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Real Friends: 05/30/17
Real Friends by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is a graphic novel memoir of the author's elementary school years. The book is divided up into friendships with the name of the main person Shannon was friends with at the time — or the person who seemed to be in control of the social dynamics of her grade or class.
In contrast to Shannon's experience at school is her life as a middle child in a family of five. Her oldest sister, the one who Shannon most admired and most feared is shown sometimes as a giant grizzly bear.
This memoir though isn't a nostalgic romp through the 1970s and 1980s. It has its hear-breaking moments — as young Shannon copes with her anxiety through counting rituals, and daydreaming herself as a superhero or a super-spy.
It's not an idealized story of how young Shannon learned how to be popular and make friends with everyone. It's more about how she struggled through bullying — mistaking it for friendship — and how she got the guidance she needed from older girls and learned how to love herself and how to befriend those who needed friends.
Best Practices: 05/31/17
Here I am on my third re-write of this post. I could write a twenty page treatise on best practices. It stems from years of a perfect storm of working in marketing, being a former UI/UX designer, years of blogging, and being a librarian.
I know you're busy with other things and we've been encouraged to keep things short for Armchair BEA. So here's a list. In the future — when we're not in the middle of an online conference, I'll take the time to expand some of these thoughts into standalone articles.
Armchair Book Expo introductions: 05/31/17
The last time I participated in the Armchair BEA was 2011. I'm glad to be back and hope to get reacquainted with everyone. In that time, my original mascot and beloved cat, Caligula, died at the ripe age of 18. I now have a pair of tuxedo cats who continue the fine tradition of being reading companions and lap warmers. I have added them to my header but Caligula will always be my logo and avatar as she was the original inspiration for the blog's name and look.
I am currently in the process of redesigning my blog after moving to a vanity domain. From 1997 until March of this year, I was at pussreboots.pair.com — originally because I couldn't afford the $50 to make it a proper dot-com URL. The .pair version was only an extra $1 a year. This year my domain host felt the need to change how they do the cheaper vanity domains. Since my URL would change regardless, I opted to drop the .pair and upgrade to a proper dot-com URL.
To go with the new vanity domain, I'm cleaning up my code and creating new, larger images for all my reviews and articles. I'm working my way backwards, so 2017-2013 is now done. I estimate that I have about one hundred hours of work left. After that, my next step is to make a mobile site.
My blog, social media, etc can be found in a bunch of spots.
My current read is:
I read between three hundred and four hundred books a year. Two that I expect to be starting soon are: The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (2016) and Us Conductors by Sean Michaels (2014)
My summer plans:
We're planning an August road trip to Wyoming to see the total eclipse.
Adulthood Is a Myth: 05/30/17
Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen is the first of the Sarah's Scribbles comic collections.
Her comics are typically five panel ones that deal with every day situations but with thought bubbles showing what I think we've all thought at one point or another.
They also deal with anxiety, social awkwardness, and being an introvert. Most of these are relatable. All of them are funny – in an awkwardly cute sort of way.
Since I've been reading the webcomic, I bought the ebook version of this book. It was a perfect read for those times when I was waiting in line or had just a short amount of time to read.
The second volume, Big Mushy Happy Lump came out earlier this year. I will be reviewing it soon.
Giant Days, Volume 3: 05/29/17
Giant Days, Volume 3 by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar continues the madcap antics of university roommates Susan, Esther, and Daisy. The first semester is coming to a close and for some that's good and for others, it's a living nightmare.
For spring hols, Daisy and Esther take a bus trip to the beach. Except they get on the wrong bus and end up deep in sheep country. Instead of fighting they make the best of it and do in fact, find a place to go swimming.
Susan, meanwhile, is helping run a campaign. Somewhere along the way she gets too wrapped up in the process of campaigning and loses sight of everything else: the issues at the school, her classes, her life, basic hygiene. Though taken to hilarious extremes, anyone who has known anyone on a long project (or been on one themselves) will recognize how easily one can become obsessed with the project at the cost of all other things.
But my favorite part was the arrival of Esther's frenamy, a woman who parties hard and had a notorious reputation. Esther and she end up on an exhausting bender, only to then have both of them reveal that neither one particularly likes that lifestyle. They both just sort of felt obligated to do it for old time's sake.
Volume 4 came out in February.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 29): 05/29/17
I'l be participating in Armchair BEA this coming week, so I've been busy writing articles.
I'm also still working on my redesign. I'm done cleaning up 2017 through 2013. I'm making bigger images for every review, post, and article. I'm also removing defunct links, redundant code, and other irrelevant stuff. Once all that is done, phase two will be making a mobile version.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Posts
California by Edan Lepucki is a near future dystopian novel set probably in Southern California — though the exact location is never specified. It's apparent location is guessable by the places left behind (Los Angeles, for example).
The title isn't so much about the state (or what's left of it) but of Calvin "California" and his wife Frida. Or if you're reading this in terms of another dystopian survival story, Lord of the Flies, Cal and Frida can be seen like Sam and Eric and become one character, Calandfrida or if you squint, California.
Besides being like Lord of the Flies, the novel reminds me of a thematic cross between the 1987 film, Cherry 2000 (for the defunct Southern California setting) and the song "(Nothing but) Flowers" by the Talking Heads.
California, though a recent novel conforms with the sort of road narratives I was first exploring in 1995. In the 1970s-1980s, many post apocalyptic road stories had their second act set in or end at a vehicle graveyard. The story usually involved a hero either on a quest for some lost piece of tech or a heroine in flight from some villain and the solution to their problems — whether it was the location of the lost tech or a place to hide and learn self defense — was in one of these junkyards. Now the weirdest examples of this trope is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film from 1992 where Buffy first comes in contact with the vampires and her powers as a slayer amongst the Rose Parade floats.
For California the graveyard is described as a parking lot and a hotel surrounded by spikes — some made to look like trees and others made to look more threatening, like an obvious "do not enter." The edge of this property is also marked by a school bus in remarkably good repair. While the extended second act of this book takes place within the confines of this old hotel and grounds, the trope dictates that Cal and Frida are merely sojourning there.
An engaging dystopian, such as California or The Fog Diver will give enough hints to say where the story is taking place. Although the blurb for this book says that Cal and Frida have left Los Angeles "far behind them," anyone who knows present day Los Angeles knows its scale and how difficult that would be as society crumbles.
The descriptions, though, of the hotel and surrounds are vague enough to not give a definitive location. Originally I pegged somewhere like Hemet or Big Bear but later I narrowed my focus to Los Angeles itself, namely to Watts and the Watts Towers Arts Center. The oldest spires — besides the one that sounds like a defunct tree shaped cell phone tower, are described as being artistic creations, rather than defensive ones. The original name of the towers is "Nuestro pueblo," or "our town" descriptive of the community that Cal and Frida find.
Regardless of where the majority of the novel is set, it's an interesting cautionary tale of how various stresses on society could bring the crumbling end of the cities we now know. It's not a single event — rather a series of bad storms across the country, a new Great Depression — one that can no longer support Hollywood and the California university systems. It's a really bad time when even Hollywood has to pack up shop — given that they've historically been able to ride out depressions and recessions.
It's also not a dystopian where the entire world goes quiet. We are left out of the loop for most of the book because the main characters have elected to go off grid (or what remains of it). In the third act when the chose to return to society we do get a brief glimpse of what it has become — or rather what the privileged end of society has become.
A List of Cages: 05/27/17
A List of Cages by Robin Roe is a young adult novel told in alternating points of view: Julian and Adam. Julian is a freshman and Adam is a senior.
Adam has ADHD but has learned how to manage it. Julian has dyslexia and anxiety. Back in elementary school, Adam was assigned a reading buddy with Julian — a program done at my children's elementary school too.
Julian, now in high school, though is having trouble. He doesn't have friends. He's frequently absent. The school counselor can't seem to get him to come to his sessions. So she gives the task to Adam — for class credit. And that's what brings the two together again.
The introductory chapters give the impression that A List of Cages will be a run of the mill ADHD story with Adam teaching Julian how to cope. Except it isn't. The ADHD and the dyslexia are really minor details to a much larger, more compelling tale of loss, friendship, and child abuse.
It's mostly Julian's story — but Adam's point of view is necessary to get the big picture. Julian's world is so small — from his attempts to cope with his anxiety, to how his uncle is treating him, to his own shyness.
The Better Country: 05/26/17
The Better Country by Dallas Lore Sharp was listed as a source in The American Highway by William Kaszynski. In trying to track down primary sources for my road narrative project, I found a copy via Google Books.
Sharp's book is primarily an urban planning / urban renewal manifesto. A huge shift in the American city began near the end of the nineteenth century. Railroads had connected the major metropolises and provided easier access for the rural points in between. Besides the rail running between cities, the largest ones also built intracity rail as elevated rail, trollies (either horse or electric), and subways. The interplay between the inter- and intra-city rail started the push out from city center, giving workers more opportunities to live and work at farther distances than before where the distance one could either walk and ride a horse was the limit.
But it was personal transportation that ultimately forced the restructuring of the city. While the largest lasting effect has been the automobile, it was the bicycle that got things rolling, as it were. Bicycles in the early days before better shocks and breaks, required smooth roads. With such high demands (in part from the temperance and clean living movements), these new macadam or cement roads also needed to be wider.
Widening roads means taking away from the city footprint. It means eminent domain. And with eminent domain comes the temptation to gentrify in the name of urban planning / urban renewal.
That is where The Better Country comes into play. Sharp's thesis is decidedly anti-poor, anti-immigrant and pro-gentrification pro-suburbia. Sharp describes pushing the city out into the countryside to force smaller population numbers inside city bounds to improve the flow of traffic in and around the city.
In terms of my project, though, urban planning, a bit too tangential to be of much use. It is good to see the discourse that helped rationalize the massive building of suburbs in the post WWII era.
Brownies and Broomsticks: 05/25/17
Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates is the first of the Magical Bakery mystery series. It's a thematic blending of the Goldie Bear Catering and the Missing Pieces mystery series. Katie Lightfoot has moved to Savannah Georgia to be with her sister and to open the Honeybee Bakery.
Even before opening day, though, the people around Katie seem to be taking sides. Then when here most staunch critic ends up dead outside the restaurant and her uncle is accused, Katie knows she has to do something to clear her family's name.
What Katie doesn't expect is that her book club friends (and coworkers) are actually witches. Not only that, but so is she! Can they use their powers to solve the murder without dipping into black magic or risking the blowback of magic for personal gain?
Of course they can!
For a while now I've been looking for a new mystery series to start – one that is easy and fun to read, and is still being published so I have something to look forward to as I work through the older books. The Magical Bake mystery series fits all these requirements perfectly. I have the second book, Bewitched, Bothered and Biscotti on hand to read soon.
Scarecrow Magic: 05/24/17
Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa is a picture book I read for the crossing the cornfield category of my road narrative project. This is a story of a scarecrow who calls all his friends to have a late night party,
The cornfield as I've mentioned before is a threshold between worlds. It can ben a barrier between urban and rural. It can be a barrier between the real and the unreal — or one dimension and another. It can also be a barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead.
It is the last aspect that Scarecrow Magic covers. The friends that the scarecrow calls to his party are shown coming out of the ground, materializing from the shadowy edges of things. They are the literal and figurative things that go bump in the night. Their guide and host from the underworld, is this magic scarecrow.
A working theory on why the cornfield is a threshold to the underworld is that cornfields are traditionally fertilized with bonemeal. The traditional cornfield is a literal graveyard. Imagine now if that field were also haunted by the souls of those who had helped the corn thrive?
