understanding of Ankh-Morpork as a cultural and political influence on the Disc.
Lost Cat: 07/08/15
Lost Cat by C. Roger Mader is about Slipper accidentally being left behind when the family moves. She sets out to find a good home for her and lots of people help her on her way.
Pets do sometimes get left behind. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes they make it to their destination but in unexpected ways (like the cat who was accidentally packed and shipped to his new home in Hawaii).
In Slipper's case, it's one of accidental abandonment. Fortunately for Slipper, there are lots of friends along the way who are one way or another tied to her family. It's still not a simple reunion; but one of numerous sojourns, Slipper does make her way home.
This book is good for children who are missing a pet or going through a move.
The Suwannee: Strange Green Land: 07/07/15
The Suwannee: Strange Green Land by Cecile Hulse Matschat is the third of the Rivers of America series that started in the 1930s. The Suwannee runs from Georgia through the center of Florida, and curves towards the west, emptying out into the Gulf of Mexico side of the state.
But this book isn't so much about the river as it is a collection of folksy tales of life in the swamplands of Florida. Most of these vignettes are told from the point of view of the Plant Woman, a botanist from New York. She is the stand in for the non-Floridian reader, an unnamed, upper middle class person who sees the proud Floridians as backwards, backwater dwelling childlike people.
Except, the folksy voice and the focus on old wives tales and Uncle Remus type stories felt like a backfire to me. I didn't come away from reading the book knowing anything more about the Suwannee than I did before. There's none of the history, geography of previous books. There is some ecology and biology but wrapped up in the context of preparing folk remedies.
The Automobile and American Culture: 07/06/15
The Automobile and American Culture edited by David Lanier Lewis is a collection of essays about the affect of the automobile and the highway system had on American culture. It was published as the United States was recovering from the energy crisis of the 1970s and Detroit was facing growing competition from Japanese and European car makers.
These essays cover everything form the early history (including research, development, and long since forgotten companies), romance and sex, cars in the arts (paintings, songs, and books), and some dystopian glimpses of the America post automobile as the cars seem to have destroyed the smaller, people oriented cities, but have created an infrastructure that can't sustain itself.
But they miss across the board economic collapse that Detroit saw with the shuttering of factories and the real estate bubble bursting. But the book still serves as a good cultural census of the automobile industry as it stood in the 1980s.
The purpose of reading this book (actually re-reading it) was to get a large scale time line of the evolving road trip story as the automobile became part of the American life style. The first time I read the book I did so on the prompting after having seen three films with very similar road trip elements, despite being otherwise completely different: Thelma & Louise (1991), Cherry 2000 (1987), and The Terminator (1984). I noticed that the road, including road marks and road signs, were used to punctuate the plots of the films.
In re-reading the book twenty years later I can see the road as grammar is alive and well in American story telling. Much of my reading of these essays were taken against a long running show that at first glance might not seem like a road trip series (despite the inclusion of a 1978 Chevy Impala), Supernatural. What I also didn't expect was that it's not Sam and Dean's road trip, per se, as theirs ended with the finding of their father; instead, it's Castiel's and he bears the hallmark signs in his clothing. That trench coat or duster that he usually wears was at one time the hot ticket item for any young man to wear to show that he owned an automobile that was rugged enough to hit the open road at any time.
To see the results of my live blogging of the book as I read it, please see Tumblr.
The Trip: 07/05/15
The Trip by Ezra Jack Keats is the second of the Louie books. Louie and his mother have moved to a different neighborhood and it's Halloween night. So distraught over losing his friends, Louie would rather pretend to traveling back to see his friends than trick or treat.
Louie is a child who thrives on imagination. That's why he so loved the puppet shows his friends put on in the first book. Now we see how strong his own imagination is.
The Trip serves as a thematic bridge between Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon and Journey by Aaron Becker. There's also an authorial insert in the collages, the only instance I can think of for Keats.
Most importantly, though, there's a happy ending for Louie. He might be in a new apartment and it might feel like a new country, but he still has his friends. They know where he lives. They still want to play with him. All that is revealed in a satisfying way near the end.
Powder River: Let Er Buck: 07/04/15
Powder River: Let Er Buck by Maxwell Struthers Burt is the fourth of the Rivers of America series. This one focuses on the Powder river and basin, an area that stretches through Montana and Wyoming. The Power River also has the unique status of being the only river to cross the continental divide (probably because it starts at the divide).
