My Pet Human Takes Center Stage: 04/25/17
My Pet Human Takes Center Stage by Yasmine Surovec is the continuing adventures of Oliver and his pet human, Freckles. Oliver, once a semi-feral cat has been enjoying life as a pet with all the attention, boxes, belly rubs, and treats he can ever dream of. When Freckles goes to school and Oliver decides to stowaway in her backpack, his life is turned upside down.
Oliver taken to the Furr-ever Club as a safe place to stay during the school day. His story inspires the teacher to get the club members interested in some fundraising to help the local pet shelter. The other thing that Oliver has done is inspire Freckles and her mom to help other cats homes — meaning fostering.
The first cat they bring home is a little fuzzball of a kitten. Of course Oliver is jealous. He's still getting used to living with a human family, indoors. He doesn't want to end up back on the streets, or worse in the hands of Animal Control.
Yasmine Surovec with just simple black and white line art manages to capture all the different emotions of a small tuxedo cat. That Oliver happens to look nearly identical to our Tortuga makes the book all the more special. It was a chance to relive the early days of when we introduced Salmon to our household.
The Great American Dust Bowl: 04/24/17
The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown is a graphic novel styled history of the events leading up to the dust storms of the Great Depression that ravaged the Great Plains states.
Ranchers hoping for cheap, easy grazing for their herds were unable to make a living. The environment was too harsh. They in turn dumped their lands on unsuspecting settlers hoping to make a go with farming.
Slash and burn followed by the planting of wheat, which was artificially inflated in value following WWI, made for a destruction of the natural environment.
After setting up the circumstances for the dust storms, Brown spends the rest of the book chronicling the events of those storms. Drought and wind resulted in nine years of dust storms of growing severity, some of which reached New York.
Brown has one illustration of airborne supertankers leaving a wake of dust. It's a memorable way to show how much dust was torn up and carried across the country in the largest of the storms.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 24): 04/24/17
Tuesday was Girl Scouts. I'm a Daisy Troop leader in a mixed-level troop. As May 5th is the school's Multicultural Night, our Brownie leader is teaching the girls an Irish dance. They are enthusiastic but need more work.
After some enthusiastic dancing, we went back to the classroom to break into groups. There I taught my Daisies about maps and mapmaking. It was popular but I'm not sure how much of the lesson stuck.
Friday night my daughter and her class participated in the annual Mandarin Showcase. Her class recited a poem.
The rest of my week was full of sorting and boxing books to go into storage. I'm taking a break from upstairs boxing to work downstairs.
Reading wise, I got distracted by all the books I left at home, meaning the two books I started on the second half of my trip. I have made progress in those two books, but I haven't gotten close to finishing them. I suspect I'll still be reading them next week too.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
Are We There Yet by Nina Laden: 04/23/17
Are We There Yet? by Nina Laden is one of two road trip picture books with this title published in 2016. It like the Dan Santat book is about a trip to a grandmother's house. Neither trip is a straightforward point A to point B journey.
From the cover, it's implied that this trip will involve some outer space hijinks. What I wasn't expecting was another foray into the cornfield. So far I've looked at the cornfield as a barrier — to keep towns in, to hide the entrance to another world (Oz, the underworld, etc), and to imprison or banish people. Laden's book, though, suggests, too, a connection between the road narrative and the Minotaur — a maize maze, if you will.
Before the text even begins, this connection is highlighted through the endpapers. They show a labyrinth of two lane roads as seen from the aerial point of view of a green parrot. On the far right, there's a small red car — the one that the main characters are taking their road trip in (as seen from the cover).
The next clue is a mural in the city as they hit the open road. It shows an ear of corn above the words "Minotaur Maize" with a bull's head in profile below. What if characters like Anthony ("It's a Good Life"), Ozma, and the kidnapper in Bone Gap are different forms of the Minotaur?
Later as they pass through a rural, farmlands area, there is a farm with a Minotaur farmer working on his crop — a labyrinth of brightly colored flowers. By now it is clear that this family is traveling through a labyrinth, and run the risk of being lost if they don't stick to their intended route.
Star Scouts: 04/22/17
Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence is a graphic novel about a young Indian girl joining an extra-terrestrial scouting group. Avani lives with her father and they have recently moved to a new town. That means a new school and a new scout troop. She doesn't like her new troop and feels like she doesn't fit in, but she does with Mabel's troop — even though Mabel and her friends are aren't from Earth.
On the surface it sounds like a great book. It has a strong female lead. She speaks Hindi at home. She has a single parent. She's struggling with adjusting from a move and fitting in at a very white, homogenous school.
But the book falls flat on a number of key issues. Most of these stem from the fact that the author knows nothing about scouting for girls and didn't both to do his homework. Rather than learn about long established organizations for girls, he decided to take everything he knows about being a Boy Scout and plop Avani into the middle of it but with "feminine touches." This approach maybe ok for readers (girls who aren't scouts, or boys) but is insulting to who should be the core audience — Girl Scouts / Girl Guides.
Let's take Avani's introduction. Her dad makes her dress in her scouting uniform before school. There's a comment about how she used to love being a Pine Scout but now she's stuck being a Flower Scout and she doesn't like it because all they do is talk about makeup.
Let's first assume it's an innocent mistake — the over hearing of Daisies and assuming that was a type of scout. It is — sort of (and I say this as a Daisy troop leader). Daisies are the youngest group of Girl Scouts in the United States. They are named for the founder of the organization, as her nickname was Daisy. The goal for Daisies is to spent their first two years learning how to be Girl Scouts, with each petal (instead of a badge) being based around one of the pieces of the Girl Scout Law. They are all flower themed to give the experience an overall metaphoric context. So perhaps, then Avani, whose age is never stated, is in kindergarten or first grade. Since she seems rather competent with her basic skills, I'll hazard that she's in first grade.