While the cornfield as portal to the underworld — or as source of zombies or other undead monsters — shows up most frequently in horror, Scarecrow Magic is not. It's more of a lighthearted urban fantasy — in that the revelers who come out at night don't bother the living on the farm and they clean up after themselves before dawn. The message here is one that there's always that aspect of the unknown and much of the time, the unknown is perfectly harmless.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon: 05/23/17
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon by Frank Cottrell Boyce is the forth book in the revamped series. The Tootings are stuck in 1966. At first they think this is a great thing: The Beatles, England winning the World Cup, a much younger Queen Elizabeth. But then things go horribly, horribly wrong.
England loses the world cup and the clock tower containing Big Ben (recently named the Queen Elizabeth tower) has blasted off. Things get even weirder as the Tootings meet Chitty's 1960's family and other landmarks go missing.
There is a lot of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff in this book. This book could easily be retitled The Two Chittys a la the numerous multiple Doctor episodes of Doctor Who. Just as the Doctor seems to know British royalty, so does Chitty. The young Queen Elizabeth makes an appearance.
It takes a while for everything to gel. The set up is a bit convoluted. The ending though more than makes up for the initial hiccups. Given how well all the threads are sewn up, I suspect this is the conclusion to the series. Were there ever a new adventure, I would read it.
Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword: 05/22/17
Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword by Mike Maihack has Cleopatra trying to find the thief who has stolen the sword she recovered in the first book.
The future that Cleopatra is now living in reminds me of a peaceful version of the empire the Goa'uld conquered in Stargate and SG-1. Cleopatra herself is torn between enjoying her adventures in the future, and her desire to get home. In this regard she reminds me of a young version of Kiera Cameron from Continuum.
The Thief and the Sword is less focused on the initial mayhem of Cleopatra's adventure, and more on world building and characterization. We're introduced to a ton of characters and see more of the day to day life of a student.
The next book in the series is the Secret of the Time Tablets. Perhaps we'll learn more about how Cleopatra came to the future and if she has a chance to get home.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 22): 05/22/17
My husband is home for a month and then he's off again for another business trip. That should be the last of the trips for a while.
We had no more plumbing problems but repairmen suddenly showed up on Monday to pour concrete at the bottom of the stairs that lead from our stoop to the stairs leading to the carport. As we live in a townhouse, repairs like this aren't unheard of but usually we're giving a warning the week before. The bottom area has always flooded as long as we've lived here and with the last very rainy season it was perpetually a little square pond. Now that's been filled in with a four inch slap of cement that connects the two bottom stairs. I would feel better about the repair if they had left a draining tunnel under or through the slab. I think the flooding problem isn't solved — just altered into a new problem.
Saturday my daughter's school hosted a school-wide art show. They turned the cafeteria into an art gallery. The PTA and the principal saw me with my camera and asked me to document the entire event so they could share pictures with the school board. My daughter did a calligraphy project with her class and also submitted this piece with the two different color wheels which she did on her own at home.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Posts
Mapping the roads of the American nightmare: 05/21/17
Turning my attention back to literary analysis, I've started reading American Road Narratives by Ann Brigham (2015). The book was published the year I decided to jumpstart my research from 1995. This book has made a few important points for my research: first, my reading in the last two year's has been on track. Although I'm no longer part of academia, I was able to navigate my way through current trends in road narrative analysis. Second, I am getting a better sense of what I want to focus on.
With the road narrative genre it is tempting to divide things into to clear cut binaries. I spent much of my first six months diagraming a crazy spider web of binaries. It quickly became too complex to track and too unfocused. But the exercise game me a few binaries I was interested in pursuing further. I pared them down to seven — rather like a color wheel of tropes or sub-genres.
Brigham's introduction, though, offers an insight into the genre that has made me rethink my focus. She contends that "this genre has primarily been read in terms of familiar binaries: home/away, domesticity/mobility, conformity/rebellion, stasis/movement, confinement/liberation." (p. 8). She goes on to add that her reading of the genre is one of interaction with society, and one of transgression of social mores, "...because because so many road scholars understand mobility as an inherently positive and liberating form of transgression that subverts and transcends social order." (p. 9). What her thesis seems to ignore is horrific, the dangers, the monsters lurking off the beaten path — the threat to standing still — basically all the things that fall into the "crossing the cornfield" trope.
What this means for my research, is that while I continue to read through the road narrative analysis books I have on hand, I should continue to explore the paranormal aspects of the genre — the places where the road narrative intersects with urban fantasy and horror. That means beginning a close rewatching of Supernatural, a closer re-reading of the Oz books, and things in between. We're talking crossroad demons, ghostly hitchhikers, urban myths, snake oil salesmen, and so forth.
It does mean that my research is taking a metaphorical turn and is completely removed from my original project (semantics of real world urban design influencing our ontological understanding of road narratives).
My reason for this tangent is that I'm not particularly interested in yet another reading of road trip as an expression of being American — or as Brigham suggests, a way of becoming more American. Although I agree with her that the road trip part of the road narrative is a quintessentially American genre, I believe the genre is more nuanced that just being a reaffirmation of American values, or a discussion across physical space of those values, or even a transgression of said values. The road has become such a part of the North American psyche to be part our nightmares. I am saying "North American" because my readings include examples from both Canada and Mexico as well as the United States.
Boy Dumplings: 05/21/17
Boy Dumplings by Ying Chang Compestine is a picture book about a boy who outsmarts a trash stealing ghost. The boy is out late and ends up being captured by the ghost who decides to eat him. The boy does everything he can to stay alive until morning.
The boy buys time by offering to teach the ghost how to make himself into a dumpling, rather than just eating him. Of course only the finest ingredients can be used and that means lots of work and lots of running around.
The illustrations are bold and colorful. Some of them are a bit unnerving but it is the story of a ghost who wants to eat a boy after all. I think it would work well with story time for older kids.
