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The Looney Experiment: 12/31/17
The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds is about a boy struggling through life: his father has run off, he's bullied at school, the girl of his dreams doesn't know he exists, and he has a name he hates. Then a substitute English teacher with an unconventional teaching methodology comes in and saves the day at great personal expense.
The book, though, is so by-the-numbers, that there's nothing new here.
The boy's name is Atticus, to hone in on the continued popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. The bully uses his name against him, calling him "Fatticus" at every possible opportunity (and often in front of uncaring teachers). And, surprise, surprise, our hero doesn't know why he has this name, so that it has to be explained to him later in the book.
Then there's Mr. Looney (yes that's his real name). He replaces a female teacher, as is typical of these stories. He's better at controlling the class and he's more understanding to the poor, ignored, untaught boys. Because of course female teachers can't or don't want to teach boys.
There's the whole un-schooling bit of the book. Schools these days with their Common Core are too hard on kids. There's too much testing and not enough character building. Or something. So Mr. Looney doesn't give any tests until he's forced to.
And finally there's the BULLY who will ruin it for everyone because he's a BULLY. It's what he does. Of course he does it by crying crocodile tears about how badly Mr. Looney is treating the class. Mind you, Mr. Looney doesn't seem to be actually teaching the class anything, but that's not what the bully is complaining about. Of course the bully's word is taken more seriously than any other students. Because he's a BULLY and they always win in these types of books.
Back Half round-up - Favorite books read and reviewed from July-December 2017: 12/31/17
As December comes to a close, it's a good time to look at the year's books. I did a post in June looking at my favorite so far (link at the bottom of the post). This post is of favorite books read and reviewed from July through December.
With no further ado, my favorite reads from the second half of 2017.
One Mixed-Up Night: 12/30/17
One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman takes its inspiration from the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg and the allure of the Ikea showroom. Told from the point of view of Frankie, it's about the disastrous night she and her best friend Walter tried to spend in Ikea after closing.
The book opens with the night about to come to a bad end. Rather than playing through the consequences of being unsupervised in a store after hours and being destructive to boot, the story rewinds to the events that lead up to them being caught. I've mentioned before how I find this type of story telling lazy and frustrating. Just surprise me by starting at the beginning. Or if you want the hook to be them getting caught — tell me how their lives are now different because of their stupidity.
Claudia and Jamie's time in the museum isn't one night of mayhem. It's over the course of days. Claudia's reasons for being there are more nuanced than Frankie's and she treats the place she's squatting in with more respect than the pair in One Mixed-Up Night. There's a better one night caper in Ikea included in the first third of Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding, where the Fitzgerald-Trouts try living in an Ikea because they are desperate for housing, not because they think it would be a fun place to thrash.
The Scarebird: 12/29/17
The Scarebird by Sid Fleischman and illustrated by Peter Sís is a cautionary tale of life alone on the farm. A man who has chosen to keep to himself finds himself in need of a scarecrow — or a scarebird — as he calls it.
He sets about making one from his old clothes. As time progresses and the weather changes, he gives more an more of his old clothing to his scarebird to protect it form the elements. He takes to talking to it, as if the thing were the friend he never had or never wanted.
Everything changes when a young man appears at his door, bedraggled and in need of a place to stay. He seems to own nothing more than the old clothes on his back. It is at this point that the old farmer is faced with a decision — does he help the flesh and blood stranger, by reclaiming, re-gifting the clothes of the scarebird, or does he send him on his way?
In this regard, the Scarebird is thematically similar to the climax of Cherry 2000. A man who has developed feelings for a nonliving, anthropomorphic form, is forced to pick between the thing he loves and a person who needs his help. In both cases, they pick the person: here a young man, and there the woman who he has hired as his tracker.
So although this story contains a scarecrow, it doesn't fall into the crossing the cornfield dichotomy. There is no sense of imprisonment, nor does is scarebird ever a potential authority figure. Instead, this story is more a "road not taken" made up of the rural and mankind (or in this case, man on his own).
CatStronauts: Space Station Situation: 12/28/17
CatStronauts: Space Station Situation by Drew Brockington is the third in the series of cat astronauts. Book one took us to the moon. Book two took us to Mars. Book three now comes back to Earth with a mission to save it while fixing the Hubba Bubba telescope.
This series is such a delightful combination of science, science fiction, cats, and geeky humor. Tucked in with the feline puns is the story of scientists trying to save the world from total destruction. It's also the story of a pilot trying to overcome PTSD after nearly dying in space.
With the PTSD plot, I'm reminded of Space Brothers, where Hibito has to relearn how to wear a spacesuit. Of course that plot took part over chapters or episodes depending on whether one was reading the manga or watching the anime.
I recommend listening to some space themed music while reading this volume. For instance:
Red Leech: 12/27/17
Red Leech (aka Rebel Fire) by Andrew Lane (May 2016) - 2010 - 3 stars (p. 235)
Red Leech (aka Rebel Fire) by Andrew Lane is the second of the Young Sherlock Holmes series. The book in the United States has a different title than it's British original form and that title change, reflects what the different publishers think is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the convoluted plot.
Although I am in the United States I choose to refer to this book by its original title. The leech title, as in giant blood sucking worms, fits with the theme of the first book, Death Cloud. There it's Africanized bees and here it's a rare and unusually large leech.
But as an American, I'm supposed to be drawn to the other plot point, namely that one of the villains claims to be John Wilkes Booth. His dubious inclusion in the book necessitates a title change to Rebel Fire to make the entire plot about the American Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. Except in the grand scheme of things, that part of the book is pretty much a small red herring compared to the GIANT RED LEECHES.
Plot-wise the book is all over the map (literally and figuratively). Sherlock and his tutor leave the English countryside for the American South. Clearly though this must be an alternate history because the events laid out here are as plausible as if Guy Fawkes were revealed to be Miguel de Cervantes.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 25: 12/26/17
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 25 edited by Rosamund Kidman Cox is a collection of photographs that I am counting for the Canadian Books Challenge even though the contest is run by the National History Museum of London, England, and the editor is also British. But this particular book, portfolio 25, to me is tied up with some very happy memories of a trip to Victoria. So bear with me as this "review" isn't a review in the normal sense. It is, instead, an indulgence in nostalgia.
For Christmas 2014 we opted to head north to Vancouver, rather than south to San Diego. We have relatives in both cities but a lot of the traditions we remember and know from our San Diego trips have evolved into something unfamiliar and off putting. So we opted to try for a quieter Christmas with Ian's brother and sister-in-law, and their two children. That first year we tried having Christmas with them and then heading over the Vancouver Island for a couple of days before heading home. It was also the year that we drove there — much to the bemusement of the woman at the border. I guess most Californians don't drive their Ford Fiesta to Canada.
That first year we learned two things: our sister-in-law's parents really prefer getting Christmas up there, so it would be better to come after the holiday. And two: some parts of Victoria are DEAD on Boxing Day — like the hotel we opted to stay at that year.
By Christmas 2015 we had a better, more refined plan. We were staying at the Chateau Victoria within walking distance of the things we were interested in. It's restaurant, Vista 18, was open for Christmas and Boxing Day (and is quite the place to be for Christmas brunch).
On Christmas Eve 2015, we walked down to the Royal BC Museum — though not by the most efficient route. We'd figure that out the next year. On the second floor was the traveling exhibit of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. In fact, it's there now until April 2, 2018. It was the first exhibit we stopped at and the longest one we stayed at.
When we were done at the end of the day we stopped into the gift shop and purchased Portfolio 25. I should note that the youth winner that year was a Canadian. It somehow made the entire experience all the more special — seeing the winning photo in the winner's country.
That year while I was there I promised I would enter the contest. It's international and open to amateurs. 2016 went by so quickly and by the end of the year I was so disheartened at the thought of moving to Kitchener, that I didn't even try to enter the contest. As it happens, I wasn't even reminded of it that Christmas, as the traveling display in 2016 was of a baby mammoth.
This December as I was reading through the few books to make it to my new house (still in Fairview — only two miles from where this move began), I came across Portfolio 25. I'd read it on Boxing Day, 2015 but I hadn't reviewed it. So I re-read it. And I remembered the contest. And I realized I still had time to enter. The entry fee is £30. This year I know I went into the contest unprepared but 2018, I'll be thinking more like an artist.
The Portfolios are nice. They include the artists' statements and the stories behind the winning or shortlisted photographs. But the portfolio can't possibly reproduce the eye popping, soul warming experience of seeing the photographs in person. They're backlit and and the colors and shades just pop. Really good photos will pull you across the room, through the crowd, and hold you captive for minutes. If you ever get a chance to see one of these traveling exhibits, Go!
First book of the new year: 12/26/17
I've had a bunch of different people ask me this year what my first book of the new year is going to be. I guess in recent years planning the first book of a new year has become a thing. My short answer for the curious is, I don't know.
I am always — let me rephrase that — usually reading something. I'm often reading multiple things at once. I tend to keep ten books as "currently reading" on GoodReads — though in reality I'm only focusing on one to three of them at any given time.
Also, for my reading, I don't count January 1st as the start of a new year. That's because I started keeping track of my reading back in 1987 over summer break between elementary and junior high. For that reason, my "new year" for reading is in about six months from now.
If I'm looking at the set of ten I'm currently reading, it will be one of the ones listed on my most recent, It's Monday, What Are You Reading? post. If the question is what will be the first book published in 2018 that I read, that honor will go to Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgans.
My planned new release reads for January include:
What about you?
Refugee by Alan Gratz is a collection of three interrelated stories of refugees. There is Josef, a Jewish boy fleeing Germany at the start of World War II. There is Isabel, a Cuban girl leaving her home in 1994 during the riots and unrest. There is Mahmoud who is fleeing Syria for safety in Europe. The stories are interwoven, going in chronological order.
We get a chapter from Joseph's point of view. He, his sister, and his parents, are headed for Cuba on a ship. They hope to be let in but there's word that Cuba might close their border to future.
Then we get a chapter from Isabel. Like Joseph, she's on a boat. But she's fleeing Cuba with her pregnant mother, and her father. They want to get to the United States. They need to avoid the Coast Guard.
Finally we get a chapter from Mahmoud. He and his family are trying to drive out of Syria as the unrest heats up. They leave behind their home and face danger and death on the road.
Individually each child's tale could stand alone as a separate, compelling novels. Piecing together how they are related beyond the obvious fact that they are all refugees is a big part of what takes this book to the next level.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 25): 12/25/17
I'm done reading for the CYBILs. The short lists will be announced New Year's Day.
The presents are around the tree. It'll be a small, quiet Christmas with just the four of us (and our cats). I'm making corned beef and cabbage for dinner. And the kids and I will make magic cookie bars.
We got a call tonight that our Canadian family is headed south this year and will be stopping by on the 30th to see us. Yay! The past three years we've been at their house. By then, my husband's parents will be here, so the house will be full.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Lights, Camera, Middle School!: 12/24/17
Lights, Camera, Middle School! by Jennifer L. Holm is a prose and graphic novel hybrid for middle graders who grew up reading the comic books. Babymouse is in middle school and she needs to join a club. Given her overactive imagination it's no surprise that she ends up in the movie club. What is surprising is that she's given the role of writer and director — and she succeeds at it.
There's a maturity to Babymouse that isn't always present in the comic books. Many of the comics are based around situational humor with Babymouse being the fall guy for most of what goes wrong. She's styled as a hot pink mouse version of Buster Keaton. Where he had his iconic half frown, she has her droopy whiskers. Unfortunately she often lacks the industriousness that Keaton's characters always had — no matter how down on their luck they seemed.
With a bit more maturity and insight, Babymouse has come to realize that much of her misfortune comes from her own self sabotage. With a little more focus and self confidence she's able to bring the movie club's project to fruition. She even manages to work with Felicia (the oft-times antagonist / bully of the comic books).
Thematically Lights, Camera, Middle School! reminds me of a Fall 2017 anime, Anime-Gataris especially near the middle of the series where the club sets out to make their own anime short and come into trouble with other clubs, budgets, and rules.
See You in the Cosmos: 12/23/17
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng is written as a series of audio file transcripts. Now I've read and enjoyed books that use this technique before — namely 0.4 and 1.4 by Mike Lancaster. But this time, the conceit didn't work for me.
Alex Petroski and his dog Carl Sagan head out by train from Colorado to Los Angeles via New Mexico and Las Vegas. He's on a quest to record awesome sounds and stories for his rocket like was done with Voyager.
The other half of this set up is that Alex is leaving home — leaving an unhealthy where his mother can't take care of herself let alone him. He's been doing everything including the grocery shopping, while also being part of the rocket club, and going to school.
Part of what put me off from the get go is Alex's cheerfulness. It's not that he's optimistic that things will work out — he's just HAPPY. Unnaturally so. Naively so. More so than I would expect someone going through what he's gone through to be.
I even tried this book as an audiobook and the narrator reads Alex's monolog in an over the top happy voice that I just couldn't make it through the entire book that way.
What Alex reminded me most throughout was Russell from Up (2009). What saved Russell from being intolerable and his cheerfulness unbelievable is that he wasn't the main character of the film. His behavior could be seen through the filter of a depressed and grieving old man who was trying to have one last adventure. Alex as the protagonist here doesn't have that. He's unfiltered and it doesn't work.