OK. But what about Pine Scouts? There's no such thing. The emblem shown for Avani's old uniform, does, however, resemble that of the Bharat Scouts — a girl scouting organization in India which is recognized by the Girl Scouts and the Girl Guides. Why not include a cool fact about India and make Avani a better rounded, and grounded character?
Next there's the problem of the uniform. What? How can that be? All scouts are the same, right? Wrong!
To a Girl Scout, there are a few GLARINGLY wrong things going on in these illustrations. First and foremost, Girl Scouts don't wear their full uniforms to meetings or while camping. If they are going somewhere to represent their troop or the council (the local governing body) they will usually just wear their sash or vest as it will contain their troop number, their council's name, their years of service pins, their age group, and whatever badges or petals, and fun patches they've earned at their level. The only time Girl Scouts ever really fully dress up is if they will be serving as a color guard (and presenting the United States flag in some official capacity).
Also, Girl Scouts don't dress like Boy Scouts. They don't have a neckerchief and slide. The fact that Avani in every version of her scouting uniforms shows again the author didn't do his homework. Nor did he have any readers familiar enough with Girl Scouts to point out this error. Or maybe they did and he didn't listen? I don't know. But to any Girl Scout, the errors will be glaring.
As it turns out, the extra-terrestrial troop that Avani joins is a mixed gender, mixed species organization. Of the organizations out there, it's most like Camp Fire. Again, it's not really an organization with a strong commitment to a uniform. They're more about community service and leadership than in dressing a certain way.
Most of the book takes place at a weeklong sleepover camp – which despite orthogonal gravity seems to have the same passage as time as earth, so Avani can sneak away to the camp she wants to go to while her father thinks she's at Flower Scout Camp.
Even at camp it's a decidedly non-Girl Scout / non-Camp Fire type experience (and decidedly Boy Scout). First of all, all the troops go in their uniforms and wear them for the entire week. This is where Girl Scouts laugh and point at the Boy Scouts for being so impractical while camping.
The troops also march around, flying their colors, and fly their colors over their camps. Realistically, if an entire troop went camping together at some council wide thing, they'd probably have tie-dyed shirts that they'd made together and earned a fun patch for. They would however, be exchanging SWAPS with every other troop they came across. Trust me — Girl Scouts are ALL ABOUT SWAPS (even more so than cookies).
While these kids are in uniform, they are expected to clean up the camp. What? Really? In Girl Scouts, mother, daughter teams are recruited the week before to clean up the camp for a day. The second day they camp together to break it in for the season. Sure — campers do have to do chores while there (like taking turns in the mess hall) but not clean out the entire thrashed camp on the first day!
The largest plot point in this book is that Avani gets into a merit badge (again, they're not called merit badges) war over a methane breather. Now the idea that troop leaders would encourage two scouts to go on a head to head battle over merit badge earning is simply reprehensible and would not happen in the Girl Scouts. Each girl who completes the tasks to earn a badge, earns a badge.
But the thing that really took me aback was near the end. For the final merit badge showdown, Avani and her opponent have to teleport a specific kind of creature — but it doesn't matter if it's male or female. OK. But then the troop leader who is explaining the rules, adds that it would be best to capture a male "Since the female is a hideous monster beyond imagining."
Really? In a book supposedly promoting strength and bravery and outdoor survival skills to girls, there's this misogynistic crap. Don't tell me that it's a throw away line. It was put there as a conscious choice. The editors left it there as a conscious choice. Shameful.
What's your earliest memory of reading?: 04/22/17
BetterWorldBooks asked today on its Twitter feed, "What's your earliest memory of reading?" They also ask, "Have you always been an avid reader?"
My earliest memory goes back to kindergarten. The classroom had a set of early reading books. They all had yellow covers and looked a lot like Playbills. The idea was that these things were supposed to teach us how to read. But they were so dumb. There was no story. No drama. Very little in the way of characterization.
She would work with each of us individually. We'd go up to the front of the class where she had two chairs set aside. She'd sit in one and whoever was it would sit in the other. If it was a new book, she'd read it out loud so we could hear the words and see the words at the same time.
Here's the thing — the stories were so ridiculously simplistic that there wasn't any point in learning how to read the words. The books were so short it was just easier to memorize the whole thing as she read it. Then when it was my turn to read it, I could recite it.
Now here's what I don't remember. I don't remember if I was already literate at the time. I do remember kindergarten seeming like a colossal waste of time, except for learning how to swing by myself.
I know that my grandparents read to me on a regular basis as did my parents. I know they bought books for me. I know they took me to the library — though I didn't get my own card until I was in high school.
On the flip side of this kindergarten memory is the a vague mental montage of me reading and re-reading a copy of the Hobbit that had full color stills from the 1970s animated film. I've read that book so many times the Hobbit is pretty much part of my DNA.
One possibility is, I had the Hobbit memorized. The other possibility is I really was literate by the time kindergarten started. Regardless, all this happened thirty-nine years ago.
Detour ahead: 04/21/17
A little over two years ago I found my old handwritten bibliography of a road narrative project I would have done had I continued on with film theory, and gone for a PhD. Rather than just feeling nostalgic for what might have been, I decided to free up time for the project by dumping ARCs. In the last six months or so, the road narrative project has hit a lull for a variety of reasons, with the two main ones being I needed a break from the academic side of the project and I had fallen behind in the transcribing of notes.
