All Our Wrong Todays: 10/31/17
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is set in "present day, present time" as Serial Experiments Lain would put it. But it's written from the perspective of a character who knows a better present and due to his lazy ass participation in time travel as screwed the pooch. No — he wasn't responsible for Trump (because he's Canadian) — but he is responsible for the serious lack of flying cars and other cool shit the 1950s promised.
Tom Barren is the son of the man who invented the time machine. He comes from a world with infinite energy thanks to Göttreider Engine — a machine first turned on in 1963 in San Francisco. The machine's ever present hum has also left a traceable set of breadcrumbs, allowing for time travel which includes not only travel through time, but space. You can see where this is going. It's quantum physics 101.
At it's most basic, All Our Wrong Todays is a fun time travel book. It's and entertaining addition to books like Meanwhile by Jason Shiga and The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell, or The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.
But — it's also in it's own way, a road narrative, and one that is still causing me to rethink, or rather, refine how I think about the different tropes and characters. Early on, as Tom is explaining how he broke the universe, he says: "Every person you meet introduces the accident of that person to you. What can go right and what can go wrong. There is no intimacy without consequence."
Create a car, create car crashes. Create plane, create plane crashes. It's that inevitable opposition that stands in sharp relief — a further way of understanding the trope wheel of the road narrative. Whether it's an accident or an invention is a matter of perspective.
Toronto as a destination goes from utopia, to a tourist destination, to a dystopia, to a realistic urban representation.
Though Tom presents our 2016 as his dystopia, as he learns more about time travel and tries to fix his mistake, he grows comfortable with his situation, thus allowing him to accept that his journey is over. His trip starts in a utopian Toronto, and while he ends up back in Toronto, it's not the highly advanced, mostly automated one that he left. It's not the family he left either but it is a family, one that loves him and is willing to work with him to make a new, better future — not an exact replica of what he left, but a variation on themes.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: 10/30/17
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey was recommended to me by the Caroline Bookbinder blog. It's a collection of essays and observations on the life and times of a wild Maine snail while bedridden.
Bailey's caretaker found the snail while walking in the nearby forest and brought it to her along with a collection of wild violets, moss, sticks, and dirt. The snail, while not interested in the flowers, finds its meals in the paper of her cards and envelopes. It is the discovery of these tiny square holes left behind that Bailey is inspired to learn more about her roommate.
It's a quiet, contemplative book about what it means to be a snail. It looks at what it means to be isolated either by illness or circumstance. There are chapters on how to care for snail and how to build a terrarium. It unfolds from there to look at how well adapted the snail is to its surroundings. As Bailey begins to recover enough to consider returning home, her snail lays eggs and she gets to learn about snail reproduction and infancy.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is the sort of book that can be read over the course of a single afternoon or it can be lingered over, with a few pages here or there. In tone it reminds me of A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg or Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 30): 10/30/17
We spent much but not all of this weekend moving boxes out of the apartment. More and more we're able to living in our new home without wondering where ____________ is. The entirety of our kitchen is finally moved, though not unpacked. Now there are just a few odds and ends — mostly linens and toys to bring over.
Besides moving, we also got our annual flu shots. It was the last Saturday shot day and thankfully one that fit into everyone's schedule. We had to skip earlier ones because of Girl Scouts and Cross Country.
We also had our first barbecue in two years. Back in 2015 our condo complex changed insurance and the rules changed too. We were no longer allowed to barbecue on our balconies. Our house now has a specially built area and we can barbecue safely.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Race the Night: 10/29/17
Race the Night by Kirsten Hubbard is a companion piece to Watch the Sky. What order they are read in doesn't matter as the stories take place nearly simultaneously — just from different points of view and different locations.
Eider lives with the other bird named special children at the Desert Ranch. They have been raised to believe that world has ended. The oceans have dried up. The environment is ruined. They are the special children who will save the world and bring back civilization.
Eider, though, has begun to question her world and question the story she's been told. It starts with two memories — one of a sister, Robin, who isn't at the Ranch, and the other of the waves at the ocean.
To prove Eider wrong — to break her spirit — Teacher takes her to the ocean to see how dried up it is. To see the dead fish. But Teacher makes one crucial blunder, describing how far away the old cities are. It's enough of a clue to know the "sea" with the dead fish to know it's not the ocean.
A Californian or someone familiar with the state will latch onto this clue, just like Eider does. It's the impetus for her to start looking for other inconsistencies. She begins to see them everywhere — the old World Books with the missing pages (also a clue for astute readers), the stray papers outside the Ranch, where Teacher disappears to, and then the pamphlets of a suburban neighborhood.
Robin doesn't live an post apocalyptic desert dystopia. But where she lives is a big part of the mystery of this book. Even if you have read Watch the Sky it's fun to see her piece together the truth. What isn't answered – and is left to reader interpretation – is the why and how the children were taken.
Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a middle grade examination of what it means to be short. It opens with Julia Marks complaining about being the shortest person in her family. She's the one who has to sit in the middle back seat. She's the one who can't reach things off of shelves. And on and on.
She also doesn't feel like dealing with life or anything really because she misses her dog, Ramon. He lived out his life and died earlier in the year. Julia was hit the hardest by his death and she's still grieving.
It's an opening I can relate to. I'm not short, exactly. Technically I'm average. But I'm the shortest one in my family. That changed as my grandmother aged and the loss of bone density and spine compression lost her enough inches to end up my height. She resented being as short as I am naturally. Like Julia, I learned to come to terms with my height.
For Julia, the process begins over summer when her parents enroll her and her younger brother into a drama camp where the kids will be the Munchkins at the community college performance of The Wizard of Oz. Julia, besides being short also stutters when she's nervous. Being in a musical is the last thing she wants to do this summer.
And then she meets Shawn Barr, the man directing the play. He's short. He's shorter than she is. But he's self confident. He's in control. He inspires respect. Julia is inspired enough to earn two roles — Munchkin and Winged Monkey.
Like Counting by 7s, Sloan populates her book with memorable and diverse characters and then brings them together by circumstance. I loved watching how Julia expands her world by finding new talents in herself and in the people around her.
I happened to listen to the audio book, read by Tara Sands. Her voice is now how I think of Julia Marks when I remember the book. Sands gives Julia an upbeat voice similar to either Sadie or Peridot from Steven Universe. Peridot, especially, is a short character who uses technology to expand her height and her reach — so it's easy to start by picturing her instead of a 12 year old human girl. That said, I found that I had to listen to the novel either when I was alone or with headphones because I grew tired of the Peridot jokes.
The Wangs vs. the World: 10/27/17
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang is set in the recent recession and follows a Chinese American family coming to grips with the reality of having lost everything.
The head of the family is Charles — an entrepreneur who had built a makeup empire and lost it when his most recent line failed and his loans were called in before he could secure more funding. With Barbra, his second wife, he and his son and daughter travel across the country to Upstate New York to his eldest daughter's home, hoping to make good on one last business deal.
This is one of those books where I started in print and just didn't get anywhere. Charles — understandably given his situation — came across as angry, distractingly so.
As I was invested in the book for the promised road trip, I was frustrated to have to wade through a ton of back story for Charles and his family.
But then I found the audiobook version, read by Nancy Wu. She brought the characters to life. Her performance contextualized Charles's anger and pride in ways that my inner voice could not. She was able to give voice and personality to the entire family. She was also able to smoothly go from English to Mandarin and back in ways that I cannot — even with it written out in pinyin.
Wangs vs the World is the slow and steady downfall of a once successful businessman. In the spectrum of the road trip character, he believes himself to privileged — the businessman tycoon he once was — and able to set the rules as he travels. He further believes in the added protection of his family.
In reality, though, without the protection of his makeup empire and his unlimited funds, he is an old Chinese man with his family, driving across the country in an old car on it's last cylinders. He is trapped in a landscape of his own making, essentially a minotaur in an unsolvable labyrinth.
Knowing then that the labyrinth or cornfield is often tied to the afterlife or the underworld, the ending is by no means a surprise. For Charles Wang, it's in inevitable. All roads for him lead through the cornfield and into the underworld.
Demon, Volume 3: 10/26/17
Demon, Volume 3 by Jason Shiga is the penultimate book in this graphic novel series that ranks up there with some of the weirdest and most memorable series I've read.
Reunited now with Sweetpea, Jimmy Yee is on a multi-decade bender. But even the best of the most hedonistic activities available get boring over time. The search for bigger, better, badder, more perverted — becomes the addiction. And the honeypot.
In the course of reading this series, I have been developing my road narrative roadmap. In the process I have found it's possible to interpolate an itinerary based on the characters and character transformation.
The Demon series though not obvious at first, save for a few included urban landmarks, is a road narrative. Through character mapping, the mayhem falls into an understandable pattern.
The series opens with a premise similar to Wangs vs the World, with a Chinese man despondent having lost everything. His wife and child are dead. When the suicide attempts repeatedly fail and he learns of his invulnerability, he transforms into an orphan — able to transcend his situation (or escape the cornfield).
The second volume continues with Yee reveling in his power until he realizes that his daughter is also alive. While together, there's a hope that they can resume some sort of normalcy despite their powers.
Volume three continues with that attempt at normalcy, slowly but assuredly degrading as they are confronted with the reality of their immortality and the boredom that sets in trying to recreate a mundane, suburban lifestyle.
With the pretense of normalcy tossed aside, Jimmy and Sweetpea become equals. In previous reviews and articles, I've called this character type the sibling character. Like the Winchesters in Supernatural, family members who are equals and not romantically involved, are often compelled through circumstance, curses, or other means of unrest, to stay on the road. The road becomes their home.
Volume three ends with the family separated again in a situation where both are trapped. Here the two become a minotaur (Sweetpea, trapped inside an elaborate labyrinth). Jimmy is a scarecrow (one who guards the cornfield and can cross it) because his isolation isn't permanent.
The final volume is released on November 7th.
Mycroft Holmes: 10/25/17
Mycroft Holmes, the older brother of Sherlock Holmes is a character who sits on the sidelines except to either help Sherlock, annoy him, or get him into international trouble. Mycroft is everything Sherlock isn't: a professional with the ear of the queen. He's also willing to sell out his brother in an instant if it's good for the empire.
Most books though follow with the original stories and make Mycroft a secondary character. Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse, does just the opposite. Mycroft, still new in his career, with young Sherlock still in school, is pulled into a conspiracy involving murdered children, missing people, and other odd things in Trinidad.
Young Mycroft is a lot like young Sherlock as portrayed in the film of the same name. Except Mycroft is already more worldly and more sure of himself. That said, an oversees trip will be like nothing he's ever done before.
Who then has power over Mycroft? A young black man named Cyrus Douglas. His fiancée brings the troubling news from home. When she abruptly leaves London for Trinidad, the two men follow.
So often when a mystery is set in a Caribbean island, the go-to plot device is voodoo. Not here. Oh sure, it's made to look like something supernatural is afoot but the plot is really more akin to The Hound of the Baskervilles, just set somewhere else. That was a refreshing twist.
The plotting is intricate. The characters are fleshed out. There's enough here to keep you guessing, but not so much that you'll get lost in the process.
Saints and Misfits: 10/23/17
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali is a YA contemporary fiction about a muslim girl who lives with her mother and brother. The book opens with her swimming in Florida, waiting for the right moment to exit. She's swimming in a burkini and feels out of place because her father and step-mother are making a big deal over it.
Besides being teased by her family, she's also traumatized by a recent sexual assault by the mosque favorite, Farooq. He is the monster in the title. The saint is the woman she looks up to, her brother's fiancée, Sarah.
In the middle of all of that is a teenage girl of mixed muslim Egyptian and secular Indian. She's also American. She has a crush on a boy named Jeremy and doesn't even know how to work him into her life. She likes photography — and often does photography for the mosque.
So this novel is Janna finding herself, finding how to work together all the aspects of her life into something that is true to herself and her faith. Finally it's her coming to terms with the assault and finding the strength to tell what happened.
On What Grounds: 10/23/17
On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle is the start of the Coffeehouse Mystery series set in Greenwich Village. Clare Cosi has returned to Manhattan to manage the Village Blend for Madame (long time owner, and former mother-in -law). She and her cat Java will be living above the coffeehouse.
Everything is going smoothly with her move until she discovers her closer barely conscious at the bottom of the stairs. While the local beat cops think it was an accident, the assigned homicide detective thinks there might be more to what happened than a simple fall.
As I've mentioned before with these cozies, there's always a theme based around the expertise of the protagonist. Here it's coffee. I swear by the end of the book I felt like I could expertly run an espresso machine (even though I've never used one). There is a lot of coffee talk in this book; Clare talks more about coffee than Goldy does catering.
The mystery itself takes a little bit to unfold from the initial idea that it was an accident to getting leads and motives and possible suspects. Once the possible suspects are all introduced, the rest of the book is pretty fast paced.
The series is good enough that I've moved onto listening to the second book, Through the Grinder
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 23): 10/23/17
We've not made the progress I was hoping to have made this weekend with moving out of the apartment. My husband is taking tomorrow off so it will be him and me schlepping for the six hours that our kids are in school.
Today we were also busy with the Leader / Daughter Girl Scout Event. It was two and half hours of crafts, hiking, games, and eating. Before the hike we each made a hiking stick.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Stone Warriors: 10/22/17
The Stone Warriors by Michael Northrop is the fourth of the TombQuest books. Alex and Ren are called back to Egypt, this time to Alexandria with clues that might lead to the discovery of Alex's mother.
Their trip also reveals an army waiting to be summoned — made up of oversized, larger than life shabti. The way they are described, they are similar to China's terra-cotta warriors but infused with the undead spirits. There is one in particular who takes form from the very ground he is buried in, much like an Egyptian golem.
As there is only one book left, this is the book where the final pieces are put into place. The mood shifts from the initial, what's going on? to a we're ready to fight to the death to save the world. In that regard, this one is darker in tone.
This book also answers the big question from Amulet Keepers, namely, what happened to Alex's mother. In place of the question, though, springs new ones. What role, besides using the ancient magic to revive Alex, does she have in this mess? Is she complicit in schemes of the Brotherhood?
A Perfect Day: 10/21/17
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith is a quiet picture book about how a day unfolds in Bert's backyard. At first it seems perfect for everyone. There's seed for the birds. A kiddie pool for the dog. A cob of corn for the squirrel. Until it no longer is perfect.
Except for the bear. In lumbers a brown bear who takes over the yard. While things are no longer perfect for Bart, the dog, the bird, or the squirrel, it is now perfect for the bear.
The illustrations with their muted colors and strident texture, bring to mind a mixture of Eric Carle's painted paper technique, and Raúl Colón's work.
The book jacket includes a photograph of the bear who inspired the story. For Californians in the San Gabriel Valley, A Perfect Day is a familiar tale.
By Motor to the Golden Gate: 10/20/17
By Motor to the Golden Gate by Emily Post is one of the first commercially written road trip travelogs. Emily traveled with her oldest son, Edwin, and a traveling companion.
The book is essentially two: the travelog with cultural observations and a report on friends visited and hotels stayed at. The second half is an extensive appendix written by Edwin about the mechanics of driving cross country.
Except for the fact that this book is written by a woman — a woman still known for her expertise on etiquette — this book reads like a prototypical privileged white male road trip memoir. A modern day approximation of Post and her book are the numerous culinary themed road trip articles written by Martha Stuart and those pale in comparison to what Post pulled off here.
Post, her son, and her traveling companion who was slumming to perhaps provide a little extra respectability, for all their planning and spending, really had no clue — no practical working knowledge of rural traveling — to make a successful transcontinental drive. That they managed to do it (save for hiring a train to freight their car to San Diego from Winona, Arizona) is amazing. Throwing enough money at something is how the wealthiest get things done.
Beatrice Larned Massey in her road trip memoir, It Might Have Been Worse took inspiration for her trip from Post's. Included in her replication is the shipping of her car from Reno to San Francisco. In Post's case, the car needed to be shipped because it had taken such a beating over the washed out roads and cattle crossings that it was in need of serious repair. I suspect also that Edwin, was ready to quit the trip and leave his mother and her friend stranded.
Women of means in the early twentieth century didn't drive. It was unseemly. So one must have a chauffeur. In Emily Post's case, she enlisted her eldest son but throughout the book, save for a few moments of maternal slip-ups, refers to him just as The Chauffeur. Post as a divorcé, probably didn't want to risk of apparent improprieties by hiring a man to drive her across country but also couldn't break with tradition and learn how to drive herself.
In Massey's road trip homage, it's implied that her husband does all the driving. There is no mention of her doing any of it. However, in the earlier, frankly groundbreaking, volume, Across the Continent by Effie Price Gladding (1915), Gladding takes a much more active roll in the trip at a time when the Lincoln Highway was in its nascence.
Gladding's road trip was borne from a desire to try out the new road. Post was assigned the road trip — hired to make road tripping acceptable to New Yorkers and other people of means. She was hired by the highway commission to write a propaganda piece. Were it not for Massey's fangirl recreation of Post's trip (more or less), I would argue that Post had failed at her assignment.
What Post's book does show clearly is that high end tourism via interstate highways was a potential money maker. Post besides trying out many of the interstate and state highways also writes about the good and the bad of AAA (which had formed back in 1902). In at least one of the included photographs, the AAA logo affixed to the front grill of the motor.
Although coming three years after Gladding's Lincoln Highway trip, Post's book feels older. Her word choice throughout is rooted in the Nineteenth Century — or in an over zealous desire to be a proper as possible by imitating as many Britishisms as possible. She calls her vehicle a motor and describes the act of using it, motoring.
Post's obsession with keeping up with British fashion was nearly the undoing of the road trip. Post chose a car, excuse me, motor, that was too long, too heavy, and too low to the ground, especially in regards to its exhaust pipe. Any bit of weather left the car mired in mud. During the New Mexico and Arizona legs of the trip, Post laments her choice of vehicle, seeing the logic and versatility of American vehicles for being lighter, shorter, and higher off the ground.
The most reprehensible part of the book though is her treatment of people as a source of cheap tourist entertainment. She laments the lack of cowboys and having to pay a dime per photograph to the Navajos at the Grand Canyon.
Her trip ends in California where her bubble view of the world is popped — or maybe just ignored. California to her horror is colorful in its flowers, it's architecture, and its fashion. She doesn't like any of it except for the sunshine (but not the heat). California though is California and the people she meets are cheery to distraction even when she's being insulting.
Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max: 10/19/17
Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson is the second collected album. Jen realizing that her campers are not only safe and sound but are awesome heroes has decided that she wants to join them, rather than shelter them from whatever the next danger might be.
In the last volume, the girls had to survive a series of trials as they made their way to and then through a magical cave. The threat was external — monsters in the woods, gods in the cave. Now they learn of a threat from their very ranks. One of the campers is herself a goddess.
She needs the girls to help her defeat her brother during a total eclipse. I'll remember that particular detail as I began reading the book the day after eclipse — while we were making the long drive back from Wyoming. I didn't get very far until we were home because I was also driving and when I wasn't driving, I was bone weary from all the early mornings, long days, and hours of driving.
I'm not going to go into the details of the plot except that it's more of the same from volume 1. The girls have skills and they know how and when to use them. One of my favorite parts though comes when the girls are told they'll need to pass all these tests to get into the cave and they shrug it off, saying they've already done all that. The next panel shows the guardians hanging out — playing cards, goofing off. So often when a formula works once, it's used again. I really did expect them to have to go through something like the cave and solve those puzzles — just as they had in the cave.
The next volume is a Terrible Plan. As I own up through volume five, I'll be getting these next three read in quick succession.
Chapter and Hearse: 10/18/17
Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett is the fourth of the Booktown mystery series. Angelica's cookbook has been published but the big launch party she was hoping to have in Stoneham is a complete bust. As they are putting away the uneaten food, there's a huge bang — the book store next to Angelica's restaurant has exploded, instantly killing the store's owner and injuring Bob — the man who owns most of the stores in the town.
Whenever there's not a body in a murder mystery, I immediately assume that it's a faked death. I'm still holding out for the deceased here to show up in a later book— having ended his money troubles temporarily by faking his death.
But that's not the point here. The point is, someone wanted the bookseller dead and knew that he always took a smoking break at a certain time in a certain place. The gas to his building was tampered with to make the explosion possible.
As seems to be the case in these Booktown mysteries, the death of retailer opens up a neverending flood of bad feelings and dark secrets. The beloved, now dead, towns-member isn't as beloved nor perfect as everyone has pretended — and Tricia has come to believe. Here the animosity is so strong that even the deceased's mother is involved.
It was the rocky (to put it politely) relationship of mother and son that was the most interesting piece of this book. It was also the plot that wasn't explored thoroughly enough. Again, going back to my original theory (the faked death), it was entirely plausible for the mother to have either killed him (as Tricia expects) or for them to have colluded to fake his death for insurance money so that she can travel the world and that he can leave town without having his store foreclosed. Unfortunately none of those things happen.
Instead, the solution comes out of left field. The clues are there too but the red herrings were more interesting and compelling.
The Flying Troutmans: 10/17/17
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews is a perfect example of when audiobooks work best for me. In text form, the narrative is written without grammatical markers for the dialog. Everything is run together with just a comma, and a he said or I asked, etc. The choice to leave out quotation marks leaves me with a single run-on sentence type monotone for my inner voice when I'm reading. It's very distracting and often results in a headache for me.
As The Flying Troutmans is a Canadian road trip and thus qualifies for the Canadian books challenge and is relevant to my ongoing road narrative project, I was motivated to finish this book. Rather than struggle through the print version, I bought the audio version, read by Erin Moon. Moon was able to bring the characters to life in a way my inner voice could not. That she was able to also differentiate between the Troutmans' Manitoban accents and the similar American upper midwest accents made it all the better.
Hattie Troutman has come home from Paris, recently dumped by her boyfriend, to care for her niece and nephew — Thebes and Logan. With their mother, Min, in hospital again for her depression, the children are on their own. Logan has been expelled from school and Thebes has stopped caring for self. Hattie, realizing that her sister might not get well any time soon, decides to take the children into the United States to track down their father, last seen in Moab, New Mexico.
With Hattie taking her niece and nephew across the continent in search of their lost father, it's easy to fall into mindset of Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin.
The vehicle here, isn't a fixed up, but still rusting Volkswagen bus. Instead is's a minivan in ill repair that seems hellbent on breaking or losing something at every stop. It starts with one of the windshield wiper blades flying off and goes down hill from there.
Also like Poulin's book, the road trip doesn't end at the first stop. Just as Jack and Le Grande Sauterelle were redirected to San Francisco, the Troutmans are redirected to Twenty-Nine Palms. The ending, though, for them is happier.
Mixed into the present day cross country hunt for the estranged father, are flashbacks to previous episodes with Min. They provide insight into Hattie's current state of mind and her conflicted feelings about this drive with her niece and nephew and her sister's request that she be allowed to die.
Once Upon a Thriller: 10/16/17
Once Upon a Thriller by Carolyn Keene is the fourth of the Nancy Drew Diaries. Nancy and her friends have a cabin rented in a small mountain town. Almost immediately their trip is interrupted by a series of odd accidents, all of which seem to point to the reclusive mystery author living at the other side of the lake.
Although this is a short and relatively uncomplicated mystery, it was the prefect book for the time that I read it. I read it just before leaving for a week long trip to Pine Cove — and while Pine Cove doesn't have a lake, there are two near by: Fulmor and Hemet.
This town is small enough though to have only one of everything — a single book store, a single B&B, a single market. It's a small enough town that everyone knows everyone or at least knows about everyone. It's small enough that it relies to some degree on tourism for its livelihood.
One of the semi regular events is a signing by the elusive Lacey O'Brien. Except this year the signing has to be canceled because of a fire in the book store. That is the first of many events that resemble plots in Lacey's popular mystery series. The big question is: is Lacey going on a self sabotage rampage, or is someone trying to frame her?
The funny thing about reading, is that plots tend to clump up. Even apparently unrelated books can end up sharing plot elements. In the case of Once Upon a Thriller it was similar enough to both Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio [LINK] and Vampires on the Run by C.M. Surrisi. For me, it meant I knew what was going on pretty early in the book, but it was still fun.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 16): 10/16/17
By November 13th, we have to be out of the apartment. We're about 1/4 moved into the house. We have enough stuff here to sleep, eat, and generally live. But there's still about half the kitchen in the apartment to move, some clothing, a couple bookshelves, and some books. Then there's everything else that's in storage.
It's nice to live somewhere again with wildlife. The birds have discovered that we've moved in and have put out food for them. We have seeds, peanuts, and suet out for our avian neighbors.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Watch the Sky: 10/15/17
Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard is a story of abuse and paranoia. Jory, his mother, and his adopted sister live with a man named Caleb. He is convinced the world is ending and he's looking for the signs of when it will start and what they should do.
The signs eventually come and the message is dig. Dig into the cliff face at the bottom of the gorge near their home. Dig and build a fallout shelter. Dig 24/7 with brief breaks to eat and sleep.
Jory, desperate to keep going with school tries to do both and ultimately has to reach a breaking point. He has to learn to think for himself and decide if he is willing to risk his life to believe in signs he doesn't see.
To put it frankly, this is a weird book. It's a disturbing book. It's like the thing you'd see on Criminal Minds or similar type show.
But as tween fiction it seems out of place. It's not quite horror. It's not quite a problem story. It's not exactly an abuse story. It's a messy, disturbing, oft-times boring, mishmash.
Race to the Bottom of the Sea: 10/14/17
Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar is the next book by the author of Hour of the Bees. This one is set on the high seas and is an odd combination of marine science, piracy, and perhaps steampunk in Jules Verne meets Jacques Cousteau sort of way.
Eleven year old Fidelia Quail is on track to be the next great marine scientist and engineer, just like her parents: the Drs. Quail. All of that is wrenched from her when they are killed in a freak accident brought on by the return of the Undertow, a seasonal influx of waves that make the harbor around Arborley (which I imagined as Passamaquoddy — minus Eliot, of course).
The first few chapters build one set of expectations (though the cover art hints at a better, more accurate one) of when this book is taking place. The Quails have a submarine called the Egg and a research vessel called the Platypus. They have radio communication between the two. But months after her parents' deaths, Fiedlia is kidnapped by Merrick the pirate and taken down to the tropics where she is to use one of her inventions to recover his treasure.
Radio as we know it really got started in the early 1900s with the first transatlantic communication service between Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and Clifden, Ireland in 1907. Submarines as we know them were also being commissioned in the early 1900s. But by 1850, piracy — the type described herein — was done.
Anachronistic pirates aren't a new thing in children's literature. It's just been a while. The last bunch of pirates I recall in a book of similar length are from the Pippi Longstocking series. She was of course, the Pirate King's daughter. I just wasn't expecting them here because of all the marine science and engineering.
All that said about my confusion, I think this novel would translate well to the big screen. I want to see Fidelia's steampunk inventions. I want to see Arborley which may as well be Glace Bay.
I want to see the animals and plants that Fidelia and her parents have discovered and that she continues to discover throughout the book. I want to see the withering effects of the red daisy pollen. I want to see Fidelia try and fail and try again with her inventions until she builds a working prototype. All of these things would translate well to the big screen — or even to the small screen as a Netflix series.
Big Dog...Little Dog: A Bedtime Story: 10/13/17
Big Dog...Little Dog: A Bedtime Story by P.D. Eastman is the first Fred and Ted book. Fred is a tall dog who loves green. Ted is a short dog who loves red. They live together in a green and red house and drive their own color coordinated cars.
I am revisiting the Fred and Ted books for the road narrative project. An impromptu overnight trip to the mountains might not qualify as a road trip but it is a short book, so it has a short trip.
In the earliest modern day American road trips, like those that traversed the Lincoln Highway, it was common (and common sense) for road-trippers to caravan. If one car got stuck in the mud or sand the other could winch out the car or drive into the next town for help.
Two Lincoln Highway road trip memoirs: Across the Continent on the Lincoln Highway by Effie Price Gladding and It Might Have Been Worse: A Motor Trip from Coast to Coast by Beatrice Larned Massey both mention traveling with another car. The Gladdings had Mr. N. whom they met along the way, and the Masseys had the Doctor and Toodles.
The stopping at a hotel without reservations or exact plans because a particular place was calling is another old school road trip trope. Though the routes were planned, reservations were rarely made in advance. The having wildly different experiences in the same hotel is another part of the early road trip adventure, though switching rooms, such as Fred and Ted end up doing, is not something I've come across before.
Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis: 10/12/17
Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis by Charise Mericle Harper is set during a day of craft camp. Birdie, aka Crafty Cat, is super jazzed to be going to camp with her BFF but then the bully is there and the camp isn't as glamorous as she had imagined. Can she still have fun?
I've been upfront about this before. I am tired of the mean girl plot. I'm tired of the bully who is there just to be a bully. At the summer camp, the mean girl, for reasons that are never stated beyond the informed attribute that she is a bully likes to be first with everything. For craft time, she races through every project, even the group ones, to be first.
The other oddity about these books is Birdie's alter ego, Craft Cat. Whenever the mean girl upsets Birdie, she copes by imagining herself as Crafty Cat. In The Amazing Crafty Cat, Birdie's moments are an effort to salvage her birthday at school celebration. Here in craft camp, she should be in her element, but she's easily flustered by the teacher's questions, easily distracted, and quick to lash out.
I would like in future volumes to see some growth in the characters. I'd like to see Birdie learn to harness her creativity and her alter ego for more productive uses. Likewise, I'd like to get to know the mean girl more to see where she's coming from. I'd like to see her maybe get some comeuppance.
I realize that I'm not the target audience and my own craft loving daughter, who is, loves these books.
Sentenced to Death: 10/11/17
Sentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett is the fifth of the Booktown Mysteries and the last audiobook to be narrated by Cassandra Campbell. There was a change in audiobook publisher from Penguin to Tantor and they each have their own talent. I do plan to continue on with the series as audiobooks, so I will be listening to Karen White's performances going forward.
In previous books, the murders all happened in close proximity to Tricia or her sister's stores. This one has an unexpected opening, with the town gathered for a Founders' Day celebration. Bob who seems to be the voice for the Town Selectmen has hired a plane to carry a banner for the event. And then things go horribly wrong and a local shopkeeper ends up dead.
Given how the town is described, especially this time with the careful attention to detail on the town gazebo, I realized that I've been imagining Stoneham as Stars Hollow, and Bob as Taylor Doose. Oh well — such is my imagination.
Sentenced to Death was a more compelling mystery because the deaths were even to the most detail oriented, due to a tragic accident. Also death by plane in front of an entire town is more methodical than a crime of passion. All those details make for lots of interesting questions and out of the box thinking.
The tragic side of things though, is how is left behind. In the first book, there's a sister and a daughter (who is only mentioned but never seen). In the second there's a niece and a daughter but the niece is ambivalent and the daughter is again not really part of the story. The third book involves an out of town person, apparently adrift. The fourth one had a lover to grieve and a mother who was more relieved than sad at her son's passing. Not this time, though. This time, the dead person leaves behind a toddler son and a grieving mother / grandmother. Their mourning adds poignancy to Sentenced to Death.
Under the Dragon's Tail: 10/10/17
Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings is the second of the Murdoch mystery books and the one that introduces Dr. Ogden. A woman who was once a midwife but has now fallen on hard times is found dead next to her fire place, presumably from hitting her head when she fell over drunk. The autopsy though reveals it was murder.
I really have mixed feelings about this series. On the one hand they inspired one of my current favorite mystery television series. And while the books do a better job at accurately portraying what police work and life in Toronto 1895 was like, they also seem to suck the very soul out of me.
The mystery itself is frankly very much like the first one. It sucks to be a lower class woman in late 18th century Toronto. Your whole life until you die is nothing but sex, violence, babies, alcohol, and self degradation. The person who committed the crime is invariably an upper crust man who due to Victorian sense of privilege and honor can't let his reputation be sullied, so killing a woman is preferable to running the risk of revealing his darker transgressions.
The Book Stops Here: 10/09/17
The Book Stops Here by Kate Carlisle is the eighth of the Bibliophile Mystery series. Brooklyn has been hired to assess books on the local stop of This Old Attic (think Antiques Roadshow). Her first on air client is a woman who purchased a very rare edition of The Secret Garden.
Soon, Brooklyn is caught up in two mysteries — one involving a stalker — and the death of woman who bought The Secret Garden. Are the two related? Sure the book is rare and sure it's worth a lot of money — but what exactly makes it worth killing over?
Like A Cookbook Conspiracy [Link], most of The Book Stops Here is focused on Brooklyn's profession — book appraiser and book binder, specializing in the restoring of old and rare volumes. That means less (nearly none in this volume) of her hippy family or the weird commune near Napa.
For the most part, this is the most straight up response to a crime in any mystery I've read in a long time. She discovers the body. She reports the crime. She's interviewed. She's later able to recognize a suspect and he's arrested. All of this is great, albeit a little dry.
But as soon as he's arrested and there's a good third left, I knew where the book was going. Twins. It's been done before. It's one of those classic tropes. So, I was curious to see where the twin trope would go.
If there's someone else obviously calling the shots — someone who is neither twin — then one can see that the twin trope is only the surface of a historical trope. This is like how all stories involving a long running feud will either be a Romeo and Juliet retelling if there's a romance involved, or the Hatfields and McCoys.
So back to the twins. If there is a family of criminals — then we're probably doing an homage to Ma Barker. The problem with that, is if it's not done well — it quickly degrades into the parody of her and her criminal family — Ma Beagle.
Or if you prefer...
Once she's invoked, it doesn't matter how well the rest of the book is written. She's there and soon the rest of book is recast with characters from either Duck Tales or Darkwing Duck and San Francisco recast as St. Canard (for the cool bridges).
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 09): 10/09/17
We are in the month count down to being completely moved out of the apartment. We're our house now but our stuff is now divided across three places: the house, the apartment, and storage. Our goal is to be out of the apartment by the 12th.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
September 2017 Sources: 10/08/17
September ended up being our last full month in the apartment. We too possession of a house on the thirtieth. Part of my delay in writing about where last month's books came from stems from my time being eaten up with getting the house ready and moving in.
Although my over all reading numbers are still down from a year ago, my ROOB (read our own books) metric is down (which is good). The goal is prioritize long owned books over new, review (or research, in my case), or library, or brand new books.
September's ROOB score was nearly identical to 2015's. Most Septembers drift upwards as I'm getting more library books for CYBILs, and often, the Scholastic Book Fairs, prompting new book buying binging. With school starting late in August, and with our local book shop only just re-opening (new owner, new location) in September, there weren't easy sources of new books.
With so many of September's books coming from ones I had on hand in the apartment, or ones I had from the library, the over all ROOB average for September dropped to -2.26 from -2.17.
October is the start of round one CYBILs. As the month progresses, I will be reading more and more for that. Primarily the books will be library books, but I do have some I purchased earlier in the year and haven't read yet. Others will be review copies sent by the publishers or by the authors. October is traditionally my worst month for reading my own books.
Max Versus The Cube: 10/08/17
Max Versus The Cube by Hanne Türk, originally published as Philipp gegen der Würfel is a wordless picture book about a mouse and a Rubik's cube. Max/Philipp starts with a solved cube, scrambles it, tries to unscramble it, and when he can't, comes up with a different way of "fixing" it.
Although the Rubik's cube is a distinctly 1980s toy — so much so that it's included in the 1980s display at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, it isn't a thing of the past. Sure, the fad has died down but the Rubik's cube inspired an entire puzzle cube industry. The speed solving tournaments still exist, and now there are many more than just the original 3x3 Rubik's cube.
I've come to know about puzzle cubes through my oldest who as a teenager has become interested in them. No — it's better to say that he's always been interested in them. It's only in the last few years that he's been able to solve them. When he was a child, he would dismantle them — usually while bored in the back seat of my car and I would later find the individual pieces on the floor and down the side of the seats where the belts come out.
This wordless book is also his, a gift from his grandmother as a reminder of how far he's come with being able to solve the standard cube as well as many of the different variations. Me, though, I'm still at Max's level, where repainting the damn thing seems like the only viable solution — no matter how many times my son tries to teach me the algorithm for solving it.
The Painted Queen: 10/07/17
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess is the twentieth and final installment of the Amelia Peabody series, a series I started reading in junior high. It's set in 1912, before the official discovery of the bust of Nefertiti and takes a historical scandal about said discovery and wraps into a complex shell game involving all the surviving villains from the series.
Barbara Mertz, aka Peters, died in 2013 and I thought therefore that A River in the Sky was her last installment, with Laughter of Dead Kings being her way of tying her two best series into one hilarious universe. I only happened to hear of this final book, finished by Joan Hess, through Barbara Rosenblat's Facebook page. Rosenblat, is the narrator for Peters's audiobooks.
Whether you chose to listen to the audiobook (which is a treat in itself) or read the print version — be sure to take time for the foreword. I admit, that I usually skip these things until after I read a book, but it was fascinating (and heartbreaking) to learn about the discovery of this manuscript and the effort that went into finishing it while keeping the tone and humor of the series.
The book begins with Peabody pampering herself with a bath in her hotel in Cairo. She is rudely interrupted by a man who staggers in, exclaims, "Judas!" and falls over dead. Now that's how you start a book. The remainder of the book continues with this madcap mixture of action, danger, intrigue, and hurumphing from Emerson.
Cotton Tenants: Three Families: 10/06/17
Cotton Tenants: Three Families by James Agee is a collection of essays on the life of tenant farmers in Hale County, Alabama. These are the leftovers, found in the author's estate, from his Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
James Agee is one of those authors that I feel we've all heard of and haven't read. I'm not even sure that many Baby Boomers have read it — and I'm a generation behind them. Agee, though, certainly made his mark and his name remains out there, on things, even things not immediately related to literature.
To me, Agee is a street — the street that leads up to the house I grew up on to the main drag of my neighborhood. My neighborhood was built to be off campus faculty housing for UCSD and all the streets bear the name of someone who was famous at the time.
More recently, though, for my road narrative project, I've been looking into historical descriptions of rural life. Road trips, the nonfiction ones especially, are typically written by wealthy people — authors who have endless resources for travel expenses and time.
In recent years there's been well needed criticism of the 1%, the top of the top and everyone else. While the criticism of it is relatively new, the existence of this elite — highly privileged wealthy set isn't. The extremely wealthy either ignoring the extremely poor or using them as tourist attractions is nothing new. It's an unfortunate reality of the road trip and the road narrative.
Cleopatra in Space: The Golden Lion: 10/05/17
Cleopatra in Space: The Golden Lion by Mike Maihack is the fourth in the Cleopatra in Space series and starts of a new plot arc. Some time has passed since Secret of the Time Tablets.
Cleopatra is recovering emotionally from what happened on Hykosis and has devoted herself to training to make sure she never loses another one of her friends. When she hears of the Golden Lion — a star that could be used to make a weapon of unfathomable power, she heads off on her own to Cada'duun to find it before anyone else does.
I've commented before on how much I like Maihack's world building, especially the way it's done through the artwork. Cada'duun is rendered in grays, purples, whites and blacks to drive home how desolate, cold, and inhospitable it is.
The secret of the Golden Lion, though, is a familiar story. It shares themes with Journey to the Center of the Earth and "Kole" (Teen Titans, Season 5, Episode 6), among others.
It's in the these themes of happy, primitive people being able to live with the potential doomsday device that I take issue with this volume. These people are shown dressed in grass skirts and are basically alien Polynesian because that's what any primitive group of people living in a warm place would look like? After three and a half books of stunning worlds and interesting aliens we end up with aliens who are one step away from being dashboard hula dancers. Why?
To make matters worse, the author chose to draw himself in his blurb in a grass skirt. It's unnecessary appropriation. I don't recall any of the previous books with him dressed in a costume.
Say No to Murder: 10/04/17
Say No to Murder by Nancy Pickard is the second of the Jenny Cain mysteries. When I read the first book, the series was relatively new, only on its fourth of ten books. I however, ended up waiting eighteen years to read the second, twenty years after the series ended.
The Jenny Cain series is set in a small New England town, equivalent in scope to Cabot Cove, Maine, home of J. B. Fletcher. Keep in mind, too, that the two series were concurrent and New England was the place to set a cozy back then. More recently it seems that Colorado has risen to the top of the list.
The book opens with Jenny and the other members of the Liberty Harbor Restoration committee standing on a dock for a ribbon cutting. Out of nowhere, a car comes tearing down the hill leading through town to the dock. They dive into the water and the car goes into as well and the driver ends up dead.
Doesn't that just sound like the start of a Murder She Wrote? The remainder of the book is in keeping with the cozy tropes of the time. If you've read a series or two or watched a mystery series from the 1970s or 1980s, the identity of the murder and their motive are both easy enough to figure out.
The Fog: 10/03/17
The Fog by Kyo Maclear shows the influence of a year of bird watching, as chronicled in Birds, Art, Life (2017). Told from the point of view of a yellow bird named Warble, it's the story of a fog that covers the island of Icyland, leaving everyone in their own personal bubbles.
Warble's hobby is people watching. He loves to stand on shore and watch the people arrive. He counts and categorizes them just as many avid birdwatchers do.
He is there when the Fog rolls in. He watches in dismay as everything vanishes into a cold gray mist. He remembers what it was like before the Fog but no one else seems to.
Like a hero trapped in a remote village cut off from the rest of the universe, Warble sets out to reconnect with the world. He sends out messages, hoping for a reply, hoping for evidence that the rest of the world still exists.
These scenes of the Fog with Warble diligently watching through his binoculars brings to mind the icy and foggy mornings Maclear describes when she was learning patience along the shores of Lake Ontario. She was trying to learn how wait for nature to come to her and found the experience difficult and exasperating. She also apparently got the idea to turn the tables on those very birds she was trying to wait for!
September 2017 Summary: 10/02/17
September made August's busy schedule seem calm and organized. As we were approaching closing on the condo a home we had been aware of suddenly dropped it's price well into our comfort zone. It was too good an opportunity to ignore. So in the last week while waiting for the paperwork from our original mortgage we went to see the house and promptly fell in love.
Somehow this perfect for us us had been sitting on the market longer than our condo had been and now was being re-offered at a significantly lower price. The house had somehow slipped through the cracks of the crazy Bay Area real estate market. The long story short, we made an offer and ended up buying the place, closing at the end of the month.
A busy month means not as much time for reading. I finished twenty-three books, most of which were from the library. A year ago, I finished twenty-nine books in the same amount of time. Looking at the year so far with reviews posted and books read, I've read two more books than I've reviewed, so I'm holding even with how many reviews I have to post.
But running in place means my cushion of reviews has dwindled. Although I'm still maintaining my "review by category" calendar, It's only solidly planned through the end of December. January is mostly planned. February is about half planned. March is completely empty.
Like July and August, my diverse reads outnumbered my non-diverse ones. For reviews, as I'm still working through some older ones, the non-diverse books outnumbered the diverse ones, though the gap between the two is nearly flat.
Looking at October, reviews will run about even between diverse and non-diverse. Reading will be up because I'm a first round panelist for the middle grade fiction category of the CYBILs. The ratio of diverse to non diverse will also be affected by what ever titles are nominated.
Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers: 10/02/17
Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis was the last of a group of books I read to prepare for the total eclipse on August 21, 2017. I was specifically looking to improve my understanding of exposing for extreme lightning conditions.
Photography is reaching its second century. While cameras and media have changed, the basic puzzle hasn't: exposure, shutter speed, and light sensitivity (either as ISO or type of film or other recording media). Other aspects of the equation include color temperature (the lightning conditions) and focal length.
Photography how-to books fall into two camps. The first is the books that focus on specific technology (cameras, programs, equipment). The second are those that take a broader approach, leaving the specific how-tos to the reader.
Interestingly, the former approach almost always takes the tone that the book is for advanced readers — because who else would own such fine, high-end equipment? The latter, almost always takes an informal approach, with the jolly assurance that anyone can take beautiful, meaningful photographs.
Practical Artistry is of the second camp. Davis includes a variety of recipes and relatively easy to remember formulae for calculating exposure and how to adjust one's camera to have the same exposure as lightning or atmosphere changes.
I would argue, though, that the "practical" books are the more advanced. They require more first hand knowledge and participation from their readers. As long a reader knows their camera (or is in the process of getting to know it), the reader can advance their skills from reading books from the second camp.
Combined with the pyramid charts of Jennifer Bebb's Beyond Auto Mode, I was able to work with the the steadily changing conditions and record both the eclipse and the people watching the eclipse while swapping between cameras.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 02): 10/02/17
Friday I picked up the keys to our new home. We're not ready to move in yet. It sat empty for a number of years and needs a few things done before it's ready for us.
As it's now October, my reading will also include whatever is nominated for the middle grade fiction section of the CYBILs. Those books I"m not including in my "up next" because I want to leave myself a little room to also read for pleasure.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Great Good Summer: 10/01/17
The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon is a contemporary novel set when the last space shuttle was flown across the country on the back of a 747 for one last hurrah.
Ivy and her best friend Paul meanwhile are trying to get to Florida to find her mother. She has run off with a traveling shyster named Hallelujah Dave. So they buy a bus ticket and head east.
It's a reverse road trip fueled by faith, poor parenting, and poor decision making. Maybe because I've never lived near a bus terminal, I find these running away by bus plots difficult to believe, especially for protagonists that are barely teenagers. Growing up in the suburbs, it would have taken me an hour (by express) or two hours by regular city bus to get to the Greyhound terminal.
Here's a book that takes a change, a point of evolution, if you will, in NASA's approach to space science, and pits it against blind, stupefying faith in sort of cage match. I'm not sure there's a clear winner in this book. For a better examination of faith, femininism and science, within the same setting, I recommend The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.