The Amazing World of Gumball: After School Special: 05/20/17
The Amazing World of Gumball: After School Special by Ben Boquelet is another collection of short comics by different artists, set in Elmore. This volume features work by Andy Hirsch, Kate Leth, and Anne Szabla.
The good and the bad of a book like this is that you get a wide range of styles both in terms of story telling and illustration. Some of them work and some of them don't depending on your own personal tastes. For me this volume was mostly average. I think part of it is my own falling out of love with The Amazing World of Gumball. The most recent season has fallen flat on many of its episodes.
One particular problematic story is set in the graveyard. It's told as a ghost story but illustrated as if we're there experiencing things first hand. I can't really tell you more about what the ghost story is because the lettering is done in a minuscule size with an inadequate amount of contrast between the speech bubbles and the letters.
The Summer Prince: 05/19/17
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson is set in a futuristic, matriarchal Brazil. It opens with the sacrifice of the current king — a ritual that has been in place since the men started dying centuries ago. In his dying breath, he is to affirm or chose a new queen.
June, an aspiring artist, knows one of the three potential new Summer Kings. Enki is from the slums and has risen in part for his talent and showmanship. He's there to show that the Queen cares for the less fortunate — but he has chosen to use his short-lived position to start a revolution.
The setting is different from the typical dystopians. Not New York, not Los Angeles, not Washington D.C., not London. The matriarchal rule — done by the Aunties — was also nicely different. The racial diversity is nice — so many visions of the future are populated exclusively with white men. Enki's bisexuality is also a nice detail.
But all of these details feel like a shopping list. June's world, save for a brief time when she and Enki attempt to run away, is self contained. It's cut off from everything else. The violence and the superstitions don't seem to serve any purpose in the form of social commentary. Instead the government set up is there to be primitive, exotic and that serves no purpose beyond playing into stereotypes and prejudice.
Six Impossible Things: 05/18/17
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood is about a teenage boy and his mom trying to adjust to a complete change in fortune. Dan's parents are recently divorced because his Dad has come out as gay. Now they've moved into a house they've inherited (more or less) and Mom is struggling to keep her wedding cake company afloat.
Dan does his best to cope by working through a list of things he wants to do — a list things that seem impossible. On that list is getting to know the girl next door better.
Six Impossible Things isn't my first list driven YA but it has a bunch of other things working for it. There's the old house — which I kept picturing as Phryne Fisher's house but in modern times (I know, different city). There are tons of things in there to be discovered.
Then there is the mother's catering business. It's not going well but starting afresh is always tough. I liked her pluck, her resolve, and her unusual cake ideas.
I think this book would be a good fit for readers who also enjoyed:
Tagged by Diane C. Mullen is the story of fourteen year old Liam living in the projects in Minneapolis. He wants nothing more than to be a graffiti artist. His school work, baseball playing, a life are threatened by the interest the Irish Mafia are showing in his young career as a tagger.
It's not that organized crime doesn't happen in Minneapolis but the crime that does falls into the categories of bootlegging during prohibition, drug running, real estate fraud, and gambling (Minneapolis Organized Crime (1900-2000) by E. J. Johnson, 2004).
Graffiti and tagging as turf war markers are really more of a larger city type thing, such as New York City and Los Angeles. It's not that tagging and graffiti don't exist in Minneapolis, but it's not tied to crime and territory.
Instead it's more of an urban art thing. "None of the 529 tags on campus or in the Southeast Como, Marcy-Holmes and Prospect Park neighborhoods were gang-related from February 2014 to February 2015, according to city data." (The Writing on the Wall).
So before we can even get to the heartwarming mentorship of the troubled young artist by the older, established, bohemian aunt, we have to suspend our belief to the breaking point. I just couldn't do it. The set up reads like some vague concepts were tossed together in a blender and the results used to make a story with little to no research to make the situation seem at all credible.
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral: 05/16/17
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral is the second of the Jem and the Holograms comics in album form. It contains issues seven through ten. It covers the arc where the Misfits have a new manager and Rio Pacheco comes on scene to cover the on going battle of the bands.
I'm going to be upfront and admit that once again I've dropped the ball. I really thought I had reviewed this album. I suppose that comes from the excitement of live blogging it, as I do most of the graphic novels I read. Unfortunately somehow I completely blanked on writing the review. So this "review" will be more one of fond memories, than literary critique.
The short version, then, is I loved Viral. I love how the story has been modernized to include Youtube, the Internet, the modern version of My Little Pony.
If volume one reintroduced the world to the characters and the basic plot, volume two is time for some more complex character development. We get to know each woman in both bands. We also start to see some romantic pairings. We also get to see that both bands are being manipulated by the record label for their bottom line
Something has to break given all the stress everyone is under. The first to go is lead of the Misfits, who is in a terrible car crash. But she is just the tip of the iceberg.
Camera and Lens: 05/15/17
Name one famous photographer. I bet the first name that came to mind was Ansel Adams. Now if you live in the Bay Area, Ansel Adams is somewhere between a local hero and god. But he was a human being, a man who was dedicated to the art and craft of photography and one who was willing to continue pushing and experimenting.
Camera and Lens by Ansel Adams is the first book in a series of how-to books he wrote. As Adam's specialty was black and white, his book focuses solely on black and white film photography.
Even though I work in color digital, Adams's lessons are timely and relevant. Save for the computerized bits of the digital camera, the modern day camera still uses the same optical principles as the ones Adams used. And he used a wide variety of cameras (not just the large format 8x10 he's remembered for). Camera and Lens includes easy to understand descriptions of the major types of camera bodies.
Though it's called Camera and Lens, the book includes chapters on other equipment too for field work and lab work. If you shoot in RAW, the chapter on development will be relevant (sure, chemicals no longer come into play, but the techniques still do).
Ansel Adams is often immortalized as an eccentric naturalist who rode his donkey into nature with his old fashioned camera strapped to its side. Sure, he did sometimes do it that way but he also had an off roader with an awesome observation roof built on top. He went by four legged transportation when driving wasn't an option. He was even fond of aerial photography.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 15): 05/15/17
Friday my husband left for a business trip, so it's just me, the children, and our cats.
The newly repaired ceiling is dry but on Wednesday we almost had a moment of deja vu when the garbage disposal jammed and then fell off the bottom of the sink (the same sink that caused the water damage we just finally fixed). Fortunately we were here when it happened and no water got anywhere it shouldn't be. The fix was an easy one and the culprit was a screw. According to our plumber, when this happens, it's usually a screw falling into the sink. Who knew?
For Mother's day, the kids and I went to a sushi boat restaurant and then we went to see the re-screening of my favorite movie, The 5th Element. What a blast that was. The theater was packed with diehard fans. We were all saying the best lines before they happened and laughing before the funny parts.
This July, Luc Besson has a new film coming out which also looks amazing. I haven't read the graphic novels that inspired the film. Nor have I seen the joint France-Japan anime series. I will be doing both before the film premiers in July.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
The Stone Heart: 05/14/17
The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks is the second book in the Nameless City trilogy. Everything seems to on track for a council to give voice to the residents of the Nameless City. That is until greed derails everything.
The Stone Heart is the name for the monks and their monastery. The are the heart and soul of the old city — the keepers of the city's history, including a single book that records how the city's founders were able to tunnel through the mountains to build the city. It is rumored that their technology was powerful enough to be a weapon of mass destruction. Whoever has the book and someone who can read the ancient text will rule the world.
Caught up in the middle of this power struggle are Kaidu and Rat. Kaidu, is a Dao by birth but not in spirit. He's a pacifist. He'd rather be a musician than a warrior. Rat is an orphan whose parents were killed by Dao warriors. Though she is tentatively Kaidu's friend, years of mistreatment by the Dao invaders has made her wary of extending her trust beyond Kaidu — or even to trusting him unconditionally.
Although this book is set in a fictional world inspired by thirteenth century China, the motifs make this very much a North America book. The motif that surprised me the most was the inclusion of corn, a western hemisphere food. It The Stone Heart within the realm of the "road not taken" and "crossing the cornfield" categories of the road narrative, despite not having any road travel associated with it.
There are a number of scenes where Kaidu and Rat come head to head over the fate of the city. Kaidu, though he's pro-Nameless City, is privileged because he's a Dao and the son of a prominent warrior. Rat, meanwhile, has everything to lose if the planned council fails. She has already lost so much — her parents and her given name. Now she's likely to lose her home (the monastery) and her life.
Kaidu and the other Dao are always shown as being urbane. When Kaidu must confront his privilege, he is shown doing so in front of the small cornfield the monks maintain — but with the background being the large buildings of the monastery and the massive expanse of the city, behind him. When Rat is there, she drawn in scale with the corn, her figure shown against a backdrop of crops and other agricultural features.
Here then, the cornfield represents a barrier of trust, of privilege, of class, of economics, of ethnicity. It separates the colonizer from the colonized.
Half a Chance: 05/13/17
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord is about Lucy's first summer at a lake in New Hampshire. For most people, it's the place to go for the summer but Lucy's family will be year rounders.
While Lucy and her mother are there to unpack and set up the house, her father is in Arizona on a photo shoot. He's a world famous photographer and Lucy desperately wants his approval with her own photography.
Lucy's father is also the judge on a summertime photography contest for teens. It's a scavenger hunt where each entrant has to shoot their interpretation of the given prompts. Lucy decides to enter as there's nothing in the rules that says relatives of the judge can't.
In the background of all of this photography stuff, is Lucy's growing friendship with her neighbors: a pair of kids about her age, their parents, and their grandmother. The grandmother has been a longtime member of the Loon Patrol, checking on the local population and their offspring. This year though her dementia and physical frailty makes going along impossible.
As Lucy learns about loons and learns how to kayak, her photography begins to reflect her changing life. She also finally begins to accept her artwork on her own.
Now back to the father because I have a few bones to pick with him. He has access to professional level equipment, including a variety of lenses, DLR cameras, probably with large sensors for high resolution. There's a lot more that can be done with a camera with exchangeable lenses and manual focus than can be done with a standard point and shoot digital camera — such as what he's given to Lucy.
If he truly wants her to improve her skills beyond what she can do with a point and shoot, low pixel digital camera, he needs to step up and either loan her some of his equipment or give her some of his older equipment that he's upgraded.
This Land I Love: Waterloo County: 05/12/17
In January my husband spent ten days in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario to interview for a job transfer. As it was looking pretty serious (in that we would have moved starting this May had the company as a whole re-organized it's headcount) I asked him to get some books on the area — of the sort we wouldn't be able to find here in California.
This Land I Love: Waterloo County by Carl Hiebert is one of the books he brought home, purchased from KW Bookstore. He chose it for two main reasons: it's a photography book and it features aerial shots of the surrounding countryside (to answer the question of what does the area look like).
At first glance the book is a compilation of landscape photographs taken form an ultralight plane of regional municipality of Waterloo (which contains the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, as well as the townships of Woolwich, Wilmot, Wellesley, and North Dumfries. The photographs cover the landscape over the different seasons, with the emphasis being on farmlands.
The text though, fills in the story behind these photographs and the farms. These are Mennonite farms and the stories are from people from two of the more conservative groups. The author explains at the close of the book that there are four distinct communities, plus a transplanted Amish community, but he chose to take stories from the two most conservative, as they are struggling with increasing land prices and the growing number of tourists who purposely seek them out as entertainment.
The photographs are beautiful and the text painted a portrait of the area I would otherwise not have known.
I Love Him to Pieces: 05/11/17
I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang is a graphic novel about a pair of teens trying to survive the start of a zombie outbreak. It's teens, comedy, and zombies.
Dicey's athletic and Jack's a science wiz. They're brought together for a school project — one of those dreaded group projects where you can't pick your own partners.
Now they're stuck away from home and need to get back and everything seems to be going against them. As far as zombie stories go it's somewhere in the neighborhood of Undead by Kirsty McKay and Shaun of the Dead with a few nods to Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks.
I Love Him to Pieces is the first eight graphic novels in the "My Boyfriend is a Monster" series. Each graphic novel is written by a different author. I am planning to read the rest in the series. The second book is Made for Each Other by Paul D. Sorrie.
Waiting is Not Easy!: 05/10/17
Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems is the 22nd Elephant and Piggie book. Piggie has a surprise for Gerald and he's not sure he's patient enough to wait.
Taking children to special events, like fireworks, or an eclipse, or even just the sunset, can be trying for both parent and child. Children tend to go to bed early and get tired before the event. They also aren't necessarily used to waiting for hours.
Waiting is Not Easy! is the perfect book if you're planning one of these types of trips. The payoff at the end shows a beautifully rendered two page spread of the Milky Way.
Shopaholic Ties the Knot: 05/09/17
Shopaholic Ties the Knot by Sophie Kinsella is the third in the Shopaholic books. Becky has a good job, lives in Manhattan, and has the boyfriend of her dreams. Now she's suddenly engaged and in a massive tug of war between a mother and Luke's mother both trying to plan the wedding of the century.
In Manhattan Becky can have a huge wedding in a place that's impossible to book and have anything in the wedding — the more extravagant the better. In England, the wedding will be at home with her closest of friends and her parents' garden decked out especially for the day.
The problem is, she only has so much time and she has to make a decision. She has to break the news to someone before it's too late. But you know how well Becky can handle that type of situation.
This book was extra special for me because it brought back all the weddings my grandmother planned in the 1980s, with me as her weekend and summer assistant. Back in the day when most kids were working in fast food or as paperboys, I was a wedding coordinator assistant — earning $15 per wedding. While we didn't see either of the extremes present in Becky's life, we did see everything in between.
Goodnight June: 05/08/17
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio is a historical fiction about the inspiration of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. It's also about an overworked banking executive retracing her roots in Seattle after the death of her aunt.
June Anderson is called out to Seattle to settle her aunt's estate — primarily in the form of an old children's book shop. The place is in dire need for repairs and is mortgaged too the teeth. June knows she should just liquidate and go home to New York but it's nice to get away from the stress of her job. Her blood pressure is so high that medication isn't helping.
In the middle of all of this, June discovers a series of letters from Margaret Wise Brown sent to her aunt. Apparently before Brown's death the two had been friends, with Brown even coming to visit the book shop.
While there's no evidence that Brown was friends (or more) with a book shop owner in Seattle, her life and career were both active and eccentric enough to imagine a Bohemian friendship with a woman in Seattle.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 08): 05/08/17
This week my husband was on vacation but mostly we spent his time home getting books into storage. The master bedroom had a large hole in the ceiling from water damage (an improperly installed dishwasher). We had to box up two book cases, put the boxes into storage, and dismantle one of the cases. We also had to strip the bed and fold it up to make more room for the work crew.
Saturday the work crew came in and fixed the ceiling. Then we just had to put the room back in order so we could use it as a bedroom. It was exhausting work, made more so because one of my toes is still messed up from the march across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Friday night was the Multicultural Night at our daughter's school. Our Girl Scout troop performed. First they taught the audience how to sing The Rattlin' Bog and then they taught them how to do a Ceili Dance. In the picture you can see my husband and my daughter paired up for the dance.
Despite spending most of my waking hours boxing books, I did manage to read five things. My long book was Pachinko. I also read a graphic novel, a manga, and a comic book. I rounded out the list with a cozy mystery.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the billed as a multigenerational story of a Korean family. While that's true in the strictest sense, it's mostly the story of tenacious Sunja and her efforts to keep her family together.
To set the stage for Sunja's life, the novel starts earlier with her grandparents and her father — the only surviving child, born with a cleft pallet. He though dies young, leaving his widow and daughter to run the boarding house during the Depression.
Sunja ends up pregnant by her older (and married) lover. He offers to take care of her and their child if she agrees to stay in Korea and continue to be his mistress. Sunja, though, has too much self respect to let anyone define the terms of her life. Instead, she finds a new path — as the wife of a missionary living in Osaka. Her life bounces through the possibilities like a ball in a Pachinko machine.
The move to Osaka during the Depression is the set up for the rest of the book. Sunja's decision to leave her home creates ripples for herself and her family and those play out through the remainder of the book. Sunja's family saga looks at the Japanese occupation of Korea, World War Two, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the rise of Japanese business in the States, and the most recent Japanese recession. All of it is seen through the lens of a Korean immigrant, her children, and grandchildren.
Later on, the pachinko theme is further explored as Sunja's children both (though under very different sets of circumstances) end up working in Pachinko parlors. Pachinko parlors were one of the few open jobs for Koreans in Japan
Pachinko is the first book by Min Jin Lee since her debut in 2007, Free Food for Millionaires. I must admit that I was unduly harsh in my review of her debut and over the years I have grown to appreciate it more than I did as a first time reader. Lee's books need to be read slowly and deliberately.
Anna's Corn: 05/06/17
Anna's Corn by Barbara Santucci is a story about family, grief, and renewal. Anna is learning how to plant and harvest corn with her grandfather. He gives her a pouch of corn kernels that she can plant next year.
Before the next spring, grandpa dies and Anna doesn't want to go back to the cornfield. The field reminds her too much of him and the kernels are the last thing he ever gave her.
Anna's Corn is the opposite of "It's a Good Life" by Jerome Bixby. While both cornfields act as a barrier between life and death — and as a way to hold onto the past (either by holding onto the kernels, or by banishing / killing those who would change things), the cornfields are completely different. Bixby's cornfield is a prison, a thing to be feared. Santucci's is a reminder of family, of loved ones.