Another couple of projects have crept into my life too: preparing to move (though not originally to Canada as planed) and the moving the blog to a vanity domain. The first of these requires time away from books and the computer to ironically pack books (without reading). The second, though, requires oodles of computer time as I'm redesigning all of my lede images to make them bigger and more eye catching. As I do that, I'm tinkering with the code to get rid of code rot and piles of legacy stuff that seems to collect in the commented out sections.
In working through my older pages, I've come across many posts I've already, both here and on Tumblr, where I dump a lot of my raw research — quotes, musings, old photographs, etc. In particular, I came across a quote from Romance of the Road by Ronald Primeau (1996) where I had summed up the state of my project, a year into the work.
In hundreds of books, movies, poems, songs, and videos, the road journey is an epic quest, a pilgrimage, a romance, a ritual that helps explain where Americans have been and where they think they might be going. (Primeau: 1996, p. 1)
Below it I listed screenshots from my GoodReads "roadtrip" shelf, pointing out all the books I had identified as being part of my project. They were a mixture of academic literature studies, government works about road building, novels, poetry collections, and memoirs of road trips. So today, I present you with an updated version of that list with annotations. Checkmarks on the cover art show which ones I've read to give a sense of where I am.
Going through the list, seeing them all together, gave me a chance to rediscover literature studies, memoirs, and older fiction I had forgotten about, as I followed thematic tangents in my reading. I have a few books now requested at the library, and a couple more requested through inter-library loan. I think it's time to see where my mapping of the road narrative compares with those who have come before me.
In this project I haven't looked for previously defined genres or categories. Instead, I have marked the path of my reading, marking off the narrative landscape. In my journey I've come to realize that almost any American story can be mapped in the road narrative landscape. We live and die by the road. We define ourselves by our proximity to it, and how fast we can travel it. My categories are still fluid. They change as I read more — as I understand common themes and
tropes in a greater context. In February 2017, I posted my first delineation of categories. Back then, my newest category was "'sent to the cornfield." Now I am calling it "Crossing the cornfield." Movement through the cornfield — or inability to move through it — is the central tenant of this category.
My other goal is to start writing more essays based on my reading. I need to write more essays to get my thoughts and observations down. It's time to draw my map of the road narrative landscape.
The Hammer of Thor: 04/21/17
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan is the second of the Magnus Chase books. Magnus, Sam, Hearth and Blitz have to stop the arranged marriage of Sam to a giant. Coming along for the adventure is a new companion — another child of Loki named Alex.
Alex's part in this series is vitally important even though she doesn't have as many scenes as the other characters. Alex is gender fluid, another expression of her inherited abilities from Loki. Loki, interestingly is actually Alex's mother — just as he is Sam's father. Loki's gender fluidity isn't what makes him evil — it's just part of being a Norse God. Alex's fluctuating gender is treated as just a part of her personality, and not something to be criticized or mocked. Alex is a refreshing character.
(I should note I've been using "she" for Alex, but he also goes by he. I chose she because it's the pronoun Alex choses for most of the book. Alex also specifically states she doesn't like using they and them — so I have avoided doing that here.)
In my review of Sword of Summer I mentioned how I wanted more from Magnus's companions: Hearthstone and Blitzen. Well, this book offers that with a lengthy look into Hearthstone's childhood. It's tragic and horrific. One can't help but feel terrible on behalf of Hearthstone — still forced to relive his brother's death, his father's hatred, the stigma of being a deaf elf.
The next book in the series is The Ship of the Dead. It's coming out October 3, 2017.
Fish Girl: 04/20/17
Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner is the debut graphic novel for these two established authors. I hope it marks the first of many collaborations as together they spin a tale that is both magical and thought provoking.
The titular character is an unnamed mermaid living in an aquarium made inside a multistory brick building, that was probably at one point part of a larger row of offices or apartments. She is the "star" of a show run by King Neptune but her job is to provide enough of a glimpse to keep the visitors guessing where she is, so that they will come back and spend more money. Times though are tough and the show is failing.
Neptune, though, isn't who he says he is. He is very clearly a con man, and a gas-lighter. The stories he tells the mermaid are just there to keep her complacent, to keep her playing the game and not asking questions of her situation or of his true identity.
Everything changes for the mermaid when a girl about her age starts sneaking behind the scenes to talk to her. Her questions and her unconditional friendship spur the mermaid to re-examen her situation.
The fantasy of a mermaid trapped in an old building is a visual metaphor for child abuse and child trafficking. The message is there but it's not heavy handed. It's not a problem book, but everything that the mermaid is going through, including the point at the end when "Neptune" refuses to let the authorities search the rubble for her, is what can and does happen to people being abused.
It's not the story I was expecting, but it's one that I will be talking about and recommending.
The Ghost of Graylock: 04/19/17
In The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, Neil and Bree Cassidy are sent to live with their aunts while Dad is across the country trying to be an actor and their mother is being treated for depression. They are taken to a remote, small town, made smaller by the closure of a sanitarium specializing in teens. A series of mysterious deaths lead to the place being closed so suddenly that everything is as it's been left.
What do the local kids to introduce the newbies to their town? They take them on a tour of the abandoned hospital while filing their heads with all the horror stories. In particular, there's a story about room thirteen and the ghost of a particularly nasty nurse.
Dan Poblocki specializes in taking a standard set of horror tropes and subverting them. Of course the building is haunted. Of course what happened is horrific. But the local legends don't match up with what the siblings experience. Nor do they match up with what the older adults tell them. Worse yet — something has followed them home!
My favorite kind of horror is one supported by mystery. The Ghost of Graylock is essentially two mysteries: who or what has followed Neil and Bree home? and what happened at the asylum? Both of these are answered with a spine tingling mixture of red herrings and jump scares.
Play It as It Lays: 04/18/17
Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion is a brief, bitter look at the entertainment industry and life in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and points in between. The text is short, somewhat etherial, and save for the generation gap, similar in tone (though not in content) to Weetzie Bat.
It's told primarily from the point of view of Maria. As she is living with depression everything is filtered through her skewed view of things. Maria copes with her darkest of days by getting into her car and driving. She has her usual routes, that take her the entirety of a day and bring her back home.
It was the car as coping mechanism that was the most relevant to my road narrative project. I chose to read it in comparison to Baby Driver by Jan Kerouac. Interestingly, Didion is of the Beat Generation so her writing should be more akin to Jack's than Jan's.
In reality, Play It as It Lays is its own beast. Like Baby Driver the road narrative comes with consequences — a disabled child and a second, unwanted pregnancy — and because this is the 1960s, an illegal and dangerous abortion.
Road narratives with women seem to break into three camps: ones that end up with romantic entanglements, those that are dangerous because of unwanted sexual encounters (rape, stalking, domestic abuse), and maternity (pregnancy, expected or unexpected, miscarriages, still births, or being over shadowed by traveling with children).
Traveling Light: 04/17/17
As I am expecting to move this year — though where to or when hasn't been established, I am keeping my purchases of books primarily to ebooks. The exceptions to that rule have been books where I already own the others in a series (with the intent of donating the entire set when it's complete and I've read them all), or for graphic novels as they frankly are easier and more fun to read in print form.
Twice now in about ten days' time, I've broken that no hard copies rule, and both of them have been for road trip books. The first of those, is Traveling Light by Lynne Branard. I saw it on display while at a book store to get a PSAT prep book for my son.
What caught my attention? First, there's a VW bug (though the wrong make and color per the book) parked in an obviously New Mexican landscape. It has a title that immediately implies a road trip, and one that isn't thoroughly planned out (such as the memoir, Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway. The New Mexico landscape implies a destination that's not the glamor of California, meaning there is some other goal in mind besides fame and fortune.
The big selling point for me, though, was that it is written by a woman with a woman protagonist, but the plot is something that one would see with if both were male. Meaning, the book wouldn't be falling into the "consequences for women" tropes. It's not that those tropes aren't valid, but it's also good to see books that push boundaries within the genre.
In terms of plot, Traveling Light is very similar to Driving Mr. Albert a memoir by Michael Paterniti about driving with Albert Einstein's preserved brain across the country. Here, it's not a brain in a jar, it's an urn containing the ashes of one Roger Hart, whom Alissa "Al" Wells has won in a bid for an unclaimed storage unit. Along with the urn, there's a business card for a mortuary in Grants, New Mexico — nearly two thousand miles west of North Carolina.
It's the first time in thirty years that Al has felt compelled to do anything. She feels like her life has been scripted since the death of her mother when she was five. She works for her father at the newspaper because it's what he wants. Now she has a new calling — returning Roger to his proper resting place, and it has to be done in person. Thus, Al and Casserole (her three legged dog) hop into her cherry red, 1998 VW and head west with Roger).
Roger from his very introduction is treated as a character — a traveling companion — even though he never speaks. This book doesn't indulge in magical realism or in flash backs. We never really get to hear Roger's side of things — just what Al and others imagine his reactions to be. Had it only been the threesome of Al, Cass, and Roger, Traveling Light would have been a good book.
But there is more — more tropes like you'd see in a male centric road trip. Al picks up a hitchhiker (a waitress named Blossom). She is very much like the character picked up in Road Trip by Gary and Jim Paulsen. Later, then, there's Blossom's ex-boyfriend, Dillon along for the ride. Again pretty standard, except that the driver in the this story is a mature woman and at no point is she every in danger during her trip. Branard further lampoons the masculine road trip tropes by having Al consistently misgendered as male by people who are following along on her journey through social media or via phone messages sent by her traveling companions.
Interestingly, Traveling Light falls mostly into the "There and Back Again" sub-genre. Al's journey is never going to be one-way. The road trip even ends before the novel does, with Al back at home in Clayton — to find herself changed and her friends and family different too in her absence. Like Bilbo in The Hobbit, Al's return trip bears little resemblance to the journey out to return Roger's ashes. While she leaves with companions and a trusty vehicle, she choses to return home as a hitchhiker (something either unheard of or exceptionally dangerous for most female protagonists). When asked about the trip home, she describes it as the most boring and sleepless forty-eight hours she's ever experienced.
Traveling Light along with Just Us Women by Jeannette Franklin Caines, shows that there is room for women in the fictional road narrative space, one where adventures can be had without a certainty of consequences.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 17): 04/17/17
I'm back home from my week long trip from Hayward to Pine Cove. My daughter brought along the current stomach bug that plagued her school this holiday week so we didn't get to do all the things we planned. But we still managed to have fun.
Spring is hitting a little late there so the entire mountainside is awash in apple tree and cherry tree blossoms as well as daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths. The lupins will be in bloom next month.
It's still pretty chill up there at night so we enjoyed a fire each night from dinner until bed time. My son turns out to have a natural skill at building them, so it became his nightly chore.
