Paper Towns: 05/31/16
Paper Towns by John Green is a book I read for my road narrative project. Quentin "Q" Jacobsen is about to graduate high school, though not in any particular stellar way, when he's pulled into web of mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman. When she goes missing he can think of nothing but figuring out what happened to her.
This book reads more like a trilogy of novellas, than a single, coherent novel. The first act or novella is an extreme version of a senior prank, an all nighter of mayhem in the suburbs that spills into Orlando proper. Q because he has access to a car (a minivan) and isn't popular enough to be drinking himself into a stupor at one of the senior parties is recruited by Margo to drive her to all the parts of her caper.
This section is my least favorite part of the book. It's positively reeking of male privilege and "boys will be boys" and a group of young men who will probably grow up to be mansplaining predators whining about how they can't "get any."
Then Margo comes in and I suppose she's supposed to be this alluring, powerful female character. Why she'd give Q and his loser friends more than a minute of her time, I don't know. Sure, he has wheels. And maybe she can see how ridiculously gullible he is. But he's also scary.
The second act is a missing person mystery. Margo has vanished. Her family doesn't care because she's an adult and that means their problem child is no longer their problem. That's another weird aspect of this book — how little the teens speak to their parents.
It's in looking for Margo that Q discovers two things: Walt Whitman and a burning desire to go on a roadtrip. In Walt Whitman we have the young adult recapitulation of Kris Lackey's RoadFrames thesis: that for the white male road trip, the experience is primarily a desire to experience the self discovery central to Transcontinentalism.
Margo, already gone, is taking the classic feminine road trip: namely that of escape. If men go to find themselves, women leave to escape — to find safe-haven, betterment, freedom, typically from the sort of patriarchy that Q represents.
The final act is Q and his friends ditching high school graduation (with their parents' permission; hello absentee parents!) to find Margo. In a replay of Dumb and Dumber (including the peeing in beer bottles) these nitwits head after Margo, believing there is a ticking timebomb tied to the time of graduation. Because of course they believe that they are so damn important to Margo that she will do something to herself to hurt them.
Given the urgency of their itinerary, allowing themselves only six minutes per stop to refuel, buy food, and pee (though they mostly seem to pee whist driving), they are hunters after prey (Margo). This isn't a romantic road trip reunion, though it is disguised as one.
Yes, Margo did leave clues behind. And maybe at some level she did eventually want Q and others to know where she had gone but his gathering up of a posse to go get her isn't a romantic gesture. I don't think it's what someone like Margo would have liked.
So in the end, Paper Towns was a paint by number road narrative. This is Dumb and Dumber taken seriously. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative: 05/30/16
RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative by Kris Lackey is a collection of essays that examine the development of the American road narrative. Though a slim book, it's densely packed with numerous literary and autobiographical references. For anyone new the road genre, I recommend starting with bibliography and reading this book after having tackled a sizable portion of the sources.
Lackey's thesis is that the dominant road narrative (the one told by white middle class men) springs from the Transcontentalism of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Remarkably this can be seen played out literally in John Green's Paper Towns. He does acquiesce that not all road trip stories are written by fans of Whitman and the other truth about the genre is that there is no one true heritage nor one true set of rules.
The Black road narrative is a very different one. Here is a journey of uncertainty, where the driver is spectacle, instead of the towns he visits. This is a journey taken at night, with care. In the early days, that meant the Travelguide. Nowadays it would probably be blogs or cellphone apps.
And then at the margins of the road narrative (and in this book, too) are the women. Women aren't as represented in the big discussion of the genre. The books do exist and a couple are mentioned in RoadFrames but not with the same depth of the male authors.
Some of the earliest works cited in the book, though, are cited incorrectly. I realize this book was researched, edited, and published before the days of Google Books, but it's still frustrating when trying to build a "to be read" list. When doing that yourself, double check the information against Google Books or GoodReads.
Despite the omissions and the errata, it's still a solid resource for anyone interested in the literary and sociological history of the American road narrative.
Oz: Road to Oz: 05/29/16
Oz: Road to Oz by Eric Shanower is the fifth of the Marvel graphic novel adaptations of L. Frank Baum's books. When the Wizard of Oz was written no cross country trip by automobile had been accomplished. Oz had a yellow brick road suitable for walking on to go from the hinterland to the Emerald City.
By Road to Oz, that all had changed thanks to Roy Dikeman Chapman in 1901. The release of the Model T Ford in 1908 had opened the floodgates on automobile consumption especially in the middle of the nation, meaning there was a newfound demand for well built roadways in extremely rural areas.
Perhaps as a prediction of the massive remapping of the United States that would come in the form of the interstate highways, starting with the Lincoln Highway Association in 1913, Road to Oz shows that like Rome of old, all roads now lead to the Emerald City, even across the dimensional divide that separate Oz from Earth.
