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Reading Goals for 2018: 11/30/17
As we roll into the last month of 2017, I'm starting to think about my goals and direction for 2018. This year has been one of constant flux. I knew it would be as I went into it.
I began the year expecting the move — and yes — I did move. But originally we were planning an international, transcontinental move. Those plans fell through but the process of getting ready for the move made us realize that we still wanted and needed to move into a bigger place. In fact, because of the process of selling our condo and buying a house, we moved twice — once to an apartment, and then into our house.
In February our local independent book store closed. The long time manager of that store chose to purchase much of the unsold inventory and start her own book store. The city rallied behind her plans and her online fundraising. It took seven months to get the new storefront ready, inventory moved in, and the store opened. Coincidentally the new store opened the same day that we closed on our house.
From July to October we lived in an apartment, with only a single box of books per person, plus whatever books we checked out from the library or ebooks we downloaded. Then from October 7 to November 15 we moved into our new home. Here it is the end of November and we still haven't brought any of our home library back from storage.
In 2009, I mentioned having a backlog of 116 titles I wanted to review. Over the next couple of years that backlog grew from three months to six months worth of posts, assuming no reading. Of course I didn't stop reading, but I have slowed down, allowing me to close that gap. I'm not 100% closed but the gap is narrow enough I can no longer plan out my blog posts half a year in advance. This is a good thing.
For the last five years (give or take), I have been posting my reviews around weekly themes. I've never made those themes public — they were just there to make organizing the review in advance more fun for me. Starting over the summer I realized that method didn't work any more as my lag time between reading and reviewing has shortened.
Instead, now I'm doing a day of the week theme, meaning different days are dedicated to different types of reviews.
Once I've cleared out my backlog, I plan to rededicate Monday to audiobook reviews. Currently that's at 166 books I've read and written reviews for. I know it's right where I was in 2009, but my reading has slowed to under a book a day that I can close this gap by April or May. Leaving me the back half of 2018 to focus on wishlist books.
I'm still working through my update of the graphics on every review. I"m working backwards. So the present day back through January 2011 are complete. The move really took time away from this project.
Once the graphics are done, I plan to make my site more mobile friendly. I have no time line right now for when that project will start or how long it will take. It will be a learning process for me.
Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish: 11/30/17
How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch is the third of the Hereville books. It opens with Mirka and her parents returning from the hospital, Mirka newly born. Then it fast-forwards to the present where Mirka is told to babysit her young half sister because her stepmother has to run a quick errand out of Hereville before the Sabbath starts.
As Hereville is a Jewish Orthodox town, that means, among other things, no driving once the sun sets on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday. It comes down to a no fire (no taking the easy route to do things, when the mind and heart should be preoccupied on God and the Torah.
Mirka, it's been established through previous books, doesn't feel like she fits in the restrictive community of Hereville. She doesn't feel cut out to be the sort of fruma (pious woman) her stepmother is trying to teach her how to be.
What this book does is fill in the blanks to explain where some of that resentment comes from. Mirka's family are first generation residents in Hereville. Even, the very traditional stepmother was raised moderne. But something happened in the past to inspire Mirka's family to move to Hereville. I'm not entire sure how old Hereville is — even though it's on the edge a magical forest (where a troll, a witch, and now we learn, a magical fish live).
The magical fish is like a djinn, in that it grants wishes and all the wishes have consequences. What's different about this magical creature is that the unfolding of this book's adventures is a shared responsibility between Frieda and Mirka and her half-sister. One could argue none of this would have happened if Mirka had listened to her stepmother and stayed out of forest. But the fish wouldn't have been as dangerous as it has become if young Freida hadn't tried to use a wish against the fish.
The flashbacks are handled through a magic hairband, loaned by the witch to Mirka to help against the fish. The hairband is actually a portable time loop and in a logic all its own, shows Mirka the past but doesn't allow her to interact with it.
The previous two volumes were more like parables dressed up in adventure fantasy comics. While there are still lessons here, the stakes are much higher for everyone involved in this book. In one way or another, Mirka, her half-sister, and their mother nearly lose their lives. They literally lose everything. It's one of the highest stakes fantasy plots I've seen in a while that felt genuine, surprising, and real without being melodramatic.
Murder Is Bad Manners: 11/29/17
Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens is the first of Murder Most Unladylike middle grade mystery series. Let me preface this review by saying I read the American edition of a British series. In the UK, the first book is titled Murder Most Unladylike. The author happens to be from California but has lived and studied in Oxford. Until I can read the original Corgi edition, I'm going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and place the faults with the American edition. As I've noted before there are often idiotic changes made to imported books from the UK and rest of the commonwealth.
The main character is a recent immigrant to England from Hong Kong. She ends up discovering the body of one of her teachers only to have the body go missing before she get the authorities to the scene. She and her English friend, Daisy, set out to discover the truth.
I can only recommend this edition to readers who know nothing about genuine British culture. Readers who have never read an actual British children's story and have never watched a genuine British TV show can enjoy this boarding school mystery. The more though that you know about the culture the more jarring you'll find this book.
Hazel, our Cantonese protagonist, sounds more like Chloe from We Bare Bears than a genuine immigrant to England. None the less she is set forward as the one who will explain the oddities of British culture to confused American readers. I'm curious to see how her asides play out in the Corgi edition, frankly.
Why not make her American (or even Chinese American from San Francisco) and thus give yourself an out for whenever something doesn't come across as British? The numerous mistakes in word choice and general cultural knowledge kept me from enjoying an otherwise fine murder mystery. The thing that finally did me in was when the edition gets the wrong date for Guy Fawkes Day.
We Are The Engineers: 11/28/17
Nearly a year after the webcomic Wasted Talent ended, a signed copy of the first print volume fell into my lap. Rather, my daughter and I found it at our newly opened (re-opened / re-incarnated) local book store. My daughter loves graphic novels, especially ones that are nonfiction, or inspired by real life). That it's set at UBC where we have a relative who is a professor, was an added bonus.
We Are the Engineers by Angela Melick chronicles her time at UCB as a Mechanical Engineering student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The humor is centered on the toughness of the courses, the huge piles of homework, general life at UBC as well as the job market outside of university.
The book is short and hilarious. You can read it in about an hour. The first book was so good that I've tracked down and purchased the second in the series, Welcome to the Real World.
Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game: 11/27/17
Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game by Amy Gutierrez is the sequel to Smarty Marty's Got Game (2013). Smarty Marty loves baseball and loves to watch her brother play. She knows the game well enough that when the regular announcer can't call the day's little league game, she's invited to fill in.
Knowing the game is different from calling the game. It takes being able to keep up with the action, being accurate in your description, and not being partial to any of the players. Of course Marty is up to the task but she makes a couple goofs early on — rooting for her brother on the mic, and anticipating the wrong play.
Her two small blunders in an otherwise flawless call gets the bullies on her back. When she resists, they start to go after her brother. She's torn between wanting to do the next game (which she's been invited to do) and protecting her brother.
Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game realistically shows in a very short book the sort of harassment girls and women get for being good at something dominated by boys and men. Had a boy made the same mistakes, he wouldn't have gotten bullied for it by a boy who goes by the off-putting nickname "Smash." Fortunately for Marty, she has adults on her side that recognize her skills and don't tolerate bullying from anyone.
Author Amy Gutierrez, or Amy G for short, is the reporter for the Giants here in the Bay Area. Like Smarty Marty, not everyone is happy with having a woman report on them and there was a petition on change.org to remove her from the air. It didn't succeed.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 27): 11/27/17
We had a quiet Thanksgiving in our new home. It was just the four of us and our cats. We roasted the smallest turkey we could find and managed by Sunday to eat through all our leftovers. My daughter made chocolate cake with mint frosting instead of pie. She helped me with the rolls.
We're doing a second Thanksgiving this coming weekend when my husband's parents come up to visit. In previous years we've gone down to their home but this year our schedules just didn't mesh.
I'm keeping up with Nanowrimo. As of Sunday night, I have 47,100 words.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Armstrong and Charlie: 11/26/17
Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank is set in Los Angeles in 1974. The plot takes place in two neighborhoods — Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, and South Los Angeles. One is an upper middle class, mostly white neighborhood. The other is a working class, mostly black neighborhood. The book covers the first year of bussing black students to white schools in an effort to better integrate the schools. The school in question is Wonderland Avenue Elementary School.
Armstrong LeRois has been signed up for Opportunity Bussing by his parents. As the youngest of a huge family and the only son, he's grown up feeling like he doesn't really have a place. Everything is hand-me-downs — even when they are embarrassing pink shirts. His father runs the household, having lost his leg in the war, and now living with PTSD. Meanwhile, Mom works long hours in a local hospital.
Charlie Ross attends Wonderland Elementary and is watching most o his friends flee for farther away schools for sixth grade. Their parents don't want their kids exposed to the bussed in kids. Charlie though has other problems — a mother suffering from debilitating depression — and an upcoming birthday that will make him older than his brother who died the year before of a severe asthma attack.
Scenes through out the book are narrated in alternating voices — starting with Charlie and then switching to Armstrong. Some scenes are also then summed up through incident reports by the yard duty officer. For the audiobook, each of these voices gets a different narrator. Sometimes the swapping out of voices takes me out of the story, but here the decision to use three performers serves the novel well.
The book takes place a decade before I was in elementary school, but not a lot had changed between Armstrong and Charlie's time and my time. I bring this up because near the end of the book the characters wonder if the opportunity bussing would ever go in the other direction.
I don't know if Los Angeles ever did, but I can say that San Diego tried it for a little while. I was part of test program that ran during my fifth grade. We were bussed from Curie Elementary to Webster Elementary. It was a fourteen mile drive and was only a half year commitment. The other half of the year we were bussed out to the Grantville area to an arts magnet school. I guess there the thought was to show us the extreme other end of things — that our school wasn't the all that we might have thought it was.
But looking at the Webster Elementary School experience — I don't think it came close to what our counterparts endured. Our school, like Charlie's school, was sold as the "better" and "safer" school. It was better and safer mostly because we were a white neighborhood but that doesn't mean we made the school welcoming to our bussed in classmates. We ridiculed them. We egged them on, inciting fights.
When we were bussed, our parents had to be placated. To keep us "safe" in a mostly black school, we were given handlers — I shit you not. We were kept primarily in segregated classes except for a few hours a day when we were given a chance to learn with our hosts. It was basically a year of inner city tourism to pretend the injustices and inequalities weren't all that bad.
Alex & Eliza: 11/25/17
Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz is the latest in a number of books riding the coat-tails of the Hamilton musical. This one looks at the romance between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler.
The book opens with Eliza rebelling against what she's told to wear to a ball her family is attending. At the ball, Alexander arrives to deliver a message from General Washington. He is an unwelcome guest for a variety of reasons but he falls for the sassy Eliza.
Except for the change in location and the more casual / modern word choice (despite the era), the opening is like a CliffNotes version of Pride and Prejudice but with historical figures. While Jenny Presnell describes Eliza's meeting of Alex as "love at first sight" for her, the relationship and marriage wasn't a romantic happily ever after. This book, though, uses the tropes of a romance to offer that HEA ending.
Sure, it's YA romance written for fans of the musical. Sure it's got lots of nods to said musical — including lines of dialog that skitter on the edge of straight out quoting lyrics. But it's not enough and frankly it was a disappointing read.
That said, my middle grade aged daughter thoroughly enjoyed the series. It does hit the mark for the target audience — young fans of Hamilton.
A second book been announced: Love & War being released April 17, 2018.
Winnebago Graveyard #3: 11/24/17
Winnebago Graveyard #3 by Steve Niles explains the series title and gives a sense of how long the town has been luring travelers off the interstate. At the close of the second issue, a boy appeared offering to help the family escape. This issue follows Deacon's attempt to follow through on his promise.
As with a four part vintage Doctor Who sequence, the third episode is typically the one where the Doctor and his companions run for their lives. Here it is the family, following Daecon's lead.
Just as the Doctor's flight would take him through the underbelly of whatever world he's visiting where he could see exactly what was wrong with his initial assessment, their flight takes them through the graveyard. This isn't one with tombstones. Instead it's full of abandoned RVs.
A junkyard whether it's full of RVs, old beat up cars, airplane parts, or robots, is a typical turning point for science fiction dystopias that mix in roadtrip tropes. Even the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is primarily a parody on the horror films of he 1970s and 1980s, has it's pivotal fight sign in one of these roadtrip "graveyards," namely the Rose Parade float graveyard where floats are kept for three days of post parade viewing.
Winnebago Graveyard, though, being horror, demands blood. The graveyard isn't a safe shortcut for the family or for the pursuers. Both sides pay the price, losing members to the thing that the town has been sacrificing too.
Like the ending volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist, there are a ton of panels devoted to the gore and the violence. I'm hoping the final issue is more plot heavy but I suspect everyone but maybe the boy will end up as monster food.
My Dirty Dumb Eyes: 11/23/17
My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt is a collection of comics about sex and other weird things. On GoodReads there's a review that warns about the nudity as it was bought without knowing about the content for a library and now can't be added to the library. I'm laughing because I checked it out from my library.
Her artwork reminds of the psychedelic stuff of the late 1960s, early 1970s with a bit of Ralph Bashi's Fritz the Cat mixed in. You have to be in the right mood for this book. Otherwise you'll just be flipping through pages asking yourself, WTF, over and over again.
Farm Fresh Murder: 11/22/17
Farm Fresh Murder by Paige Shelton is the first of the Farmers' Market mystery series. Becca Robins is an organic farmer who spends her time either on her land or at the farers' market. That is until she discovers the body of one of the other local farmers.
Becca makes the discovery in the first chapter, practically on the first page of the book. It's all rather sudden and jarring. There's no establishment of anything — just farmers' market, boom, murdered person.
Usually in a mystery — especially in the first of a new series, time is taken to introduce the main character, their occupation, their supporting group of either friends or family, or to give an explanation by they are somewhere new, cut off form kith and kin. Then the supporting characters for the particular book are introduced.
Next up a conflict is established — some reason for the person to be murdered. It could be that they are an unlikable person. Maybe they own something valuable. Maybe they've seen something they shouldn't. Maybe they were unfaithful.
I realize that the mystery — especially the cozy — sounds formulaic but the formula sets up a series of expectations — an unspoken contract that the reader and the book have. It's not that every piece of the formula has to be followed in a specific order or even at all, but they are good shortcuts, when establishing a new series.
Farm Fresh Market lacks most of these conventions. Sure some mysteries seem to take forever to get to the murder (using up a third of the book, or roughly one hundred pages of a three hundred page book) on side plots, the things that the main character is supposed to be doing before their life is once again interrupted by an untimely death. I know, I know, I've complained in the past about mysteries taking too long to get started. But this book is just the opposite. It jumps right into killing someone off, and I don't even know the person yet. He's just dead and I'm like, so?
The rest of the book suffers from the strange timing. There's a lot of time wasted on Becca going back and forth across the different farms to look at stuff and talk to people. Since none of them were established at the get-go, it's impossible to remember who everyone is, or even care how the were related to or associated with the deceased.
Having read reviews of the second book in the series, I see others complaining about continuing timing issues. With that in mind, I won't be pursuing the second book.
The Lotterys Plus One: 11/21/17
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue is a Canadian middle grade fiction story about blended families, family acceptance, and dementia. It's told from the point of view of Sumac, a nine year old girl who has to give up her perfect first story floor bedroom to PopCorn's Dad, whom she nicknames Grumps because he is racist and homophobic and is now living in a home with two dads, two moms, and large family of multi-ethnic kids, some biological and some adopted.
Mostly the book is about adapting to Grumps arrival and trying to help him feel welcome even though he clearly doesn't want to be there and it's also clear that a big chunk of the family doesn't want him there either. Grumps has lived his entire life in Faro, Yukon. Toronto is something entirely different, alien, and scary for him.
Readers seem to either love or hate this book for two reasons: the gimmicky family and the mis-gendering of Brian — the second to the youngest of the children. Despite my initial misgivings about the childrens' and parents' nicknames for each other, as well as their family lingo, Sumac's clearly crafted character and voice won me over. There are enough hints at a bigger story in the adult conversation that she overhears to clue in older readers but not so much to overwhelm younger ones.
The one odd detail in this book is Brian who has opted to have a buzz cut, wears boys clothing, and wishes to not be confused for anything other than a boy. Yet, Sumac always uses she for this sibling. Brian also doesn't fit the botanical name theme that most of the other children have going — and that oddity is explained by dead-naming Brian midway through the book.
I've decided not to count the misgendering of the Brian against the book as a whole for a few reasons.
First, Brian isn't all that well established as a character (nor are really any of the other children). Mostly this book is about Sumac, PopCorn, and Grumps with the other Lotterys being part of the background noise of the immediate problem at hand (losing one's room to a family member who doesn't even want to be there).
Second, the misgendering makes otherwise perfect Sumac a little less so. She is a self styled perfect child, always wanting to please but her actions show that she does harbor some resentment and isn't as open minded as she may think she is.
Finally, there just aren't that many books about unconventional families, beyond a few now that include two same sex parents. As I happen to know of a few families like Sumacs — though not to the scale of hers, it was refreshing to see some fictional representation.
Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti is a YA urban fantasy about a group of six teens who have superpowers. They each have a secret identity or a code name, if you will. Set in Cambria California (though a much larger and more urban Cambria than the real one), the story follows how these six teens come back together following a bank robbery where Scam uses the Voice to survive a bank robbery.
The book is set up to read like a superhero movie — with lots of short chapters, each chapter taking on a different point of view so that we see what each teen is doing. It's supposed to build tension but it gets tiresome after about five of these two page long chapters.
Cutting between characters and keeping the chapters short hides the fact that there's not a lot of meat to the plot. Nor is there a lot in the way of character development. There isn't time to get to know the city or the teens or really much about how they came to be friends or came into their powers.
I would have preferred to stick with one or maybe two characters tops — probably Scam and Crash and let the remaining four teens be supporting cast for this book — as it is essentially Scam's problem from start to finish — and Crash's time to really come into her powers. Then for future books, the point of view could pivot to one or two more characters in the group.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 20): 11/20/17
The kids are off school this week for Thanksgiving. That means I get to sleep in a little and I don't have to pick them up from school.
Over the weekend we figured out what kind of gas fireplace we want to replace the current one — a vintage early 1960s thing that is neither safe nor efficient. We also ordered a couch and loveseat — the first nice living room furniture we will have owned in years. Our last couch be bought in 2001 and it lasted us until about 2012.
I'm keeping up with Nanowrimo. As of Sunday night, I have 32,500 words.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Miles Morales: 11/19/17
I've been following (on and off) the Spider-Man comics since my early childhood. They were carried in our evening paper — back when evening papers were a thing. The evening paper has since merged with its morning paper rival but Spider-Man continues.
One thing comics do is kill off a long standing hero or do alternate what-if versions. Basically telling the same story over and over again for decades or finding reasons to keep a character living in real time but perpetually young or middle age or whatever age they're known for gets boring, frustrating, unrealistic, and tedious. Of course there's also the TV adage that every plot line can be recycled after seven years but sometimes you just got mix things up.
That's where Miles Morales comes in. He's Peter Parker's successor or he's an alternate version. Or or or. Frankly in the big damn scheme of things, it doesn't really matter. Miles Morales is his own damn person and he happens to be Spider-Man. It works for the Dread Pirate Roberts — so why the hell not?
Now enter Jason Reynolds — a relatively new author who has rapidly become one of my favorite middle grade and YA authors. He captures the inner city, urban life in a way that is universally relevant. There was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to read a Miles Morales adventure written by Jason Reynolds.
Reynolds begins his novel at a low point for Morales. He's lost or is in the process of losing his spidey sense. He feels burned out and is ready to just go back to being a pretty much the only black teenager at this prep school because he's on scholarship. Except now he's been suspended and it looks like he's been framed for sausages from the bodega where he works (as part of his scholarship).
On top of all of that, his Spidey-senses seem to be working only in the one classroom he hates most. Miles has a history teacher that is right off the plantation. He's intentionally baiting Miles through micro aggressions and setting him up for expulsion.
Admittedly the teacher as antagonist or even supervillain, isn't a new concept. Adult mentor — especially elderly mentor — as monster or alien, isn't a new concept either. But here's it's presented in the form of institutionalized racism. It starts with Miles being told by all the adults among his kith and kin telling him about that one person in their high school career who made their life a living hell. They're doing it to show him that yes — what he's going through isn't a new thing and that he'll probably get through it like they did.
But then — a pattern emerges. That was different. Obvious but different. It was a fun twist on a type of story that's been done before. It was a chance to play out the idea of what if monsters or paranormal entities or whatever were taking advantage of colonialism and racism to harvest victims unnoticed and unpunished?
Suffice it to say, if Jason Reynolds writes more Miles Morales adventures, I'm there.
Ivy by Katherine Coville and illustrated by Celia Kaspar is a fantasy novel for young readers ready to move onto chapter books. Ivy lives with her grandmother at the edge of Broomsweep where they care for anyone (human, animal, or magical creature) who needs help.
The blurb suggests this is a book for fans of Jessica Day George (her shorter Fairy Stories) and E.D. Baker. I agree but the set up the book is also a good companion piece to Woundabout by Lev A. C. Rosen. Both book feature towns with homogenous, uptight, strict residents — and main characters who are outsiders and rule-breakers.
On most days, Broomsweep leaves Ivy and her grandmother alone. While they prefer to have all the stoops swept twice a day and all the yards neat and tidy, the healer and her granddaughter are allowed to slip because they are useful. That is until the new Queen begins a tour of the kingdom with the promise that her favorite village will be the host of a huge party to celebrate her coronation.
So that's the set up. Broomsweep decides to crack down on Ivy's family to make sure the village is picture perfect for Her Majesty. Of course there are immediately problems — sick patients, all of them magical, needing a place to stay and heal. All of them make a mess. All of them make it difficult (impossible) for them to clean.
This book would work well in a classroom story time. Tucked in with the magical hijinks, there are messages about taking time for family, prejudice, and kindness to strangers.
Finally, the illustrations help bring the characters to life. They are done by Celia Kaspar who also works in animation. Her character designs have a Chuck Jones feel to them.
Otis by Loren Long is the story of a tractor who is sad about being put out to pasture, replaced by a newer model. Otis, though, is found to still be useful when the farm animals are noticeably scared by the new tractor, where they weren't around Otis.
The Japanese have the concept of the tsukumokami (つくも神) or tool spirit. Gasoline tractors have been around long enough now that it's possible for Otis to be a recently awoken トラクター神 (tractor kami). Or maybe he's possessed by the same whatever it is that makes Herbie and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang self aware vehicles.
But given the remoteness of the farm, the apparent age of Otis (based on his shape), he could have gotten lucky and come awake before the usual century mark. Another possibility is that this book takes place in the near future — the 2030s, which would make Otis a hundred years old.
Regardless, though, Otis's situation is hard to place in the map of the road narrative. He is in part, autokind vs mankind (or in the is case, bovinekind). He is also on the road not taken. And until the scarecrow (see Otis and the Scarecrow), he serves as a warden at the cornfield.
Our Hero: 11/16/17
Our Hero by Jennifer L. Holm is the second Babymouse book. The plot is similar to Dragonslayer but without the refined tropes that the series has developed in its ten years and nineteen books.
This adventure involves dodge ball for a grade. Although Babymouse can't seem to remember her PE shoes does manage to get to the final round against arch nemesis Felicia Furrypaws. Felicia makes her usual taunts about the state of Babymouse's whiskers. But why does she even care?
When though, did dodge ball become THE BIG SCARY game of P.E.? It's not just Babymouse making it into something big. In cartoons there's the first season of Total Drama Island and Danny Phantom. In the live action front, there's Warehouse 13 which has a killer dodge ball that multiplies until someone either dies or manages to catch one.
I liked this one more than some mostly because the tropes aren't as firmly set as they are in later books. This means that Babymouse isn't as lazy, self obsessed, or clumsy. Meanwhile, Felicia isn't as mean, as rich, or evil as she later is.
Through the Grinder: 11/15/17
Through the Grinder by Cleo Coyle is the second of the Coffeehouse mystery series. Clare's regular customers have started to die through a series of bizarre accidents and suicides. It looks like someone is targeting the Village Blend — could it be Claire's new Mr Right?
Like On What Grounds the book includes scenes from the perspective of the murderer. In the first book, this murderer point of view is only at the start of the book. This time, there are numerous asides to the point of view of the self styled "genius."
Were I reading the book in print, rather than listening to it, I would have skipped the genius's scenes. These point of view shifts are unnecessary beyond clueing in skimmers that another death is looming in the next chapter.
Despite the red herrings set up from the "genius's" scenes, I figured out the motive behind the murders about a quarter of the way through the book. Knowing who the killer was didn't lessen the enjoyment of the book. A big part of the fun of mysteries is seeing the pieces fall into place.
Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins: 11/14/17
Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire is a culmination of a ten year project. Per the back of book explanation, Lemire had originally planned to illustrate the comic himself but The Sweet Life ended up being a huge success and the project took most of his time, putting his idea to make a super hero comic on hold. Lemire ended up collaborating with Dean Ornstron for illustrations and Dave Stewart for coloring to create the first volume of Black Hammer.
Secret Origins opens at an out of the way farm house – the sort of location that brings to mind "It's a Good Life."
By the establishing shot, if you will, of the farm house, circling crows, and swirling gold and brown colors, we know we're in a crossing the cornfield story. Because of the visceral ties to the Jerome Bixby horror short story, I went immediately with an incarceration story. The main characters in this comic are trapped here.
Each chapter (or issue) follows the origin story of each of the main characters. The one most upset by their incarceration is a young girl who once upon a time was The Golden Gail. She was given her powers by a wizard. As she grew up in her mundane form, her super hero form, remained in the state it was when she was first given her powers. Through the course of the chapter we learn that she's an elderly woman — now permanently stuck in a preteen body and in this world, perpetually forced to go to school to keep up appearances.
Colonel Weird's chapter gives hints to the nature of their incarceration — or at least to the shape of the "cornfield." Again, we're taken back to Bixby's story, which ends with the surviving characters wondering if anything exists beyond the world that Anthony created upon his birth. Is it possible to escape? Or are they the last living creatures in the entire universe?
Through Weird, we're given hints to the nature of the incarceration. As a young man, he's exploring the outer reaches of known space. Just as he's about to head back, he spots a portal or a rip in space. He choses to explore it, and ends up trapped in a science fiction type of faerie world where time and space lose their meaning. As he didn't know or couldn't recognize the path, he's fallen off the road and is forever lost. Being lost has cost him his youth and his sanity. Though he can leave the portal (and the town he and his compatriots are trapped in) temporarily, he can't take any of them with him, nor can he make his escape permanent.
Finally, there is the titular character. Black Hammer — the reason that everyone is trapped in this rural town — this atemporal utopia — is dead. He died in whatever calamity brought the others here. But his daughter who is on the other side of the "cornfield" in an urban setting, a safe place, a starting point for road trips. She is far enough away from the cornfield in time and space to be the most likely person to mount a rescue. Though an adult, she can also invoke "orphan magic" to cross the uncharitable.
Let anyone doubt that this is a crossing the cornfield story, in one of the flashbacks, Lemire includes a battle between Barbalien and Taurus — a minotaur shaped robot. It's a single panel, really more of a throw away detail this early on, but it's there as a reminder, an acknowledgement that we are in the cornfield and not just anyone type, but a labyrinth, thus further signaling incarceration.
Volume two, "The Event" which brings together the next six issues is released in January 2018.
The First Rule of Punk: 11/13/17
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez is the story of a zine crafting middle schooler who is stuck in Chicago for two years. Malu (who doesn't want to be called Maria Luisa) loves punk and misses her father and her friends terribly.
Malu's personal style — dyed hair, vintage clothes, and Chuck Taylors, doesn't fit with Posada Middle School's dress code. She's also gotten the attention of the queen bee of the school — a girl I couldn't help but picture as Chloé Bourgeois from Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug Girl and Chat Noir. She has a similar background: money, popularity, and over bearing parents.
This short book is how Malu finds her place at Posada while not giving up her love of Punk and her love of making zines. She's also trying to discover her own place and what it means to be Mexican American. Her mother, meanwhile, is so traditional, that Malu has dubbed her "Super Mexican" and makes zines about her adventures.
On the flip side of things, the mother of one of her new classmates knows about Latino music and the Mexican punk scene. She serves as a guide through a music history that Malu has only begun to tap into. Songs and singers that are connecting points for Malu are mentioned in the book.
I happened to listen to the audiobook. The narrator did a fantastic job bringing Malu and the other characters to life. One place I feel that the audiobook missed an opportunity was in the music. I realize that getting the license for these famous songs probably would have been difficult and expensive, but it would have brought so much to the whole audiobook experience. Likewise, a list of the songs as an appendix would have been nice.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 13): 11/13/17
We're out of the apartment. We've turned in the keys. All that's left is unpacking boxes and bringing the books back from storage. We started this whole crazy moving project a year ago.
Tuesday we had our Girl Scout troop meeting for November. With the time change we moved indoors. We've grown so much that we need two classrooms.
I'm keeping up with Nanowrimo. As of Sunday night, I have 19,400 words.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
A Boy Called Bat: 11/12/17
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold is about a boy who likes things just so but is able to help his mother foster an orphaned skunk. Bat is Bixby Alexander Tam and he needs help with understanding social clues. He might be on the spectrum but it's never overtly stated whether or not he is.
While the book starts out being mostly about Bat and how he likes things just so and how upset he gets when things don't go his way, the book is really more about the work and emotional price of fostering orphaned animals.
On a side note, BAT receives advice on how to care for the skunk kit from a Dr. Jerry Dragoo. It sounds like a made up character name, but it isn't. He's a genuine, real-life biologist and there's information about him and his Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations in the afterword.
The sequel, Bat and the Waiting Game comes out in March 2018.
Outside In: 11/11/17
Outside In by Jennifer Bradbury is historical fiction about the Chandahar sculptor, Nek Chand. It's told from the point of view of a street boy, Ram, and was inspired by the author's time as an English teacher.
Though Ram lives on the streets and has to use his wiles to stay alive and provide for himself, he is oddly ignorant of his culture. He seems to spring into being on the first page with no past and no sense of self beyond that first page. He is basically a blank slate for Nek Chand to rebuild in his image — and it's off putting.
There's a lot going on in this book — a city still recovering from partition. A city in the middle of an economic boom — but not one that reaches everyone. There are still marginalized people scraping together what little they can — like Ram. And there are people who are trying to make the city a more beautiful place with their limited means, like Nek Chand.
While Nek comes across as a flesh and blood character firmly living in his time and place, Ram never really gets there. He is just there to be a conduit between the historical figure of the artist and the present day reader — presumably an upper elementary or middle grade aged American child. It's an unsatisfying disconnect.
October 2017 Sources: 11/10/17
October meant another move — to our new to us house. October also meant the start of the CYBILS, and reading for it. Being too busy to buy new books, meant I read books I already had on hand and of course, library books.
I read more library books this October compared to last year, but fewer books over all. My ROOB score ticked upwards. That's due to the library books out numbering all other forms of reading. That said, the ROOB score is still better than it was last October.
October's ROOB score is identical to what it was in 2012 and the lowest it's been since 2012. Not being able to buy new books kept the ROOB score lower than it otherwise would have been.
The monthly average for October dropped to -1.72 from -1.60. It's an improvement, but October still remains my worst ROOB month on average.
November is the month we have to get cracking on making our short lists for the CYBILS. I'm all moved in now (save for unpacking) and have no travel plans until next year. That means more time for reading. I am, however, also doing NANOWRIMO.
Field Trip: 11/10/17
Field Trip by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen is the sequel to Road Trip. Summer is over and Ben's in school, but he's even more obsessed with hockey than he was in the previous book. He missed out on hockey camp but now he has a new goal — a hockey themed high school where classes are scheduled around training.
Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are still working hard with their house flipping business, something that started in the previous book. Now though things have gotten out of hand (according to Ben); Mom and Dad have sold the family home and they're going to be moving into one of the fixer-uppers.
The framing story though for this book's road trip, is Ben needing to catch up to his classmates who have left on a multiple-day field trip. Ben was planning to miss the trip because of hockey commitments but when his parents discover that the school is concerned about his numerous absences and his GPA, they decide to cut back on hockey. The first step in this plan is attend the field trip after all.
The gist of the road trip, then, is Ben, his dad, his dad's coworker, the two dogs, and two of Ben's classmates. They all pile into the company vehicle — an old ice cream truck, complete with fiberglass cone on the roof.
It's basically the first book but more so. And it's in the "more-so" that this book fails to come close to the original. We know the Dad's unusual road trip play book. Last time we road along in a disused school bus. Now it's an ice cream truck. Last time we picked up a waitress and a mechanic. This time we have the Wonder Twins who are more perfect than anyone and will probably grow up to be more broken than Paris Geller. Last time we picked up one puppy. Now we're going back for another one.
It's clear from the get-go that Ben and the twins won't make it to field trip. It's clear that Ben won't go to the hockey school even if he does wheedle a way to try out for it. It's clear that Dad and Mom will come up with some sort of epic compromise. It's clear that Ben and the Wonder Twins will become friends.
And thus there are no surprises and no unique or unexpected takes on the road trip genre.
Queen and Country Volume 1: 11/09/17
Queen and Country Volume 1 by Greg Rucka is the start of comic about a British SIS Agent Tara Chase. She returns from the Middle East after pulling off an assassination but she's injured and mentally scared. Meanwhile, the home office is targeted and the SIS want to take revenge in their own hands.
Mostly though it's a story about the trauma that comes with firearms. This is not a guns blazing wet dream. It's a moody, cautionary tale about the real dangers of firearms that are often overlooked by pro-gun folks.
Queen & Country was an intense read for me. On the one hand the emotions are raw. On the other, there's a lot procedural stuff, including the sitting around and waiting parts, that make for long, dull bits. I'm debating whether or not to continue with the series.
There are consequences for every shot fired. Bullets have to go somewhere. Bullets don't discriminate. Guns make people feel like superheroes.
Bad Housekeeping: 11/08/17
Bad Housekeeping by Maia Chance is the start of the Agnes and Effie series. The set up reminds me of a mixture of the Missing Pieces mystery series by Joyce and Jim Lavene and the Booktown mystery series by Lorna Barrett. The former for the main character being a long time resident, and for the remodeling of a rundown inn; the latter for the dynamic of two women relatives.
Agnes Blythe has just finished her hellish job at the library and is looking for any way possible out of her small town. On top of that she's just broke up with her boyfriend and didn't get a chance to grab any of her stuff before he kicked her out: no ID, no wallet, no clothes. So she's stuck at home with clothing she last wore in high school, bumming money off of kith and kin when she can.
Effie, is the aunt who left town to live her life the way she wanted. While her brother is the mayor — the rule maker — she is the rule breaker. The current rule she's breaking is living in the inn. It's been condemned and is slated for demolishing. Effie, though, plans to fix it up and reopen it before the bulldozers come.
The woman who pushed through the demolition plans is found dead at the inn — strangled in a way that matches the last fight Agnes and she had. Effie may be the mayor's daughter but the local law enforcement is convinced she did it. So Agnes and Effie decide the best thing to do is solve the mystery themselves.
Like Tricia and Angie of the Booktown mysteries, Agnes and Effie aren't exactly a likable pair. Agnes is understandably discombobulated by her recent breakup, the lack of a job, the undesired need to rely on her less than trustworthy aunt. Effie on the other hand has a past full of trouble and is set up as the bad seed of the family. It will be interesting to see how their relationship plays out in the second book.
Bad Neighbors comes out on April 26, 2018.
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives: 11/07/17
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer is the story of a recently divorced woman and her teenage son and their strange new neighbors. Markie and Jesse have moved into a bungalow, taking a year lease, after Markie discovered her husband had spent all the family money and had affairs. He was basically the loser her parents had warned her that he was.
Markie and Jesse expect to only be at the bungalow for a year. It's what her budget can handle. Then they'll look for something else, somewhere else. So they keep most of their stuff in the garage, still in their boxes. The opt to eat take out food.
On their very first day they are greeted by Mrs. Saint — a woman with a French accent — sends over Frederick to carry in their furniture. She as a short, middle aged woman, and Jesse as an out of shape teenager, obviously do need his help, but Markie wants to be left alone, even if that means failing at moving in.
From that day forward, Mrs. Saint continues to interject herself into Markie and Jesse's lives. Before long Mrs. Saint has adopted Markie and Jesse and two more of her defectives. It's a slow and steady invasion for the betterment of everyone.
There's a method and a reason behind Mrs. Saint's activities. If you pay attention, you'll find the holes in the stories she tells Markie. While the specifics of what really happened aren't laid out until the end, there's enough there to expect the details once they're revealed.
October 2017 Summary: 11/07/17
October was busy as expected due to moving out of the apartment and moving into the house. The house needed some repairs and some new furniture. Actually the furniture aspect will be an on-going project as we need a lot of it and only have the budget for one or two pieces each month.
Now as I was stuck a lot of the time at the house, I did have some more time (than previous recent months) to read. I finished 28 books, down, though from previous Octobers. Last year, for example, I read 34 books in October.
My cushion of reviews continues to dry up. I have reviews planned and written through the end of January. A year ago, I would have been planned out through the end of April by now. To further complicate things, I'm also doing NANOWRIMO, the first time in about four years, while also being a first round reader for the CYBILs.
Continuing with the trend begun in July, diverse books outnumbered non-diverse books in the read pile. As those read books work their way through the reviewing process, the reviews are starting to be more focused on diverse books than not. I'm not there yet. October's reviewed books were still mostly non-diverse. But the total number of diverse reviews was up from September and and August.
Looking at November, I will be busy reading for the CYBILs — meaning my choices in reading are less flexible than in other months. I will also be writing for NANOWRIMO, so the numbers of books read won't be as high as last November's. Review wise, I'm still working through the last of my older reviews, meaning the diversity ratio won't be that great either.
Bow Wow: 11/06/17
Bow Wow by Spencer Quinn is the third of the Bowser and Birdie books. Book two is Arf, which I own, but have in storage because of a move. I chose to read this book out of order.
Bowser and Birdie are on the hunt for evidence of a Bull Shark in the local swamp. The long time residents swear it's not possible, that their swamp is too far from the sea but a local boy swears he had an encounter with it. Now there's a bounty on this shark and it's bringing out all the weirdos.
For Birdie, though, the main concern isn't the shark, but for Snoozy, the guy who works in her grandmother's tackle shop. He's gone missing, after heading out to help a man search for the shark. Everyone else believes he's just off doing something because Snoozy's not the most reliable sort. Birdie, though, knows something else is going on and he's in danger.
This series is told from the first person point of view of Bowser the dog. This time I was so invested in Snoozy's disappearance that I found Bowser's asides distracting. I really wanted more of a third person point of view.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 06): 11/06/17
Halloween at the new place was a hit, even though we didn't have time to do much decorating. At least we had enough candy.
I've also jumped into NANOWRIMO this year. Because my email changed, I lost my old log in and had to create a new account. It's probably for the best as I never really liked my old user name. IF you want to buddy me, I'm pussreboots on there.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Amina's Voice: 11/05/17
Amina's Voice by Hena Khan is a middle grade similar read to Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. Amina is a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who loves to sing and is dreading the upcoming competition to recite pieces of the koran.
Now in middle school, Amina feels like she and her best friend, Soojan, are drifting apart. Soojan and her family are working towards becoming citizens and they've all decided to change their names to something more American. To Amina it seems like they're giving up something essential about themselves — even as she struggles with countless people who can't pronounce her name right (and don't want to learn how).
Then, there's Emily. She's the cool girl in school. She's American and now she's Soojan's friend. Amina remembers in grade school when she was a bully. Can she now be trusted?
Finally there's Amina's uncle. He's conservative. He has a very strict view of what it means to be a Muslim and it doesn't seem to include some of Amina's favorite things — like singing and playing music. As she's at that crucial age where she's trying to figure out who she is and who she is becoming – she takes what her uncle says very seriously — to the point that she's losing sleep with worry.
The Book of Mistakes: 11/04/17
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken is at first glance about making art out of mistakes. Deeper down, though, it's metafiction in picture book format.
The book opens with an unseen artist trying to draw a person. One eye is to big. But the mistake is covered over with some other artistic flair and then there's a different mistake. One mistake and one correction at a time, until the book is filled with a huge and intricate scene.
But in terms of structure, one is reminded of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. There is more to this book than just a series of corrected mistakes being built up into a massive drawing of a girl and her friends playing in a giant tree. At the very end, the last spread reveals the entire drawing in a new perspective that forces one to rethink the entire book.
A Woman's World Tour in a Motor: 11/03/17
In the spring of 2015, I decided to revisit a road narrative project I had begun in grad school in 1995. The decision was fueled by two factors: the finding of my handwritten bibliography and by a friend's research (food and dystopian narratives).
While brainstorming my initial attack on the topic, I wondered if other nations should be included into the research. While I'm still half eying the stories out of the Commonwealth and Japan, I've definitely come to the decision to avoid a more comprehensive canvassing of road narratives.
The road narrative tropes and themes are not universal. In the American road narrative, the road and the vehicle are characters as much as the people traveling. This is true for fact and fiction — memoir and novel.
In the case of tours taken outside of the confines of the United States or taken by foreigners inside the United States, the stops and the people visited are often more important than the method getting there.
A Woman's World Tour in a Motor by Harriet White Fisher published in 1911 definitely focuses on the people and places, rather than the car or roads. Early on there was some mention of the type of vehicle used and the fact that it had an oil problem in Paris.
Mostly though the focus was on the castles, houses, and famous people Fisher met on her drive. There was also a lot of time spent on her dog, Honk Honk, who was a gift before the journey began.
The book with its focus on a pre-WWI world, while historically interesting, isn't really relevant for the direction my project has taken. The one star, therefore, is a sign that I didn't finish the book, not that the book is terrible.
Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max: 11/02/17
Lumberjanes Volume 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson splits up the cabin into two separate adventures. Mal and Molly decide to take their free day to have a date in the forest but are quickly swept up into something right out of Land of the Lost but with the Bear Lady. Meanwhile, the other girls try their best to earn the "easier" of the badges — ones focused on things like cake decorating, scrapbooking, and watching paint dry.
Mal, Molly, and the Bear Lady end up in an alternate world that looks like the ruins of Athens but set in a Mario Galaxy world and populated by dinosaurs. Time flows differently there — so it could be faerie land. They have lost the path home because the Bear Lady has had her glasses stolen.
There's a lot too this alternate world but I'm not sure how relevant any of it is. It could be plot important beyond this volume — or it could just be there to be cool in this self-contained plot arc. I hope there is more to come in this world. I want to know about the ruins. I want to know about the dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, the at camp plot is hilarious. Anyone who has been in Girl Scouts (or volunteered as an adult) knows that the troops and their activities are supposed to be "Girl Lead." To make sure there's something for everyone, there are lots of options, from the domestic skills (such as designing and cooking a multi-course meal), to the STEM, to outdoor adventure type badges. The girls in LumberJanes are definitely geared towards the outdoor adventure badges to the extreme, so watching them try to earn domestic badges is cute.
Over all though, the two adventures and the opening chapter (issue) with the campfire ghost stories didn't mesh as well as the previous two volumes did. The various girl told ghost stories are fun, especially seeing how each girl approaches genre, but after two truly epic adventures, I was hoping for something more along those lines.
Wrong Side of the Paw: 11/01/17
Wrong Side of the Paw by Laurie Cass is the sixth book in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. There's a new director and Minnie Hamilton is under pressure to cut the budget of her very successful bookmobile program. Meanwhile, she's turned up another body on her route — this time the estranged father of one of her friends.
This book was another case of the right book at the right time. The big mystery in this one is centered on Chilson's real estate market. The dead man was the owner of one of the construction companies. He also has some of the worst ratings — shoddy work, unsafe conditions, cutting corners, missing deadlines, etc.
I read this book in the lull between closing on the sale of our apartment and the funding of our house. Both pieces required working with contractors — some who were good and some who were exasperating. None of them were as bad as this dead contractor was described at his worst — but I still found myself drawn in more to the mystery than I would have been at any other time.
I suspect as this series progresses, Minnie will end up as the library director. It's well established that she's qualified for the position and that her coworkers want her to be the director. In the meantime, I think we'll have the director of the week — a new foil for Minnie as she's trying to be a bookmobile librarian and an amateur detective. I hope though that the new director doesn't become a cliche or a crutch for this series.