We visited two nearby lakes: Lake Fulmor on the Banning side of the mountain, and Lake Hemet near the city of Hemet.
Monica the cat head-butting my daughter.
The highlight of the trip though was probably the trip to Living Free in Mountain Center, where we got to hang out with all the cats awaiting their forever homes.
We also dyed eggs and had an early Easter celebration, so the kids and I could get home in time for school to start on Monday.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
As expected my "up next" set of books is exactly what it has been for the last two weeks because of my traveling.
Last Week's Reviews
XVI by Julia Karr is the first in a YA dystopian series set in Chicago and the surrounding towns. Girls at sixteen are required to be tattooed with XVI, signifying that they are old enough to consent to sex. Nina, though, knows it will mark her as fresh meat.
Besides her impending birthday, Nina has a sister she needs to protect, a mother who has a checkered past, and a stepfather who is abusive. Her support is in the form of her grandparents who have ties to the way things used to be.
Readers fall into two categories with this book: those who LOVE the book and those who HATE it. Criticisms of the book cite a lack of feminist deconstruction of current day rape culture. Not every character can be Katniss, nor should every character be.
Even with an extended family of liberal ex-revolutionaries, it's hard as a teen to fight the system. It's hard to even recognize the system. If you do recognize the way things are stacked against you, it's hard to find a safe way out of the system.
Karr shows that danger first hand with the death of a character. It comes near the end, almost tossed aside if you're racing to see how the book ends. She's almost a footnote in the book — a telling observation on how often the victims are overlooked or worse, demonized. Any possible tarnishing of the rapist's reputation though is played as a tragedy.
XVI then is about the right to choose when and how to be sexually active. That includes autonomy in how one dresses and how one decorates (or doesn't) oneself.
Vampires on the Run: 04/15/17
Vampires on the Run by C.M. Surrisi is the sequel to The Maypop Kidnapping. Quinnie's BFF is still away but she's made friends with Ella. She also has Zoe's cousin, Ben, as well as a new boy, Dominic.
The big news, though, is the arrival of Ella's aunt and uncle, who together cowrite the popular Count Le Plasma paranormal mysteries under the pen name Victoria Kensington. Anyone who reads mysteries regularly can name at least one duo writing under a single pen name: sometimes they are just collaborators, and sometimes, they are in fact, married. In some types of mysteries and thrillers, there is conceit that the described events really happened, and the author is more of an editor.
Sometimes, though, the author(s) takes on the persona of their books, and basically ends up perpetually cosplaying their world, their characters. For Aunt Ceil and Uncle Edgar, that means dressing like Goths — though to Quinnie and her friends (except for Ella, who obviously knows her aunt and uncle) they look and act like vampires.
It doesn't help that a large dog has been spotted at night and animals have been killed. The adults all say it's a coyote. Quinnie and her friends, wrapped up in the vampire lore of comparing and contrasting Dracula to Transylvania Drip for school, can only see the creature as a wolf — as a vampire in one of its many animal transformations.
That is the set up for Vampires on the Run. There's something else entirely going on here that unwraps in an organic and satisfying way as Quinnie and her friends go through the process of trying to prove that vampires are real. I had my own theory early on which ended up being completely, one hundred percent wrong, and that for a mystery is a rarity for me. That said, being wrong was very satisfying.
I hope there is a third book.
This Is What Happy Looks Like: 04/14/17
This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith begins with a mistyped email address between a young man with a pig and a bored girl living in Maine. What she doesn't know is that he's the teen throb movie star, that is until he shows up to film his latest movie in her town.
The set up reminds me of a modern day Daddy-Long-Legs with handwritten notes replaced with emails. But the emails are only part of the story. It's not a pure epistolary novel, though frankly it could easily have been as both characters shine best through their emails.
Instead the emails are a set up for more typical boy meets girl type romantic comedy. Once Graham and Ellie meet the story settles down to something more like The Unexpected Everything. Here the boy is an actor living apart from his parents and there it's a boy living at his publisher's house to get away from his parents. Neither set up is realistic but that's not really the point. They're situational set-ups to see what happens.
Setting plays a big part in this one — small town Maine. It's the Maine of lobsters and trawlers, not the Francophone Maine of A Handful of Stars or Kiki and Jacques. Here's it's a Cabot Cove type of Maine with the more recent nostalgia of Stars Hollow.
Again, though, it doesn't matter because it's a sweet little story about a famous guy wanting to be a regular guy, and a gal liking a guy because of his pig.
Egg by Kevin Henkes continues my year of the bird. I didn't set out to read so many books about birds, but that's how the year seems to be unfolding.
Egg is the story of four eggs, waiting to hatch. There's a blue one, a yellow one, a pink one, and a green one. They are rendered as simple shapes, done in solid pastels. The pages are divided in four, an egg in each box.
Like a flip book laid out end to end, the early part of the book shows all the eggs beginning to hatch. All, except for the green one. Out pops a yellow bird, a blue bird, a pink bird. But not a green bird.
With artistic license — as some birds may hatch knowing how to feed themselves — and some birds may fledge in as little as two weeks — but no bird can fly within minutes (seconds?) of hatching.
The green egg, though, is not abandoned. I suppose this is the avian version of ohana. They come back and wait to see what hatches. The anticipation here is one that's good for small children. Like the old song "One of these is not like the other", the green egg contains something — someone — different.
The second lesson of this book is family is who you make it. Or friends can be different. Before the book gives the birds' solution to the problem, stop and ask your child/children what they think the birds should do?
It's a happy ending for everyone involved.