More importantly, though, Road to Oz is a transcendental exploration of the road and the road trip. That it should come before the modern highways were there and waiting for such ventures speaks to how attune Baum was to the burgeoning 20th century American culture.
Using the Raggedy Man as an authorial insert, Baum takes himself, along with Dorothy's guidance to Oz via a mysterious crossroads that appears near the Gale farm. As Dorothy becomes distressed over getting lost in an area she's lived her entire life, the Raggedy Man waxes poetic about the nature of the road and why getting lost might be a good thing.
In Dorothy's first trip to Oz the point was to find a way home. The Yellow Brick Road was a means to end. Here, the road is the point. Dorothy and the Raggedy Man have been thrust together on a road trip to who knows where or for who knows how long. Just as in the first book, Dorothy picks up other traveling companions but the trip is still at the whim of the road and not by a set itinerary (find wizard, get witch's broom, etc.)
Although the Road to Oz is a glimmer of modernity — a road that can take one to anywhere through any number of environments and adventures — there's still a nod to older stories. Like the old faerie stories, it's dangerous to leave the road. Bad things lurk off the beaten path. There's imprisonment or worse. So when on a mysterious road, stay on it until you know where it's taking you.
A Most Unique Machine: 05/28/16
A Most Unique Machine by George S. May is a history of the American automobile, the automobile industry, and by proxy, of Detroit, the heart and soul of the industry in the 20th century.
With any new industry, there's a cult of personality. Often the people behind the invention get as much or more play time in the history books than the things they helped create. In the case of the automobile those personalities include Ransom Olds, Henry Ford, and David Dunbar Buick, among others.
No new shift in technology is a single handed, linear event. May attempts to track all the different threads of development through some distinct time periods collected into chapters. For the early years when motors were being attached to carriages or bicycles were being converted into early motorcycles or three wheeled cars, this approach works fine. In later chapters as dozens of new players jump into the fray and an industry grows to maturity, there's just not enough space to cover everything beyond a quick summary.
Sparky! by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans is another picture book about a child wanting a pet and having to pick a strange one because of strict parental rules. She's told to pick a pet that doesn't need to be walked, bathed, or fed. So she picks a sloth who comes in a box.
Sparky the sloth's introduction reminds me a bit of Baymax's, except that Baymax is energetic and graceful compared to Sparky.
Sparky's by no means the first funny sloth. Sloth's basically hang from trees, eat leaves, sleep a lot and move slowly enough that their fur turns green from algae.
In children's programming there's Snook of the PBS show It's a Big Big World who is lively for a sloth but talks a bit like a Berkeley hippie.
From Japan there's Sloth who lives in Polar Bear's garden, in Polar Bear Café. Like Sparky, he sometimes gets carried around by the woman who works at the cafe.
And now, of course there are the DMV sloths from Zootopia. Long story short, sloths are funny, endearing, and memorable.
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate: 05/26/16
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is the sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. It's a new year and a new century and the start of Calpurnia's new life as a modern, educated, rational young woman.
Calpurnia's grandfather teachers her how to make a barometer out of a mason jar, a balloon, a rubber band, a needle, and a ruler. After days of successfully predicting changes in the weather, she's convinced that she's somehow broken it. Instead, it's recording a huge pressure drop with an approaching hurricane.
Many middle grade books published in the last year or so have been set within the context of Hurricane Katrina which contributed to massive devastation to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. This book explores those themes but within the context of hurricane that struck Galveston on September 8, 1900.
Calpurnia's world is turned upside down again as her family must play host to a distant cousin on her mother's side. This cousin is a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. She though appears to be everything Calpurnia doesn't want to be: traditional, meek, polite, naive. She's also taking her bed and forcing renewed efforts to prep Calplurnia for marriage.
There's more going on with Calpurnia's cousin. A big part of this book is Calpurnia seeing first hand different ways of approaching adulthood, and different ways of being a feminist.
I don't know if there is a third book planned or not. Frankly, I wasn't expecting a second one. Both these books work perfectly as stand alone stories. I suspect there's more for Calpurnia to learn and more growing for her to do. If a third volume is written, I will gladly and eagerly read it.
In October of this year, a new illustrated chapter book series is launching, featuring Calpurnia Tate. Volume one is titled Skunked.
Chasing Secrets: 05/25/16
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko is a middle grade historical fiction about the plague which hit San Francisco in the late 1880s through the early 1900s. During that time Chinatown because a large number of rats had died in the neighborhood. There was obviously a hefty chunk of racism and classism from the wealthy white folks living in the next neighborhood over.