Road Narrative Summary: 12/23/17
I'm finishing up my third year of revisiting the road narrative project I began in 1995. The last time I got waylaid by leaving graduate school, working, and moving to the Bay Area. This time, I'm still going strong but I've off road.
In art the negative space is the thing that helps define a piece's composition. It's what makes great art, art. It's like the dark matter in space. In the road narrative, the off road landscape is what makes a road narrative, a narrative.
Over the last holidays while watching The Twilight Zone marathon for about the twentieth time, I had an epiphany. The off road bits — the American cornfield, especially — is a key piece of negative narrative space. Being able to traverse those fields (or not) is what defines genres within the road narrative.
This year I reviewed fifty-four books, or roughly one a week. I also wrote seven essays based on research — though many of them were more along the lines of summaries of how I've been researching, rather than I what I've learned. Looking towards 2018, I plan to continue the weekly reviews, but I would like to add a monthly essay. Ultimately I would like to go from monthly essays to posting one every fortweek. I have enough notes now to actually start writing genuine articles of analysis.
Also, I would like to start working in some television and film analysis. Supernatural and Westworld are two series I want to analyze.
Feathertop by Robert D. San Souci is a retelling in picture book form of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story. Mother Rigby, a witch of some renowned, decides to make a scarecrow for her cornfield. She dresses him up in old fancy clothes. So pleased with her work, she decides to bring him to life and send him to a local fancy ball.
Of course any time you send something out on its own, it's bound to do something other or more than what you planned. Feathertop ends up catching the eye of a young lady of means. She falls in love and so does he.
Except when he looks in the mirror he can see that he's not the fancy man she thinks he is. So disheartened at the reality of his situation, he leaves the party and begs to be a scarecrow.
In this regard, Feathertop is an interesting and early version of the reluctant scarecrow — a role most popularized by The Scarecrow from the Oz books.
Mother Rigby, though a witch, isn't evil. She feels sorry for the now despondent young woman who has lost her one true love. Or maybe she's just amused by a foolish aristocrat falling in love with a scarecrow. Regardless, she turns Feathertop real once again for a happy ending.
From the smirk on her face in the last pages, it's implied that Feathertop isn't her first scarecrow let free. Nor, will he be the last, as she is shown gathering together her materials again. It could even be implied that all those other aldermen (or many of them) were her creations too.
As this version is primarily a simplified picture book, with most of the story being retold in the illustrations, I'm going to leave deeper analysis for the actual story. It is available for download in a collection of short stories on Project Gutenberg: Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories.
For the road narrative project, I believe this retelling is too far removed from the original to do a deeper analysis.
Graphic Novels Reviewed in 2017: 12/22/17
A decade ago, I was an extremely reluctant graphic novel or comic reader. As a kid the few comics I read amounted to Spider-Man (the strip in the paper), Garfield, Peanuts (but mostly because my grandmother was a fan), and Wee Pals, a comic series out of Oakland because the author made regular trips to our school in San Diego and was very nice.
The remainder of "comic books" when I was a kid and a newly minted adult meant super hero comics — DC and Marvel. With the exception of Spider-Man, who is part of MArvel's pantheon, I was mostly a DC gal, for the "detective" part of DC. So I liked Superman because he was a reporter who could also fly and see through walls. I liked Batman because he a rich twat with cool toys and a conscience. But by no means was I a regular consumer of comics.
Oh and there was Archie and the other Archie side comics. Those I read like crazy — though I honestly don't recall where I got them. I just always had access to them?
But by my thirties, I was basically not reading comics in any form. I had decided they were too hard to follow. I found myself constantly distracted trying to decide if I should look at the pictures or the text first. I would often just look at the pictures, make up my own dialog, and call it a day.
Anyway, ten years ago I decided to get over my preconceived notions of comics and graphic novels. Part of that I must credit to Neil Gaiman. I came to his work through his novels: particularly Stardust and Neverwhere. But most people it seemed back then came to his novels through The Sandman (something I still haven't read). For whatever reason, I decided to go back and read his other graphic novels.
After Gaiman, I spent a year reading through the Fullmetal Alchemist manga series — the only manga series I've managed to read from start to finish. I also got about a third of the way through Bleach before deciding I didn't have any more patience for it.
Then the Cybils picked me to be a judge in the graphic novels category in 2009 and I was hooked. Since then I've been consuming a steady diet of graphic novels and comics — though I still don't go to a comic book store and I don't have a pull list.
Looking back at 2017's graphic novel and comic reviews, I can see a theme. I tend to like the ones that feature oddballs. They aren't necessarily heroes, except in their own eyes.
Graphic novels and comics have become such a regular part of my reading that I now dedicate Thursdays to reviewing them.
Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes: 12/21/17
Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes by Booki Vivat is the second in the Frazzled! graphic novel series with a third, yet to be titled one, planned for September 2018.
Abbie Wu thinks she has middle school figured out. But then things start to go south. First, her sister has a new cat who seems to hate her. Then, she's stuck sharing a locker, and she's been paired up with her "locker thief" for the school's invention convention.
Her locker thieving partner is everything Abbie isn't. She's calm and collected (except in how she organizes the locker). She likes cats (but admits that the Wu family cat just might have it in for Abbie).
I find the Frazzled books a joy to read. Vivat's artwork — her use of exaggerated facial expressions, especially for Abbie are adorable. She captures the stress of middle school life while brining humor to the situations.
Ripped From the Pages: 12/20/17
Ripped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle is the ninth Bibliophile Mystery. Guru Bob is expanding the compound's winery but adding a wine cave for tasting. In the process of boring through the wall, a secret room is exposed, packed full of treasures and containing a well dressed body.
Mostly this volume is a cold case with ties to WWII and to the Nazi confiscation of artwork. These were pieces squirreled out of Europe. They are also clues to Guru Bob's family history. Let's just say the story he's been telling his followers isn't true.
I personally wish this book had just been a cold case. But Brooklyn seems cursed to be in the middle of present day murders. Of course someone has to die and the person behind it is obvious from the very get-go — from the first introductions. Despite the obvious villain being obvious, we still have to wait until the final act for the present day crime.
Unfortunately the same ties to WWII reveal a flaw in the series — one that many mystery series suffer from — namely, the slippage of time. As I described in my review of Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson, the longer a series continues, the more obvious the inconsistencies between plot time and the temporal environment of the story (ie what sorts of things are available, references to current events, etc) become.
In Ripped From the Pages, it's stated that a little more than two years have passed since Brooklyn met her boyfriend. That happened in Homicide in Hardcover, the start of the series. That book was published in 2009. This volume was published in 2015 — six years later, not two years later. When thinking in terms of how many murder investigations Brooklyn has been part of, it's amazing she has had any time to do anything else as described in the books.
Then take a look at the body discovered in the secret room. He's been there roughly seventy years. That puts the time line for the mystery in 2014 — or when the book was being written. So which is it? Here, the difference really isn't that grand a thing — only a couple years, but as the series continues, this gap is likely to widen. What happens when it does, depends on how the author decides to handle it. Two extremes are: to rigidly insist it's still however many years back (as Sue Grafton does with her Alphabet Mystery books) or to just let the characters live in the present and have fun with the new technology (as Elizabeth Peters did in the Vicky Bliss mysteries).
The tenth book in the series is Books of a Feather (2016).
Canadian Books reviewed in 2017: 12/20/17
Since 2009, I've been a participant in the Canadian books challenge. That was the year my niece was born. She and her brother are Canadian (and their parents are now naturalized citizens). I figured one thing I could do to be a good, albiet, distant aunt, was to learn about her country through their books. I do run a book blog, after all.
Now besides the four of them, my in-laws are also in the process of moving to Canada to live their full time. That won't happen this year, but it probably will by 2019. With now half of my immediate family living up there, Canadian books have become a way of life for my reading (along with following the news and social media happenings too).
This summer I realized these books were so much a part of my daily reading, that I could easily commit to reviewing a Canadian book once a week. So that's what I started to do, starting in August. I have reviews planned through the first week of March.
From Ant to Eagle: 12/19/17
From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle uses an opening tactic that I normally dislike, but here it's necessary. It opens with the first person protagonist telling the ending. Calvin Sinclair tells us up front that his brother is dead and feels responsible. He goes so far as to say he killed his brother. The remainder of the book is the last few months of Sammy Sinclair's life but how he died and what, if any, Calvin's part in it really was, is what gets answered.
I feel it's necessary here because Sammy's death isn't a way to escape the consequences of it. Nor is it a way to avoid writing the ending. Rather, the book is about recognizing when a loved one is ill and learning how to live with them and love them and support them when they are critically ill. It's also about coming to terms with the harsh reality that not all diagnoses are the same and that it's okay to feel resentment when someone else gets a better one, but eventually you'll need to move on.
The novel is written by a pediatric oncologist. So that's your big clue as to what kills Sammy. It also means that the details of Sammy's illness and decline aren't done haphazardly. His cancer isn't there for drama or melodrama. This is more of a slice of life book, set in the 1990s, that happens to be focused on how cancer affects families.
The set up to the story is the Sinclair family moving to London, Ontario. Although they were originally from Toronto (which is about ninety minutes or so away, assuming good driving conditions), London might as well be on a another planet. It was also one of the areas we were thinking of moving to (albeit it very briefly as we pretty quickly settled on Kitchener). So although Calvin begins his book also having to explain where London is and how sick and tired he is of people assuming he means London, England — I knew right were he was.
The rural town setting is also important because it gives an opportunity to see how other families of different backgrounds deal with pediatric cancer. One of the people Calvin meets is a Mennonite teenager who has been living in the hospital, completely separated from his huge family for a variety of reasons. The compromises his parents have to make to give their son a chance at recovery are vast and heartbreaking, even though their son's chance of survival is better than Sammy's from the very beginning.
The author currently lives and works in Calgary, Alberta.
The Losers Club: 12/18/17
The Losers Club by Andrew Clements is a middle grade fiction about a boy who loves to read to the point that his reading is getting in the way of other things, like his classwork and his social skills. After numerous referrals to the principal, he is told he has to participate in a after school club or face disciplinary action.
As with Frindle, Clements takes a school situation — a moment of a student pushing back against the adults in his life — to the extreme to see how transformative that initial push back can be.
When Alec's not allowed to just join a club and read in a corner, he choses to create a reading club — not a book club where everyone reads the same books — but one where kids who want to read and not be interrupted, can. Like Cameron Boxer in Slacker, Alec wants his club to fail. He sets it up to be the worst club ever and even calls it the "Losers Club" figuring the name will keep other kids away.
But what happens if the self sabotaged club takes off? What happens if Alec finds many more secret lovers of books just looking for a place to read? What happens if his club ends up being one of the most popular after school programs? Then how does he explain the name, "The Losers Club"? All of these questions are answered over the course of this book.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 18): 12/18/17
Early this week we finally got our lights up. My daughter and I took charge of it. Since neither of us felt like climbing up a ladder to hang them from the house, we opted for our front garden.
Hanukkah also started. That's my husband's part. It's a good excuse to reload the kids with school supplies.
Today, though, was a busy one. Our couch and loveseat arrived more than a week early! We were told to expect them sometime between Christmas and New Years. We were hoping ot have them in by New Years when my husband's parents come up again. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to have them this early!
Also today we got our Christmas tree set up. That's my department, although my husband was nice enough to help me bring home the tree yesterday in his car. His car is bigger than mine. We got a live pinion tree. In the new year, we'll plant it up on our hill. Our goal is to slowly re do things with native plants.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
14 Hollow Road: 12/17/17
14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop is a middle grade fiction inspired by real events. Maddie has been looking forward to the sixth grade dance — the last big event at her school for the year. She has the perfect dress, the perfect hairstyle, and she's hoping to dance with her long time friend (and crush). But all of that goes wrong. He dances with someone else, the lights go off, and she returns home to find her home flattened by a freak tornado and her beloved dog missing.
The remainder of the book is the aftermath — the recovery from losing everything. Her parents and brother are fine but the dog is missing, presumed dead. They're now living next door, sharing the space with their neighbors, whose home was spared. She's sharing a room with her crush — the one who didn't dance with her! But mostly she's devastated by the disappearance of her dog.
The first few chapters — the ones that set up the remainder of the book — scared the bejeebers out of me. I'm a Californian and we don't usually have tornadoes here. The way though that the storm is lingering there with the storm mentioned on the radio as scenic background noise to how the lights go off and the generators don't fire up sets the stage for what's to come.
The missing dog plot also hit home. My state has gone through some horrendous wildfires and there have been dozens of stories of families fleeing without their pets. Though many pets have died there are also stories of pets being rescued in the cleanup operations afterwards, as well as owners' uncertainty and guilt for not being able to get them to safety.
Despite all the drama and loss, this book does have a happy, hopeful ending.
Mysteries reviewed in 2017: 12/16/17
Mysteries have always been a staple of my reading. I know my focus is primarily children's and YA, with the emphasis being on middle grade books, but the mysteries receive regular attention too. Mysteries are my go-to genre for escapist reading.
At the end of February, I was invited to join the My Kind of Mystery Challenge. Joining the challenge gave me the chance to focus my mystery reviewing into a regular, weekly feature. Wednesdays are now my day to post a mystery review. I have reviews planned all the way to the start of May, including some newly published books: The Case for Jaimie, Cave of Bones, and, Bad Neighbors
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre: 12/16/17
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine is prequel to The Two Princesses of Bamarre (2001). Peregrine is the adopted daughter of Lord Tove and Lady Klausine. She is being raised as a Latki with the subjugated Bamarre as her servants (one of whom is her biological sister).
As she comes of age she begins to realize something is amiss and as she is to join her father on the front lines in battle, she is hit with the truth, that she is actually Bamarre. She has to chose — to hide that truth or use her position to help her people.
Peregrine's voice through out is very stilted. Granted it is there to portray the formality of the court and her position, but other Levine novels usually rely on more natural dialog, making her people — and her monsters — seem more alive.
The other problem is one of pacing. From the very beginning Peregrine relates her adoption. So when her "parents" require her to call them by very formal means, it sounds as is she already knows the secret. Later when she comes to learn the truth her shock doesn't play as genuine.
Orphan Island: 12/15/17
Laurel Snyder explains in the afterword of Orphan Island that she spent her time taking long baths dreaming about orphans on island. With that in mind, one shouldn't expect a logical, behind the curtain reveal of who is behind the boats that bring and take children to an island.
The book opens with Jinny becoming the newest elder, as her friend and mentor, Deen is taken away on the boat. Replacing him is a young girl — maybe three or four years old — who calls herself Ess.
Ess as the newest arrival is the living link to whatever the children leave behind when they come to the island. She remembers her mother. She is not — or was not until recently — an orphan. Ess resists assimilation into the island culture and every reason, albeit in little kid English, she gives, further compels Jinny to question how the island works.
The wherefore of the island is up to reader interpretation. There are clues of course: the dancing shapes, the limit on there being nine and only nine children at a time, the fact that the weather never changes and the island seems able to provide the food and shelter everyone needs. But there is also a crumbling library with books that only last so long. The island doesn't seem to provide new reading material or another clues about life outside the island.
To test the rules of the island, Jinny decides to stay even when a new child arrives after Ess. The sky doesn't fall exactly but things do change. The weather gets wacky. The island seems to struggle. Jinny hits puberty and doesn't know why she's bleeding.
While the title of the book is Orphan Island the promise of orphan magic is more ephemeral here. Clearly the island isn't natural. It could be artificial. It could be magic. From the limited knowledge we're giving — namely roughly nine years of rotation experience as children age and age out, and the new notes from the first children, there is no way of knowing the origin of the island. In this case, advanced technology might as well be magic.
Reading Orphan Island left me unsatisfied because we never get to see what Jinny sees once she finally decides to leave the island. Imagine if you will that Dorothy Gale had gone to Oz, done the Wizard's errands and been sent home without ever looking behind the curtain. Oz would have been a very different place, and probably a dead-end one.
Demon, Volume 4: 12/14/17
Demon, Volume 4 by Jason Shiga concludes the tale of Jimmy and Sweatpea. When last we left our "heroes", they were isolated by what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Would they ever reunite? Would they ever manage beat the OSS and be truly free?
In my review of Volume 3, I said, "Jimmy is a scarecrow (one who guards the cornfield and can cross it) because his isolation isn't permanent." This volume illustrates why the cornfield (or the labyrinth, as referenced in the cover art of Volume 2) is a crucial source of power in the road not taken type of road narrative. It also explores the why and how orphans get their powers through this type of isolation.
Before I go on, though, if you haven't read the final volume and want to avoid spoilers — stop now. Though I will try to be careful in my analysis, a savvy reader will be able to infer plot points.
Back in September while rewatching season one of Westworld, I wrote an essay on the labyrinth in the road narrative, "The maze isn't for you — except when it is." The essay, though rough around the edges, was an exploration on how the cornfield is tied to the notion of mazes and labyrinths (and the minotaur).
Westworld and Demon are both escape from the labyrinth stories. Westworld uses the Celtic labyrinth as a metaphor for what separates the host from the guest — and if the host were only able to mediate on the greater meaning of the maze, would they be able to escape the labyrinth that is the park itself.
For Jimmy and Sweatpea — their incarceration exists in two forms: the physical, brought on by the OSS's various ways of locking them up; and metaphysical, brought on by not understanding how their possessions work. To beat the OSS, they have to understand how their possessions work.
But doing so has consequences. Just as there is one minotaur — one frightening abomination hidden within the maze, free to roam it, but not free to leave it. Two minotaurs might be twice as scary and dangerous — but if there were thousands or millions of them — they would be commonplace. The commonplace, even when dangerous, is far less of a threat than a singleton.
For Jimmy and Sweatpea — winning ultimately means giving up what makes them unique. They win destroying everyone not like them. Their solution is the extreme ending of Meanwhile (and it's probably no coincidence that book also features an "orphan" named Jimmy).
If you take down the barriers of the labyrinth or you cut down the cornfield and allow free passage between worlds; if you invite travelers on the road not traveled, you risk draining the magic or whatever it is that makes that otherworld special. I will have more thoughts along those lines when I post my analysis of Dorothy Must Die.
2017 books read and reviewed: 12/13/17
My goal this year was to read and review a minimum of 52 newly published books. As of writing this post, I'm well over 100 books read and reviewed. I won't be able to review all of the 2017 published books I've read but I've done my best in years to keep that gap as narrow as possible. The remaining ones will be reviewed early next year.
I will update the December books at the end of the month.
Murder on the Half Shelf: 12/13/17
Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett is the sixth book in the Booktown mystery series. I have been listening to this series as audiobooks, and this one is the first one after a change of publishers. The first five were produced by Penguin Audio and performed by Cassandra Campbell. Starting with book six, the publisher is Tantor Audio and the narrator is Karen White. After five books (or roughly two full days of hearing one actor and her different voices for the characters) some of my misgivings with this book may be due to the unfamiliarity of a new voice.
The Dragonfly Inn — no sorry — the Sheer Comfort Inn — is about to open and the Comforts are having a test run. They'd held a raffle at the Chamber of Commerce and invited the winners. Among those winners is Angelica. Still angry at Bob, she has invited Tricia instead. (I can't help but continue to see similarities with The Gilmore Girls.)
Before anyone is even settled in their rooms, Pippa Comfort is murdered. She's discovered by Sarge, Angelica's dog. And of course Tricia was the one holding the leash at the time.
Now with a murder set in a bed and breakfast, I expected most of the action to remain in the bed and breakfast. Sure, the town isn't that far away, but that is the usual course of action. Back in my review of Murder is Binding, I commented on how the book plays with expectations. The series continues to do that, especially here where everyone goes home to Stoneham rather than try to solve the mystery themselves. It's a more realistic approach but also, oddly, off-putting.
There are three agents keeping Tricia involved in the murder when she otherwise wouldn't need to be. The first is Sarge who seems to act as a furry McGuffin. Then there is Tricia's long lost first love, a man she has believed dead all these years and is now the prime suspect. Finally there is her maybe-boyfriend and newly appointed chief of police.
Beyond the disruption of having a different narrator for the audiobook, the inclusion of a suddenly rediscovered long lost boyfriend was a hard detail to swallow. I realize that the Sheer Comfort Inn is out of town but it seems hard to believe that after nearly three years of living and working and snooping around Stoneham and its neighboring towns, Tricia would some how be oblivious to the fact that her ex-boyfriend is living under an assumed name.
The other odd bit to Murder on the Half Shelf is the B plot. The marriage between Mr. Everett and Grace has hit a snag — namely the charitable foundation Grace is running. Keeping the two of them apart besides the work of running the foundation and screening applicants, is Pixie — a former prostitute turned secretary and bouncer. There's a lot of time spent on Pixie being the worst (or best) receptionist ever and White does a great almost Annie Potts at her most Jeanine type voice for her. She's a memorable character who probably needs her own series of books. Regardless, so much effort was put into creating her character it was fairly obvious that she wouldn't be a one time only character.
And that comes down to other reason why I took a star off. Sure, it's still enjoyable and the mystery itself was compelling — though the solution was a bit left field, a la Miss Marple (Christie's sleuth, not Tricia's cat) who never seems to share what she knows with the reader. The biggest flaw in this volume was its pacing. The obvious plot parts were obvious. The filler parts were obviously filler. There wasn't enough in the way of natural segues to give the story an organic feel.
Boundless by Jillian Tamaki is a comic collection or a short story collection in comic form, if you will. The stories have a Twilight Zone feel to them — playing out various what-ifs.
The opening story tells of a woman who ties her love life to a cult classic film. Each romantic breakup, it seems, coincides with the death of another actor in the film. Is the film cursed? Is she?
Another story follows a woman who notices she's losing weight — and later height and volumes. She is shrinking. This comic is about how her life changes as she gets smaller.
All the stories are memorable and each is done with a different artistic approach. It's really like nothing else I've read — certainly not one by a single graphic novel author.
Beast & Crown: 12/11/17
Beast & Crown by Joel Ross is a new fantasy about a quest to save a brother enslaved by a textile factory. Ross, who lives in Santa Barbara, again draws from a familiar landscape, crafting a fantasy kingdom. To anyone who has lived in California or is familiar with the central coast, there is a recognizable mix of influences: Spanish, American, Chinese, Japanese but populated also with ogres, goblins, trolls and the like. If Ankh-Morpork is a multi-decade fantasy London, this is fantasy Moorpark.
This ensemble cast includes, Sally, a maid who has been saving up to rescue her brother; Ji, a boot boy who is good at sneaking around because he has to have access throughout the house to collect everyone's boots; and Roz, the governess who is well educated and liberally minded.
Like Pratchett did in his later books with the trolls — beginning really with Snuff, Ross does his most interesting social commentary in the disconnect between the story of how the Summer Queen saved the kingdom by smiting the monsters and the rich, nuanced cultural reality of these non-human species. Ross isn't recapitulating Pratchett — just using well known fantasy populations to explore a number of different issues.
Looking at the cover and taking into account the set up I've given, it may seem like I'm talking about a completely different book. I'm not. The scene on the cover is in the book — and it's a marvelous one. To explain it, though, would to spoil some of the best surprises.
The conclusion, The Ice Witch comes out on August 21, 2018.
Diverse books reviewed in 2017: 12/11/17
In January I talked about my desire to diversify my reading. The goal was to reach the point where half of all the books I read and review (or 150 books read, 180 reviewed) would be inclusive. My definition of inclusive or diverse continues to evolve, with more emphasis being on the authors. In this post I'm trying to do two things: look at what I've read and reviewed, and to be accountable for where I could have done a better job.
As this month (and thus this year) isn't ever, I will update the December list as the month progresses.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 11): 12/11/17
While our family was up visiting, my mother in law started talking about some old family photos she and her brother had found. They have been working on trying to put names to faces and build a family tree but my mother in law isn't satisfied with the results they've gotten. My great uncle has been managing a family tree through a website — and our library also offers (albeit limited) access to that same site. I blithely volunteered to poke around the site to see if I could find some better info.
I ended up upgrading my membership so I could become the manager of the Sammis family tree. Her side of the family has been very tricky. While the records offered through the family tree site have been helpful, I've also had to rely on digitized old phone books and the marriage records offered by the Denver Public Library. In the process I ended up finding three American born younger siblings of my husband's great grandfather!
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Piecing Me Together: 12/10/17
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson is set in Portland, Oregon. It's told from the perspective of Jade, a Black teen who is coming into her own as a collage artist. She has grown up believing she has to escape her neighborhood if she is to make anything of her life. That means going across town to a better school, going abroad in school, so she can later get a scholarship to a college.
But everything seems stacked against her. Her teacher and guidance counsellor expect her to participate in a mentoring program before she would even be considered for the study abroad program. It doesn't matter that she's already one of the best students in the Spanish program. She's Black. She's poor. Therefore she has to prove herself in ways that her White counterparts don't have to.
Does it piss her off? You bet it does. But she also gets access to things she would never get on her mother's income. She gets to go to museums and art galleries and meet people who are interested in her art. But it's also tearing her apart from the one person who has her back more than anyone else — her mother. That's hard to recognize though when her mother is strict when she's home and absent often because of her long hours of work.
Hear the Wolves: 12/09/17
Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott is about a left behind group of people trying to reach safety during a snow storm, being pursued by wolves. Per the endnotes, the novel was inspired by a dream and the jumps the plot's in logic show that origin. But the novel is set in Alaska and that real world setting doesn't mesh well with the narrative flow.
Sloan is a hunter but she's also deaf in one ear. For reasons not really stated, her mother left the family. So Sloan's been raised by her father and older brother. Except one morning she wakes up and they are gone — with a note that she should be able to take care of her self while they are out on a routine errand.
Sloan though panics and goes into town, finding it mostly abandoned except for a few stragglers — people either too old to go, or children who have no reason to go. Is this a dystopian future? No — everyone has left to go vote.
Vote? Really? It was at this detail that book basically lost me. Sure, Alaska is remote. But given that modern technology is mentioned including satellite weather, computers, and so forth, this isn't the days when voting might have required leaving the village.
Curious — I looked up how voting works in Alaska. Like California, they allow anyone to vote by mail regardless of situation. Right there, that means there's no reason a remote village would need to head somewhere else en masse to vote.
Now while the majority of the town is out somewhere else to vote, the stragglers are faced with two problems — a blizzard, and hungry wolves. They are in a town. A town that has doors with locks. They have supplies. They probably have ways to communicate with the absent adults, and with emergency services.
Thinking back to The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, homesteaders went to the town to get supplies. Yes there were shortages, but this happened after days and days of snow and the delay of the supply train due to the blizzard. It didn't happen within hours of the adult population leaving.
In all this messy set up is the lesson that human encroachment on wildlife has forced animals into urban areas. There are coyotes in Golden Gate Park, for example. So wolves coming into the town during a blizzard is to be expected.
But this isn't about wolves in a temporarily underpopulated village. Instead the remaining people — who could easily ration whatever is in the town and hang out together in a home, or a hotel, or a pub (a la Shaun of the Dead except with wolves instead of zombies), they decide to head out to a hunting shelter because there's food and ammunition there.
Really? They are in a village and they can't find any food or ammunition? And if they stayed in the village and just locked the damn doors, they wouldn't have to worry about the wolves. Wolves don't have opposable thumbs!
All of these ginormous plot holes could have been avoided if the setting were somewhere completely imaginary. If the village were in a fantasy setting or a horror one — the sudden disappearance of the people, the lack of supplies, and the need to leave the village could be explained away.
Beyond the Bright Sea: 12/08/17
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk is set on a fictional island off Cape Cod, near Penikese. It's set in 1923-1924, putting it in a contemporary narrative space with the "yarns" that Joseph C Lincoln was writing set in his own fictional landscape of the Cape Cod area. As I've ready and loved so many of his books, it was impossible not to listen to this audio without populating the book with his characters and landscape.
Crow has lived on the island with Osh for her entire life. She's not entire sure how old she is or when her birthday is because she's a foundling. She washed ashore in a dingy as a new born baby. She also has Miss Maggie in her life, a no nonsense woman who lives by herself and isn't prone to the superstitions that other islanders are.
Because everyone believes Crow came from Penikese, they believe she could have brought Leprosy from the island. It doesn't matter that for her entire life she hasn't shown any symptoms of it. If she could be from there, she's sick. And so her immediate world is Osh, Miss Maggie, and Mouse (the cat).
Eventually though, smart children start to question the world. They question where they come from. They crave the story of how they came to be. For Crow that means discovering if she is in fact from Penikese. That means learning everything she can about the Leper colony and the people who lived and died there.
Now here is where things come together like a Joseph C. Lincoln novel again. Lincoln's books were often about the gruff retired man, home from a life at sea, who wishes nothing more than a quiet life on his piece of the island, who for circumstances out of his control is suddenly paired with a foundling. With the help of a neighbor woman, he and she manage to make a family out of their unusual situation, only to have their quiet shattered by the intrusion of danger: a conman, a thief, an dangerous long-lost relative, etc.
Beyond the Bright Sea reminds me most of Cy Whitaker's Place set in 1908 Bayport. Cap'n Cy has returned after decades at sea but is soon left to take in recently orphaned Emily. Just as Osh nicknames his castaway as "Crow", Cy names his charge, "Bos'n." Where Cy has to protect Bos'n from an abusive father, Osh and Miss Maggie have to protect Crow and themselves from a dangerous man from the south who is searching for something he believes Crow has.
In all of this adventure, the Elizabeth Islands and nearby New Bedford are as much characters as Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie, and Mouse are. The urban hustle and bustle of New Bedford is less idealized in Beyond the Bright Sea than it (or its fictional equivalents) is in Lincoln's novels. While he and his characters were islanders too, he didn't set the islands apart quite as starkly.
There's an interesting afterword read by the author that's worth listening to at the end of of the audiobook. She explains the inspiration of the story and the many changes that Penikese has gone through since the close of the novel.
Paper Girls, Volume 3: 12/07/17
Paper Girls Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan collects issues eleven through fifteen. The teens are now somewhen else in time. I read it as being the far future but the time traveler who meets up with them says it's the far past.
Mostly this sequence focuses on helping a local save her child. He is the product of rape by one of the three brutes. Beyond the how to get home and what's going on plot, there is some serious discussion of what it means to be a child, an adult, surviving abuse.
Then on the scifi side of things, there is the when are we, what's going on and how do we get home? We learn where the message from volume two comes from.
Volume four which collects issues sixteen through twenty comes out on April 10, 2018.
The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match: 12/06/17
The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match by Elizabeth Eulberg is the second Shelby Holmes book. John and Shelby are in school now and their teacher, Mr. Crosby is acting weird. Things get worse when the teacher's watch is stolen and the thief is trying to blackmail him into failing Shelby.
Whenever a Holmes meets their match — two names come instantly to mind: Irene Adler and James Moriarty. In the grand scheme of the original books and stories, neither character is the arch nemesis that they have become in the eyes of the fandom and the pastiches and homages and remakes and adaptations. Both characters did outsmart Holmes but neither were super-villains.
In recent adaptations, Adler and Moriatry are often paired together (example: Sherlock) or are made into the same person (example: Elementary). Eulberg takes that expectation and plays it to her advantage: making Adler the namesake for an exclusive girls school in New York City, and a particular student from the school as the Moriarty stand in, while borrowing much of the plot of the first Sherlock Holmes short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia" (coming after two novels: A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of Four, both of which were inspirations for the first Shelby Holmes novel.
The mystery itself — that of the missing watch and the reason behind the watch are there to set up the Adler trained Moriarty stand-in for this series. As the major characters in the series have been recast as children (or in the case of Watson, split into two: an adult doctor and a child blogger), this nemesis's potential to be all powerful is somewhat limited, but she is still dangerous: because of her lack of empathy, her access to money, and her long runs of unsupervised freedom. I'm hoping though that future volumes will draw from the episodic mysteries.
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess: 12/05/17
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green is a novel in freeform poetry about a girl trying to come to terms with the big changes in her life. Big changes coming: a new school at the end of sixth grade, a new house, a step dad, and step-siblings (twins).
When Macy refuses to pack her own things, her mother sends her next door to help her neighbor sort and pack her books. It's through her interactions with Iris that we get to learn the most about Macy.
Macy is deaf. She knows sign language. So does her mother. She used to go a school for the deaf but has been in a mainstream elementary school for the last four years. She has an ASL translator at school. She loves to read — just like her next door neighbor.
The poetry and type face help to express both Macy's emotional state and the rhythm of sign. ASL has its own grammar — something that is lost when writing out dialog into standard prose. By keeping the lines short and focused on the core actions, items, emotions — there's more of a sense of how Macy is actually thinking and expressing herself.
Macy can also talk. Her mother, neighbor, and best friend (who she has a fight with for most of the book) also can talk. When people are using spoken dialog, it's show in its entirety as bolded text.
Though Macy's town is never given a name, there are enough clues to suppose it's somewhere on the north eastern edge of Vancouver Island. The author is from there and it shows in how she lays out the geography of Macy's world.
Walking with Miss Millie: 12/04/17
Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy is set in 1968 in Rainbow, Georgia. Alice, her brother and mother have recently moved into her grandmother's house to help her live with her worsening dementia. Alice misses her friend and resents that she now has to be her brother's keeper as he is deaf and has been pulled out of his special school, into a public school that can't provide an ASL translator.
Next door to grandma's house is Millie Mills — who as she's an elderly widow I would call Mrs. Mills. But this is Georgia and Millie is Black — the only one in the neighborhood. She had worked in the house as a housekeeper and when the White owner died, she left the house to Millie.
Millie is a lot like the elderly neighbor who teaches Armstrong the basics of running a business. The different in those two books, is that Armstrong's mentor is one of age to youth — and not the trope of wise Black person to naive White child. Were the story only about what Alice learns from Millie I would be rating the book with few stars.
But there is Alice's deaf brother and her relationship to him. Here in Rainbow he spends a lot of his time in his own world. He likes to play bus — and carries around a plate that he uses to drive. The odd behavior combined with his silence and apparent inattention makes him appear autistic. A lot of this book is Alice getting over the anger of her situation and the growing realization of her brother's isolation and a growing empathy.
Next there is Alice's relationship with the bullies of the block. There are a group of brothers who torment her and her brother. They hide her bike. The call her brother names. They also happen to have a sister who has become friends with Alice. Through the sister and the younger brother who isn't as hell bent on bullying as the older boys, Alice comes to understand why the older brothers are as awful as they are. It comes down to a mixture of poverty and child abuse.
So it's for the world building of this neighborhood in fictional Rainbow that the book earns its five stars. I also happened to listen to the audiobook, read by Catherine Taber. Her performance definitely added depth to this novel.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 04): 12/04/17
The second Thanksgiving with our So. Cal. relatives was so much fun! It was also the first time in fifteen years that we had room for houses guests to stay the night.
I finished Nanowrimo a couple days early. My novel, plot-wise, is only about a quarter finished. I will keep going with it either on my own over the next few months. If I don't, I'll pick up part two next November.
Cybils round one is wrapping up. We're starting to think about what day we're going to meet to make our short list. It's been a good year of reading.
Now that the new year is rapidly approaching, I've started planning out my reading for 2018. Books I'm currently excited about include:
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Lucky Broken Girl: 12/03/17
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar is an autobiographical novel inspired by the author's time spent in a full body cast in the early 1960s. The time covered in this novel is about two and a half years.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family have emigrated to New York City from Cuba. With the help of her neighbor and classmate from Indian, the two of them rise out of the "dumb class" — the class for English learners.
From there it seems everything is up. They're pulling their own in the regular class. Ruthie is the neighborhood queen of hopscotch. Her Papi has bought the family a beautiful new car.
And then everything goes horribly wrong. There's an accident. People die. The car is destroyed. Ruthie ends up in a full body cast. She's left at home with her mother's care and a tutor from the school.
The bulk of Lucky Broken Girl is about Ruthie's recovery. It comes with soul searching. It comes with anger. It comes with homesickness for Cuba. It comes with her secular Judaism — and lessons learned from her Yiddish speaking grandmother.
Because it's based on actual events, it's not a picture perfect story. It's messy. It can rely on tropes or stereotypes. While it has a happy ending, there's a lot of anger and heartbreak in between.
Lucky Broken Girl is still relevant with its themes of immigration. It presents people as more than singular elements of their culture. Ruthie is a full realized, believable child. She is relatable.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance: 12/02/17
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes is a collection of poetry from and inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. The foreword explains the starting point, Langston Hugh's poem "Mother to Son," which she originally thought was called "No crystal stair" for the repetition of that imagery at the start and finish of the poem.
The book is a mixture of new and old poetry. Mother to Son is one of the older poems included in the mix, for anyone not immediately familiar with it.
Many of Grimes's new poems included bolded words at the end of each line. When those lines are read by themselves, they form a shorter, pithier takeaway for the poem. At first these messages are short statements about being strong, about resisting, about pride and self worth even in the current state of affairs.
But they build to longer, self contained poems. The book closes on a reprise of Mother to Son, written in the voice of a now much older woman. When the ending words in each line are read, they are the original "Mother to Son."
November 2017 Summary: 12/02/17
November was the quietest month we've had this year. Midway through we turned in the keys to the apartment we had rented as a stopgap between selling the condo and buying the house. The move is done. We still need to furnish the house — as we've moved into a place that's twice the size of the condo we had lived in for the last thirteen years.
With the Cybils in full swing, much of my reading in November was focused on middle grade fiction published between October 2016 and September 2017. In previous years the entirety of my November reading has been for the Cybils. This year, I was able to include some reading from my own wishlist.
The previous November I finished thirty-one books. This November I finished only twenty-six. That reflects the first week where I was still spending most of my time getting the apartment ready to handover to the leasing office. I primarily listened to audiobooks while cleaning, and those take more time to read than the printed ones.
Another slow down in my reading was time spent participating in NANOWRIMO. I finished a couple days early, although plot-wise, the story is about a quarter finished. With a sustained slowing of my reading, my review buffer is basically dried up. By spring, I'll be running in place, a blogging position I haven't been in for more than a decade.
November was the fifth month in a row where diverse / inclusive books made up the majority of my reading. On the reviewing side, those diverse books are making their way into my reviews. November's reviews reached the fifty-fifty mark with fifteen reviews being of diverse books.
December will be filled with the last of the Cybils reading for the first two or three weeks. The remainder will be of books I purchased in 2017 and haven't gotten to. After five months of reading diversely, I'm fairly certain I will continue doing so. Reviews will primarily be remaining books published this year that I haven't managed to review yet.
Carrying Albert Home: 12/01/17
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam is a fictionalized account of the author's parents taking a road trip from West Virginia to Florida to return Albert to his native state. I read it as part of my road narrative project but rather quickly decided it wasn't relevant to the direction my research has gone.
There's a dryness that creeps into these types of books — written from the distance of nearly forgotten memories, or secondhand stories. Sometimes it works — They Came in from the Road — being an example. And sometimes it doesn't.
There's a certain absurdity worked into this story — a couple owning an alligator and then taking him back to Florida in a washtub in the backseat of their car. That visual combined with the matter of fact narration left me imagining Daniel Pinkwater reading the book in same fashion he read The Neddiad. I found that mental exercise distracting.
Things weren't helped any when the couple stops to pick up a hitchhiking John Steinbeck. Whether or not they actually picked him up is immaterial. In terms of the narrative, Steinbeck is like the historical figure of the week in the Murdoch Mysteries. Steinbeck, though, as the radicalizing force in Elsie's life, comes off as a nonfictional Melvin the Shaman.