The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala: 04/12/17
The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio is the third (and for now, final) book in the Book Club Mystery series. The Readaholics are busy reading Rebecca by Dauphne du Maurier and Amy-Faye has her hands full with a Gothic books celebration.
Amy-Faye's charge is a Gothic romance author who has a stalker claiming that she is a plagiarist. Things get worse when when someone ends up murdered at the big Gothic themed costume party.
With Rebecca as the framing story, the big question is one of names. Du Maurier never named her protagonist, leaving her as the new wife to be forever in the shadow of the dead wife, Rebecca. Here with all these authors, there is bound to be an author or two writing under a pen name.
There is also the question of how did the weapon, which had been brought as a prop for a costume, gotten into the hands of the murderer. As it happens, the set up is similar (at least tangentially) to Witches' Bane by Susan Wittig Albert (1993). With these two clues, I was a few steps ahead of Readaholics.
I don't know if more books are planned in this series. If there, are, though, I will gladly continue reading.
My Pet Human: 04/11/17
My Pet Human by Yasmine Surovec is the start of a middle grade graphic novel series by the author of Cat vs Human. The story is told from the point of view of a semi-feral cat who is trying to avoid animal control while doing his rounds in the neighborhood.
The cat's life changes when a new family moves into the long abandoned house. He decides to see if he can con a free meal out of them. He does the eyes. He does the kitten meow. He plays in a box. It works. Of course it does.
That's how the cat met and adopted Freckles (remember it is My Pet Human, not My Pet Cat. There's just the lingering trouble of convincing Freckle's mom and animal control that he should now live in this house.
It's an adorable book about a saucy tuxedo cat. Surovec does remarkably relatable cat caricatures with only a few lines and in this case, only black and white. Her drawings of people completely besotted with kitty cuteness are also adorable, but it's really her cats that keep drawing me back to her comics.
The sequel, My Pet Human Takes Center State came out earlier this year.
The Truth About Twinkie Pie: 04/10/17
The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh is the tale of two sisters trying to make a life for themselves after the death of their mother. The older sister is working in a salon and the story is told from the younger sister's point of view.
GiGi is in middle school and DiDi is a drop out. But the girls can cook and they recently won enough money to move from their trailer park in South Carolina to Long Island.
Mostly though the story is about GiGi trying to adjust to her new life. She misses her mother but she's got a new start. She just needs to get into the groove with her school and make new friends. But years of being on edge because of an ailing mother and looming poverty has made her skittish.
For so many siblings trying to make a go out of after their parents die, type books, this one is the most uplifting. Rather, it's the least melodramatic. Of course it does rely on the award of a huge baking prize, but it's otherwise the story of the older sibling stepping up to care for the younger sibling.
Each chapter is introduced with a recipe for a gooey pie. None of them were ones I'd want to try. I'm more a fruit pie person than a sugary filing one.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 10): 04/10/17
Hello from Pine Cove, California. Although there is no wifi and no DSL, my trusty smart phone has a strong and clear signal and I'm using it to set up a hot spot at night. It's cold and clear here and except for the smart phone and computer, very much like stepping into the early 20th century (the joys of having a father who is a retired antiques dealer).
My mother brought up an old box of my grandmother's photographs. It's been fun looking through them. I will be bringing some of them home and scanning others. Maybe I'll share some in a future post!
As I was busy packing up books, I didn't get all that many books read. In fact one of the books I listed as reading last week, I'm still reading, Vampires on the Run by C.M. Surrisi.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Since I don't do a lot of reading while traveling, I left my TBR pile at home. That means that some of the up next books from last week are still up next.
Last Week's Reviews
The Easter Bunny's Assistant: 04/09/17
There's an amusing, albeit, immature, photo going around Tumblr of an unfortunate case of spine label placement. The book in question is the picture book The Easter Bunny's Assistant by Jan Thomas. You can imagine how the title can be truncated.
I have to admit I was curious to see what my local public library did with the labeling. They do tend to get overzealous in their labeling so I thought there was a chance the book would be unfortunately labeled. That was my reason for checking it out. Turns out the librarian who processed the book took special care with the labeling, so there weren't any funny pictures to take.
That leaves the book itself. It's about an over-excitable skunk who wants to help the Easter Bunny deliver eggs. Besides being stinky, the skunk is also careless sometimes with how he helps. But being an assistant is EXCITING!
For any adult has had a child want to help, The Easter Bunny's Assistant is for you. It does show that patience on the part of the adult or mentor can have its own rewards. Skunk does manage to find a way to be helpful.
The Thing About Jellyfish: 04/08/17
There's something about jellyfish that inspire stories about death and social awkwardness. In the case of The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin it's the tale of a teenage girl refusing to believe her athletic friend could drown while swimming in the ocean. She has decided instead that her death was by jellyfish sting.
Suzy goes silent, refusing to talk to anyone, and secretly begins to plan a trip to Australia to meet with a jellyfish expert. But there are rules to flying internationally as a minor and it's obvious from the very beginning that this idiotic plan won't work.
As she doesn't talk, most of the book is internal narrative. Her feelings on things. Her refusal to play along. Her memories of her friend.
If jellyfish are your thing and you want another story of a girl trying to find her place in the world, I recommend the manga series, Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) by Akiko Higashimura.
Kitchener Waterloo: A Guidebook from Memory: 04/07/17
Kitchener Waterloo: A Guidebook from Memory by Robert Motum is a slim volume — really more of an art piece — that celebrates for better or worse the KW area of Ontario, Canada. It was one of about a half dozen books we bought when we first seriously began our move to the area, and the only one that I personally picked out.
