A Day's Work: 06/30/17
A Day's Work by Eve Bunting is a day in the life of a migrant worker family. Francisco, a young Mexican-American boy takes his recently arrived grandfather to show him how to find a day labor job.
My impression with the set up is that Francisco's family had found themselves in an unexpected tight spot and that's why the grandfather is suddenly forced to work on a weekend. I also get the impression that Francisco was born in the U.S. and is helping out as so many children in his position have to do from time to time.
The book as it plays out is this: a contractor comes and picks up the boy and his grandfather, saying he only has money for one. The boy says he's not working, just interpreting for his grandfather. The man agrees and takes them to a hillside near a new housing complex. He tells the two to pull out the weeds. They end up pulling out the ice plant and keeping the weeds.
And it's the ice plant that makes this story feel horribly dated. I wish I could say that the migrant worker lines at Home Depot and UHaul were a thing of the past, but the California economy is still very lopsided and growing more so in places.
No, what has happened instead, is a change in priorities in planting. Some of it is due to the ongoing drought, but some of it is a longer environmental struggle to return California to its native habitats. Ice plant is now considered in many places (and certainly on the scale shown in this book) an invasive species. Those pretty white wildflowers they kept at first and then had to pull out, would have been planted now.
Today happens to be the birthday of James VanDerZee. He was born this day in 1886. VanDerZee by Deborah Willis-Braithwaite is about the photography of this Harlem Renaissance artist who specialized in portraiture. As with many art books, it's both a biography and a collection of his most noteworthy pieces. The book contains reproductions of 200 of his photographs.
The problem with these types of books is finding a suitable balance between the life story and the artwork. Here the focus is primarily on the photography, meaning that most pages are dedicated to the reproduced artwork. I didn't come away feeling like I knew much more about the photographer after having finished the book as I did before I started.
I did though find it fascinating to see repeating motifs, mostly in the form of reused backdrops and props, that evolve over time as the popular style of the time changed. While some of his work was done on location, in the homes of his clients, many were done in his studio, with backdrops to give a domestic feel to the finished portrait.
Sealed with a Secret: 06/28/17
Sealed with a Secret by Lisa Schroeder opens in Paris. While shopping with her family for antiques, Phoebe finds a gorgeous and valuable compact. Inside she finds a note from a young woman who was evacuated during the bombing of England. There's also a spell that promises to reunite separated loved ones.
As Phoebe and her sister have had a falling out over an American boy, she decides the spell is her last chance to mend fences. With the help of a neighbor friend she decides to recreate the spell — something which takes her through the history of London during WWII.
It's a quiet little book with just enough adventure to keep one turning the pages. It's clearly a book about London written by an American for Americans as each chapter is centered on a uniquely British word or phrase. The book, though, has a similar appeal to Maureen Johnson's books, specifically 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Suite Scarlett.
Half year round-up - Favorite books read in 2017: 06/08/17
As June comes to a close, it's a good time to look at the year's books and one's reading progress. Hat tip to Deb Nance for inspiring this post.
My goal of staying more current in both reading and reviewing is bearing fruit. Twenty-six weeks into the year and I've read thirty-seven books published this year and reviewed thirty-three of them. All told, I've read 155 books.
With no further ado, my favorite reads from the first half of 2017.
The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase: 06/27/17
The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass is the sequel to The Candymakers. Now it's time to introduce the Harmonicandy to the world but there's a problem. Apparently they used so rare a chocolate that they can't make the candy with the original recipe unless they can find more.
The answer to the problem ends up being a road trip f0r Logan, Miles, Daisy, and Philip. It's also a chance for the four to explore their family histories. Logan learns about his grandfather. Philip learns about his grandmother. Miles learns about his family's origins.
But it's all so much more than just a simple road trip. Like the first book, the story is divided into two parts: the first half being told from start to finish from each character's point of view. Then as all the threads are brought together, the back half is told from an omniscient third person perspective. It's in that back half that
The road trip also connects up the Candymaker books with Every Soul a StarI'm not going to say any more here because it's a special book and I want you to read it. If you haven't read Candymakers yet, read that one too. Both are worth your time. Later, though, I may analyze the climax in terms of the "road not taken" and "crossing the cornfield" tropes that I am investigating for my road narrative project.
The Children of the King: 06/26/17
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett is set during the WWII evacuations of London children to the countryside. Cecily and Jeremy Lockwood are sent to live with their Uncle Peregrine. Bored being stuck in his home, they begin to explore their temporary surrounds. In this time they meet the ghosts of two young princes who died after being locked in the Tower of London.
Here's the thing: it was too much at one time. We already had the evacuation story. Now it's come into a head on collision with Richard and Edward. Both are big pieces of British history, certainly, but together it's difficult to concentrate on either story.
To put it in another way, it would be like reading a story set during the bombing of Pearl Harbor where the ghosts of the Shirtwaist fire suddenly started appearing and appealing for help.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 26): 06/26/17
The heatwave has passed for now but not before taking its toll. Our upstairs bathroom gets the worst of the heat during the summer and it got hot enough in there to crack the water tank. My son and I had a busy Tuesday afternoon turning off the water and mopping up after the spill. Good thing we caught it quickly or things could have been a lot worse. Now we're down to one working toilet until July 3 when we can get it replaced. Apparently we weren't the only ones with toilets cracked by heat and our local plumber is swamped (ha ha).
Last week was my daughter's Girl Scout day camp at the local Girl Scout cabin. It's her last year attending as a day camper. Next year if she wants to attend, she'll have to be a PAinT (Program Aide in Training). If she earns her LiA (leaders in action) badge by helping the Brownies in her troop do a journey, and she attends the PAinT training meeting in April, she can be a junior counselor next summer.
The other excitement was getting my oldest signed up for cross country. That meant paperwork, including picking up proof that he had a physical from his doctor recently. Turns out we have the entire summer to do the physical but we didn't know that until after we had gotten all the paperwork turned in!
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Last Week's Reviews
Iron Ties: 06/25/17
If I were to sum up my reading of late, it would be revisiting old books and series. Before I was a parent of two young children, much of my pleasure reading was from a bunch of different mystery series. I set most of them aside, though friends, did introduce me to a few others, meaning I read the first book out of maybe a half dozen series.
One of those was the Silver Rush series by Ann Parker. The first book, Silver Lies completely captivated me for it's time period, post Civil War, and its setting in Leadville, Colorado.
Iron Ties is set shortly after Silver Rush. Inez is going to meet her friend Susan, a photographer, near the railroad that's being built. There's word that Ulysses S. Grant is coming to pay a visit. That's the lead up to a murder mystery and a plot that's right out of the pilot of NCIS, except with a presidential plane, rather than Air Force One.
And that was a big part of the problem. There wasn't enough of Leadville to draw me in beyond the obvious plot.
Dragon's Green: 06/24/17
Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas is the start of the Worldquake Sequence. Effie Truelove comes to learn that the magic she has believed in since she was tiny, is real — but not the way she expects.
As I mentioned in my review of Storm by Amanda Sun, Western fiction is built on the rule of three — especially fantasy stories. Thomas, here, world-builds around an expectation of threes and then subverts them. There is the mainland or otherworld (the land of magic) and the island or real world (the land of no magic) and the way things were before the worldquake.
There are also three characters: Effie, Maximilian, and Wolf. But rather than stick with just three heroes and three magical weapons — Effie's adventures bring to light the skills of other friends: Raven and Lexy — bringing together a group of heroes that would be expected in an Eastern fantasy.
In this first book, though, there's a lot of set up — a way to learn how the world works. At first glance, the set up seems like a blending of Harry Potter and Bunny Modern. Like in Bunny Modern, there was a worldwide event that forever altered the modern world. This event stopped most of the internet from working — though the older BBS sites do still work. Perhaps also gopher works — but that isn't specifically mentioned. Like Harry Potter, Effie learns that magic does run in her family and that her mother's death besides being related to the worldquake, is also related to a larger magical conspiracy.
Like Thomas's other novels, this one is metafiction. The metafiction is part of the magical elements of the book — much like they are in The End of Mr. Y. As this is a middle grade fantasy, the metafiction is based around storytelling — showing how the process of reading and writing and experiencing stories can be magic. In this regard, the book is a lot like Die unendlische Geschichte by Michael Ende.
Beyond that, I'll say no more. The book needs to be experienced. Do yourself a favor and import a copy from the UK to get the British spellings and the glow in the dark cover.
Storm by Amanda Sun is the conclusion of the Paper Gods series. During her year in Japan, Katie Green has discovered she's cursed by ink and has made with friends who have the ability to make drawings come to life. Now that things are getting dangerous for her friends it's time to put an end to the curse.
Before I go deeper into my thoughts about Storm, please take a break and watch the "Trope Talk: Rule of 3" by Overly Sarcastic Productions. It sums up a large chunk of what felt off about this concluding volume.
The rule of three is something that's everywhere in Western literature. And yes — Storm by Amanda Sun is Western literature. The main character is originally from Canada. The author is Canadian. The audience is primarily American and Canadian.
But — the setting is Japan. The curse wrapped up in Shinto beliefs of how the world and universe work. Japanese stories typically go for more than three. They go for five or seven — which is why the colored handprint on the cover of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami is so significant.
I find it hard to believe that an ancient curse would set itself up with three items, three temples, three heroes. I can just see an ancient oracle: "No sorry, we can't use those other two temples and those other two items. Our curse requires the participation of a — Canadian!"
I found the very Western narrative shoehorned into this otherwise great series extremely distracting. The threes were so blatant. There were few if any herrings or foils or any sort of distraction from the standard recipe.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: 06/22/17
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is the first of the Peculiar Children series. It's built around a bunch of old photographs and was recently turned into a film. I have not seen the film but I have seen the previews for it and they were a reminder that I have the trilogy at home.
It begins with the death of Jacob's grandfather and his belief that he had seen something unusual. Jacob, having grown up listening to his grandfather's stories of being a child in WWII, finding safe haven at a school a small island off the coast of Wales, becomes obsessed with learning the truth.
Now Jacob and his dad are on the same small island for Jacob's mental health. The hope is that seeing the harsh reality of the place will snap him out of his depression and his delusions.
But of course that's not what happens. Of course not. He finds the school. He finds Miss Peregrine. He finds a portal back to WWII. And he finds monsters.
For the first two hundred pages, I was riveted. I really was. And then Miss Peregrine started explaining the mechanism of her time bubble, and the history of the monsters, and the peculiars. And everything snapped into place and I realized I'd read this plot before — except it was set in Japan and it was a manga.
Jacob is Ichigo. Miss Peregrine is Orihime. Yup. It's basically Bleach but set in Wales. And you know what, I got bored of Bleach.
I'm still debating whether or not to read the second two books. I can tell you it won't happen until after the move is completed as they are in storage.
In the Hand of the Goddess: 06/21/17
In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce is the second book in the Song of the Lioness series. In this book Alanna comes of age and trains to face the thing she fears most. In the interim, there's an evil sorcerer wrecking havoc on the kingdom, and there's a war brewing on the border.
Alanna early on in the book, while on an errand for the prince, picks up a cat who has a direct line with the Goddess. This magical cat serves a bit like Cerberus from Cardcaptor Sakura in that he's cute, all powerful, and tuned into Alanna's powers.
Alanna's "secret" is clearly not as secret as she thinks it is. The older she gets the more among her friends and colleagues who figure it out. But she's useful, brave, loyal, and smart. Rules can be bent to keep someone like her around.
I liked this book better than the first one because Alanna is already established. She's proven herself, has made allies, and some enemies, and now the focus can be on bigger things like the sorcerer and the border dispute.
The Best Man: 06/20/17
The Best Man by Richard Peck is bookended by two weddings, one where he's forced to be ring bearer and one where he is the best man. The bulk of the book, though, is the time between the ceremonies.
I had a hard time getting into this book. Archer, the protagonist, spends half the book whining. He didn't like the wedding. He doesn't like his school.
And then out the blue he realizes that his beloved uncle is gay. And the whole book changes gear and becomes the book that's promised in the blurb.
They Came in from the Road: 06/19/17
When I travel, I travel light. I don't bring along many books because a life time of travel has taught me that I don't tend to read much while on the road. On the trip I took with my children to see their grandmother in Idyllwild, I figured I would need something to read because we would be heading to bed early and there is no wifi up there. What I didn't expect was for my youngest to get sick, thus keeping us housebound for the first half of the trip.
Being stuck in a house with nothing to do but photography and reading, I did a lot of both. I read through the paperback I had brought — Traveling Light by Lynne Branard. And I had read through most of my ebooks.
So I went down the mountain to the next town to the library. Like so many libraries, the Idyllwild public library has a Friends of the Library. The Friends maintains a cubby hole of a book store. There among all the books that I had either already read or had no desire to read, there was one oddball — a trade paperback with a sketch of a rural road and a little shack; They Came in from the Road by Marjorie Starbuck and Elizabeth Platko
My road narrative radar picked up on that one immediately. Already I could see that it was situated snuggly in the "road not taken" category — a complement to the "all roads lead to" category. From the cover art, before I even read the blurb, I could see that it was a rural setting (as is often the case with a road not taken story).
What I wasn't expecting, and what the blurb on the back didn't make obvious to me, is that this story of a young family: mother, father, two daughters, living in a small house in the highway maintenance yard in Wyoming was a roman à clef. It was almost autobiography, except that the two sisters were young enough to not remember the details. So they embellished their story and called it fiction.
Although I've read histories of the early highway construction (in the days of the Lincoln Highway and the earliest of the numbered routes) and have read memoirs of crossing those early highways, I have never read a book from the point of view of a maintenance worker or his family.
This is the story of the earliest days of highway 26, that runs through Casper Wyoming — but along one of the passes where it gets snow and rain and needs regular plowing. The girls lived there at a time when the road wasn't reliable enough, nor was communication reliable enough, for the father to commute in. He had to be close to where the road was likely to fail and keep it open.
The people who "came in from the road" are those early travelers of the highway. Some were locals who saw it as an easy way to go on long distance bar hops. Some were itinerant and the paved road was just another path to drive their horses along. Most, though, were long time homesteaders or they were coworkers — other people there keep the road open so that passerby wouldn't get stuck.
As this book is embellished from memories, it doesn't have a strong plot arc. The story reads more episodically, with each chapter being almost a self contained story. For someone interested in early highway narratives or early twentieth century Americana, or Wyoming, They Came in from the Road is worth reading.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 19): 06/19/17
The summer heat has arrived with a vengeance. Sunday it got up to 106° F in our neighborhood. Normal summer temperatures are the mid 80s to low 90s. It's hard to pack in this extreme heat.
The kids are on summer break now. On Friday, my son celebrated the birthday of one of his earliest friends. It was a reunion of friends who attended preschool together.
While he was at the party, my daughter and I went to nearby Ardenwood Farm where we got to ride the train, feed the animals, and hunt for peacock feathers. It's molting season for the birds ad we came home with two feathers. We also learned that peafowl like to eat kibble. We think they're swiping it from the farm cats.
What I read last week:
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Last Week's Reviews
The Princess and the Pony: 06/18/17
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton is inspired by her "Shetland Pony" comics in the Hark a Vagrant books but it's aimed at a younger audience.
Princess Pinecone wants nothing more than a war horse for her birthday. Every year she's gotten an cute sweater. She hopes this year will be different.
Her parents are the king and queen and proud warriors. Pinecone wants to be one too. When she gets a horse, though, it's not what she expected. He's small, fat, and wall-eyed. He's the horse equivalent of my Tortuga cat.
Pinecone and her pony are a ridiculous pair. She's not what she expected but she's not spoiled or heartless. She does come to love him on his own terms. She also gets to find a use for her hoard of ugly sweaters.
Big Mushy Happy Lump: 06/17/17
Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen is the second volume in the Sarah Scribbles comics. While much of Adulthood is a Life was taken directly from her webcomic, this book is mostly new material. Anderson on her website explains: "Not only are there exclusive comics that I’ve created just for Big Mushy Happy Lump, but I also wrote three long form stories and illustrated them with comics. These stories are a little more personal and it’s something a bit different...."
The last third of the book are the "long form stories" which save for a more mature and confident drawing style, harken back to some of her earliest comics. Go back to the beginning of her webcomic (back in the days when it was still just a tumblr site, rather than a vanity domain) and you'll see shorter examples of comics with explanatory text. As I missed the post where she explains the inclusion of these stories, I honestly thought while reading them (and re-reading them) that they were redrawn comics from those early days.
Among the included favorites, though, is the one she calls the "money throwing" comic. I think by now every book blogger and librarian and probably book seller has seen it at least once. In case you haven't, here's the final panel:
Much of the book though is divided between three themes: periods suck, social anxiety sucks, and boy hoodies are the best thing in world (they are, by the way). I have personally commandeered two of my husband's hoodies (work keeps giving them him).
I don't know if she has a third book in the works for this series. She has been busy on Cheshire Crossing with Andy Weir — which happens to be on topic for my road narrative project. It's also drop dead gorgeous and mysterious.
The Dervish House: 06/16/17
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is a thriller with science fiction trappings. It's won a bunch of awards but it wasn't the right book for me.
Someone is terrorizing the streets of Istanbul. Someone is setting off bombs. Others believe they can see Djinn before the explosions. Six very different people spread across the city each hold a piece of the puzzle.
An ensemble cast can work in the context of science fiction. Pratchett and Baxter certainly pulled it off in their Long Earth series. But a lot of times, an ensemble cast brings to mind disaster story. Instead of seeing different pieces of the story to get a gestalt view, one begins to expect them to die off one by one.
The second problem is the setting. Istanbul is an old city with a rich history. But it's also a modern day city. It's old enough to have gone through two name changes. But it's not an exotic playground. Yet that's how it's often treated in western fiction.
Buried under all the establishment of Istanbul as ancient, exotic, magical city, is a genuinely interesting story involving nanotechnology. There's just one wee problem. There's a better, shorter story that covers the same ground without all the racism: Big Hero 6.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold is about Mim Malone trying to get home to her mother as she's running away from her new, unwanted home with her father and stepmother in Mississippi. As her funds and options are limited, she sets off by bus, only to find her every move thwarted.
As Cynthia Golomb Dettelbach notes from In the Driver's Seat (1976), "...a bus is a poor person's car, shared with other poor persons, other odors, other noises, other destinations to strangers who may be annoying or offensive..." (p. 78). For Mim, the notion of "other destinations" becomes a reality when her journey home is derailed by the over turning of the bus. When her seatmate, an elderly woman dies in the accident, Mim takes it upon herself finish the woman's journey before completing her own.
Mim's journey is one built up of the tropes seen in the "driving while—" (female, POC, poor, etc), in opposition to "driving while white, male, rich." As the book is written by a man, I need to ask if he has internalized these opposing tropes and has decided that Mim's peril is certain from the beginning because of her gender (even discounting her family history of mental illness). Does a single, poor, runaway teenage girl doom a bus?
Mim is also traveling from the rural, to the urban — backwards of the typically male road trip. The rural route is a difficult one, one that is hard to escape. Her funds are limited. Her options are limited, especially because she is a minor and a runaway.
Mim also faces sexual assault, as does another woman on a similar "poor person's" road trip. Of course he is another member of the bus trip. Let's say he does have a history of selecting teens to assault on the bus route from Mississippi to Ohio — would he still be tempted after it overturns? After he's injured? And why would he continue to pursue Mim after she repeatedly, blatantly rejects him. She's not demure. She's not polite. She's not quiet about it.
Again, I can only think that it's part of the author's internalized expectations of what happens to unchaperoned girls. It's part of the gritty realism trope that has gone dark to ridiculous proportions in recent years.
In going back to think about Mosquitoland in the context of the road narrative project, I'm seeing holes I didn't see when I first experienced it. On it's first read, the story felt fresh, different, and compelling. It kept me turning the pages.
It, is, however, a road narrative from an obviously male perspective, despite the female protagonist. Had Mim been a young teenage male, this would have been a very different story. Had it been written from a male perspective, I suspect someone like Mim would have been there — someone to be protected, rescued, and perhaps romanced. In this regard, Mosquitoland is not much different from On the Trail to Sunset and other similar early road trip books.
Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats: 06/14/17
I read Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter solely for the title. I had just finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and had come away feeling disappointed by the last third. Potter's similar title but one involving cats just struck my fancy.
Miss Hazeltine runs a home for semi-feral and stray cats who are too shy to be adopted out to loving homes. She gives them the space to do their thing, to live their lives, learn how to cat in the presence of other cats, and to maybe, just maybe, come out of their shells.
For the most part, it's a lot of work for Miss Hazeltine with little in the way of reward save for knowing that the cats are safe in her home. This changes, though, when one night she goes out for milk and doesn't make it home. Collectively the cats go out to find her — thus demonstrating above and beyond all the things they have learned and accomplished under her quiet and loving care.
This picture book, while it exaggerates the abilities of the average cat — or even a group of cats — is built on the author's real world experience as a cat fosterer. There is a little bit of an explanation of her work with cats in the afterword.
While it wasn't the straight up parody of Miss Peregrine's that I had hoped, it is on its own, a delightful book about cats and fostering in a way that will connect with young children.
Who Is AC?: 06/13/17
Who Is AC? by Hope Larson and illustrated by Tintin Pantoja is about Lin, who while on a flight home is zapped by her cellphone and is given superpowers through it. While still trying to be a good teenager and observe curfew, she's pulled into a plot involving a super-villain using wifi for evil and a blogger who has decided to track her superhero self.
Like Heinz Doofenshmirtz, the villain here isn't out for world domination, just mayhem in his town. That keeps AC (Anonymous Coward as dubbed by the blogger) a local phenomena. Lin lives in a small town and her heroism will probably remain off the radar of the big cities. It's a nice change from having everything set in one of the big names like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco or fictional ones like Metropolis or Gotham.
Except for a confusing opening where Lin gets her powers, the story is quirky fun. It has similar appeal as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV series, more so than the film) or Kim Possible with the added bonus that Lin in biracial and trying to fit into an otherwise very white neighborhood.
The Magic Cornfield: 06/12/17
The Magic Cornfield by Nancy Willard is a picture book that explores the extremes of the crossing the cornfield trope of the road narrative. Tottem is on his way from New York to Minneapolis to visit his friend Bottom. Car trouble results in Tottem having a surreal detour through a never ending cornfield.
Stepping back to British stories of faeries, one knows not to stray from the path, lest one be forever stuck in fairyland. The cornfield, though, is by its very nature off-road. A short cut through the cornfield is only possible for someone who knows the area.
In Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, it's suggested that the cornfield is an alive, sentient, entity, capable of imprisoning the townsfolk, and for those who know how, capable of transporting one to other dimensions.
Nancy Willard combines the cornfield as transport with the threat of being lost in fairyland and takes the result to an outrageous extreme. Tottem ends up both lost and trapped inside the cornfield. His only way to communicate with the outside world is through a magical mailbox that can send postcards to Bottom.
The Magic Cornfield is an epistolary picture book, told through these postcards. At first glance, the return address for each postcard seems like a humorous thematic tie to the scene being illustrated. But if taken literally, one can see that Tottem is being teleported throughout the United States within the bounds of this magic cornfield prison.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 12): 06/12/17
Last week put in an application for a six month lease on an apartment close to both schools and near where we hope to buy a home. We found out on Thursday that our application was accepted and we have a move in date of July 15th. That gives us until January 31 to sell our home, purchase a new one, and get it set up the way we like before we have to move out of the apartment.
We have a month and a week to pack up as much of our stuff as we can before we move into our apartment. The goal is to spend July getting the townhouse thoroughly cleaned, painted, the remaining carpet replaced with wood flooring, and staged. Then mid August we hope to put the townhouse on the market. Once it's sold, we can shop for our new home!
Our biggest collection is our home library which is around two thousand books. At one point we had as many as four thousand but I've been purging like crazy in the last couple of years. We have about 1,600 books boxed and in storage. By next Monday the remainder should be in storage.
Tuesday my daughter's Girl Scout troop held it's end of year party and bridging ceremony. We had the party in the mutli-purpose room but it was on the same day as the Spring Concert, so we had to be quick about things.
Immediately afterwards, it was time for the concert, which meant a quick change from Girl Scout uniform to dress for the concert. My daughter performed both in the beginning strings and in the chorus pieces of the concert.
Thursday and Friday the drama club put on a performance of "The Entire American Revolution in 40 Minutes or Less." Harriet had two rolls: British soldier one, and General Burgoyne.
On Saturday the drama club met at a local park for a wrap up party. They're already planning next year's performance. It will probably be a musical. We'll find out what they pick in October.
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Last Week's Reviews
Merman in My Tub, Volume 1: 06/11/17
Merman in My Tub, Volume 1 (オレん家のフロ事情 1) by Itokichi is the English language translation of the manga that inspired the anime of the same name (Orenchi no furo jijo).
A more direct translation of the title would be something like "Company in the bathroom" which is frankly a better title given how many different guests end up in that tub at one time or another. Some of the other guests include an octopus, a jellyfish, and an electric eel.
But the main resident of the tub is a merman named Wakasa, rescued by a young man named Tatsumi. This manga is a series of four panel comics that in tone remind me of Garfield, with Wakasa being the cat and Tatsumi being Jon.
In both set-ups, the host (or owner, in Jon's case) is living on a limited and unpredictable incomes. Tatsumi's problem is that he's a high school student living by himself and Tokyo, like any large city, is expensive to live in.
I have five more volumes to read. I doubt I'll be reviewing more issues, given how episodic these things are. But they're cute and sassy.
Showing Off: 06/10/17
Showing Off by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins is the third of the Upside-Down Magic books. As this series progresses, it reminds me more and more of a magical school anime (for both the good and the bad of that genre).
The title refers to a school-wide competition where the different magic classes by grade try to win prizes for the best magical performance. Dunwiddle Middle School's set up reminds me most of the school in Bako to Tesuto to Shokanju (aka Baka and Test). Both schools are rigidly divided by student's talents and age and are apparently asked to compete against each other. The difference here, though, is that Dunwiddle only does it once a year.
The problem with a story that's entirely based around a school-wide competition is that the plots are predictable. These things always seem to be from the bottom class's point of view because everyone loves an underdog (or in Nory's case, an underdritten). Of course the bottom class is too disparate in its skillsets and the other classes are all perfect and amazing in one way or another. Of course they have to embarrass themselves as they practice. Of course there's the added threat of parents not approving or not attending and carefully forged friendships being torn apart.
That said, if you're in the intended audience range — upper elementary or lower middle grade, these tropes and plots are still rather new and school wide competitions (though usually over mundane things like box tops and food drives) are a reality. So why not take that competition and throw magic into mix?
On a closing note, the book ends on a positive note — one where Nory comes to appreciate her magic and to think outside of the box. Her magic might be wonky not because it's inherently broken, but because she's a creative thinker.
There is a fourth book planned, Dragon Overnight.
The Only Road: 06/09/17
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz was inspired in part from the author's own experience as a Cuban immigrant, and more recently by an article in Smithsonian Magazine about the flood of children entering the United States unaccompanied.
The blurb for the book would have you believe it's the story of a single boy making the journey all on his own. Not so and shame on the people who approved this blurb. He has a sister, Ángela, who makes the journey with him and is just as brave, strong, and smart as he is.
Maybe the blurb writers didn't want to run afoul of people who remember a thirty-three year old film that is very similar, El Norte, about a brother and sister fleeing to the United States from Guatemala after the government destroys their village in retaliation for their protests. This time, it's not the government. Rather it's the Alphas, a gang who holds power over the village.
El Norte is an adult film. It's dark, violent, and depressing. It's not a romanticization of crossing the border illegally. The Only Road is more hopeful. It's by no means an easy road for Jaime and Ángela but all their sacrifice and peril is rewarded with a happy ending — or perhaps a happy beginning.
The book includes an afterword, glossary, and bibliography broken down by age group. There is also a Spanish language version out now, El unico destino — which is frankly a better title for the book as it implies both the goal of the journey and the urgent need to leave such hostile environment.
One Witch at a Time: 06/08/17
One Witch at a Time by Stacy DeKeyser wasn't what I was expecting given the cover art. Of course, I could have read the blurb but sometimes I'm drawn in by the artwork alone. One Witch at a Time by the cover looks like it'll be a more or less modern day story of rival witches — or maybe a semi-retro one going for a Bewitched feel.
Nope. It's a straight up fantasy deconstruction of a "Jack and Beanstalk" of all things. The book is more akin to the fantasy flashbacks of Once Upon a Time than it is to any other television series involving witches that had crossed my mind.
Rudi is on a quest to return some magic beans sold in her village. The beans are magic because they've been imbued with the magic of the witch in the next realm over.
There is a long standing law of the land that there can only be one witch per realm. The witch serves as protector and possibly leader, depending on how she or he decides to wield power. In Rudi's realm, the witch is of the helpful old lady at the edge of the village variety. The one with the beans, though, has a reputation of being a tyrant and the physical size of a giant.
Magic power takes great responsibility. Misused, magic can and will corrupt. The realm Rudi goes into shows the power of that corruption. Things are distorted. Weather is harsh. Food is scarce.
But I would have preferred to go into this book with different expectations. Rather, I wish the cover art had been more on point, more obviously a fantasy with medieval trappings.
Thirty years of tracking my reading: 06/08/17
Today marks the close of my thirtieth year of tracking my reading. While I primarily do the tracking via GoodReads, LibraryThing, and this blog, I do still maintain a handwritten list of everything read. Writing the list by hand is fraught with problems — human induced errors. For instance, as I was finishing up my list for the year, I realized I had at the very start of the year, transposed the numbers. I had to re-write an entire year's worth of numbers.
Two decades ago I predicted where I would be in my reading based on my progress at the time. I thought I would be crossing the ten thousand mark around 2030. At my current rate, I"ll that milestone around January, 2018.
Now with all the introduced errors over three decades, I'm somewhere between 8067 and 8164 books completed. The low number is the handwritten number. The high number is what my year by year totals add up to. Maybe some year when I have a lot of time on my hand, I'll resolve the number. Regardless, I'm about thirteen years ahead of my schedule.
Last year I said I needed to post the review of my last book finished — Kraken by Wendy Williams. Well, here it is a year later, and I still haven't posted the review. The review is currently scheduled for November 4th. Of course, my reviewing schedule is flexible to accommodate other things as I read them. There's a very good chance this review will get bumped.
The year opened with me reading The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson. It ends with me reading Volume Four of Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, et al. I'm reading the album versions of the books, rather than the individual comics. This volume covers issues thirteen through sixteen. Volume Five comes out on June 20th but I probably won't order it until after the move to the apartment.
All Four Stars: 06/07/17
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman opens with a kitchen fire. Gladys Gatsby loves homemade meals. Her parents don't cook unless it involves heating things up in the microwave. Since she's a latchkey kid, she's been able to bake and cook unsupervised. But then she gets carried away and tries to make crème brûlée but she doesn't have the right kind of torch.
Gladys wants nothing more than to cook but she now finds herself forbidden from her favorite pastime. She's told she must do "normal things" like play video games, watch TV. Throughout this hilarious introduction to her parents, I couldn't help but imagine Laika's interpretation of Coraline's parents.
Gladys's class is given an assignment to write an essay for a statewide competition. With prompting from her teacher, she ends up writing an essay that reads like cover letter for a job. It's so convincing, that the essay gets rerouted to the HR department and she's hired to write a freelance review of a soon to open boutique dessert shop.
The remainder of the book is Gladys trying to scheme her way into the boutique to write her review without letting her parents know and without breaking the rules they've set for her.
The next in the series is The Stars of Summer.
Vinegar Girl: 06/06/17
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. It is a modern day retelling of "Taming of the Shrew." As it's a reworking of a well-known story, there's no surprise at how things will turn out but it is still fun to see how these versions of the characters get there.
Kate, her sister, and their father live together within walking distance of Harvard. Kate as the oldest sister has taken it upon herself to keep the house running, even as she works at a local daycare. Her high school aged sister is far too interested in boys (especially her Spanish "tutor"), and their dad is too much of an absent minded professor to be useful at anything other than his on-going research.
Kate has her routine. She might not like it. She might not like anything but she knows the routine and it helps her mark the passage of time. Then her father messes everything up by introducing her to Pyotr, her father's Russian research assistant. Apparently the research has taken longer than his visa and the easiest way to keep him stateside is to find him a wife.
I liked the solution to the problem of why does Kate suddenly have to get married when she's not interested in marriage. In the original the reason is idiotic — the older sister has to marry before the younger sister can — even though it is the younger one who has all the suitors. Here with the younger sister still a minor, the duty (harebrained as it is) would fall on Kate.
Pyotr is a weird character — not unlikeable — just weird. I imagined him as a modern day William Murdock, though with a Russian accent. I saw him more as a the way Murdock is portrayed in the television series, rather than the books where he's pissier and less of an odd ball. Pyotr lacks social grace and it's not because he's a foreigner — it's more just something about his own inner workings. He is odd in many of the same ways that Kate is — which of course makes them a perfect couple, if they can get past the rush of the green card marriage.
It's a delightful read and doesn't take more than a couple leisurely afternoons to finish. Probably one long day of reading would be enough.
Bloom by Doreen Cronin is a cautionary tale about losing touch with the natural world, and with building things from scratch. The Glass Kingdom is slowly falling to pieces after many years of severing ties with the Mud Fairy. They are desperate to gain her favor but they don't know how.
The Glass Kingdom prides itself on its cleanliness and it's sparkle. But glass is fragile and years of use has left the kingdom with numerous cracks and many broken pieces.
This world with it's crumbling glass castle and the restorative mud are all brought to life by David Small's watercolor illustrations.
Remembering that the Mud Fairy used to keep the kingdom in good repair, the king goes to her to ask for help. The Mud Fairy is a girl of few words, preferring to show rather than tell. She offers him a bucket of mud.
When the king fails to understand the fairy's response and the queen also fails, the kingdom send an ordinary girl. She has had so far in her life one task only: protect the only glass item not cracked and not broken.
A common girl knows how to get her hands dirty — even if she's only in charge of holding a spoon. Rather than running away disgusted, the girl sticks around to learn the lesson of the mud.
It's all about doing extraordinary things with ordinary things. It's how to use your hands and the tools and ingredients around you to rebuild and repair your world. It's about not being afraid to get dirty.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 05): 06/05/17
Armchair Book Expo and boxing books took up most of last week's free time, so I didn't accomplish anything on my redesign.About half maybe, two thirds of our home library is now in storage.
Wednesday the elementary school hosted the annual Volunteers'' tea to celebrate all the family members who have donated time to the school. I was invited for being on the School Site Council.
On Saturday our realtor came to do an initial walkthrough of the house. The last time we had worked with her was the summer of 2004. My oldest was a toddler and now he's in high school. Our plan for attack is to move into a nearby apartment which we are in the process of leasing over the summer. Then we'll get our home fixed up, cleaned, and staged before going on the market. Then we get to look for our new home! Hopefully if all goes well, we'll be in our new house by Christmas.
We're in the last few days before the drama club presents their production of "The Entire American Revolution in 40 minutes or Less." Today the kids worked on painting their backdrops. My daughter came home covered in paint. I would be upset except I was part of drama too and once ended turning my blue jeans into purple jeans during a painting accident.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
The Lens: 06/04/17
The Lens by N.K. Guy is an introduction to the different options available for digital photography. Rather than focusing on a specific type of camera — or even a specific brand, this book goes through the different problems faced by a photographer and offers explanations on how different tools face the problem.
Most digital photography books I've read offer paint by number recipes for specific cameras — usually Canon. I get that Canon's the dominant brand at the moment so I was thrilled when Lens included the Micro 4/3, single reflex lens, since that's what I use. The book also includes smartphone cameras and other point and shoot cameras.
Best of all, this book is very upbeat. Rather than taking the approach of author as artist / expert and reader as poser / novice, The Lens promotes a practical but experimental approach. Rather than promising amazing pieces of artwork, the book shows what lenses and techniques do what without being judgmental about making one choice over another, or having one piece of equipment over another.
Read Our Own Books May 2017: 06/04/17
The local move plan continues. We've boxed up about two-thirds of our books.are now in storage. We've met with our realtor. We have plans to move into a local apartment complex while our house is put on the market. On our current timeline, we'll be in our new home by Christmas.
I continue to prioritize reading my own books, though now in June with most of the books being put into storage, I am relying more and more on ebooks and library books. I suspect my June roundup will be back to my old reading schedule — namely mostly library books.
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.
With my concentration being on older books in my collection, TBRs dominated my reading My ROOB average for June dropped to an impressive -3.84 — my best ROOB score since I started tracking this metric. My month average for May also improved, dropping to -2.54 from -2.35.
Last month I predicted that I would have a poor May ROOB score because of all the purchases I made when my husband was on vacation. I still have most of those books to read. They will be my summer reading while we're in our temporary housing.
The Amazing Crafty Cat: 06/03/17
The Amazing Crafty Cat by Charise Mericle Harper is the first in a new middle grade graphic novel series. It's Birdie's birthday and she's made panda cupcakes to share at school. But when she drops them on the way her perfect day begins to unravel.
Thematically, this book reminds me of the webcomic, Sarah's Scribbles (now in print as Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump. Birdie spends a lot of her time living in her head — imagining the outcome of things, or planning her next crafts. While she's super-creative, she's easily distracted.
The various birthday disasters and school scenes are set-ups to introduce the crafts. The book's strength is its craftiness. Plot-wise, it's pretty bland — nothing much different from a typical Babymouse book or similar.
For it's intended audience, though — graphic novel, craft loving, upper elementary school aged readers — the book is a hit. My daughter tore through the book in about half an hour on a car trip and re-read it once we got home.
There's a second book in the works, Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis coming out on August 15, 2017.
Candor by Pam Bachorz is about the perfect self sufficient suburb in Florida. Once swampland, it's now the place that every self respecting family wants to live. It's the place where trouble teens become model citizens, where the addicted can finally kick the habit. Oscar Banks, though, knows the truth behind the miracles. He knows about the brainwashing — the 24/7 messages. He's the mayor's son.
Candor is utopia — a "no place" — completely cut off from the rest of the world. It is totalitarian, hiding away from the rest of the United States, away from unhealthy influences. It is Pleasantville.
As Oscar narrates he lets us know that the messages are inescapable, even if he thinks he has found a way to keep his mind clear of them. He believes his own counterculture of bootleg messages, which he sells to other teens for a hefty price, will allow him the freedom to be himself.
Like any hero in a dystopian novel, he's mistaken. He is as much a cog in the works as anyone else. How long he can last is all dependent on how much of a fanatic his father is.
In terms of the road narrative project, Candor is a road not taken. People who arrive have one of three options. First they shunned and moved out of the town as quickly as possible (as the undesirable who aren't even showed a model home when they come to visit Candor). Second, they are assimilated. Third, the free thinkers are destroyed.
May 2017 Inclusive Reading Report: 06/02/17
Welcome Armchair Book Expo participants. At the start of every month I look back on my previous months' reading and reviewing to see how well I did with my goal to read an increasing percentage of inclusive books. I cast a largish net to include books from other countries (even European or Commonwealth ones), disabilities, and queer characters or authors.
Although I read The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hooks, the second of the Nameless City books, I'm not including it towards my reading goal. The characters aren't inherantly Canadian and the "diversity" of the different cultures in the city, though based on real, historical cultures, don't have enough world building to really be an exploration of these cultures. Basically the diversity here is a bi-product of the inspration behind the book — the Forbidden City. But the characters are as much window dressing as the buildings she has so laborious drawn.
May was better for reading than April, but I still fell four books short of a year ago's reading.I didn't do any traveling in May, but was busy boxing books for our planned move. That said, May was still better than a year ago. I ready nearly as many diverse books and I did not diverse. On the reivewing side, I reviewed more diverse books than not.
June's reading, I have no idea how it will be. June will be even more hectic with packing and I may very well have no print books in my house to read by the end of the month save for what I borrow from the library. I will still have my ebooks to read, of course. Whether or not I have time to read, though, is also up in the air.
Glancing at my scheduled reviews (which can change over the month), I have twelve inclusive / diverse books scheduled to review. That accounts for forty percent of June's reviews.
On the Trail to Sunset: 06/01/17
On the Trail to Sunset by Thomas William Wilby and Agnes Anderson Wilby is the epitome of the bad road trip. This is cesspool from which National Lampoon found inspiration for its Vacation movies. Except theirs were parodies and this one is a straight up, serious road trip, with romance!
The book opens with a wealthy white family hiring a chauffeur to help them cross the United States in their brand new touring car. It's a mother, father, and son and they will be co-traveling with the son's girl friend and her family. Although this journey is in part a working trip for the men, the women, especially Mrs. Eastcott, treats the whole thing as one giant luxury cruise where everyone less fortunate than herself is there for her amusement, or for her to impart trinkets or loose change on to ease her sense of duty.
The road trip starts in New York and is more or less a standard road trip story from there until Chicago. Then the plot begins to steadily fall apart as it throws a villain into the otherwise sappy romance between Winthrop and Evelyn. A mysterious man from New Mexico appears and starts to charm Evelyn who is immediately hypnotized by his hot Latin blood.
What starts out as Evelyn apparently running away her new lover from New Mexico uncoils into a messy cross country chase. Of course Evelyn is in danger for a "fate worth than death" and all of New Mexico (still a territory at this point, stretching into modern day Nevada) is united in thwarting her rescue.
There's an equally idiotic side plot with the chauffeur sabotaging the car and equipment along the way. The farther into New Mexico they go, the more racist and nonsensical the story becomes.
For the most part I've been enjoying my reading for the road trip narrative project but this book takes the cake for being the worst once I've read. It's also the worst book I read last year.
How can we connect with others in the book community. The first thing to realize is the book community is made up of many different neighborhoods. You are not part of all of them, nor do you have to be.
I am part of three of these: librarian, book blogger, and the independent booksellers (through friends who own bookstores). I connect with these groups through a variety of online methods.
Twitter / Tweetdeck - to make tracking all these different accounts, I have them divided into lists, with the lists getting their own column in Tweetdeck. Some of my lists include:
GoodReads: I have GoodReads set up to email me when books on my wishlist become available. I use the site for keeping track of my reading and of books I want to read, especially those not yet published. GoodReads also has a number of social options, like groups, and collaborative list making, and so forth, but I mostly use it for the tracking aspects.
What do readers want?: 06/01/17
1. A gorgeous and plot relevant cover. It shouldn't spoil the plot but it should show an understanding of the story and better, enhance it some way.
The cover for Traveling Light Lynne Branard (2017) gets so close to being the perfect cover and then drops the ball with one key detail, the car. Her car which is practically its own character in this road trip novel is a "cherry red, 1998 VW" not a 1960s-1970s sky blue, air cooled VW.
2. A catchy and easy to remember title. For instance, Adulthood is a Myth, the first of the Sarah Scribble's books, is easy to remember and funny. Her follow up book from this year, Big Mushy Happy Lump is hard for me to remember. I usually end up having to go to my iPhone to verify the title of the book.
3. A well crafted book. If it's a print book, it should be well constructed and beautifully designed — even paperbacks should have good construction, good design. An ebook should be a well coded epub. If it's a graphic novel, the images should be high enough resolution to zoom in on a phone or tablet. An audiobook should have an engaging narrator who can take on the different characters and tones without sounding out of breath or bored.
4. Representation without stereotypes. Tropes without cliches. Basically I want a book that doesn't take the easy road. I want a book populated with people who are relatable but push my boundaries, enhance my understanding of the human condition — even if I'm reading fluff.
5. Illustrations. Books used to be illustrated. Let's bring that back, even for the adult fiction.