Choldenko's novel is set primarily in one of those neighborhoods at the peak of the plague. While Lizzie is prevented from helping her father because of the plague, their long time cook, Jing, goes missing, presumably trapped in the quarantine. But his young son is found hiding in the attic.
I'm not really sure why this book is a medical mystery. Sure the workings of the plague weren't entirely known but this plays out more like a disaster novel than a medical mystery — more Nevil Shute and less Robin Cook.
The thing that irks me with this book is how Jing and his son's stories are used as plot devices to put Lizzie and her family in danger, thus making Lizzie's story more important. Sure, Lizzie does face a plague driven tragedy, but Jing is in the heart of the danger. Jing trapped in a rat infested neighborhood cut off from the rest of the city and his son who is forced to live in hiding in an attic of a family he might not be able to trust has a lot more at stake!
But no, instead we get plucky Lizzie who gets important life lessons and gets to learn more about a new culture, blah blah blah.
Also as a side note, the appendix that includes some Chinese phrases are Cantonese. It's one of many Chinese dialects. The other major one spoken in California is Mandarin. The words while written the same are said very differently — another bit of information left out of this book.
Fridays with the Wizards: 05/24/16
Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George is the fourth of the Castle Glower series. Everyone is back at the castle and Lulath and Lilah can focus on planning their wedding. To honor their upcoming nuptials, the castle coughs up a boat which needs restoration.
There's also the problem of the missing wizard. For giggles we can nickname him Eugene since he's apparently living in the walls. Celia, with her intimate knowledge of the castle is on the task of tracking down and trapping the wizard.
Fridays returns to the core of series, namely Celie exploring, mapping, and altering the castle. Celie's adventures are paired with a deeper exploration of her family history. It's becoming apparent that the Queen is the brains of the family operation.
Volume 5, Saturdays at Sea, will come out in 2017.
The Circle of Lies: 05/23/16
The Circle of Lies by Crystal Velasquez is the second in the Hunters of Chaos series. Ana and her three Temple friends want to find out what's happened to her aunt and uncle. Their teacher and mentor has left for Mexico leaving them to sort out their new powers on their own.
As Ana was undeniably the protagonist in the first book and given the Cancun cliff hanger, I expected the bulk of this book to be in Mexico among the Mayan ruins and surrounding villages. That's how so many of these tween fantasy adventures go nowadays.
I am delighted to be mistaken.
It's not that I don't want to know what happened to Ana's family but it's rare to be completely surprised by children's fiction. For many children's books, there are formulas that get followed. It offers familiarity and predictability something that publishers like because it sells books.
Velasquez, though, takes the reader up to the staging ground of the familiar plot trail and then veers off, forging a new path. She does this by getting one of other girls expelled &mdeash; Shani. To further mix things up, we don't go to Egypt. Instead, we go to India.
That's not to say that plot threads are dropped. Mexico is in the book too. It's just done differently. It's part of a bigger picture that gives us a chance to learn about Shani as a character and to see how the other three can work together without her.
I'm super excited to see where the series goes next.
Booked for Trouble: 05/22/16
Booked for Trouble by Eva Gates is the second of the Lighthouse Library mystery series. Set on Bodie Island, Nags Head, North Carolina, it's a cozy series that imagines the lighthouse being transformed into the local public library (rather than a visitor's center). It also assumes that the keeper's building and the lighthouse are a single building, rather than two.
In this second installment, assistant librarian Lucy is visited unexpectedly by her mother. Lucy's parents had quarreled again and Mom's taking some me-time to stick it to her husband. She's also visiting to try to guilt trip Lucy into going home and finally accepting the proposal from her once long-time boyfriend. But all of that goes haywire when an employee at the hotel Lucy's mother is staying at is found dead outside of the lighthouse library and the circumstantial evidence points to Lucy's mother.
Having an entire book so early in the series based around the protagonist's mother initially sent up a mental red flag. I'm really not interested in getting involved in the private lives of characters when reading a cozy. I'm more in for the procedure and the off the wall approaches that novices with other specialities can bring to the story.
Here though it works, at least it works well enough within my ability to suspend my disbelief. Lucy's mother reminds of me Anthony DiNozzo senior: a POSH sounding con-man perpetually short on cash. Lucy's Mom may or may not have a history of petty theft. The person who died certainly believed that she did.
The only truly weird piece of this series is the notion that a brand new employee, one with no seniority would be trusted to live in an apartment in the same building as the library. In fiction, the only other example I can think of is Twilight Sparkle (who ends up blowing up her treehouse library) in Friendship is Magic. The ALA lists the Delbridge branch of the Seattle Public Library which is on the ground floor of an apartment building.
Regardless of my quibbles, the mystery itself was still engaging enough to keep me turning the pages and to be looking forward to book three, Reading Up a Storm which comes out in April.
Tiger Boy: 05/21/16
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins is set near the Sundarbans, a natural preserve in the Bengali region of India. It's an area where tigers are supposed to have a safe place to live but the reality is that there are poachers willing and able to lure animals out. It's also a place of poverty.
In the nearby village, Neel's having trouble with math. He doesn't want to do his homework. He has other pressing worries, like where the next meal is coming. He also, like any kid his age, would rather play.
Neel's sick and tired of his mother and the schoolmaster telling him he has to get good marks to get a good education. They seem to have picked him as the kid to get the scholarship to go to a boarding school where he'll get a chance to better himself that most kids in his village won't get.
In the meantime, word has gotten out that a tiger cub has escaped the fencing of the preserve. The mother tiger, still on the other side of the fence is growing frantic. The worry is that she's find a way over or through the fence and go on a rampage in the search for her cub. Neel, who knows the swampy area between the preserve and village better than anyone, believes he can find the cub before anything bad happens.
Tiger Boy is a relatively short book but perfect for introducing children to a number of themes: education, poverty, poaching, and endangered species. With an easy flowing text it and numerous illustrations, it would do well as a read aloud in a classroom setting.
A Handful of Stars: 05/20/16
Maine was a popular setting for tween fiction in 2015. Concurrent themes with the local have been immigration, language barriers, French heritage (by way of Quebec), and how rural most of it is. A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord adds to that mix blueberries.
Lily's blind dog gets away from her and leads her on a chase to the blueberry picking fields, staffed mostly by itinerant workers. Lily meets Salma Santiago and after some very awkward introductions the girls become friends.
Lily makes spending money by selling painted birdhouses at her grandparents' store. Salma begins helping her but has a very unorthodox (from Lily's POV) approach. They are also more popular, leading to some feelings of jealousy.
But most of the story is Lily trying to convince the town to let Salma enter the Blueberry Queen pageant, something usually reserved for year-round residents. It's in their resistance that Lily begins to recognize her own prejudices about Salma and her family.
Mixed in with all of this are facts about blueberries from Maine. My only quibble here is that the book would have us believe that the vast majority of blueberries eaten in the United States come from Maine. That's not true. The top producing states are Michigan, Georgia, Oregon and Washington. Heck, even New Jersey out performs Maine.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen: 05/19/16
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a graphic novel memoir about growing up with foodies for parents. The book is a series of memories outlined by their link to a specific food. It's the short, sweet, funny, and illustrated modern-day version of Prout's À la recherche du temps perdu.
As a child of a chef, Knisley grew up around organic food, fancy cheeses, gourmet recipes. When her mother catered events, she was there serving guests. She also, on her own, learned the joys of candy and fast food.
Knisley's memoir also includes trips to Mexico and Japan and the effect the food had on her. Mexico was probably a more successful trip as she's allergic to soy, so the Japanese food was a bit of an obstacle course.
Just as I felt a connection with her memoir of the cruise she took with her grandparents, I felt it here too. We're about the same age and we have similar, intersecting interests.
Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit: 05/18/16
When I posted my review of the final book in the series, Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle, I mistakenly thought I had reviewed all the books. Surprise, surprise, I hadn't.
Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the fifth in the series. Bake sales are a traditional way for PTAs to earn money for their schools. Of course with the growing concern over childhood obesity and food allergies, there's more of a push to make these events include healthy options. Our school, for instance, includes hummus and vegetables.
Here, though, someone on staff wants to take things to vigilante extremes. On the day of the bake sale, everything goes missing. Before the Lunch Lady and Betty can track down the goodies, the Breakfast Bunch find themselves kidnapped by the villain!
This series fun derives from the mash up of a school setting with super villains and their gadgetry. In this case, it's Buszilla, a transforming dinosaur shaped mech that starts off as an ordinary looking school bus!
I also live blogged the book on Tumblr.
Adventures with Waffles: 05/17/16
Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr was originally published in Norway as Vaffeljarte, a pun on the heart shaped waffles that are so important to the family, and the feeling of heartache at the loss of the beloved relative who originally made them.
Roughly this is a year's worth of anecdotal adventures of Trille and Lena from one spring festival to another one. They gleefully get into scrapes and have wholesome, teachable moment type misadventures that usually end up in them making a mess.
Plot wise there's not much here. Sure, there's the dead grandmother and the passage of time but it's more just a checklist of nostalgia. It feels like the sort of book that is written for parents who feel Anne Shirley and Pippi Longstocking are too disruptive an influence.
It's so wholesome it's saccharine.
For a better waffle inspired story, I recommend Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.
Babymouse: Dragonslayer: 05/16/16
Babymouse: Dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm is the eleventh book in the comic series. This time Babymouse has to face her failing math grade by joining her school's math club.
Babymouse would rather read than do math. She has a fondness for Harry Potter type books, both in content and in length. The ones she brings to school are so long they come with their own character. Her teacher and the school's math club leader both think she could be a math whiz if she can be inspired to put that same level of dedication into the subject.
Babymouse ends up with a diverse group of math kids. Of course at first she doesn't do her part. She never does. But she does though have a math coach now who has lots of practice dealing with bratty kids. See a resemblance here?
But my favorite character here is the Lucy, a bat on the math team. She's their geometry whiz. As a bat, all her panels are upside down. It's silly but affective.
Dragonslayer is one of those rare Babymouse volumes where she does get to redeem herself. While I don't expect her to always win in the end, it would be nice if she put in the work more often and got to see the reward for hard work.
Listen, Slowly: 05/15/16
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, though a stand alone story, reads like the symbolic sequel to Inside Out and Back Again. While the first book is about the flight from Viet Nam, this one is about returning, at least temporarily.
Mai lives in Laguna Beach. She's on the verge of being a teenager and is finally old enough to go the beach without supervision. She has tons of plans, none of which involve spending time with her grandmother in Viet Nam. But she's the only one without unbreakable commitments and so when news surfaces about her grandfather, presumed killed in the war, she's put on a plane with her grandmother and a new cellphone.
I have to admit that Mai didn't strike me as a realistic pre-teen in the California chapters at the start of the book. Mai is too boy crazy. She's also jealous of her friend's newly grown breasts. There may be girls out there eager to grow into their adult bodies but the sentiment I hear most from girls that age is relief at not needing bras yet or frustration if they suddenly do. As far as noticing boys (or girls) in new ways, it's more of a giggly fascination and a whole lot of confusion about what to do next.
Fortunately, though, Mai is plucked out of a Laguna Beach summer romance book and into a much more interesting one. She is put in a home in a remote village near Ha Noi full of distant relatives she's never met. She is assigned a translator because she can't always think of the right words and her tongue struggles with the language's tones. But she can understand what's spoken, relearning a language she was once fluent in as a toddler because she spent so much time then with her grandmother.
Of all the relatives she meets, my favorite is Ût, a teenage girl who is just a little order than Mai. She wants to be a biologist and takes pride in the frogs that she raises. She can speak English but has trouble reading it, especially the longer terms that show up in science texts. She and Mai bond as Mai begins reading to her so she can memorize the books she'll be tested from if she wants to work for a group of American scientists.
Listen, Slowly is a refreshing take on the lasting effects of the war. As a child growing up in the years following the end the war Viet Nam was always presented as a jungle labyrinth full of dangerous, evil monsters. It's an over simplification of a mess we helped create and rather than earn my generation's sympathies for what my parents' generation went through, these stories mostly served to alienate us from something that was so pivotal in their collective experience (whether they served or not). The stories also did nothing to teach about Viet Nam beyond where it vaguely is and who went there.
Here though, the country is presented as any other far away place. It has its cities and its rural parts. It has mosquitos and local solutions for mosquitos. There are enough characters and variety of location to paint a clearer picture of the country and its people.
This isn't a story with an antagonist or a big adventure or some calamity that needs stopping. Instead, it's a quiet piece about family, patience, and the finding of oneself through travel.
My Little Pony Micro-Series: #6 Applejack: 05/14/16
My Little Pony Micro-Series: #6 Applejack by Bobby Curnow should probably be renamed Granny Smith as she ends up pwning her entire family.
The book centers on the mysterious Sass Squatch, a creature that looks like a creation of the Other Mother in the film version of Coraline. Applejack takes it on herself to catch and stop this creature. When she can't she grows all the more frantic to do so the next time.
The thing here is that Applejack has in the television series learned more than once that she doesn't have to do the entire farm chores by herself. The farm is large and so is her family. She needs their help and they are willing to give it.
So seeing her go through this same thing again was a bit tedious. Seeing her grandmother (who is either dotty or awesome depending on who is writing her) doing this to her beloved granddaughter also seemed out of character.
The Locksmith issue 1: 05/13/16
I like comic books and graphic novels but I don't have patience for the two biggest publishers of them: DC and Marvel. I don't don't have the energy or devotion to want to read through the mounds and mounds of stuff they're constantly churning out (and that goes for the movies too). I'm finding that my go-to place for comics now is Kickstarter or similar venues.
The Locksmith series by Terrance Grace I found on Kickstarter as issue two was being funded. Fortunately issue one is also still available so I was able to get both.
The first issue is the set up. It's the wham. It's the what the hell is happening?
It opens with an old man falling over dead. Then his elderly housekeeper falls over dead. Outside the city seems testier than usual. An elderly shut in instantly puts me in the mindset of something like The Sentinel (the movie more than the book).
On the other hand, with the title and the panel showing the keys scattered around the old man, I'm reminded of the novel Keys to the City by Joel Kostman. Kostman's book is a collection of short stories based around some of the people a locksmith (a normal not-paranormal one) would have. And finally there's Joe Hill's graphic novel series, Locke & Key which shares the key and family violence motifs.
My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #4: Fluttershy: 05/12/16
My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #4: Fluttershy by Barbara Randall Kesel is a short comic focusing on the shiest of Mane Six. We know she's passionate about her animal rescue efforts. Now we learn that she's also a secret yarn bomber!
I'm not a knitter but I can relate to being passionate about one's art, even if it's a hobby. Before I embraced digital photography, I was a painter, working first in oils and then in acrylics (because I was in college and didn't want to mess up my deposit). My first child combined with a cat who liked to get into my paints made for a situation I wasn't comfortable with. So I packed away the paints and moved to digital photography and other digital art forms.
The kids are older and Caligula passed away in 2014. My two current cats just aren't into art supplies like she was. I have a nice work area with a good natural source of light, perfect for working. So now I'm working painting again. I happened to start up around the time that I first read My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #4: Fluttershy.
Also like Fluttershy, my town has a local art gallery that encourages residents to show their work. I've displayed digital art twice and most recently I had a small painting accepted. Unlike Fluttershy, I'm not shy and I'm not afraid of what others think of my art. To me it's a hobby. If I get good comments, I'm happy. If I don't, I let the negative ones roll off me.
Fluttershy, though, is terribly afraid of having her beloved yarn sculptures ridiculed. She's afraid of embarrassing herself and her friends. Of course, that's the exact opposite of what's likely to happen.
This is a case of reading the comic at the right time. Sometimes Fluttershy's shyness gets to me. This time, though, I could relate and a few laughs at the extent she goes to being part of the show while keeping her identity a secret.
Food Wars!, Vol. 1: 05/11/16
Food Wars!, Vol. 1 by Yuuto Tsukuda is the start of an ongoing manga series about an elite culinary school in Japan. The main character, Soma Yukihira, has been sent there after his dad decides to shutter their small restaurant to work for an overseas client.
Soma's no slouch when it comes to cooking and competition. Years of competing against his father and the on going demands of running a family restaurant has given him lots of experience.
This first book though stalls before taking Soma to the school that will be the focus of so much of the plot. Instead of jumping right in, there's a side plot about an obnoxious business woman wanting to buy the restaurant. She sets up a contest that she's convinced she'll win (because she cheats). Soma, though, is used to things going awry and comes up a savory solution.
One thing about the portrayal of extraordinarily good cooking — it's shown as literal food porn. Characters suddenly lose their clothing and sparkle in ways that would make Major Armstrong jealous. The first few times I saw it, it was jarring and frankly off putting. Having now watched the entire anime, I'm sort of used to it.
Shoplifter by Michael Cho is the a graphic novel about a woman going through the routines as a copywriter for an advertising firm. She had wanted to be a novelist but now she's stuck advertising things she's not even sure are ethical. She comes to a breaking point when asked to sell racy clothing to preschoolers.
To put more of a thrill into her life, she has taken up the habit of shoplifting. She uses the hide something inside a newspaper and then pay for the paper technique. Of course it isn't fooling anyone but the clerk who runs the newsstand has quietly taken pity on her.
Ultimately it's about her needing to realize she's stuck in a job she hates and in a life she hates. She needs to see that she has to change and risk failure if she wants any chance of having the life she original envisioned for herself.
The artwork is black and white with pink highlights. It's sort of a new adult version of Babymouse. Emotionally it fits well with The People Inside by Ray Fawkes. Plot- and character-wise it's very similar to PopCo by Scarlett Thomas.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow Part Two: 05/09/16
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow Part Two by Gene Luen Yang is unusual in that it opens up a new plot from the previous volume in this trilogy. In the previous one, there was a failed attempt to kidnap Zuko and his family. Now, though, spirits are taking children from their beds as they sleep.
Those who don't want Zuko in power want to use the situation to put a curfew in place as well as a posse. Zuko, therefore, desperately needs Aang to postpone his trip to meet his future in laws in order to track down the truth behind these disappearances.
The long history of the different tribes has been hinted at throughout the Avatar stories, but it's always fascinating to learn more. Clearly the creators of this franchise went through a ton of world building.
This story reveals a legend of mothers angry over the war brought upon the villages by the feuding warlords resorting to violence of their own. When they were killed they still managed to carry out their curse through a grudge ghost type haunting until the different fire bending factions united under one Fire Lord.
They are not responsible for the current situation. Their history is being misappropriated.
Meanwhile at home, Zuko's mother continues to be off. She acts cheerful and she's clearly bonding with Zuko. But her youngest children continue to insist she's not their mother. She's also described as cold to the touch. If anything, she reminds me of a changeling. What if the face changing spell doesn't work as advertised?
Yet tucked into all this drama of disappearing children, and Yuko's permanently crunchy family, the friendship between Aang and Zuko is fleshed out. There's a lot humor between the two that helps break up the suspense.
Amulet 7: Firelight: 05/08/16
One of my reading goals for 2016 is to read and review more books published this year while it's still this year. I'm always about six to eighteen months behind the release date for books. While I don't want to get back to reading egalleys so I can publish reviews before release dates, I am trying to be more current for my own personal knowledge of what's out there.
I'm certainly ahead of my usual curve with fourteen books read as of May and nine reviews published, I'm not keeping up with my stated goal of a book and review a week. I should be at 18 books read and reviewed.
There's also the problem of self sabotage, namely in the forgetting to add read books to the list of reviews I want to write. That is what happened to Amulet 7: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi. I have adored this series since I was first introduced to it with Amulet 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse for the 2009 CYBILS. I keep current with the series because it's one of my favorite tween graphic novel series. So imagine my surprise and chagrin when I noticed I hadn't yet written, let alone, published a review for the newest book.
The farther into this series the further apart the ensemble characters get. More locations means more drop dead gorgeous double page spreads. My favorite from Firelight is a cutaway of a restaurant ship that two characters talk their way onto by getting jobs in the kitchen.
There is also more opportunity to explore the story behind the stones. Originally the focus had been on the brother and sister trying to find a cure from their mother while dealing with being in a new world and being chased by the Elf Prince. Then it moved onto what was happening with the Elf King. From there it has expanded to the underlying curse of the stones, in the same way that the ring that Bilbo finds in The Hobbit takes on a whole new, sinister meaning in The Lord of the Rings. Now we're getting into the truth behind the stones just as Emily is starting to lose her grip on her stone's voice.
Kazu Kibuishi has mentioned that book nine will wrap up the Amulet series. It's exciting to be close to the end of an amazing story arc. The better news is that he's signed a book deal with Scholastic Graphix for three new books. I don't know what they will be, but I know I will be reading them.
Ghostbusters: Mass Hysteria! Part 2: 05/07/16
Ghostbusters: Mass Hysteria! Part 2 by Erik Burnham was published in the 30th anniversary year of the original film. It brought back together all the original plots. It felt like an ending just as we were getting jazzed for the relaunch with a new movie.
Ray's inability to fool ghosts is lamp-shaded and then drawn out to be a big part of this plot. There's a head to head with both big-bads from the movies. It's fun and it's nostalgic.
But it also continues the discussions from Part 1 about the sexism in the movies and the continuing sexism in some of the franchise's most ardent fans. It quietly supports the decision to change the cast and to make the story more about ghostbusting and less about skimpy clothes and sophomoric humor.
I wish I had more to say but I've waited more than a year to post about it. I read it over New Year's 2015 during the tail end of an exhausting but rewarding road trip to British Columbia. In the process of preparing the blog for the new year I missed this book. It wasn't until I was sitting down to write a new review of Erik Burnham comic that I realized I'd missed this one.
Camp Babymouse: 05/06/16
Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm is the sixth in the series. It's summertime and Babymouse is off to her first overnight camp. Babymouse has all sorts of plans and expectations but as so often happens in these books, things don't play out as expected.
Summer camp has two types of campers: the old pros who go either to meet up with friends from previous years, or come in a pack of besties, and the newbies. Of course some newbies come in a pack too. And then there's the solo newbie. The solo newbie is at the bottom of the pecking order. If said newbie knows nothing of camping, she's even worse off.
Babymouse who's main character trait seems to be: doesn't do homework, hasn't done any preparation for camp beyond packing her bags. Presumably the camp sent home some sort of list of rules along with the packing list. But Babymouse hasn't read the rules or her parents haven't told them to her. So she's basically clueless and arriving in one of her typical pink haze day dreams.
So the gags in this book rely on Babymouse not knowing the rules, not knowing how to camp, getting picked on by the cliques in her cabin, and getting demerits for her cabin.
Cat In The City: 05/05/16
Cat In The City by Julie Salamon is the tale of a stray cat living in New York who finds a home. Every neighborhood has a cat, you know, the one who knows all the friendly buildings, knows where to get food, has a route and a routine. Cat in the City is the tale of one such cat, dubbed Pretty Boy, by one of the locals.
Sometimes these cats sojourn, finding a favorite home among the friendlies. They'll stay a little longer, hanging in the yard, maybe sleeping in a storage shed or garage, and eventually even inside the home. And that's what Pretty Boy does.
But moving in can be stressful and confusing. It can be even worse when your humans decide to move far away from your territory. Pretty Boy gets caught up in the middle of ones of these moves and that's the final conflicts here.
It's a sweet book based on a real cat, also named Pretty Boy.
To Be A Cat: 05/04/16
To Be A Cat by Matt Haig is a be careful what you wish for story. Barney Willow has been bullied at school since his parents separated and his father went missing. His mother believes he has skipped town to avoid alimony payments, but Barney believes something worse might have happened.
But it's the trouble at school, a principal who seems singularly focused on torturing Barney that truly has him down. I often imagine other fictional characters cast in the roles of the book I'm reading. For the principal I imagined Miss Simeon, who while a teacher in The Amazing World of Gumball would make as evil a principal as Miss Wimpire is described.
What Barney needed more than anything was someone like Yato from Noragami to help him with his problem. He didn't, though. In that moment of desperation he is tricked to make a wish he might not be able to undo. Like the main character in I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin, Barney comes to realize that cats are more dangerous and devious than they appear to be.
There is true danger here for Barney, something that many tween books avoid, opting instead for adventures and perhaps a few near misses. Miss Wimpire isn't just a bad principal, she is being driven mad by a desire for revenge. Her reasons extremely personal. Her plans are cold and calculated. She is one of the most terrifying antagonists I've read in any age level of book in a long time.
Serendipity and Me: 05/03/16
Serendipity and Me by Judith L. Roth, told in spare verse accounts a young girl's disappointment over getting sick before the school play, and her desire above all else to keep the white kitten that has stumbled into her life.
Sara lives with her father and both are still mourning the death of her mother the year before. Sara wants two things in life: to own a cat and to play Wendy in Peter Pan. When she gets a horrible flu her chances of playing Wendy slip through her fingers.
Then there's Serendipity, a white who runs into the house one night. All her life, Sara's been told no when she's asked for a cat. She's meanwhile surrounded herself in everything else cat: stuffed animals, posters, jewelry, and so forth. This kitten is her chance to have a cat and prove to her father that she is responsible enough to do it.
The arguments Sara and her dad have over Serendipity shed light on the events that led up to the mom's death. It's an emotional book but well worth the ups and downs.
Knitting Bones: 05/02/16
Knitting Bones by Monica Ferris is the eleventh in the Needlecraft Mystery series. The Embroiders Guild has raised more than twenty thousand dollars for a local charity but the guild president and the check have gone missing. His wife believes that something terrible has happened to him and wants Betsy to help.
There's just one small problem with that plan: Betsy's confined to her apartment after a terrible horse riding accident. Her leg is in a cast and she needs Goddy's help to be her eyes and ears.
Unfortunately Goddy's not quite the detective that Betsy is. Goddy uncovers for Betsy a gay scene in Excelsior and surrounds she was previously unaware of. It was nice to see Excelsior expanded beyond Betsy's comfort zone, and I suppose the author's.
But what really sold me this particular installment was the sheer silliness of the climax. Now usually when the protagonist is incapacitated he or (more often than not, she) is at the mercy of the antagonist, needing rescue by a secondary protagonist or potential love interest.
Not here. The antagonist is as beat up as Betsy, for reasons that are discovered over the course of the book. In fact, it's not entirely certain that he's the criminal until near the very end. But the final confrontation involves two people recently in the hospital, still recovering from their injuries going head to head in a tiny apartment, with a completely crazy crow coming into the fray too.
Ellen's Lion: Twelve Stories: 05/01/16
Ellen's Lion: Twelve Stories by Crockett Johnson is a short chapter book about a young girl and her toy lion. They are in good company with Christopher Robin and the animals of the Hundred Acre Woods, and Calvin and Hobbes.
Each one of these stories has Ellen attempting to engage her lion in play using her imagination but he doesn't seem to want any part of it. In this book he's mostly an inanimate object, brought to life only through Ellen's imagination. In The Lion's Own Story he's given more of a personality through conversations with Ellen.
As the lion pretty much just sits there and yet manages to foil the great plots Ellen is cooking up (like scaring passengers on the train she's running), he reminds me of Mr. Buns, the sock toy created by Ruby in Ruby Gloom. Like Lion, Mr. Buns doesn't do much when looked at and yet seems to be behind all sorts of unexplained mayhem.
To the critics who call Ellen a clone of Harold (of the Harold and the Purple Crayon I say bah. Of course they look similar. They're drawn by the same person. It is just Crockett Johnson's way of drawing people, just as Lauren Child's children all look similar, or Marcus Pfister's Rainbow Fish was created by turning The Sleepy Owl sideways.
Artists reuse things and settle on specific styles all the time. Why Crockett Johnson should be held to some different standard makes no sense!