It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 31): 07/31/17
The work on the old house is almost done. We might get it on the market it by next weekend and have our first open house on August 6th. The ceilings are done. Painting is finishing up today. Tuesday new appliances. Friday the place gets cleaned. Saturday it's staged.
Last week I also started my new job. I'm a an art instructor at a local art gallery. They run summer art camps for children. They also do weekend art parties and free art lessons on alternating Saturdays. Last week I helped with the masks and sculptures camp.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
I Am Not Sidney Poitier: 07/31/17
I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett is the story of a young black man endowed with the name Not Sidney Poitier and his apparent resemblance to the actor. His mother having believed in cable television in its earlier days, invested her entire nest egg wise in Ted Turner's venture, leaving Not Sidney and incredibly wealthy young man — and Ted Turner forever in his debt.
It's a strange set up but it works. The story told in a dreamy first person reminds me of Big Fish (both the book by Daniel Wallace) and the film (2003). There is also a transformative quality to Not Sidney, one that reminds me of a singleton Being John Malkovich (1999).
Early on in the novel, Not Sidney, having moved to Atlanta to live with Ted Turner, decides to go home to Los Angeles. He decides to drive and for a moment I really did expect the book to embrace a Big Fish quest, though done as a road trip. Not Sidney, though, is traveling while black and barely makes it out of Atlanta before he's pulled over and jailed and sent to work on a chain gang.
The jail and chain gang adventure, though, is just one of many in Not Sidney's life. He is a black everyman, and his experiences are the extreme examples of what is possible.
He is even able to transcend his existence as a character in a novel, as demonstrated by his time in college, where he takes a literature class from Percival Everett. Though he is Everett's creation, living in one of his worlds, Not Sidney can't make heads or tails of his lectures or his books.
It's an odd book with an odd protagonist but definitely a memorable one.
Red Hook Road: 07/30/17
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman is described as a "rich and rewarding story of love, loss, and the power of family." In reality, it's a thick book report on the architecture of Red Hook, Maine, some genealogy and other facts.
The book starts with a meandering, Lake Woebegone style monolog about the two families, the home where the wedding is being held, and some other atmospheric stuff. Somewhere in the middle of all that a young couple is married and then systematically killed off in a limousine crash.
You'd think that after a tragedy is thrown in at the first fifty page or so, that the emotional pacing of the book would change. It doesn't. Instead of grief, anguish, and the other strong emotions that come with an unexpected loss at a time of great hope, the book plows forward with the same attention to the details of architecture, local history, the weather.
It was so ponderous and dull with no hope of improvement as soon through skimming and later skipping ahead, that I just had to stop. It's a boring book with boring characters who can't even be bothered to grieve.
The White Road of the Moon: 07/29/17
The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier is a YA fantasy set in a kingdom on a peninsula, blocked at one end by mountains and otherwise surrounded by sea. Imagine if you will, San Francisco and San Mateo counties without the rest of the Bay Area.
At the southern end of things near the ghost town of a once booming city lives Meridy and her aunt. She's about to be sold into a terrible apprenticeship because the aunt is tired to being responsible for her niece for many different reasons, including her ability to do magic and talk to the dead.
Meridy sets out on the road that leads to the northern end of kingdom to find her own fortune in life. Along the way she has many adventures and ends up helping the royal family. At first glance it sounds like a mixture of Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg, Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, and Alanna: The First Adventures by Tamora Pierce. Maybe because of the timing and the seaside village that Merdiy likes to frequent, I was also reminded a bit of Moana — except that it's a quest by land instead of a quest by sea.
But there are problems with this motif heavy book, namely the usage of light and dark, white and black. Witches in this book are the only people who have black eyes, regardless of whether they are good or bad — but to many non-witches in the book, black eyes are things to be afraid of. Second, Meridy spends a lot of her time wishing she were light skinned and normal looking like the people to the north. The repeated white / light = good and dark / black = bad mythos got wearisome quickly
If this book were starting in the north, where perhaps Meridy was an immigrant in a racist society, who decides to leave the town for better things, I would have let her desire to have blond hair and blue eyes a pass. But she's leaving a village where, sure, she's gotten a very good education (somehow despite her running into wealthier people who know little to nothing of the world they are living in) to go to the north where the big cities are. She's purposely going to a place where she will stand out, where it will probably be dangerous for her, because it's a glamorous place — it's the normal place.
Imagine instead that Meridy decides to leave the haunted slums of the north to head to the countryside. Along the way she meets more and more people like herself and realizes that all the self hatred she has is part of her screwed up society. It would be a chance for character and world building, as well as social commentary.
Hannah and the Homunculus: 07/28/17
When I was looking for work, I volunteered my time at my local library. Around the same time that I had first started, a perfect position opened up — pre-screener for the Friends of the Library store. The library, part of a countywide system, had finally gotten the green light to start weeding it's collection again now that more uniform guidelines had been put in place across all the branches. My job was to go through everything that had been slated for weeding to see if it was something that would sell in the store. The ultimate decision to actually put it on the shelves for sale falls into to the hands of the subject PICs (persons in charge).
Usually when I worked, I needed to stay focused on the task at hand: what was the book? was it in good condition? would it sell? I didn't have time to waste reading everything or really anything on the book carts. Each cart could take an hour of my time.
But sometimes a book was so extraordinary that it demanded attention. One such "gem" was Hannah and the Homunculus by Kurt Hassler. Already the title is uncanny. By title alone it could mean the scaled drawings showing how much of the brain is dedicated to controlling / monitoring different parts of the body. Or it could be the alchemical homunculus, meaning the creation of a fully formed, little man by artificial or magical means. And if you've read or seen Full Alchemist then there's even greater and more sinister meaning attached to the word.
Hannah is a normal child who has normal personal boundaries and knows how and when to use the word no. She says no a lot. That is until a homunculus comes and steals her ability to use the word. Suddenly she is the sweet, abiding, pushover the adults in her life have always wanted.
Are you squicked yet? Who is the target audience here? Is it to teach willful (aka normal, healthy, well adjusted) girls to be meek, timid, and complacent no matter what's done to them? Is it an awkwardly staged attempt at dealing with child abuse and molestation?
Either way, it's on a short personal list of worst children's books I've ever read.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal: 07/27/17
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson is the start of the Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel arc. Kamala is a New Jersey Muslim teen who is an Avengers fan girl but would never expect to be given powers.
Before jumping into this review, I should say that I'm not a regular reader of Marvel comics. I'm not a fan of the movies (although I have seen the first of the Iron Man movies). The last Marvel plot I was following was Spider-man in the weekly newspaper when I was in high school.
But Kamala Khan is making a splash — and transcending the usual fanbase. When Ms. Marvel shows up at a school book fair, one takes the hint and buys the albums. I just wish Marvel would spend a little extra and print the albums on nicer paper. Their albums feel like cheep crap compared to other publishing houses.
That said — Kamala Khan is an engaging, relatable character. She's trying to find the right balance between her family, her faith, her friends, school, and herself.
As with so many teen plots, everything is put into motion when she takes a chance and sneaks out at night to attend a party. Sure, her maybe boyfriend will be there — but mostly it's about pushing boundaries against the curfew.
Now here's a point where I can't relate to Kamala or her parents. I am currently a parent of a teen and will soon be the parent of two teens. Like Kamala's family, my oldest is a boy and my youngest is a girl. Unlike her family, though, I don't need to enforce a curfew. The reality of the situation here is that if there is a party, the parents drive the kids to the party and they phone when it's over for pick up. There's no need to worry about who will be there and what will happen there because we all know each other and each other's kids. The chance of the party being dangerous or the journey too or from being so, is nil.
But whatever. It's a trope. It's a plot device to get Kamala away from home when she shouldn't be. It's a chance to introduce a mysterious event — one that affects everyone and one that for whatever reason, leaves Kamala with powers.
The remainder of this first volume is Kamala now trying to learn how to use her powers, and how not to use them. It's also time for her to find her true secret identity, because her new abilities include the ability to change her appearance. She can be the blond bombshell she thinks a superhero should be. Or she can be herself. She can be a superhero who dresses sensibly.
Chopping Spree: 07/26/17
In 2013 I read and reviewed Chopping Spree noting that it was the only volume not narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I was reading the series as audios. As I wasn't able to find any evidence that it would ever be redone by Rosenblat, I opted for a print version, and found it disappointing.
Recently I rediscovered my review as I was working on creating larger feature images for the blog redesign. Curious, I decided to see if there was a Rosenblat version now. The answer is yes. In fact, if I had waited until 2014, I could have experienced the audio then.
So while I don't typically re-review books when I re-read them, I feel this one is warranted to compare apples and apples.
My complaints about the book involved how many times Goldy is knocked unconscious, how much espresso she drinks, the plausibility of a giant mall being built in rural mountain town, and Arch's ruder than usual behavior. Those problems are still in the audiobook — it's unabridged. But Rosenblat so thoroughly embodies Davidson's characters, especially Goldy whose first person narration drives the plot, that these problems fade into the background through sheer force of character.
Listening to Rosenblat's performance was so pleasurable that it rekindled my love of the audiobook. Since listening to Chopping Spree I've been pounding through the Book Town Mystery series by Lorna Barrett. These books are performed by Cassandra Campbell but they share the same features of the Goldy Bear series: a cozy hook (here it's a mystery book seller in a small Maine town), a small cast of regular characters, and a narrator who can bring all the characters to life.
Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is the latest collaboration of this author and illustrator. For the purpose of the Canadian Book Challenge, I'm counting the book for Klassen being born in Niagara and now living in Winnipeg.
When I read books I often make connections that seem a bit out of left field. Triangle, the story of Triangle going across the landscape from the land of triangle shapes, to shapes with no names, to the land of squares, just to prank Square, is one of those books that I associate with a song — so much so that when I read the book to myself, I do so to the song.
It's the middle section that did it for me — the shapes without names (aka the rounded off rocks section). It reminds me of A Horse with No Name by America. The meter of the book isn't perfect but it's close enough to get the melody stuck in my head every single time I read the book or even think about it.
Tip of the Tongue: 07/24/17
Tip of the Tongue by Patrick Ness is the Fifth Doctor story from the Doctor Who 50th anniversary short stories. The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa have arrived in Maine near the end of the Second World War.
The entire town seems to be completely taken with a strange new fashion — a talking beard that looks something like a pharaoh's beard. Everyone calls them Truth Tellers and they bring the awful truth out for everyone. No secrets are sacred anymore and the more hurtful the truth, the more quickly it's told.
The Doctor and Nyssa decide to figure out where these things are coming from and how is behind their distribution. This story takes the approach of the Route 66 television series — and that's probably due to Ness being American (though he's not old enough to have seen the show first hand). Namely, the Doctor and his companion are secondary to the plot.
The story centers on two outcasts of the village. One is a Jewish boy with a German name who is being bullied and has been refusing to wear a Truth Teller. The other is a Black girl who is the town's best mechanic. Both have been the focus of some of the town's most vicious "truth telling."
Just when it seems that the boy and girl will be able to rise above the town mayhem, the Doctor swoops in to solve their problem lickety-split. I realize he's ancient and well traveled but usually there's some hint at whether or not he knows what's going on. Here he knows, and he's just taking Nyssa around to see how her primitive mind will process the information. It's not a particularly rewarding or satisfying portrayal either the Doctor or Nyssa.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 24): 07/24/17
On the fifteenth we moved out of our home for the last thirteen years. It was a grueling move and we didn't have phone or internet until Wednesday. That mean's that this post covers two weeks of reading and reviewing.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Big Roads: 07/23/17
The Big Roads by Earl Swift is a history of the United States highway system from the earliest toll roads to the modern day interstate system.
There's a lot of repetition of the history covered in other books, such as the old turnpikes and the Lincoln Highway and similar routes from that area. But this book does go into depth about the process to design our modern day roads including the testing of signs and the method for creating the road signs.
The Big Roads also takes a more realistic look at how the roads have affected the American lifestyle. Sure they has improved transportation between cities but they also bring traffic we're still struggling to understand, and the feast or famine brought by the freeways.
As with the other books in my project, I live blogged my reading. You can see my thoughts and favorite quotes on Tumblr.
The Hate U Give: 07/22/17
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as of writing this review has nearly thirty-thousand ratings on GoodReads. It's one of the breakout hits of 2017. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter and Tumblr, this book covers the way the police killing of a black teen tears apart a neighborhood, starting with Starr, who was in the car when it happened.
While it's Khalil who pays the ultimate price — being shot while reaching for his comb during a traffic stop — it's Starr who will be dogged by the fact that she was a witness and a friend. Starr, like her uncle, lives in two worlds — her working class, primarily black neighborhood — and her primarily white, wealthy, private school. She lives her life always aware of where she is — code shifting — being as formal and proper as possible at school and among her classmates, and being less formal with her friends, family, and neighborhood. It's something everyone does — but when you're ______ while Black, it's a survival skill.
What struck me most about The Hate U Give was how active Starr is on Tumblr. Thomas, who is active on both platforms, is the first author I've read who realistically portrays the online/offline culture of both. Actual threads, campaigns, and memorials are mentioned in the book. This book is very much grounded in the time in which it's written, in the same way that Towers Falling does.
I hope The Hate U Give ends up on school curricula across the country. It needs to be read. It needs to be discussed. I also look forward to whatever else Angie Thomas might write.
Tru & Nelle: 07/21/17
Tru & Nelle by G. Neri is a fictionalization of the earliest days of the friendship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee. The book contains photographs of the two and a brief description of their lives and careers.
It's still a strange book. Really it's more of a collection of short stories about their misadventures. The chapters switch off with who gets to the be lead of the story.
But at no point do we really get to know either of the people. Tru is described as a mini version of his later persona. Nelle is a tomboy who acts like a mini version of Scout.
Children certainly should be introduced to the life and times of famous people, including writers. This fictionalized account though works on the assumption that the reader knows who these people were. I sincerely doubt that the average target aged reader here will.
In that regard, the book would have worked better if it had been completely fictional with an afterword for the curious explaining who inspired these characters. It may have also given more room to flesh out the characters so that they don't seem like rigid carbon copies of themselves and their characters.
There is a second book coming out this November: Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale.
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem: 07/20/17
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson is the next installment of the reimagined Jem and the Holograms series as a comic. The fall out continues from Pizzazz's accident and something is amiss with Synergy's code.
The biggest part of this plot arc is a corrupted Synergy causing transformations of the Holograms performers in Gothic proportions. Basically their upbeat attitude and matching pastel punk makeup and attire is replaced by dark clothing, grumpy attitudes, and a desire to play hypnotic death metal.
The music that the transformed Holograms plays has a hypnotic effect, making their fans uber-fans. Hordes of hypnotized fans brings to mind another musical plot, namely that of Doofenschmirtz during a clips episode of Phineas and Ferb.
Meanwhile at home, Pizzazz is at home feeling sorry for herself and wallowing in a depression spiral that is isolating herself from friends and family. It's a glimpse of the quiet, reserved person behind the sassy, bold, sometimes outright rude lead singer of the Misfits. It's a chance to see too that the two lead singers really aren't all that different, except that Pizzazz is hiding behind make up and a put on attitude, while Jerrica hides behind the holographic persona, Jem.
It's a strong third book in this series. The fourth, coming out this August is Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits, sometimes just shortened to Jem and the Misfits.
Needled to Death: 07/19/17
Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton is the second in the Knitting Mystery series. Kelly Flynn is now trying to work remotely from her aunt's home in Colorado. She's becoming more and more a part of the local knitting scene, including helping to give tours of a local alpaca ranch.
It's at the alpaca ranch that this book's murder takes place. And from the very get go the plot started to remind of any number of race horse mysteries where animals are tagged, tattooed, chipped, and tracked so that one animal can't be swapped for another and in the course of a murder investigation, it's discovered that all those precautions were for naught because of corruption.
Although the obvious villain was obvious, I still had fun reading this book. Yes, everything's taken to extreme: her newfound LOVE of all things yarn, her caffeine addiction, her obliviousness to "good dog" Carl's discipline problems. And yet for an ebook on the phone I could read in snatches when waiting in line or drinking my morning coffee, it was just right.
Ten Things We Did: 07/18/17
Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski is told in extended flashbacks that lead up to the protagonist waking up in her friend's house, in bed with a boy, and the downstairs completely thrashed as the parents are heading home. April has managed to convince her parents to let her stay at her old high school even though they are moving out of state. She's staying with her best friend, while her bestie's mom is out of town, touring with a theater
At the close of that first chapter and the flashback to the start of this story, I knew I was going to dislike the book with a fiery passion. Stories that backfill after a cliffhanger are stories that don't have enough plot after the big event. These lengthy flashbacks are lazy story telling.
So what is the big hook here? April wants to stay at her old high school because she and her boyfriend are planning on having sex. The parents moving out of state and the other mother going on the road gives both teenage girls the chance to run wild ala Animal House but while still being in high school.
The set up for this story is so preposterous. First and foremost, high schools more than any other school in the K-12 system require proof of residency, on the part of the parents. It would take so much extra work for the parents to convince the school admissions to let their daughter stay that it frankly wouldn't be worth the effort.
Next problem is just the logistics of teens living by themselves. Besides the usual high school stuff: homework, clubs, athletics, rallies, etc., there's also the home stuff: grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, garbage. If your big goal is having sex with your boyfriend — something that's frankly over in an hour at most — do you really want to take on all this added responsibility?
The fact that three adults in this story feel comfortable doing this, even though the two teens are pulling the wool over their eyes a little, smacks of the privilege that comes with money and whiteness. Imagine how different this book would have been if the families had been poor, working class, or POC? Imagine the outrage, rather than this being a fun teenage romp that teaches the importance of safe sex.
Finally there's the absurdity of April being that obsessed with sex at the cost of all other things. I'm not saying that teenage girls don't or shouldn't think about sex. I certainly did but there were way more pressing issues: homework, chores, fan-fiction to write. Dating, boys, drinking, partying — weren't part of my day to day obsession.
According to the Pew Research Center, Basics of Teen Romantic Relationships, 35% of teens (ages 13-17) have some sort of dating or relationship experience. That means 65% of teens don't.
Looking only at the age range that April and her friend fall into: 15-17, 44% of teens have had some sort of romantic experience, meaning still that more than half of all American teens don't even date in high school.
From that set that is romantically involved, only 18% say they're in a serious relationship. Further more, the research found that 10% of their responders reported having had sex, though the Journal of Pediatrics reported 20% in a 2013 survey.
Long story short, this idiotic book would be better set in college. By better I mean more realistic and without the need to backfill to set up the big shock of the parents finding out. Let instead the consequences be more grounded in reality, or if this book is just playing it for comedy, than go further afield with the situations. Make this full fledged farce.
The Long Cosmos: 07/17/17
The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the conclusion to the Long Earth series. It better damn well be — given that it was finished after Pratchett's death. It takes place in the years 2070-2071, six decades after the initial step day.
The first chapter outline a giant cosmic message — JOIN US — that has begun showing up across the different Earths. It comes in different forms and at different times but it's in enough places to not be a coincidence.
And then like all the previous Long Earth books, the next chapters meander around worlds and characters — including a long side story with Joshua recreating Robinson Crusoe with a Troll as Friday.
There's also a plot with the Next coming together even with regular humans to build a massive AI to decode the messages of the cosmos. The idea is to learn the rest of what's behind the JOIN US. In this regards we're back to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I have to wonder what the Next feel about fjords and the number 42.
But ultimately — the entire five book series is the set up as a mathematical shaggy dog story. It's not 42. It's π. And it's been there since book one, though only really a player since the soft spots plot was introduced. For anyone paying attention, the soft spot worlds as well as the jokers all follow a pattern. And if you plot out the digits of π logarithmically, you'll see just how the soft spots work.
Had Pratchett lived to see this joke played out to its conclusion, I think I'd be more excited about it. As it is, I'm more excited to read a tween book with a similar plot — Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass.
Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco: 07/16/17
Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the sixth book in the series. The kids are on their way to the museum for a field trip and the Lunch Lady has been invited as a chaperone. Disappointed, Betty decides to tag along, where she and the most astute of the Breakfast Bunch realize something is amiss at the museum.
The field trip drops everyone into a forgery ring and a caper. It was interesting to see the Lunch Lady so drawn in by her love of art and art history. She's not usually distracted or off her game like this.
It was also a great chance to see Betty as the hero. She's usually the sidekick but here she shines.
Bull by David Elliott is a poetic retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur. Each of the main characters get their own poetic style and voice and the book alternates between.
Elliott uses modern language including profanity to rework this story into compelling snippets. It's a fun, sometimes crass (but so is the source material) modernization of a Greek myth. It should appeal to teens who grew up reading Percy Jackson and are looking for something edgier.
The book itself is also well crafted, designed to further draw the reader into the story. Above ground, the text is presented in a standard fashion: black typeface on white paper. As Asterion is imprisoned and begins his descent into madness and transformation into the blood lusting beast we know as the minotaur, the pages go through a gradient, slowly getting darker and darker until it's white typeface on black pages.
I chose this book to further explore the relationship of the Minotaur and labyrinth to the American road narrative — specifically the crossing the cornfield and road not taken categories. Bull serves as a good counterpoint to The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break to see how jaded M came to be — how he was once an idealistic child (despite is bovine features), named Asterion (ruler of the stars).
National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape Photography: 07/14/17
National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape Photography by Tim Fitzharris promises step-by-step instructions towards creating photographs that captures the natural beauty of the landscape. That's a big promise that here doesn't follow through.
Tim Fitzharris has worked hard to develop a certain aesthetic to his landscapes. He likes mountain lakes at sunset or early morning, taken with a long enough exposure to render the water flat and reflective. To me, these look like the photographic cousins of Thomas Kinkade's paintings. I'm not a fan of that pristine, everything's perfect approach either to landscape photography or painting.
After a brief introduction to the tools needed for landscape photography and a similarly short pep talk, the book narrows its focus to the specific steps needed to produce Fitzharris types of landscapes. There's no wiggle room given for other interpretations of the landscape. Nor is there any encouragement to check out local areas — only the most extraordinary, out of the way, untouched areas should be photographed! Fine. If this is the type of photography you want to produce, read this book. If it isn't, by all means, skip this one.
The Genius of Birds: 07/13/17
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman continues my year of the birds. The bird on the cover, though, shows that the book had the unfortunate luck of becoming outdated shortly after its release. That's the nature of covering science — especially one that is still in an active form of discovery.
The cover illustration — and the topic of one of the first essays — is a scrub jay. As of last year, that scrub jay would have been known as a Western scrub jay. This year, though, the Western scrub jay was split into two species — and the larger of the two (which includes the bird on the cover) was given the new common name: California scrub jay. That's no fault of the author or the publisher — and frankly I hope later editions don't change the text, beyond maybe a notation in an afterword or a notes section. It's a good reminder of how much there is to still learn about our avian neighbors.
As the title implies, this book is an exploration of the intelligence of birds — of what makes for a successful bird. It's to set aside the notion of the "bird brain" as a negative connotation. That's not to say all birds are geniuses — but some are very smart in deed.
It's not just big birds (corvids and the like) that are smart. There are some geniuses among the very tiny too. The chickadee with it's oversized head is carrying around a big brain (on a small scale). They can think circles around the house finches they compete with.
The book is fascinating and makes for a good lunch time read. The focus remains on the birds throughout, but it gives just enough info on the scientists involved to appreciate the work they do.
Mayday by Karen Harrington is set in the weeks and months after a plane crash. In other middle grade books I've read, the plane crash is something that happens to someone else in the book. This time, though, the protagonist, Wayne Kovok, and his mother experience it first hand.
The flight should have been a simple one — a time saver to get Wayne and his mother home from the funeral for his uncle, killed overseas. Instead, something happens as the plane approaches the airport. Wayne had been holding onto the flag given to survivors of servicemen and women. Wayne learns that the flag cannot be replaced even if its lost in extraordinary circumstances.
Besides the lost flag, Wayne loses his voice. Rather, he injures himself in such a way that he has to remain quiet and go through speech therapy. In Wayne's mind the loss of one is compounded in the loss of the other. He believes he can make things right if he can find his uncle's flag.
Wayne's help in all of this is his grandfather — a stern, hard to like former military man. While reading the book, he was the person I disliked most but I've warmed to him in the time between finishing the book and writing the review. The grandfather is despite his orneriness, the voice of reason in the family. He's the one who has been through personal tragedy and has learned how to survive it. He's trying to help Wayne and his mother do that too.
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel is the second of the Matt Cruse tween adventure stories. This time Matt and Kate team up with a fortune hunter and a Romani girl to track down the mysterious ghost ship, Hyperion.
In an alternate Earth where pressurized heavier than air flight doesn't exist, the types of altitudes today's passenger planes fly at are impossible. Yet, that is where Hyperion is spotted, floating near the Himalayas.
This book was a perfect combination for me: treasure hunting, haunted house (or air ship), weird dead millionaire, high seas (sky) adventure and kraken (or air jellyfish). Oh, and pirates. There's always pirates.
Noragami Volume 03: 07/10/17
Noragami Volume 03 by Adachitoka covers the fallout after the last battle and the ongoing strife between Yato and his regalia, Yukine. As that divide grows, so does the blight attacking Yato.
Volume 3 is the point where Hiyori's focus changes. Though some day down the line she might like the problem of her out of body experiences being fixed, she's grown attached to both Yato and Yukine. They are her friends and their problems are her problems. She has decided to be the one to help them work through their differences. Despite learning Yato's violent past, Hiyori is becoming his first new follower.
Besides the developing relationships between Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori, there's another job involving a boy driven to the edge by bullying. The boy's current situation is disturbingly similar to what we know about Yukine's back story. As you can imagine, the emotions here are raw and visceral.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 10): 07/10/17
This is our last week in the home we've lived in for thirteen years. It's the longest I've lived anywhere. As I've been literally working full time with the move and my husband took a week off work to help to, there are no photos to share.
The only other excitement is that Saturday was our 22nd wedding anniversary. We did go out to dinner to celebrate but otherwise it was a full day of packing and cleaning.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
I Say Tomato: 07/09/17
I Say Tomato by Katie Wall is the story of the struggles of an Australian actress in Hollywood. Sunday "Sunny" Triggs is trying to land the big roll on a television series if she can just get the accent right (American with a hint of Australian) and if she can get the chemistry right with the leading man.
And it's the chemistry part — the old casting couch trap — that takes the bulk of this short book. As long as Sam likes her, her chances of getting the part are good. But it's obvious from this reader's point of view that Sam is stringing along naive Sunny.
In tone, the book reminds me of Angels by Marian Keyes. In both books, Los Angeles, and more precisely, the entertainment industry piece of it, is scrutinized for its excesses and its coldness.
But in both cases, Los Angeles is only shown in bits and pieces. There are shady deals and crazy parties and sex and drugs, but there is a quieter side too of people working long hours for small parts and big parts. Hollywood is often portrayed as an all or nothing, or set up, as I Say Tomato, is a modern retelling of the Icarus legend.
Lucky Boy: 07/08/17
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran is the story of Ignacio "Nacho" Valdez, an American baby who ends up in a tug of war between his Mexican mother and his Indian foster parents. The book is told in alternating points of view between Solimar and Kavya — the two women who want to be his mother.
This is a long book that covers all sorts of back story before getting to the meat of the matter. There are lengthy chapters about Kavya and her husband (who works for fictional Google clone) and how their marriage is falling apart because she can't get pregnant. Then there is a similarly long, overly detailed account of Solimar leaving her home, making the perilous journey across the border into the United States (dangerous for the coyotes who take advantage of the desperate, for the dessert heat and expanse) and the on-going threat of ICE once the border is crossed.
The problem is — the title and the blurb both jump immediately to Nacho and yet there are a couple hundred pages to get to him. Here is a time when either started in media res and providing flashbacks, or just doing some heavy editing of extraneous details would have helped. But there is also the dryness of narration. It's unemotional — told in a matter of fact manner. There's no heart or soul to this book despite the many times we're told how much both women love Nacho.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: 07/07/17
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill is a novel I found as I was tracking down the tangental thought of crossing the corn field being akin to the Minotaur's labyrinth.
My train of thought went like this:
Steven Sherrill takes that same idea and turns it on its head. What if the Minotaur (or M to his friends) has long since left the safety of his labyrinth to wander the Earth — only to find it as confusing and scary as his victims once found the labyrinth? M is a fry cook in a steakhouse attached to a now abandoned hotel. He lives in a mobile home in a horseshoe shaped park.
The Minotaur, though he has lived for centuries and has traveled the globe, has settled in the sort of places the typical road narrative protagonist is trying to escape. He has chosen to live his life in these out of the way places, in bursts of waiting. "The Minotaur is a nomad in the largest sense of the word. He finds it necessary, given the transient nature of everything around him, to relocated on occasion. He does not move with the seasons. Nor does he follow herds or rivers or constellations. His moves are with the centuries, more or less." (p. 15)
Like any traveler, even a reluctant one, the road has changed the Minotaur. It has tamed him. It has taught him to think about his every decision, slowly and deliberately. Every decision to him is like another turn in the labyrinth. Though he is technically free, he lives in a mental labyrinth — unable to escape, and a potential monster to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves "trapped" with him.
In this regard, M is a reluctant scarecrow — like Hawthorne's Feathertop — remembering that the scarecrow in these scenarios often act as the gatekeeper or warden of the cornfield, or in this case, the labyrinth. Sometimes though, these guardians grow weary of their destined roles and leave. That is what has happened to M.
There is a sequel, The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time (2016) which I hope to read soon.
Instructions by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess is a free form poem transformed into a "there and back again" urban fantasy road narrative picture book.
The "instructions" are one part itinerary and one part survival guide for a journey from the "wooden gate in the wall you never saw before" to a "castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet, exchanging tales."
Though the ride home can involve an eagle and a fish, to make it home safely, one must make a round trip. One must trace one's steps. For if you do, "Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid."
Though my research in the road narrative has been primarily with American road trip stories, and primarily the ones where the road trip either never ends or is a one way trip, Gaiman and Vess's book provide a beautifully condensed example of how the British road narrative differs from the American road narrative.
Although the text covers things one would see on a fantasy journey and although Vess draws the main character as an animal person, there is one moment in this book that nudges the it into the urban fantasy — though from a fae point of view. The illustration that accompanies the passage: "The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's realm; there is another land at the bottom of it" shows the hero looking down through a circle in the sky above a grouping of skyscrapers.
The quiet takeaway from Instructions, and something that's seen in The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again, is that the journey is transformative. Even if you follow the same route home, you are not the same person who pushed through the gate all those weeks ago. Your home, your town, the world that you know "will seem much smaller than you remember."
In contrast, the American road narrative is often one of an extended or one way journey. People are moving to a new place. Or people are dreaming of escaping their situation. Or people are watching travelers pass through their towns and either can't understand what all the fuss is about, or are put at risk by unwanted strangers who must either be assimilated or destroyed (see the road not taken and crossing the cornfield).
Hilda and the Stone Forest: 07/05/17
Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson is the fifth of the Hildafolk graphic novels. This book builds what Hilda has learned in the previous books about the magical world around her, and specifically, the spaces between that the house spirits use.
What's different this time is that Hilda's mother is no longer naive about Hilda's adventures or her abilities. After Hilda's out one time too many – has missed one too many dinners — Mum decides to take action. She tries grounding Hilda. Hilda, though, tries to use the spaces between to go out with a house spirit friend.
But Mum's on top of things and grabs Hilda's arm. The ensuing tug of war with Hilda as the rope results in Hilda and Mum somewhere unexpected, and without their house spirit guide.
These types of stories — where a parent gets involved with a child's adventures can be horrendous. They can easily devolve into the parent stopping the child at every venture because the situation isn't safe, is too scary, requires dishonesty, or any the demonstration of any of the skills the child has honed over the previous books.
Hilda's mum while upset, isn't so innocent to think that her daughter is too perfect, too fragile, too precious to do anything brave or adventurous. Instead, her reactions are out of annoyance — at being somewhere unexpected and very possibly dangerous because Hilda disobeyed. Later she tries to be brave and tries to keep up with Hilda but she hasn't been adventuring recently. It is implied though through her clearheadedness, that in the past, Mum was probably just as adventurous as her daughter.
The book ends on a cliffhanger with a promise of a next book but as of writing this review, I'm unsure of its title or its publication date.
American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film: 07/04/17
American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film by Ann Brigham is a critical analysis of the American road narrative, beginning with the early memoirs and novels of the 1910-1920s, and ending with the post September 11th literature.
Brigham sees the road narrative as "a mode of engagement" with "space, society, or identity" (p. 4). On this we agree, though the what and how that discourse happens we don't. For Brigham, the road narrative discourse changes in specific ways in specific eras. The earliest years were about assimilation — learning how to be American through a road trip — or proving to others that one is a American by taking a road trip. For the post War years, it's a rediscovery of the masculine self. For the 1980s it's a re-examination of Feminism in a space codified as masculine. The post September 11th narratives are again about assimilation and a scary America first attitude.
For the outlining of her thesis, Brigham looks at the exemplars from each era:
But there's no examination of the aberrations in the genre. There's no discussion of books or films that don't comfortably fit into their decade's cubbyhole. While the reading of these texts is different — focusing on the interaction of traveler with their social context across space and time — there is only one type of discussion explored for each era.
My approach to the road narrative was originally very similar. Back in 1995, I started with the idea that the semantics of the road — of actual real world roads, roadsigns, highways, their infrastructure, their support systems, and so forth had been so well codified as to be their own proto-language. These signs were something that had been assimilated in the American experience — something that could be then used to create narratives that could be universally understood by an American audience. In the last two years of actively re-addressing this thesis, I've read enough of the early texts to see that the codification of tropes and motifs predates the standardization of roadsigns and the building up of infrastructure.
My research happened to coincide with the beginnings of the We Need Diverse Books movement. I realized I needed to look for other voices — other ways of constructing road narratives. The road narrative isn't for a single dominant voice in any given era. It is there. It is part of the American psyche, built out of national and regional memories, folktales, traditions.
Over the Ocean: 07/03/17
Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi is a Japanese picture book about a girl wondering what lies across the sea. The book works with repetition and variation on themes.
On the cover there's the girl standing on a nondescript beach, facing the large expanse of turquoise water. Each turn of the page shows what she's imagining, displayed in place of the sky.
She imagines things like more sea, farms, a fair, and so forth. And as these sorts of stories usually go, it wanders into the existential. Is there another child looking back across the sea?
In 1979, if I'd read the book when it was brand new, I would have been six. As a child growing up in San Diego, I could have imagined myself as the child she sees.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 03): 07/03/17
I had a really productive week of reading despite the packing and the summer vacation activities. Mostly this is due to the books being relatively short. I finished ten books in seven days.
The last week was pleasant. My son started cross country training. I'm glad he hasn't trained in the heat we had two weeks ago. Of course, that will probably change as the summer goes on.
My daughter had drama camp at our local art gallery. Besides learning a song from Hamilton they also performed a skit, a song, and learned numerous team building exercises. On the last day family was invited to see them perform and to have desserts. My daughter baked chocolate chip banana Lunn and it was hit.
My husband came back from his business trip to Zürich. He brought home two manga for me: Sherlock: 1: Ein Fall von Pink and Kleine Katze Chi 1
Ninety-nine percent of our books are now in storage. We have a few stragglers at home because we ran out of boxes. I'll get them boxed up this week. We're at the point now to start getting rid of things.
What I read last week:
What I'm reading:
Last Week's Reviews
Author: A True Story: 07/02/17
Author: A True Story by Helen Lester is a chapter book length autobiography about the struggles the author had with learning how to read and write. The book was recommended to me, heartily, by my daughter.
Lester as a child struggled to learn how to write her letters. She was naturally a mirror writer. Many of the letters she tried to write came out as perfect backwards copies of what she was trying to do.
Though it's not stated in the book, I'm curious if Lester is left handed. As a kid I also struggled with mirror writing, especially in upper elementary when we were learning cursive.
The letter writing instructions, and the things children have to trace over to practice, are written with right handed students in mind. If following what feels natural as a left handed writer, the letters will often end up backwards. It took me a long time to realize that I didn't have to follow the "correct" path — just make correct looking letters, even if that means starting in a backwards location to do so.
June 2017 Reading Sources: 07/02/17
I've been tracking the metric of reading my own books vs newly purchased, library, review or research books since April, 2010. I've been doing this long enough that the plotted data is getting pretty hard to read in a graph that's only six hundred pixels wide. Starting this month, I'm lopped off the first half of my data points in the graph, so that it's only tracking the metric for the last three of those seven years.
Like May, June's reading was under -3, meaning a large portion of my books were both books I've owned for a while and research books for my road narrative project. A large portion of the books I read were audiobooks, ones I'm listening to as I pack up our home library for the move (happening in less than two weeks). In June I read three more books than in May, with more of those books being from the library — though the audiobooks did fill in the gap for the print books I otherwise would have read.
Looking towards July, I suspect my reading will be split between audiobooks / ebooks for my personal collection and library books. I suspect my over all reading will go down as I'll be busy with the move, both getting the temporary apartment livable, and with getting the townhouse ready for sale. Maybe too, we'll be actually looking at new homes.
June's ROOB score was nearly identical to June 2013, and significantly better than all other Junes since I started tracking.
June's average also improved by .06. July's average so far is quite good — from years of reading my own books while traveling. I suspect the average will tick up towards "library" which would be a solid -2. I've read so many of my own books over summers past, that it would have be an exceptional month of reading brand new books and library books solely to make too big of a negative dent in the average.
Whatever happens this July will be interesting. It's the first time in decades — maybe the entirety of my book tracking, that I've been completely uncertain as to where my next book will be coming from — or even how many books my near future holds.
Giant Days, Volume 4: 07/01/17
Giant Days, Volume 4 by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar follows the roommates as they start to prepare for the next year. There's a lot going on: getting Esther back into university, finding housing, making a student film, and Susan's attempts at dating.
My favorite part, though, is the mad hunt for finding housing. The girls missed the deadline to look for housing via the University, so now they're on their own — finding a house or flat to rent. Ah memories from the days when Ian and I couldn't afford much. Starter apartments are universally terrible things.
The housing story came at a time when we're in the middle of moving out of our home to sell it and to buy a larger one. That means we've had to rent an apartment — the firs time in sixteen years.
The housing plot also came out about the same time as the tenth series Doctor Who episode "Knock Knock." Mind you, Susan, Esther, and Daisy don't end up renting anything paranormal, but the montage of creepy homes and landlords brings to mind the similar montage in "Knock Knock."
June 2017 Reading Report: 07/01/17
June can be summed up with packing boxes and end of the school year madness. With now the vast majority of all our home library in storage and most of my free time tied up with getting ready for a move, and making sure my children get to and from their summer activities, I haven't been as mindful with what I read.
In two weeks we're moving into our temporary apartment. While I will have a box of books with me — a sliver of my personal collection — and will still have access to my ebooks and library books, I have no idea how much time I will have to do anything beyond getting the house ready, getting the apartment livable, and the summer activities with my children. The care I normally put into my reading will be instead directed to the move.
June did not keep pace with May's progress. Non-diverse / non-inclusive books outnumbered diverse/inclusive books in both reading and reviewing. Much of my reading last month was either audiobooks (a cozy mystery series while packing books) or comic books.
One notable exception to my haphazard reading last month was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — a book I waited nearly two months to read because of the large number of holds on the library's multiple copies. I'm not implying that the novel was work to read — rather that it was a higher caliber of book. It's beautifully written and something I hope ends up being taught in schools.
Reviewing was also somewhat haphazard, though not as much as the reading as I do schedule the bulk of my reviews weeks in advance. The reviews are a combination newly published works (including some of the ones I read strictly to unwind), older reviews I had held onto longer than I had wanted, and reviews of books I had read for my road narrative project. It wasn't the most cohesive month of reviewing.