Anna comes to realize that the best way to keep grandpa's memory alive is to keep his cornfield alive. She must give up her last gift to let it grow into the next crop. From that she can harvest next year's kernels for planting — thus following in her grandpa's shoes.
The 78-Storey Treehouse: 05/05/17
The 78-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is the sixth story in the treehouse series and because it seems to be taking forever for them to be published anywhere but Australia, we actually paid a rather bewildered bookshop in Sydney to send us a copy. While Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton may be Australia's most popular children's book pair, and their books are probably ubiquitous there, here, not so much. So to them (as the email exchange progressed) we seemed completely barmy to want to pay nearly double cover price to get have a copy shipped to California. It's okay, they'll get repeat business form us come August when the 91-Storey Treehouse comes out.
Every new edition includes two themes: the big over arching thing — a plot device, if you will, and a more subtle one — a visual pun. Basically there's the Andy theme and Terry theme. This time it's the blockbuster movie being filmed on location and the clever alien spy cows who want to steal the movie before it even debuts.
In previous books, if one loses the treehouse, so does the other. If one goes on an adventure, so does the other. Here, not so much. Here, the book falls into the long running buddy movie franchise trope of trying to break up the team in the name of drama. It's a cliché and as such it rarely works to do anything other than produce an annoying plot twist.
That is the case here when Andy is tossed out of the treehouse after disrupting the filming. He had wanted to play himself along side Terry, who is playing himself. Instead, he's been replaced by Mel Gibbon. I don't for an instant believe that Terry would kick out Andy. Nor do I believe that the film would cast one but not the other. That would be like the Croc Hunter movie having been made without Steve Irwin but keeping his wife — or WildKratz with only one of the brothers.
Thankfully this book (like all the others) have enough other plot twists and gags to distract from the one annoying one. For instance, there is the missing, super secret potato chips. They were taken right out of the bank vault (past all sorts of deadly traps). All of this mayhem leads to a courtroom drama.
But the best part is the cow plot. They start subtly at first — just little cow doodles hidden on all the page. It's not until about 2/3 through the book that the cow plot is even introduced. Once it's made obvious that there are alien spy cows, one must go back and relook at at every previous page to find the cow.
So were it not for the cows and the courtroom drama, I would have rated this book three stars. The completely artificial separation of Andy and Terry does nothing except make them act completely out of character.
Read Our Own Books - April 2017: 05/04/17
The first step in our goal to move locally now that Canada won't be happening this year for us, is the completion of repairs. The master bedroom has become the staging area for the move but it also is a room that needs some serious repair work done to the ceiling. That means most of the things we have been storing in there have to either be thrown out or put into storage.
This first week of May my husband has taken off to recharge after spending most of April on call before he spends most of the next month (in two trips) in Zurich. While he's home we've been having work done on the house. When repair work isn't being done, he's schlepping boxes to storage, while I box things up or bag up things to throw away.
I had been prioritizing my book boxing to books we have already read and don't plant to-read in the next few weeks or months. Now that the master bedroom has to be cleared out for repair work this Saturday, I have no choice but to box up the majority of the books in there.
The total number of books I managed to read last month is down from previous months. Like March, though, reading from my personal collection accounted for 55 percent of what I read.
Four of my twelve personal collection were new purchases in keeping with my goal to stay more current with newly published books. With the drop in total number of books read, my ROOB score climbed to -1.86. It's not the worst month ever, but it's disappointing after last month's success. My ROOB average for April rose slightly from -2.31 to -2.26.
Looking forward to May, my reading will still focus on my purchased books. However, with my book loving husband on vacation, I've been to the book store and come home with a large collection of newly published books (featured in the image at the top of this article). If I manage to read all of them in May, I will have a very high (meaning bad) ROOB score.
XO, OX: A Love Story: 05/04/17
XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell (illustrator) is told through a series of letters between Ox, a fan, and Gazelle, a performer.
I'm pausing briefly for Shakira's performance from Zootopia because that's the one good thing to come of this book — putting a song that I like into my head.
Gazelle, busy professional that she is, can't possibly write a personalized letter in response to every piece of fan mail she receives. So Ox is sent a standard letter and one of her publicity stills.
Ox, though, can't take a form letter. He writes back and receives another form letter. That should be the end of things. But Ox is so damn fixated on her that he continues to write. In response he gets a polite but stern letter telling him to stop writing.
But he doesn't. No. He keeps writing and she keeps responding, until at the very end, we see that Gazelle has succumbed to his "charms" and is vaguely smiling while writing "Dear Ox."
Excuse me while I barf. What a terrible, terrible, awful, horrible disservice to child this book is. It's saying, if you are a boy fixated on someone, it's perfectly ok to harass that person until they come around to your way of seeing things.
If you're a girl and you're getting unwanted attention, you should just give your stalker enough time to make his case. He's probably perfectly charming under all that obsessive behavior. He probably really likes you. Screw your own personal comfort and sense of well being — just accept his attention and be happy!
Think I'm over reacting? I'm not. I'm talking from personal experience (not being stalked, thank goodness) but from watching a relative obsess over a celebrity — writing letter after letter and believing that she was in love with him even though he was just one more name on a letter among countless others in her fan mail. The only thing that kept him from doing more than writing letters and building his shrine to her was his own health issues and lack of money. He wasn't well enough to travel and probably couldn't afford the bus ticket from San Diego to Los Angeles. Thank goodness that circumstances kept him away so that he couldn't do something worse.
So how exactly is a story about an obsessed fan — even one with a cute palindrome title — a good idea for a picture book? The title could have led to any other form of epistolary tale. They could have been long distance boyfriend and girlfriend (legitimately, not obsessed fan / performer). They could have been a Romeo and Juliette type couple — kept apart for family reasons.
Stalking and obsession do not make for romantic or funny stories!
Draw! by Raúl Colón is a wordless picture book about a boy's safari dreams, inspired by a day in bed drawing from the photos and descriptions in his book on Africa.