It is a slim, unpaged recollection of different places, past and present, with each memory illustrated in a dotted, etherial fashion to give the impression of a fleeting memory. To an outsider who has only seen the two cities through photographs, the news, and their various social media accounts, A Guidebook from Memory is a bit like reading a diary from a different era.
But it's still a good sense of the personality of the place. Kitchener Waterloo reminds me of where I'm currently living — it's nearish to a big metropolis — one of the first cities to come to mind when one says "Canada" but far enough away to not be swept up in all things Toronto — just as here in Hayward we can ignore San Francisco if we want to.
The area, like Hayward, has a university — though the University of Waterloo is more of a big deal that Cal State East Bay (née Hayward). It has its college scene and the good and bad that goes with it (cultural events, lectures, late night drinking, and noisy neighborhoods). It's also a culturally diverse area.
Both areas are right on the edge of where things get rural — though the change is more sudden there than here. The flatter landscape to makes it more suited for farming. There is also a large Mennonite community (communities, really) in the area which keeps the rural area more unchanged that it might otherwise be – just as our ever expanding East Bay Regional Parks keeps the historical ranches part of the local landscape (But this is a topic for another book, review coming soon).
If anything, it's a love letter by a community for a community. That they offer shipping anywhere in the world, opens up that glimpse to rest of us. I am grateful to see Kitchener Waterloo as its residents want to remember it.
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: 04/06/17
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh is a picture book biography of Marie Tharp, the woman who mapped the oceans' floors. The book is written in first person as if Tharp is telling her own life story.
The book, though a mere forty pages, manages to touch on her childhood and love of maps (her father was a surveyor and cartographer), her education (including the setbacks she faced as a woman), her idea and work on the map, and finally it's reception.
Besides Burleigh's first person narrative, the different points in Tharp's life are beautifully illustrated by Raúl Colón. He employs a texturing technique to bring movement and dimension into each piece — so that one can see he curls in Tharp's hair, the flow of the ocean's waves, the type of wood that might have been used to make her desk. The amount of care taken in each of these illustrations is impressive and I spent extra time on each page just taking in the craftsmanship.
Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat: 04/05/17
Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat is one of two excellent road trip picture books that were published in 2016. Both books play with the idea of how long a trip can seem, especially to a bored child in the backseat.
Santat's interpretation is literal — equating the car with a time machine. In both cases the trip involves a drive across the country from home to Grandmother's. This trip, though, is motivated by an upcoming even happening at the Grandmother's and they have an invitation.
The idea here is that they have a specific date on which to arrive. As they have made the trip many times before (presumably) they know how long it will take (assuming normal traffic and road conditions).
But a road trip story is about what happens between points A and B. If the road is a means to an end, then it's part in the narrative will be reduced to a montage at best.
Imagine now, if the more bored you were, the slower the trip went. Santat's book begins subtly as the car pulls onto the highway. They are passed by three cars, each of an older vintage. A flip of the page and they are being passed by a train and covered wagon.
At the trip's nadir, the family finds themselves face to face with a T-rex. At this point, the book pauses to give a bit of advice: to live in the moment before the entire trip passes you by.
As soon as the bored boy notices the T-Rex and takes in the other oddities he had been ignoring, time ticks forward. The more fun he has the faster they go.
The other thing about road trips is, the more fun you have, the more likely you are to get off course and miss your destination. Or maybe you'll want to add a few days on the road — extend the itinerary.
Here, that means traveling to the future. But as any roadtripper knows, the road — the adventures on the road — tend to stick to a person. Here, that means, the past being pulled along in the wake of the family car.
Take for example, the pirates who are standing with the confused family as a robot asks in QR if they want their picture taken. (Try it out with your phone — the QR Codes really do work).
To arrive on time, in the right place, one must concentrate on the goal — on the final destination. That is the lesson learned here. It's all in finding the right balance between enjoying the ride and staying focused.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell is about a woman revisiting a tough time in her relationship with her then boyfriend at a time when she and he are struggling again, this time as a married couple with two daughters. It's a look at the way couples change, the way children change the dynamics — but with a touch of Anne Tyler style magical realism.
It's Christmas and they're supposed to fly to Omaha to spend time with his family, except Georgie is stuck in Los Angeles, working on a television series she's been developing for year and has finally been given the green light, if she and her cowriters can make the deadline.
Georgie stays at home while Neal and their daughters fly to Oklahoma. She does her best to work on the television project but is quickly distracted by how much she misses her family and by her mother and sister insisting that the marriage is on the rocks.
Her first night alone, Georgie ends up spending at her childhood home. With her cellphone's battery dead without a charger, she ends up calling Neal on an old Slimline telephone. Something about dialing a landline number (Neal's childhood home) with a landline phone and number (her childhood home) makes the call go back in time to the last time they fought — a rocky period that ultimately ended with Neal proposing marriage.
Like Anne Tyler's novels, there's no explanation for how these phone calls across time work. They just do on that sort of emotional, nostalgic logic. In the same way that if I were to call my grandmother from my landline to her old landline, I could talk to her even though she died in 2002. Landline walks a careful line between sentimentality and heartache. It was the perfect read for a time when my spouse on an extended business trip. Mind you, our communications didn't involve time travel. Nor was the trip a threat to the relationship but it was still a good read at a time when I missed him.
The 65-Storey Treehouse: 04/03/17
You will notice that I've added the e back into the titles. First and foremost, these are the original titles. Second, the United States publisher is incredibly slow at importing them and then has the audacity to Americanize all the English, as if "wheelie-bin" would somehow be baffling or offensive to American eyes. So now I've taken to importing the books to read as they are released (much to the amusement of a certain bookseller in Sydney).
I also happen to like the notion of story and storey being two different words (one about narrative, the other architectural). Should we ever succeed in making our Canada move (currently on hold), my later reviews will also reflect that in how I spell words. I'm not, however, planning to change older posts.
The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton involves travel through time in a wheelie bin (I'm assuming a blue one, as time travel devices have been blue since the Doctor's TARDIS got stuck as a police box). Andy and Terry want to go back to have enough time to get their treehouse up to code.
Instead they end up traveling through time in chunks of 65. They go back to the time of the Bignoseasaurus. They go back to see cavemen (including a cave man Chuck Jones)
This book is chock full of scifi jokes and references to tv shows and movies. Besides the scifi fun, each page is also running a breaking news ticker related to what's happening in the book. Some of the commentary down there is especially silly.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 3): 04/03/17
This week was back to normal except for Friday being a no school day for kids in honor of Cesar Chavez's birthday. I'd planned on taking them hiking but my youngest brought home the cold that's going around her school. So while she rested, I read and worked on my blog.
For the blog redesign, I'm now finished with May 2016. Creating the larger images takes time. I don't want to just slap them on a colored background and call it a day. I want the larger area to be either graphically part of the cover art or graphically important to the story as a whole (without being a spoiler).
Now that we're in "local move" mode, we've rented a storage space nearby where we will be putting our boxed up home library there. Next step is the purchase of all the Bankers boxes ever. My plan is to box up the books I've read first from the living room and then move the unread books I want to read into the empty spaces. Everything else in my bedroom (the room that need to get cleared out first) will then be boxed up.
For the second week of April, I am taking my son and daughter on a mini road trip to see their grandparents during their spring break. As we will be in the mountains, I probably won't have much connectivity. That means I probably won't be participating next week. I'll definitely be back on the 17th.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
My goal is to continue reading from my own collection. Although like last week, I do have one library book in the wings.
Last Week's Reviews
Last Week's Posts
Over Easy: 04/02/17
Over Easy by Mimi Pond is a graphic novel almost memoir of waitressing in Oakland in the late 1970s. Margaret, born and raised in San Diego gets tired of the hippie art scene and heads north to Oakland for art school.
She gets into a groove drawing the people and things in the diners she haunts. Her drawing leads her to a diner that's ahead of the foodie curve and is run by the weirdest group of people she's ever met. She knows she wants in.
Getting a job at the diner requires telling a dirty joke. Getting a good job at the diner requires back breaking work until someone higher up quits.
It's a quiet, Oakland centered story that takes side glances at the music scene, the fading hippie scene, drugs and sex before the war on the drugs and the start of the HIV epidemic.
You can see my live blogging of favorite panels on Tumblr.
March 2017 Inclusive Reading Report: 04/02/17
As with last month, I am continuing to include white male authors in this list, if they are from a different country (not the United States). This may seem to inflate my numbers but at the moment I feel it's the easiest way to keep the focus on expanding my horizons as a reader beyond the white, middle class, American perspective.
I have my allergies more or less under control which means I'm feeling more alert for reading and blogging. Our plans to move have been redirected from an international move to a local one. We just rented a storage area to put our home library as we get it boxed up.
My reading totals were up in March from February but my inclusive reading is still out numbered by non-inclusive reading. The breakdown is 45 percent to 55 percent.
Reviews though crossed the threshold, with more reviews featuring a diverse range of authors and characters. Fifty-eight percent of all the books I reviewed in March were inclusive.
Looking into April, I suspect my inclusive reading will suffer as I continue to concentrate on reading and weeding my personal collection. Most of the diverse reading will be of newly published books I pick up.
Smoky Night: 04/01/17
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting is a picture book about neighbors in an apartment building being brought together when protests erupt on the street below.
A young boy and his mother try to ride out the rioting until the fires start. Knowing they have to flee their apartment, they grab what they can and head out into the streets. Along the way they run into a older neighbor they don't talk to. She is missing her cat and that moment of vulnerability breaks down the negative preconceptions the mother and son have.
The story is set in Los Angeles and came on the heels of the Rodney King protests of 1992. In these days of protests over police violence the book remains unfortunately relevant.
David Diaz's vibrant illustrations earned the book the 1995 Caldecott.
March 2017 ROOB and News: 04/01/17
In February I mentioned that the move to Canada was delayed by "a month or more." Now we're at the delayed by a year point. I can't go into the why of the delay but one thing that we discovered in the process is that we really are at the point where we want / need a slightly larger home.
So now we're planning a local move over the summer. As part of process of getting the house ready, we need to put a large chunk of our home library in storage. I see this as an opportunity to weed our collection, meaning the ROOB challenge is once again a priority.
Reading from my personal collection accounted for 55 percent of my March reads (but seven percent, or two books, were new purchases in March).
All told, six of the sixteen books I read were purchased this year and published this year — a response to my other goal to stay more current with published books. So of my personal collection, thirty-eight percent are 2017 books, and sixty-three percent are from previous years.
My ROOB average for March improved from -1.89 to -2.07. It was also my best March ROOB score since I started keeping track.
Looking forward to April, my reading will continue to work through books I've bought but don't necessarily want to keep. I will also keep reading one or two newly published books each week (and I have a small pile set aside). I have a few library books out too as I'm still investigating the "crossing the cornfield" trope.