The Powder River area is also the home to the Lakota. In so many of these Rivers of America, the indigenous peoples are glossed over or even openly mocked for the inability to hold onto the land or tame the river by modern day white man's standards. Maxwell Struthers Burt though speaks knowledgeably about their history and is able to see things from their perspective.
After the Sacramento River book, Powder River is my second favorite of the series. It's a good mixture of geography, geology, and history. Burt doesn't pad things with local color stories presented as fictional accounts of life along the river. It's a straight up recounting of the Powder river.
Louie's Search: 07/03/15
Louie's Search by Ezra Jack Keats is the third of the Louie books. Louie lives with his mother and he desperately wants a father. So this is the tale of how he finds one.
Like Louie, I have a step-father, so blended families aren't a new concept. In fact, given the publication date, Louie and I have been in the same situation for nearly the same amount of time. Divorce stories were the big subject that children's books were covering back them.
Louie's step father, though, isn't really my ideal of a good or trustworthy father. He struck me as too distant, too rough, and potentially dangerous. Louie does get his happy ending, but the ending left me feeling rather squicked.
Beyond not liking Louie's choice of step father, is the problem that a mother and son can't be a happy family without a man to somehow complete them. Keats's books are normally more progressive and more inclusive than this. I'm really disappointed that he had to take this cheap shot.
Me, Myself and Why?: 07/02/15
Me, Myself and Why? by MaryJanice Davidson is the first of the Cadence Jones mystery series. There are two and a short story as of writing this review. Let me be upfront and say I don't plan to read further.
Here's the thing — the mystery genre has the following elements: a crime, a detective, the hunt for clues, the catching of the criminal, and a short wrap up.For the niche mysteries — cozies, for example, there's also a gimmick. Typically the detective isn't just a detective. Either he or she is specialized in something, has a special attribute, or is an amateur who actually works in another profession but finds himself or herself around crime on a regular enough basis to support a series of mystery books.
In the case of Me, Myself and Why? Cadence Jones works for a special branch of the FBI that hires people the regular branches of law enforcement won't hire for all sorts of reasons. Cadence's special talent is that she has multiple personalities and that somehow makes her better at tracking down serial killers.
So each chapter break is determined by when a different "sister" makes an appearance. Cadence, though, doesn't seem to have any memory of either of the other sisters taking charge or what happens while they are. Since neither of these additional personalities claim to be part of the FBI, I don't see how Cadence or her employer get any added benefit from these essentially long periods of black out.
Then there's the serial killer. Serial killers make for boring mystery plots. They are repetitive. They get in the way of the sleuthing part of the book. They add in unnecessary violence when all that's really needed is a good scavenger hunt by way of the evidence.
In recent years, speculative fiction and YA dystopias have been using the dwindling oil supply as their starting point. Of the ones I've read in the last year or so, Crunch by Leslie Connor is on my list of favorites.
Dewey Marriss and his siblings run a bicycle repair shop. His parents are out on a shipping run — the father being a trucker and the mother occasionally keeping him company. She is with him on the week that the local supply runs dry. With his parents stranded, Dewey and siblings have to meet the surging demand for working bicycles.
In Crunch the biggest difference from similar books is that society does not fall apart. Yes — people get stranded, electricity and such is limited by law and order and basic civility remains in place. The government from the top down saw this crunch coming and has made plans. They made new laws — turning most of the highway lanes into a bicycles (and other alternate forms of transportation) lanes.
So when things go missing from the bike shop and then bikes go missing too, it's not the sign of the impending apocalypse. It isn't neighbor against neighbor, (although some do get testy), No, there is one bad seed among the lot, trying to profit from the situation.
The Canadian Book Challenge 9: 07/01/15
July 1st is Canada Day and it means the start of the Canadian Book Challenge. It's my favorite of all the book blog challenges. I've been participating since 2009, the year my Canadian niece was born. She now has a brother and her parents are naturalized citizens. SO I have four reasons to participate this year.
Last year I came close to my best year with 26 books read and reviewed. My best year I managed 28. This year I'd like to read and review 30. Think I can do it?
2015-16 List of Completed Books: