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Bad Babysitter: 08/31/17
Bad Babysitter by Jennifer L. Holm is the 19th comic in the series. Babymouse wants some spending money and she's old enough to try babysitting. She figures it will be easy: she feeds the kids, puts them to bed, then has the rest of the evening to watch TV waiting for the parents to come home. Except, kids are rarely that easy.
Now given Babymouse's track record, I'm surprised any adult would actually consider hiring her. She has a dozen shoddily half projects behind her by this point in the series. Maybe the parents think their kiddos are like cupcakes (one of her rare successes)?
Well, children aren't cupcakes, especially little ones. You can imagine how well things go!
But this book isn't about another one of Babymouse's failures. Yes, she learns that little children aren't her thing, but she does find her place when she's put in charge of a very shy owl. He's been bullied to the point of becoming a near shut-in. Babymouse, also a victim of bullying uses her own coping mechanisms to draw the little owl of his shell.
A Cookbook Conspiracy: 08/30/17
A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle is the seventh in the Bibliophile Mystery series. Brooklyn is excited about a new restaurant opening in San Francisco. Her sister Savannah is one of its chefs and will be planning one of the menus for the opening week. Savannah has also brought Brooklyn her newest project, an old handwritten diary and cookbook from the revolutionary era.
After opening night, the owner of the restaurant is found murdered by a fish knife — one of those long nasty ones used for skinning and filleting. The carefully restored cookbook and its ornate box is missing. Brooklyn wants to discover who committed the crime and recover the missing book.
I enjoyed the murder mystery — one where everyone had a reason to want the man dead. It was also thankfully mostly set in San Francisco, rather than the fictional hippie compound that normally features prominently in these books.
What I didn't get — given Brooklyn's usual care and expertise with books — is why she would blindly jump into the project before checking the book's provenance. A handwritten journal and cookbook with ties to big names in the revolutionary war would probably be a known thing.
D4VE by Ryan Ferrier begins with the premise that the robots have already won. They've taken over the Earth and killed all the humans. And now they're stuck in the same dead-end jobs that humanity was so keen on.
The title character was a war robot back in the day. Now he's stuck in some cubical. He's got a boss that hates him, a wife who wants more from him, and a son who spends his days playing video games and watching porn.
Meanwhile, aliens have decided to take over the planet, seeing a place ripe for the picking. The robots have lost their way. They've run out of resources. They have also lost their interest in fighting. All except for D4VE who sees the invasion as his midlife crisis.
But there's so much focus on the hyper sexuality of D4VE and his son that the actual story gets buried in a ton of pointless, sophomoric humor. There's about four pages of Animal House styled crap to every page of actual plot. It's disappointing and tiresome.
Beyond Auto Mode: 08/28/17
Beyond Auto Mode by Jennifer Bebb is a photography how-to book aimed at newer dSLR cameras. I should be upfront with this review and say I don't actually own a dSLR; I own a mirrorless micro 4/3 — a type of digital camera that has a set of quirks unique to it's design.
None the less — except where a technique is technology dependent, most approaches to photography are interchangeable (albeit sometimes with some adjustments needed) across cameras. Bebb's book provides an easy to follow set of guidelines for any photographer who has the option to shoot manually but doesn't know where to start (or just needs a refresher course).
Every photograph is built from a triangle of settings: ISO (or film speed), aperture, and shutter speed. In a dSLR camera these three things can be completely controlled between photographs. On a mirrorless, two of the three can be controlled, with some control still given to the camera to make the user input settings work. Understanding how the three work together is important for understanding which of the three is safe to give over to the camera.
Beyond Auto Mode was one of three books I read before departing on a road trip to Wyoming to see the total eclipse. Of the three, Bebb's book was the most useful for me to understand the limitations of my camera and the extreme lighting situations created over the course of a total eclipse. You can see my results on Flickr.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 28): 08/28/17
I didn't post last week because I was on a family road trip to Wyoming to see the total eclipse. We also stopped by The Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. For the eclipse we met up with my husband's parents at the Casper Events Center where we watched along side with scientists from Maryland and Berkeley.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Time Garden: 08/27/17
The Time Garden by Edward Eager is the fourth of the Tales of Magic series and the second contemporary, rather than historical fiction, one. The children of the original characters are together again for a summer vacation at a boring old lake house where they have too many rules to follow. But magic is always around the corner for them, and in this case, it's in the garden.
This book also crosses with Magic by the Lake. It was primarily for the crossover that I stuck with this book.
Eager's magic adventures fall into two categories: teleportation and time travel. The magic often goes awry because of a pun or some other word trickery. Here it's time (or make that thyme) travel.
While the time travel can be fun, it's often an excuse to see the author's romanticized version of things past. Here that nostalgia is mixed with more of Roger and Jack's squabbling. If I want to listen to that, I just need to look to my own two!
The Locksmith issue 3: 08/26/17
The Locksmith issue 3 by Terrance Grace is where things get really weird. Maybe that's too broad a statement — the series started out pretty weird too. This issue though deals with multiple timelines all coming together for a big event that will unleash — or being to unleash in issue four.
While in previous issues most of the action has taken place in New York and surrounds — the place for lots of modern day hauntings especially in American literature — this one includes Italy and Australia.
Whatever is coming is ripping through the very fabric of time and space. In tone and plot it reminds me a bit of Orbiter by Warren Ellis. For it's Australian setting, I'm also reminded of Peter Weir's films.
Pumpkin Town!: 08/25/17
Pumpkin Town! Or, Nothing is Better and Worse than Pumpkins by Katie McKy and illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi is about the unexpected consequences after a family of pumpkin farmers are careless with their leftover seeds. The wind picks them up and deposits them in the neighboring town.
By the next season, the town is over-run with vines. And those vines all end up growing pumpkins. And soon the town is completely buried in a sea of yellow and orange gourds.
Although the farmers do come to realize their mistakes and do help their city neighbors harvest and clean up, they don't seem to learn their lesson. The book ends with them doing the same thing with watermelons (which are related to pumpkins).
I read the book to follow down some tangents in my crossing the cornfield dichotomy for the road narrative project. Pumpkin Town ended up being similar but scaled up story as Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White.
I was curious if pumpkins had a thematic connection with cornfields, beyond the one month they all come together — October. Except for corn mazes often being a part of the larger October pumpkin patches, and scarecrows serving a dual purpose in these situations, as yet I've found nearly no literary evidence of pumpkins serving the same or similar purpose as the cornfield.
There is one notable exception, namely the second chapter of Over the Garden Wall (2014), where pumpkin headed, corn husk bodied residents harvest the dead to join their community. However, that entire series is essentially nothing but an extended escape from the cornfield as the boys are facing death back home on the other side of the garden wall, as it were.
Paper Girls, Volume 1: 08/24/17
Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan is the start of a graphic novel series involving a plucky group of tween-and-teenage girls who deliver the papers in their suburban neighborhood. Although this series has been talked about a bunch since it was launched, I've apparently kept myself under enough of a rock to avoid spoilers.
The book starts off as I expected — a girl doing her route, getting harassed by dick teenage boys — and hooking up with the older girls. But like Lumberjanes, there's more than just camaraderie. If Lumberjanes goes in the direction of Gravity Falls, Paper Girls goes in the direction of Stranger Things and Continuum.
I was going to say Terminator but there's an undertone of corporate control in the time travel dystopia. Things we take for granted — our iPhones and other smart devices — take on a sinister meaning here. Going more literary – there's a bit of Oryx and Crake too.
Of course just as things are starting to make sense and are getting good — the volume ends. That's how these series are. So, yes, I'm hooked.
Bookmarked For Death: 08/23/17
Bookmarked For Death by Lorna Barrett is the second of the Booktown Mystery series, which I am listening to as audiobooks, performed by Cassandra Campbell. To celebrate Haven't Got a Clue's first anniversary, Tricia has invited Stoneham's one and only mystery author, Zoë Carter to a book signing. The event doesn't go well, ending with the author dead.
Carter's death opens up a can of worms. There are rumors that she didn't write her own books. Nor were they ghostwritten. They were stolen outright. The question though, is, why wait for her very last book to come out before killing her?
Besides the mystery, there is the ongoing story of Angie's move to Stoneham. At the close of Murder is Binding the sisters had reconciled and agreed to be neighbors. Angie has taken over the cookery and is adding some of her own recipes to store as a way to highlight her cookbooks. Unfortunately, serving food at a bookstore has stirred up some bad feelings among other store owners. So much so that people are starting to get sick!
An on-going complaint among some reviewers is Tricia's unending source of money. Yes — this has been established. And yes, she is, whether or not she realizes it — part of the early gentrification of Stoneham. Bob who owns most of the town got her to sign a larger lease than anyone before and is using her willingness to pay to charge more on future leases. The town isn't ready to pay higher rent and Tricia doesn't see that — even though she pays her two employees more than other stores (those who can afford any employees). She still doesn't pay them a living wage. Instead, she relies on bonuses and only by the end of the book does she realize she should be paying for their health insurance.
Often in a series like this, I'd find Tricia's attitude a hinderance to the series. There is, however, enough wiggle room between Tricia's view of the world and the author's world view — allowing for a dialog between her perception and the reality of what the town is facing.
Finally, it seems that every book has a side plot — nearly a gag plot. The first one had the appearance of the Nudist Resort leaflets. This one has migratory Canada geese who are everywhere and causing a nuisance. These side plots give a sense of place and time to the village. They also provide moments of clarity for Tricia in her sleuthing.
Cadillac Couches: 08/22/17
Cadillac Couches by Sophie B. Watson is a delightfully goofy road trip story about a pair of BFFs who are hardcore music fans. Despite a lack of funds and a health issue that causes fainting at inopportune times, Annie and Isobel head cross country from Edmonton to Montreal for a concert.
Besides the music festival hijinks — the folk scene of Edmonton vs the bigger music scene in metropolitan Montreal, there is a fantastic section describing their trip. Annie describes how it's faster to cut through the United States but it is "cool to keep it Canadian." (p. 58)
Keeping in mind that Canada has a population of 36.25 million people (or roughly 3 million fewer than California), cutting across the border also makes logistic sense. Driving across Canada would be where transcontinental road trips in the United States were a hundred years ago and the central bits were sparsely populated but the roads were laid. (Although it should be noted that in 1917, the United States already had three times the population of present day Canada).
If there is no where to stop and if like Annie and Isobel you don't have the money to stop, you end up pulling all night drives. You end up driving until you hallucinate — until you practically black out.
Along the way, though, you're bound to run into some characters. The less self-reliant you are, the more you have to ask for help along the way. For Annie and Isobel, it means picking up a hitchhiker or doing a runner.
Both these scenes are hilarious but my favorite is the one where the women try to do a runner from a restaurant when they realize they've gone into a cash only restaurant. They're rescued by an older English man who never can seem to remember he's in Canada (instead of the United States). I guess Canadians get confused for being Americans in the same way that New Zealanders get confused with Australians.
As Cadillac Couches fits into my road narrative project and gives me further insights to how these tropes and categories are treated in Canadian literature. As I mentioned with The Volkswagen Blues, I'm behind in transcribing my notes for further analysis in Tumblr. I will get to that part of the process later.
Pi in the Sky: 08/21/17
Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass has been sitting on my to be read shelf since we purchased it brand new during a trip to Portland. We had just finished listening The Candymakers on our road trip. And then the book sat within reach for four years until I happened to finish up The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and saw a thematic connection between the two books.
Pi in the Sky is about the pie delivery boy to the universe. Joss is the son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe and he happens to be in the kitchen to pick up the newest pie when something goes horribly wrong and Earth has to be ripped from the space time continuum for its own good. His best friend's parents were on Earth at the time and are now gone for good. In their place is a single human girl who was at the epicenter of the event.
What Pi and the Sky and The Long Cosmos (and really the entire Long Earth series is twofold: pi and the multiverse. Backing up one more step — there's of course — the Discworld series. Discworld, though it didn't start out that way, evolved into a stories about how people affect their environment, including the universe. The Long Earth series is a similar discussion with science and a recognizable origin (the Datum Earth). But it evolved over its run into a story of how the universe affects mankind while all the while mankind is trying to exert its collective will on the universe. Pi in the Sky is about how mankind makes reality real.
The last two series, though, use pi, or the ratio of a circles circumference to its diameter, as a thematic building block. Interestingly only "39 digits past the decimal are needed to accurately calculate the spherical volume of the entire universe." (Pi Day: Learn about Pi). Or if you've read The Long Cosmos that would be world 314159265358979323846264338327950288419.
Pi in the Sky also has nods to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where as you'll recall, the Earth was destroyed just before it revealed the meaning of 42 in terms of life, the universe, and everything. Magrathea is working to redo the Earth. Or in Wendy Mass's version, Joss and his human companion are rebuilding the Earth from the solar system up.
Wendy Mass manages to jump to a similar punchline as the entire Long Earth series but it takes her only one book. Her book includes an afterword that explains the inspiration behind the book.
The Book Fair From the Black Lagoon: 08/20/17
The Book Fair From the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler is the seventeenth picture book in the series and the only one I've read, or am likely at this time to read. So if you're looking for a comprehensive review of the series, this is not the blog for you! If you're curious, there are twenty books in the series, published originally from 1998-2007.
One thing pictures books are used for is teaching kids about things. The idea is that if you make it an entertaining story you'll also manage to slip some entertainment in. Of course, if this never worked, authors and publishers would stop making these types of books.
Back when I was a kid (although in all fairness, I was still a kid when this series started, though too old to be in the demographic), the series that took care of this task was Amelia Bedelia.
So here the setting is a school. The main character is a kid, so it makes a little more sense that he's clueless about things. Anyway, this time he's worried about an upcoming book fair at his school. He's heard all the jargon and is imagining it in terms of monsters.
Of course when he and his equally worried friends discover the truth behind the book fair they love it. It is after all, well meaning propaganda for school, libraries, and literacy.
Giant Days, Volume 5: 08/19/17
Giant Days, Volume 5 by John Allison brings the first year of university to a close. Daisy, Esther, and Susan are taking on summer at full force. Their beloved wreck of a dorm is slated for demolition, to put in luxury dorms. All in all it's weird times.
I happened to read this volume in the same week that I read Cadillac Couches by Sophie B. Watson and I must admit that the two stories have merged in my head — especially the scenes in Giant Days that take place during a rather disastrous music festival. Besides the expected sex, drugs, and rock and roll, there's also torrential rains, flooding, horrible portable toilets, and epic knitting.
Daisy also gets to shine in this book — having taken on an archeology internship or summer job or class. It's been well established that she is for the most part a very reliable, on task sort of person. She, though, is hounded by the professor leading the dig until she finally loses her ship to epic proportions.
Volume six, which features Daisy again on the cover, will come out in October.
Waiting by Kevin Henkes is the Velveteen Rabbit for the 21st century. It's the story of a child's toys lined up on a window sill and what happens around them.
Initially it starts with introducing each toy and what they like waiting for. It's basically a toy a season. It's a quiet start about the soothing passing of time and the comfort in routine.
But children's lives aren't static and as they change so do their things. Toys come and go. Some are given away. And some are broken. For the others waiting on the sill these events are taken rather matter of factly, which was off putting in the first time I read the book.
Granted, these are toys but often when toys are used as characters they are imbued with more emotions, more sense of caring for the bodged together family that they are as some child's toys. Not here.
Finally there is a new long term character brought in who by her shape will be recognizable to anyone who has seen a matryoshka doll. Here though it's a cat to keep with the animal theme. For the other sill toys and for children not used to them there's one last bit of anticipation. What is the cat waiting for? Or maybe it's who is she waiting for?
Puppy Love: 08/17/17
Puppy Love by Jennifer L. Holm is the eighth book in the Babymouse series. Babymouse desperately wants a puppy but her parents, well aware of her lack of attention to projects, tell her she has to prove herself responsible enough of a pet owner.
In later books, especially, Babymouse really is the cause of her own defeat. She is often portrayed as lazy, winey, and eager for things to magically go in her favor. Here, though, she is genuinely making an effort. But she still has problems.
Anyone who has had one of those "starter pets" knows, they are either short lived or are superb Houdini style escape artists. As a child I had fish and hamsters along with the family pets: a dog and a pair of cats. The fish, which we bought in bulk, often had a few who went belly up each month. I really don't know how often we had to replace fish until we hit on a stable population. The hamsters were constantly getting out of their cages. Invariably they'd end up under or behind an appliance; the dishwasher was a favorite hiding spot.
Babymouse's pets, though, prefer under her bed. And they take things to hilarious extremes. With each pet that escapes, including a fish in its bowl, the party under the bed grows.
Rosemary Remembered: 08/16/17
Rosemary Remembered by Susan Wittig Albert is the fourth of the China Bayles mystery series. China has moved in with her boyfriend and his son and everything seems to be going well. Except then they get word that a dangerous criminal who has a personal grudge against China has been let go. McQuaid goes on the super defensive / paranoid.
Then China's friend, Rosemary ends up dead in the truck she borrowed from McQuaid, thus fueling his conviction that the ex-con is coming for China. For most of the book, China is voice of reason, insisting that there must be someone closer to Rosemary who had motive and opportunity to kill her.
I think this is the first mystery I've read that has an angry red herring. In a television series (though usually done as an arc plot over a quarter to a third of the episodes, usually around sweeps) there will be a dangerous criminal on the loose who has come for the hero. There will be elaborate plots, misdirection, a near framing where it looks like the hero has committed a heinous crime.
This is the first time I cam remember a villain with a grudge only going after the hero because everyone is looking for him anyway and he's pissed off. He's literally been baited by China's well meaning friends and the whole confrontation ends up being laughable.
Before that, though, there's a who weird side plot involving McQuaid's son who is nuts about Star Trek trading cards. He's really into the Next Gen and wants a Data card. My memory being only so-so for the series couldn't keep track of when the show's run ended. Season seven was just the year before the book was published — so probably on air when the book was actually being written.
Now the show I was into in 1995 (and I know I'm in the minority here) was Voyager. Captain Janeway is my favorite captain. But it was too recent a show for the series to have made it into Rosemary Remembered.
Regardless, the disappearance of Brian was the most compelling part of the book for me. I think it was the firs time that China really seemed fully grounded in her world as a living, breathing, emotional person.
Volkswagen Blues: 08/15/17
Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin is a Quebecois road trip about a man in search for his long lost brother. His companion for this journey is Le Grande Sauterelle (Grasshopper girl, often just referred to as "The Girl"), and her black kitten. Their vehicle is an old, second hand Volkswagen bus that has been rebuilt but in a rather matter of fact way and one that will slow the rusting but won't prevent it.
The narrator, a man who calls himself Jack, brings to mind Jack Kerouac and On the Road. It's also fairly obvious that this is a roman à clef — made poetic for the sake of narrative. But there are photographs at the end that give a sense of the story behind the novel.
As the narrative was first written in 1984, one is also reminded of Blue Highways. But it's not Jack who is on the road to experience the narratives of other marginalized people. That is the Girl's quest. As the book progresses, she reveals the details of her life and her feeling of being out of place, being half Indian but not being a real Indian so that her parents (Indian mother, white father) could continue to live on the reservation near her family. But not white enough to buy a home beyond a trailer. (I'm using Indian rather than Native American or First Nation, as it is the term used by the author).
Her father we learn supported the family as a truck driver and later, she accompanied him. She learned how to drive in his big rig and has learned the history of the highway as it cuts through once native lands just as the settlers, governments, and armies have done.
Volkswagen Blues ends up embodying a variety of different classic road narrative stories. There is the white man finding himself as he finds his family (by far the most ubiquitous of North American road narratives). Then there is the traveling while ____________, in this case traveling while half Indian across lands that record the crimes against other Indian groups. Her story is like In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III but from a Canadian point of view. Then there is the autokind vs mankind, the traveling at the car's whim, always knowing that this day, this mile, could be its last.
For my road narrative project, I've saved numerous quotes and passages which I will be sharing on Tumblr. I'm behind on my note transcription, so this review will be posted long before I get to analyzing the book in further detail.
Shopaholic & Baby: 08/14/17
Shopaholic & Baby by Sophie Kinsella is the fifth of the Shopaholic books. I had meant to read the series in order but somehow I got confused and thought Baby came before Sister. Weirder yet, midway through reading Baby, GoodReads suddenly told me that I was tracking my reading on Sister, even though I was reading Baby. My best guess is that GoodReads had the series listed out of order and I was following the incorrect order and midway through my book, they fixed the mistake and in the process swapped what book I was reading. The other possibility is I was having a reader's brain fart.
Becky and Luke are back in London, in a flat they've sold, and she's midway through her pregnancy. It's Becky's goal to stay fashionable, get the house of her dreams, and have the most posh baby ever. Part of that goal involves switching OB-GYNs, to one who works with pregnant celebrities. The big downside, though, is the new OB-GYN is one of Luke's ex girlfriends.
Dr. Edith Montgomery, as portrayed by Lia Williams from series 4 of Doc Martin (2009) The way the OB-GYN is described from her red hair to her relationship with Luke to the way she tries to sabotage Becky's relationship, reminds me of series four of Doc Martin, where during Louisa's pregnancy, Martin's ex-girl friend is suddenly working near by and is actively trying to get him to move back to London with her. I could help but recast Becky's doctor as Dr. Edith Montgomery, as portrayed by Lia Williams. Now as Kinsella's novel came first, I can't help but wonder if one of the show's writers was a fan.
As with The Shopaholic Ties the Knot, much of the tension comes from the lack of communication between Luke and Becky. A big part of that gap is because Luke is either always working on NDAed business deals or he's trying to avoid stressing out Becky. This time, of course, that well meaning on his part is compounded by a jealous ex-girlfriend trying to break up their marriage.
I've now gone back and read Shopaholic and Sister. I might also be reading the short story that covers their honeymoon.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 14): 08/14/17
We did it. It was a crazy week of running errands but the house is on the market. Our first open house was Sunday.
This coming week we're leaving on a road trip to Wyoming to see the eclipse. At this point I don't know if I will be participating next Monday. If I don't, I'll post an extra long one the following week.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Knight's Castle: 08/13/17
Knight's Castle by Edward Eager is the second book in Tales of Magic series. It takes place in the "present day" contemporaneously when it was published (1956), whereas Half Magic was written as historical fiction (or fantasy as the case may be). The children here are the children of the original set of siblings, brought together when Roger and Ann's father needs an important operation in the city.
Now for whatever reason, this family, and now this second generation of family, attracts magical items. Here it's an old figurine mixed in with the toys that brings the children's imagined adventures to life, sometimes with dire consequences.
For anyone reading the book now, there are lots of cultural references which may seem obscure. Roger, for instance is fascinated by Ivanhoe which was made into a film in 1952. But there are also nods to other popular films.
After reading most of the Tales of Magic series now, I have to admit that I prefer the older generation's dynamic to the younger one. The cousins squabble so much that it gets in the way of the adventures.
Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts: 08/12/17
Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding is the second of the Fitzgerald-Trout books. The children are once again living in the old beat-up car and they are desperate to find a home of their own.
Meanwhile their island has gotten restless, shaking regularly with "knock-abouts" and having more frequent and worse storms. They believe the restlessness of the island stems from the importation of carnivorous plants.
Although the series has well established that the Fitzgerald-Trouts live on a fictional Pacific island, the layout of the island and the characters that the children meet this time remind me of Beach City (the east coast town that Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems call home). There's the carnival and the man who runs it who reminds me of Mr. Smiley. There is the biologist who reminds me of Rose. There is just the island-wide acceptance of the weird.
While the big plot of this book is still the search for a home, and the chance of finding one in the form of a yacht, this one also has an environmental message. It's not a global warming one — though the excessive rains and flooding might give the impression. Instead, it's all about the plants and the way that non-native species can destroy an island's ecosystem.
The Broken Lands: 08/11/17
The Broken Lands by Kate Milford is the prequel to The Boneshaker. It's set in New York City as the five boroughs are coming together into the city we now know.
The story introduces a variety of characters, each who will come together to protect the newly formed city during a crossroads battle. There are numerous points of view, the soon to be heroes, the gathering villains, and their cohorts.
But it's complex and tangled. The Boneshaker worked because it was set in a small, out of the way town, with a single road in and a history with an old ghost town. It is a quintessential road not taken story.
In terms of the road trip genre, New York is one of the terminals for road trips: either being the starting point, or the ending point. New York isn't a city that can contain a road trip. A crossroads battle in the middle of a metropolis, even one that at the time was more than one city being in the process of becoming a single city, just doesn't work.
Made for Each Other: 08/10/17
Made for Each Other by Paul D. Storrie and Eldon Cowgur is the second standalone in the My Boyfriend is a Monster series. Persephone Alaska has been hit with a series of tragic accidents. Meanwhile, Maria is smitten with a gorgeous, mysterious new student at her high school — Tom.
Although I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang is about an impending zombie apocalypse, I expected the same for Made for Each Other because of the town's name. While there is a life renewal — and a bringing back the dead — it's not zombies this time.
Instead, this book takes for it's backstory, something similar to what's laid out in "At Last, the True Story of Frankenstein" by Harry Harrison and then asks, what next? Tom, then, is a modern day monster, created by the original.
The monster after years of living alone has felt the need to create a family. There's Tom and Graves — who serves as a middleman for the very shy monster. He still expects the town to turn on him as happened as had happened all those decades ago. Instead, Maria doesn't care how Tom came to be because her parents are organ donors.
The conflict isn't the horror of Tom being made from body parts. Instead, it's a tale of one creation losing control over his newest ones. It was an interesting twist that is in keeping with the monster as a sympathetic, intelligent person as written by Mary Shelley.
Thyme of Death: 08/09/17
Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert is the start of the China Bayles mystery series. China runs a herb shop in Pecan Springs, Texas and is roped into solving a murder when a mutual friend, Jo, is found dead. The authorities have ruled it a suicide since she was sick with cancer but everyone close to her refuses to believe she would take her own life.
Early on (as in the first chapter or two) China over hears a loud argument. Maybe if you're new to cozies, or you're reading while being distracted, you won't notice. Otherwise, obvious clue is obvious. I'm talking Scooby-Doo, you meddling kids, obvious. All that's left to get through, then is about 200 pages of the why behind the crime.
And that's where the book comes off as dated. Not just in it feels like a book published in the early 1990s, but the author's own age and prejudices come screaming through even when they are in opposition to China's character sheet.
See the big plot twist involves a bisexual woman falling in love with a lesbian and being killed over it. The love affair wasn't the exact reason behind the murder but it's there as the big damn red homophobic/biphobic herring. Pages and pages and pages are wasted on China reeling from the revelation that some of her friends were closer than she knew and then idling imaging what their relationship must have been like. Ugh. Just stop and make the book fifty pages shorter, please.
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is a graphic novel set during winter in a small, rural Canadian town. The main character is a former hockey star who now struggles with alcoholism and basic day to day living. He works a dead-end job and dreams about his glory days. All that changes, though, when his sister stumbles into town.
The sister has her own problems — drug addiction, an abusive boyfriend, and an unexpected (and perhaps, unwanted) pregnancy. She gives him a reason to rally and likewise, he gives her a reason to clean up her life and start making plans for the future beyond where her next score is coming from.
For the most part the illustrations are done in pen and ink with a watercolor wash. Most panels are black, white, and light blue or mint green. Warner colors are saved for moments of nostalgia or violence, making the blood all the more startling.
As with The Underwater Welder, Lemire uses the road narrative (or in this case, the road motifs, as he does most of his story telling through the visual arts) to convey the isolation the characters are feeling. The town is small; the road is small and long — hinting at how far away they must be from larger towns and the help they might need. A character going through a crisis or emotional turmoil is often shown alone on this long road, a miniature figure against the vast sky and snowbanks.
Poison Kiss: 08/07/17
Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll is the first Earthside book. It's a queer urban fantasy set in Texas. While there is romance and the most adorable polyamorous trio ever, it's mostly about the types of families you make for yourself.
The book opens in a palace where Rose and Lavender are preparing for their mistress's next ball — a multihour ordeal. Im not going do these opening chapters justice. The language is florid, luscious, and filled me with the same sort of world building wonder that the earliest chapters of Lord Valentine's Castle did when I first read it.
That Lavender and Rose would manage to escape to launch the rest of the book was a given. It's how these sorts of stories start. I must admit I went into this book fairly ignorant so when the escape leads to Texas, I was floored (even though I know that the author lives in the state).
It took me about a chapter to reorient myself to expect urban fantasy rather than an epic quest across a fantasy landscape. Like Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow, Poison Kiss is about people seeking refuge Earthside from Faeryland. Though they aren't called Changelings, these people who are escaping from the otherside have been changed by magic and their original memories erased.
There are very few books that examine the consequences of being a changeling. I realize I'm being fast and loose with terminology here as changelings are usually the fae that's left behind in the child's place. But these people have been changed. Rose for instance, gives poisoned kisses — made so to be the May Queen's executioner. Then there is Clarent who has a metallic body (and who I pictured as an adult but still metallic Alfonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. Besides the metallic skin, there's a similar gentleness to Clarent.
I really enjoyed the originality of the way magic works and how the faes' kingdoms are structured. So often in these urban fantasy books you get yet another retelling of the eternal battle between the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts. While that might be going on here too, it's not the focus.
Instead the focus is on Rose and Lavender and the other refugees living on the outskirts of this Texas town. It's about Rose learning to accept herself and love herself. It's about Rose, Lavender and Clarent becoming their own family, finding strength together. It's about the extended family of the refugee community.
It also ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger, so of course I will be reading Survival Rout soon.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 07): 08/07/17
The painting is done. The old washer and dryer have been hauled away. The range and fume hood will be delivered later today. The final cleaning will be done and the house staged by the end of the week. If all goes to plan, our house will be on the market this coming weekend.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Pastoral Cities: 08/06/17
Pastoral Cities by James L. Machor is a collection of essays on the cultural back and forth between the urban and the rural in American history. In Europe, the city was a means to socialize people; in America, it was a means of taming and perfecting the landscape.
Machor's thesis is that historians have systematically ignored the "integration of the rural and urban" in the American story. Further more our understanding of American history will remain "truncated" and "incomplete" until the rural vs urban story is fully studied.
So this book is a compilation of essays on repeated attempts by American planners to built urban utopias, walled gardens of Eden. As each attempt failed for one reason or another (sprawl, economic problems, crime, etc), the experiments push west. And for each time this happens, the myth of the farmer and the mountain man as the progenitor of the American way, grows.
As a background for city planning within the United States, the book is fine. For the purpose of understanding the traveling narrative between the two extremes of American life &mdash the crowded city and the sparsely populated rural areas, it falls short. In fact it does what it complains about in the introduction: it stays within the bounds of the cities it discusses.
My notes from the book are on Tumblr.
The Unbreakable Code: 08/05/17
The Unbreakable Code by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the second of the Book Scavenger series. Emily and James get pulled into a challenge to break the cursed unbreakable code — a cypher associated with a number of mishaps, including the sinking of the Niantic. While they are hunting down clues to break the code, an arsonist who calls themselves the Phoenix is starting fires around San Francisco and someone is bound to get hurt.
Although I live in the Bay Area (in the East Bay with a view of the San Francisco skyline), I'm not familiar enough with the City to always know when something in a novel is based on reality or not. The Unbreakable Code pushed the boundaries of what I knew and what I had to look up.
The book has essentially three timelines: the one of the children in the present where they are trying to decipher the code, their teacher's past (because he seems to be involved in some shady business), and the history of the code itself which includes stops at the Maritime Museum, Treasure Island, and Angel Island, as well as a fictional mound of rocks in the Bay (though there are a couple possible real life inspirations).
I'm familiar with the history of Treasure Island and it's many uses over the years. Likewise, I know about Angel Island's unpleasant role in Chinese immigration. I know that ships are buried under parts of the City as landfill. I was not, though, familiar with the Niantic. To me, Niantic is just the maker of games like Pokémon Go. But before it was the name of a local tech company, it was the name of a ship.
This time, main code of the book, isn't one that can be figured out until Emily and James learn certain things and are able to reveal more about the cypher. There's not as much opportunity to jump ahead of them in the puzzle solving.
The modern day arsonist plot was the most compelling part of the book for me in that they are a dangerous person who is moving in the same circles as the protagonists. There are two scenes with near misses for them — one in the middle of the book, and one at the climax.
Per an answer posted on Goodreads, Bertman is working on book three now. It's scheduled for publication sometime in 2018.
The Road Movie Book: 08/04/17
The Road Movie Book edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark is a collection of essays about road movies. They're divided up into three sections: Pre-WWII, Vietnam War era, and modern era (being the 1980s-1990s).
Though there are about a dozen essays, there seems to be only four road films of note: It Happened One Night, Easy Rider, Thelma & Louise, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert. Granted, these are all memorable films but it seems like academia is fixated on these films.
As I've mentioned before, Thelma & Louise was the catalyst to my first attempt at my road narrative project. I should say that I don't particularly like the film and now after nearly three years of solid research, I can say why I don't like it.
Originally though I was looking at how the road is used to convey plot points in the film. That at the point of no-return — do they go off road, literally. I was really into semantics at the time and I was looking at wayfaring devices as narrative shorthand. While I'm still interested in semantics, my focus now is more literary than cinematic and the shorthand used is different. There is some overlap, of course, but not enough to say they share the same dialect.
What reading this collection of essays has confirmed is that that I'm not the film theorist I once was. Oh — I still have the skills — but I've been removed from academia long enough to no longer be in-step with dominant thoughts and theories. What this means, is my eyes are opened to things that have been missed.
In all fairness — this book was published the year I left film theory (with a masters in it). The theories in this book are very narrowly focused: the white, straight, cis-gendered, young middle class male. Anyone else whether in a film or in the audience is part of the massive "other." Early films are all about young men being scooped up (or scooping up) young modern women whilst on the road. The films of the 1950s-1960s are all about young men traveling solo and being jerks wherever they go and it being all in fun (at the expense of everyone else). The modern era seems to be an attempt at making films about the all the "other"s that have been ignored — though often by the same cis-gendered straight males and for that audience.
There are also essays in the post-WWII section about foreign films — namely the French New Wave and the Cinema Verité coming out of Italy. Granted, these are both important movements in cinematic history — but for the purpose of my research — they aren't road narratives.
Out of the entire book, the essay "Hitler Can't Keep 'em That Long" by Bennett Schaber, was the most eye opening. Not the Hitler bits (again, not relevant to my road narrative project), but the side discussion on the Wizard of Oz (1939) (though not the novel). Schaber describes the film as "Kansas farm hands become the new ruling junta of Oz" and while that's only true in the film as a function of the same actors being used for the Kansas and Oz scenes to set up the notion that her experience is all a dream, it does make sense — strikingly so — when looking at all the books.
Cleopatra in Space: Secret of the Time Tablets: 08/03/17
Cleopatra in Space: Secret of the Time Tablets by Mike Maihack is the third of the Cleopatra in Space series. Cleopatra and her friends are searching for a means for her to get back to her time.
Cleopatra's journey takes her to far away, dangerous places. She also gets to learn more about Zaid's history — including seeing the orphanage where he grew up.
This volume has the most world building and fills in more about the things that have transpired between Cleopatra leaving her own time and arriving here. The decline of civilization and the rise of the evil empire bears resemblance to Samurai Jack and one can surmise that when Cleopatra goes home, much of this future world she's lived in will unwind and reweave into something unrecognizable to her.
There's also a plot twist that I would have caught had I binge-read these books — but it's been years between volumes for me. Readers familiar with Meet the Robinsons will know what I'm talking about in terms of the twist. It will be interesting to see how that revelation plays out.
The fourth book in the series, The Golden Lion came out in June. I am currently reading it.
Murder is Binding: 08/02/17
Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett is the first of the Booktown Mystery series. It's set in fictional Stoneham, New Hampshire, which is described as being in the center of the triangle made by Nashua, Milford, and Bedford. Stoneham was a failing town until Bob convinced the town council to rent the failing shopfronts to themed book stores — essentially converting the town into a New Hamphire Hay-on-Wye.
Tricia Miles is one of those newly enticed booksellers. She has opened a mystery book store, "Haven't Got a Clue." Next door to her is the Cookery — a cookbook themed store that sometimes offers cooking demonstrations. To complicate matters, Tricia's older sister has shown up — devastated by her latest marriage failing.
Although Stoneham boosts a long history of being a safe town, suddenly there's a murder. For a variety of reasons, the local sheriff has decided Tricia is the only plausible suspect. It's fairly common for the series protagonist to be set in opposition with the local authorities — either due to their incompetence or because of the protagonist's proximity to the crime. It's an awkward but necessary start — a way to force the protagonist to solve their first crime and thus establish their credentials as an amateur sleuth.
If the amateur sleuth to be is a woman, she's usually new to the town and recently out of a relationship — broken up, divorced, widowed. Tricia's case is one of amicable divorce. This makes her a suspicious stranger, and open for romance with some local hunk. If she's not new to the area, then she has a long time best friend or a book club, or similar who will help her investigate, all the while distracting her with fashion, food, coffee, or whatever.
Tricia's set up plays on those expectations (though does eventually slide into some of the tropes in later books). Instead of a best friend, she has her sister who is there to annoy her but is loyal and willing to help her investigate. Among her other soon to be BFFs are her employee, Ginny, and her elderly book store regular, Mr. Everett.
Now in reading other reviews, there's a theme among the negative reviews of Tricia as a likable character. I agree with them — she's not a likable character. Frankly, she's a difficult to understand character — but she's interesting. It is obvious that she and her sister grew up with money. Her husband had money and the divorce and some frugality on her part has left her single and still with money (as evidenced by her Lexus).
Her money and her love of and knowledge of the mystery genre have allowed her to afford to live comfortably in Stoneham while running her store. The fact that she and her sister both comment regularly on their confusion over the gap between minimum wage and a living wage — even in an economically depressed town — is further evidence of their life with money and privilege. That by the end of the book both sisters have opted to leave the big city for Stoneham makes them and their relationship interesting.
The second book in the series is Bookmarked For Death.
July 2017 Reading Sources: 08/02/17
Last month I realized my ROOB graph had gotten to the point that it was no longer producing a meaningful story of my on-going desire to read through my personal collection faster than acquiring new books, or without too many distractions from the library or research (or review copies as the metric was originally). I arbitrarily cut the data in half for the purpose of the graph — taking the last three year's worth. Rather than regrow a new long tail of data, I'm keeping the cut off at three years.
July continued the trend started in May of being under -3. It was slightly lower (meaning better) than June's at -3.12. I read fewer books in July than I did in June. July was the first big step of our move and much of my free time has been tied up in the process. August looks to be even busier.
July's ROOB was in keeping with previous Julys. It's a month where I do typically read mostly my own books. With my children on vacation, there are fewer opportunities to dash off to the library.
July's average improved by -0.06.
The first half of August is almost completely devoted to getting our old place on the market. I can read between doing things for that goal and taking the kids to their various events. The third week will be a road trip for the eclipse. I never read much while on the road. After that, I'm really not sure what to expect.
July 2017 Reading Summary: 08/01/17
Mid July we moved out of our home of thirteen years and into a tiny (and hopefully) temporary apartment. Ninety-seven percent of our home library is in storage, leaving our reading choices to those carefully selected books we brought with us, ebooks, digital audiobooks, and the library.
July also is the start of the annual Canadian Books Challenge, which this year has been taken on by a different Canadian blogger. The theme she has chosen is right in line with my road narrative project — Canadian road trip books. A double dose of excitement over a new challenge year starting and the introduction of new to me Canadian road narrative books, pushed the direction of my end of month reading as shown by the two covers I'm highlighting. The one on the left is a road trip from Edmonton to Montreal. The one on the right is road trip from Montreal to St Louis on the trail of a long lost brother.
August will hopefully mean that the home is finally on the market. It will also be the month where we take our family road trip — this time to Wyoming for the eclipse. It's my first time to Wyoming and besides the eclipse we will be seeing Yellowstone! I am not much of a reader while traveling, so the third week of August will probably be slim for me.
July was the first month since January where more than half of the books I read were diverse / inclusive. A big part of that is careful curation of which books I brought to the apartment, and further careful selection of books from my wishlist to borrow from the library.
One big piece of my reading that's holding the ratio back is my reading (and listening to) mysteries. This move is stressful. Preparing the house is stressful. Mysteries help me unwind. I have not been mindful with my selection of these books and I probably should be.
Reviewing was also better and close to levels achieved in March. As it takes a month or two for books I've read to make it into the review posting schedule, I'm starting to see results from previous months of reading.
Us Conductors: 08/01/17
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels won the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize and is a book I plan to go back and read with greater concentration at a time when I'm not actively trying to pack up all my worldly possessions to move. So keep in mind that the one star doesn't mean awful, terrible, do not attempt; it means I did not feel compelled to finish it. I do this to differentiate never read books from unfinished books on sites like GoodReads.
Us Conductors is an off beat historical fiction about the man behind the Theremin — and his obsession with a violinist. Told from Lev Thermen's point of view, it chronicles his life in Russia, his invention, and his work in the United States. It tells of RCA Victor's plans to sell home Theremins and how the Great Depression nixed those plans. Who wants a strange electrical device that can play music only for the most musically inclined when jobs and food are scarce and nearly everyone is losing their home?
Michaels for reasons that escape me — decided to embellish Thermen's life. The most glaring example of this is having him study kung fu. I feel that some of my disconnect on this first go with the book is that this fictional Thermen is too much the author's creation. He took a few key points in the inventor's life and then created his own path between those points.
But that path — for the third I read before send the book to storage (for now) was rather dryly described. There's very little spark to Thermen. Even with his apparent, neverending torch for Clara, he's a monotone narrator. Here's the thing — inventors and musicians — at least all the ones I've met — are passionate about their creations. Except for a couple paragraphs here and there, I didn't find any of that passion coming from either Lev or Clara.
So why am I willing to give this book a second go at some later date? That's nostalgia on my part. We were on our first family trip to Canada to spend Christmas with relatives in Vancouver. We had just crossed the border and were stuck in traffic at the tunnel that leads into the city. Though we have satellite radio, we chose to listen to the CBC instead. They were broadcasting an interview with the author. This was the same year that we had also visited OMSI in Portland, which has a Theremin on hand for visitors to try. It's not something that a person who "can't carry a tun in a basket" can pick up. I believe under the right circumstances (namely, not being under a deadline to pack up all my books for a move) I will enjoy this book.