Draw! reads like a large format flip book, one drawing leading into the next. Colón uses many colored lines, cross hatched to make textured, vibrant pieces.
But being set in the African savanna, there's lot of yellow, tan, beige, and brown. The repetitive patterns and palette makes all the pieces blend together into a vague memory of African animal drawings.
Here's a case where the lack of words is a disservice to the art. These drawings need their space. They need context. When I've shown this book to children, none of them could summarize the story. Nor were they particularly inspired by it.
Witches' Bane: 05/02/17
Witches' Bane by Susan Wittig Albert is the second in the China Bayles series. China and her neighbors are under attack as a bible thumper has started a protest outside their row of shops. He's accusing them of witchcraft and Satanism.
Then in the middle of all of this, one of China's friends ends up murdered, killed with a ceremonial knife. Now it looks for certain that someone is practicing the dark arts.
I never exactly got into this story. First, I found the whole evangelist character too comedic to be taking seriously. I kept picturing him as a first season Gideon Gleeful from Gravity Falls (before Gideon's true evil nature was revealed).
The murderer was also a bit obvious. You know that character who is bound to betray everyone. That's how obvious this character is. The motive behind the murder took a little more figuring out, but not enough for me to truly enjoy this book.
I think my main problem with this series is one of a generation gap. The book is very dated and very much aimed at a Baby Boomer readership. In this regard, The China Bayles series is best suited for fans of the ABC Mysteries by Sue Grafton.
The Arrangement: 05/01/17
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn is set in a small Hudson Valley town — a place filled with middle class white twats — and one billionaire who likes to hit golf balls into the Hudson.
During a dinner party the subject of open marriages is brought up. Hosts Lucy and Owen balk at the idea but later in bed they decide to give it a try. The come up with rules: it will only last six months, there will be no talking about their encounters, there will be no sleeping with anyone in Beekman, there will be no leaving, and no falling in love.
The book from the very beginning sets up Owen and Lucy as NORMAL: meaning they are white, middle class, cis-gendered, straight, and monogamous. The one thing that makes the abnormal (to their frustration) is Wyatt, their autistic son.
What could have been an interesting exploration of open marriages ends up being nothing but loosely connected vignettes based around hackneyed stereotypes.
Take for instance the introduction of open marriage in the first chapter. The one gay couple in the town is the one with the open marriage. Despite the fact that they have adopted two daughters, their "sex can be just sex." (p. 9). There it is: heterosexual marriage is always about procreation and the delineation of "normal" gender roles.
The so-called open marriage that this two set up is anything but. Open marriages work through communication. While they do mention using condoms for every encounter, there's still the risk that one could infect the other without communication. They might as well be having affairs if they're not talking about it.
Meanwhile, at Wyatt's school, his kindergarten teacher has come out as transgender. This turn in the plot is announced by Wyatt, "'Mr. Lowell is now Mrs. Lowell.'" (p.55). This announcement is repeated for the next two pages, thus driving home two concepts: transitioning is weird and and autism is also weird. Maybe putting the two together will be funny! Or witty. It's neither.
Throughout all of this mess there is the repeated theme that white middle class heterosexual marriage is normal. Open Marriages — or polyamory (a term not used in the book) is abnormal. This type of marriage is also doomed to tragedy — unhappiness, unfulfilling lives. But it's what normal people do.
For all this waving of the normality flag, I found nothing normal about either of them. Nor did I find anything about their "normalcy" desirable. I found the entire experience an exasperating waste of time.
April 2017 Inclusive Reading Report: 05/01/17
All around, April was a bad month for reading, where I read eight fewer books than a year ago. Most of my free time for reading was taken up with travel and the boxing of our home library so it can go into storage. Much of the reading I did was short fiction (picture books) for my road narrative project, with very little thought as to the diversity of characters or authors.
So in terms of expanding my personal horizons and for offering an a wide range of books I've reviewed, April was a dismal month. In the last year, April was the worst month in that it had the fewest diverse books read and reviewed.
April's poor showing though wasn't a complete surprise. I did predict that this aspect of my reading and reviewing would suffer as I read through my older personal collection as part of the putting books into storage.
May will also be focused on getting the library into storage, as well as getting home repairs started (and hopefully completed). Glancing at my scheduled reviews (which can change over the month), I have approximately one third of the review slots being held by diverse books. As for May's reading, I have a few books going right now and I hope that's momentum I can use to turn around April's poor showing.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 01): 05/01/17
Tuesday was the Science Fair and Open House at my daughter's school. She did a project on the best methods for creating slime. She discovered that the contact lens solution recipe created the best lasting slime — one that can be refrigerated and not lose any of its sliminess.
Friday night we drove to Fort Baker in preparation for my daughter's bridging ceremony. Junior level Girl Scouts are invited to bridge to the Cadette level by literally crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Although it's primarily a Bay Area thing, troops (and some Girl Guides) from all over the country do come.
Saturday was the actual walk across the the Golden Gate Bridge. Although we were staying near the starting point of the walk, we had to be dropped off at the Presidio to meet up with the other participants and catch a shuttle back to Vista Point. From there it was a 2.7 mile walk to Crissy Field where the bridging pins were handed out and the party was held.
After the walk and the party we got a ride back to our hotel. It was a comedy of errors trying to give instructions to my husband and son (who was acting as navigator / cellphone operator) while being hot, tired, and a bit lost. Anyway, we did eventually get found and got our ride back to Fort Baker.
Today we came home. But that wasn't the end of our fun. We went to see Your Name, an excellent anime film from last year. Although I figured out what was going on within the first fifteen minutes or so, I still enjoyed the film immensely. The film also introduced me to a new word and concept — one that is central to the film — that would help to unify a bunch of my stray tangents in my road narrative project. That was an unexpected but welcomed bonus to seeing the film.
What all this fun means is that I didn't get much reading done.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews