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February 2018

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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Miss Pickerell Harvests the Sea: 02/28/18

Miss Pickerell Harvests the Sea

Miss Pickerell Harvests the Sea by Ellen MacGregor and Dora Pantell is the seventh in the Miss Pickerell books. Ellen MacGregor died in 1954, so only the first four were written by her.

Miss Pickerell is an elderly woman of enough means to travel the country while indulging her interest in science. As she also seems to have a large extended family without having children of her own, she's a prototype for Jessica Fletcher.

As the books are about science, there's always a bit of what in today's lingo would be called an "E/I" component, namely, something educational. Pantell's books tend to be heavier on the facts, and Miss Pickerell herself comes across as less eccentric and better educated.

In the case of Harvests the Sea the book starts out simply enough with Miss Pickerell going to see a seaweed farm that her nephew told her about. When she arrives the farmer is distraught because his kelp, seaweed, and plankton are all dying off.

Nearby the farm there is an off shore research center where oceanographers and marine biologists are running all sorts of experiments. They confirm Miss Pickerell's ideas on what should make the farm thrive.

When things get worse based on their collective suggestions, the book goes on an unexpected tangent. Harvests the Sea was written two years before the creation of the EPA, and one of the organization's first tasks was the regulation of water contamination. A contemporaneous song is Pete Seeger's "Old Father Hudson / Sailing Down that Dirty Stream." which helps set the stage of what Miss Pickerell is faced with here.

Five stars

Comments (0)

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place: 02/27/18

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley is the ninth of the Flavia de Luce mysteries. Flavia and her sister Daffy, and Dogger are spending summer hols punting along the river. They are under the watchful care of Aunt Felicity who has plans for everyone now that Flavia's father is dead. Death though seems to follow Flavia and even a mundane day of punting ends in the discovery of a body.

I think from the description of where they are relative to London, they are actually south of it, but my mind pictured them north because it's the one place I've been. Regardless, it's a typical English village that has a river running through or around or near it.

The death is believed to be an accidental drowning, or perhaps suicide by drowning by Constable Otter (a great name for a constable with a beat that's along a river, no?). Flavia though, believes it's tied up with an older, notorious poisoning where three women died shortly after taking communion.

After nine books it's fairly easy to discern the patterns of a mystery series. Therefore it's fairly easy to see how has done it and how it was done. The why, though, here, was trickier.

Beyond the mystery itself, there is Flavia's home-life. It's never been exactly great and she's always been at the brink of losing her house. Now with her father dead, it appears her aunt wishes to sell it straightaway regardless of the fact that Flavia owns it per her mother's will. It seems as Flavia ages she becomes more childish, rather than less and here it seems she has neglected to see the obvious first step of find a solicitor. Dogger has always been her confidant, I'm sure he could and would help her if she asked.

At this juncture I don't know if a tenth one is planned. I hope there is just to find out what happens to the house.

Four stars

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Ruby Lee and Me: 02/26/18

Ruby Lee and Me

Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock is a based on actual events. Sarah Beth loves to read and was happily absorbed in her book when her younger sister is hit by a car. Robin's hospitalization and rehabilitation throws Sarah's family and life into chaos.

Sarah, understandably feels guilty for her sister's accident. Maybe things would have been different if she had paid more attention. Maybe her parents will never trust her again. Maybe her sister will hate her. Maybe her sister will never recover.

One thing is for certain, the family can't afford to live in their home any more. They move back to the family farm and Sarah has to change schools.

Sarah's change in schools happens just as the school district is desegregating. While she's best friends with Ruby Lee at the farm — her family has worked for or with Sarah's family for generations — neither family is sure how to react to the desegregation.

Stress of the move, stress over Robin brings out the worst in Sarah. She's forced to confront head on her own racism and her own fears over the larger changes coming to the area. It's a frank portrayal of racial prejudice tucked into a story about a family dealing with a horrific accident.

The afterword includes photographs from the author's childhood of the people and places that inspired the book.

Five stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 26): 02/26/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 26)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

This past week was half days for my youngest which meant I was spending more time in my car driving my kids to and from school or other events. Therefore my reading was down from the last few weeks.

The seeds my daughter planted have started to sprout, despite a couple or mornings that were below freezing. The wildflowers and California poppies are the first to sprout. This week we're expecting some well needed rain, so I won't have to water our little flower patches.

On Sunday my husband and I cleared out his storage area from his years as a math professor. We had enough room in the larger storage garage that we consolidated the two. With me boxing up stuff and him walking the boxes down to the other storage area we were able to complete the job in just over an hour.

Our next plan is to order some new bookcases: one for the living room and two for the den. That will give me space to unpack our favorite books and ones we plant to read soonest. I also still need to sort through ones to donate or sell.

What I read:

Voltron Legendary Defender Vol. 2: The Pilgrimage March Book Two Ozma of Oz Stanley Will Probably Be Fine A Dash of Trouble

  • Voltron Legendary Defender Vol. 2: The Pilgrimage by Tim Hedrick, Mitch Iverson, and Jung Gwan
  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and, Nate Powell (illustrator); personal collection
  • Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum; research
  • Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla; personal collection
  • A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano; library book

What I'm reading:

Flaming Iguanas Soupy Leaves Home The Grave's a Fine and Private Place The Prince and the Dressmaker

  • Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez; personal collection / research
  • Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci; library book / research
  • The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley; personal collection
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang; personal collection

Up Next:

Sovereign The Left-Handed Fate The Belles Black Ice

  • Sovereign by April Daniels; personal collection
  • The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford; personal collection / research
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton; personal collection
  • Black Ice by Andy Lane


Reviews Posted

Comments  (24)

The Dastardly Deed: 02/25/18

The Dastardly Deedby Holly Grant

The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant picks up where The League of Beastly Dreadfuls left off. That said, I wasn't expecting the direction that the book took. The first book started with the death of Anastasia's parents and settled into a modern day Gothic mystery (in a Victorian mansion no less). The Dastardly Deed goes on a tangent — to Sweden and then underground.

For all of the middle grade fantasy books, paranormal road narratives, and urban fantasy I've read, I was still completely surprised, as was Anastasia. What it settles into is a slice of life, school girl story but underground where there is magic and an old but decaying royal family. The thing it is most like is the third season of Star vs the Forces of Evil. There is a similar amount of palace intrigue and the underlying reality that the royal family might have committed some atrocities in the name of the greater good — all while Anastasia is just trying to fit and figure out how everything works.

There's a third book The Witch's Glass which came out last year.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine: 02/24/18

Stanley Will Probably Be Fineby Sally J. Pla

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla is set in San Diego and per the acknowledgments was written after the author had broken her leg just before Comic-con. While The Someday Birds starts in San Diego, this one is set entirely in San Diego, with the middle section being Downtown and nearby Balboa Park.

Stanley Fortinbras suffers from anxiety which has only gotten worse with his father being overseas on a variety of charity missions and with his middle school principal hosting constant (but unpredictably scheduled) safety assemblies. Thankfully he finds an understanding adult in the office, Mrs. Ngozo who gives him a safe, quiet place whenever one of these assemblies are announced. It's during a lockdown drill that Stanley creates a comic book hero, alter-ego, that helps him deal with his anxiety.

Understanding Stanley's anxiety in the context of middle school is the set up for the second act — The Great San Diego Comic Quest — a treasure hunt around Downtown (and nearby) in the lead up to the comic convention (the off-brand fictional version of Comic-Con). The clues are a combination comic book reference paired with a local landmark reference to lead contestants around the center of the city to find tokens. Seven tokens equals VIP passes to the convention. This part of the book is very much like the old Magnum PI episode, "Treasure of Kalaniopu'u" (season 6, episode 8) but set in present day San Diego.

As a former San Diegan I loved this part of the book. The clues for the comic book heroes really do mesh with the city. There were a few times when I guessed the right answer before Stanley got there (but I won't share my insights here). If you're not familiar with the city, follow along with Stanley and his friend on Google Maps.

There's a lot more to Stanley Will Probably Be Fine than what I've mentioned here. These other issues are timely and relevant and organically introduced into the plot.

Five stars

Comments (0)

The Someday Birds: 02/23/18

The Someday Birdsby Sally J. Pla

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla is about a bucket list of birds and a cross country trip to reunite with a father who is undergoing brain surgery to repair the damage done while on assignment in Afghanistan. Charlie and his sister, and their twin brothers have been living with their grandmother while Dad has been in the hospital. Now grandmother is leaving them in the care of a family friend and his sister's sloppy boyfriend, so that she can fly to Virginia to be with their father for his surgery and recovery.

Charlie who likes things his way and likes to stay extra clean (leaving one to assume maybe mild autism or OCD or some combo, but with no stated diagnosis), is thrust into more and more situations that he's uncomfortable with. But love for his father and his willingness (albeit with lots and lots of reservations) to go along with his sister's plan, he agrees to go on a cross country road trip to see Dad.

This book could have easily been a road trip of two teenagers, a middle grader, and a pair of elementary aged twins. If this were a young adult novel, that's how this story would have gone — with the consequences coming at the end when they reunited with their adult family members. Even some middle grade road trips don't have reliable adult interventions — for instance Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White.

Instead, this book settles down to a more traditional road trip — with an RV — and a family friend with the ultimate goal to visit their father in Virginia. The itinerary along the way, for Charlie, is to track down the "someday birds" from the list he and his father made before he left for the photojournalism assignment in Afghanistan.

Charlie's itinerary includes stops that include Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks — one of two middle grade road trip books published in 2017 that do. I will be reviewing Out of Tune by Gail Nall at a later date. Charlie's journey, also includes mentorship from a wide variety of accomplished women — a nice detail, and something usual for the road narrative. They include an ornithologist, an astronomer, and a refugee.

Five stars

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Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 2: The Pilgrimage: 02/22/18

Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 2: The Pilgrimageby Tim Hedrick

Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 2: The Pilgrimage by Tim Hedrick is another standalone story. Volume 1 took place between a couple episodes in season one. This one feels more like it comes near the end of season two, but before the "death" of Zarkon.

If Zarkon were a pie, he'd be lemon meringue

The Paladins sign on to help a displaced group of people, the DavDabHau. They look a bit like humanoid cats but with brightly colored fur (somewhere between the characters from Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical and the ones from Thundercats. Except that they ride space worthy winged lizards that look like pterodactyls.

Mostly this is a Hunk centered volume. Because he's the biggest he ends up in a haram situation. Oh well, the source material has basically been a reverse haram for most of its existence. The situation though results in love advice from Lance — some of which is ridiculous and some which is practical.

As with the first volume, it was a good blend of adventure and humor. Now it will most likely be a year before a third volume.

Four stars

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Haunting Jordan: 02/21/18

Haunting Jordanby P.J. Alderman

Haunting Jordan by P.J. Alderman is a paranormal mystery set in a Victorian era town in the Pacific Northwest. Jordan Marsh has left Los Angeles for this sleepy town in Washington to avoid the media buzz over the ex-husband's murder. She's bought an old Victorian house and just wants to get settled except that the ghosts who haunt the place want her to solve their murders so they can find closure.

Here's the thing about cold case mysteries. Even if the client is a ghost — or in this example, a pair of ghosts — flashbacks aren't necessary. Flashbacks get in the way of us interacting with the protagonist.

Haunting Jordan, though, is nearly half flashback. The flashbacks start slowly, being quick (and skippable) chapter segues. These things aren't even numbered. They sit outside of the time and space of the chapters where Jordan is actively trying to learn what she can about the first owners of her home.

Even worse, though, the flashbacks obscure the other mystery that's going on. The modern day one. The one we should be asking about. Namely, who killed Jordan's husband. But that tidbit is pushed aside until out of nowhere, a living breathing, now threat to Jordan materializes to be the antagonist of the book since the flashback antagonist is also long since dead and buried.

Three stars

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Gender in Ozma of Oz: 02/21/18

Gender in Ozma of Oz

Primarily I am reading (or in many cases re-reading) the Oz books in the context of my road narrative project. That said, it's difficult to read Ozma of Oz (1907) and not be aware of the way gender is handled, namely in the regards to Ozma and Bill the chicken.

There are already papers written on the Oz book and this Oz book in particular. If you have access to them via a university, you can read them. I don't currently and therefore might be recapitulating old — stale — musty even — ideas. That said, my brief post will be strictly a reading of Ozma of Oz from the text itself and my own reaction to it. Ozma of Oz in part, picks up the themes of transformation from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I use transformation rather than transition for two reasons. The first is that it includes the many other characters who aren't changing in terms of gender or gender expression but are in fact literally transforming: from inanimate object(s) to animate, such as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse; dead to alive, the Gump; small to big, the Woggle Bug; and many into many different animals, Mombi. Tip, in the case, is the only one to transition and it is done through a magical transformation via Mombi's magic. The second reason is that it's the word used throughout the book. By Mombi's own admission when captured by Glinda: "I transformed her into— into— ... into a boy!.

Save for the cover where Ozma is clearly about ten years older than she is in the book and is drawn somewhere between a vamp and a Gibson girl, she is still recognizably the same character she was in The Marvelous Land of OZ. Her transformation isn't total. Besides looking very much like her former self, she also maintains the matter-of-fact, often tactless, approach to problems. (It takes a few more books for Ozma to grow into her leadership role).

Side by side comparisons of Tip and Ozma walking, both illustrated by John R. Neill

Despite an entire book being devoted to the life and times of Tip, Ozma from the moment she's released from Mombi's magic, is never dead-named. Not once — something many newer, more progressive books fail on.

That's not to say that her new (or restored) identity is completely accepted by the text either. Numerous times in the book when Ozma is being described, the adjective "girlish" is used, where it's never used for Dorothy or any other female child in the series. For instance when Ozma and her companions rescue Dorothy:

"'Oh, thank you very, very much!' cried Dorothy, who as soon as she heard the sweet voice of the girlish Ruler of Oz knew that she would soon learn to love her dearly." (Ozma of Oz, p. 110)

The appellation "girlish" is used often used in the context of comparing Dorothy (genuine Kansas farm girl) to Ozma (girlish ruler of Oz). In fact, the other big gender discussion is done through Dorothy's preconceived notions of gender, namely through her interactions with Bill.

Frankly, Bill, though a chicken, has the more interesting and compelling non-gender-conforming plot. Bill is a little yellow hen who washes overboard with Dorothy on the ship bound for Australia (or our world "Oz" if you will). After Bill lays an egg (as she does every morning in the book), Dorothy says, "by the way, may I inquire your name, ma'am?" (p. 31) The chicken's "somewhat gruff" reply is "My name is Bill."

Bill the chicken has only been talking for about two pages at this point, but has already correctly assessed the situation. Dorothy is a bit of a transphobe. Even after a lengthy explanation that yes, Bill knows she's "lady hen" and she knows she has a boy's name, and that she likes her name just fine, Dorothy declares, "But it's all wrong, you know" (p. 31) and promptly "fixes" the chicken's "problem" by renaming her "Billina."

If the name were really that minor an issue to the chicken, Bill would be Billina through the rest of the book. When the chicken is described from Dorothy's point of view (which is most of the book as it's a third person narrative, primarily from her vantage point), she is referred to as Billina. However, when introducing herself, Bill always says her name is Bill.

Despite having a new name forced upon her and being constantly scolded by Dorothy for not being "dignified" (meaning acting like a lady), Bill steps up and saves nearly everyone from the Nome King. (Dorothy manages to save herself and on prince of Ev through luck).

Acceptance of gender in Oz like the rest of the world seems to be one of privilege and passing. Ozma is mostly accepted because she dresses the part and accepts her new-to-her name without protest. Bill is chastised even when being heroic because she choses to be something other than hen or rooster — a demi-hen perhaps.

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The Nest: 02/20/18

The Nestby Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel is an excellent example of middle grade horror. Let me be upfront and warn you: if you have a fear of wasps, don't read this book. Even if you don't — be warned this book might induce nightmares. If, however, you like nightmares, this book is for you.

Set on Salt Spring Island, and possibly Vancouver (for the book's mention of a university), it's the story of a family welcoming home a baby boy with congenital defects and "angels" who promise Steve (the middle grade aged narrator) to fix his brother. Except — they're not angels, they're wasps — like X-Files or Nightvale or Supernatural type wasps.

Imagine if you will a faerie changeling story except that instead of a human baby being exchanged for a sickly, petulant faerie baby, a sickly human baby is exchanged for a healthy changeling baby who happens to be grown in a nest from a mixture of human DNA and the wood from the house where he will reside.

This is the point (and it comes pretty early in the book) where you either decide to say yes, as Steve does, or close the book and mentally burn down the hive with a flame thrower.

If you say yes (and I hope you do) you'll treated to a fascinating discussion of what it means to be normal and what it means to love a child with congenital defects. What it means to love a child who might not survive infancy. What it means to have frequent trips to the doctor or to the hospital. What it means to love someone who may never meet milestones.

And then once Steve realizes that yes, his baby brother (who up until now he doesn't call by name), Theodore, is worth loving and worth saving, the horror aspect of the book lets out all the stops.

Five stars

Comments (2)

The Other Boy: 02/19/18

The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey

The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey is set at the building of the Berlin wall, in East Berlin, with a family physically divided by the wall.

The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey is about a star pitcher on a middle school baseball team. In his spare time he is also drawing a graphic novel for fun. There's just one problem — he's transgender and some bullies have found out. Worse yet, his dad doesn't want him to start hormone therapy to stop puberty.

As a baseball story — a kid facing bullying on and off the team — it's decent. As a story about a nerd being socially awkward and finding solace in his artwork, it's decent.

It's nice to see a male character as the transgender female stories seem to outnumber the boy ones. The book includes some resources in an appendix to kids or their parents who might be seeking advice.

But the story falls back on tropes. There is the one parent who doesn't want their child to start hormone therapy. There are the over the top bullies. There is the permissive school administration who doesn't step into stop the bullying until forced to.

Mostly though there is the cut and dry assumed gender binary. There are boys. There are girls. And there those who feel their body doesn't fit their perceived gender. There's never any gray area in these books.

Eventually I hope there can be transgender characters in middle grade fiction where their status as a transgender child or teen isn't the point. Let them live in their fictional world.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 19): 02/19/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 19)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

My husband was out of town last week on business which meant I had to get up an hour early to make sure our son got to high school in time. He takes a zero period so he can have time for both his Honors and AP classes and wood shop. While I'm admittedly not a morning person, getting up early did give me the opportunity to photograph the dawn. So every morning I'd take him to school and then stop halfway to home where there's a great view of the San Francisco Bay and photograph the dawn.

Dawn in San Francisco

Meanwhile the plum tree is now at maximum bloom. I've been photographing it every day to capture the blossoms. It's already starting to grow leaves which means pretty soon the flowers will be gone. Between the wind and birds, the flowers will probably be gone in a week.

Plum flowers

My reading for the week was as productive as last week. With my husband out of town, I didn't have the temptation of anime after dinner. Instead of watching TV I spent my time reading before bed. I also had four books due at the library with no more renewals available and that motivated me to finish them.

What I read:

Murder Past Due Let's Talk About Love The Kairos Mechanism Crossing the Tracks Love Lies Bleeding The Nest Title Wave Books of a Feather Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #1

  • Murder Past Due by Miranda James; personal collection (audio)
  • Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann; personal collection
  • The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford; personal collection / research
  • Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber; library book / research
  • Love Lies Bleeding by Susan Wittig Albert; library book
  • The Nest by Kenneth Oppel; library book
  • Title Wave by Lorna Barrett
  • Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #1 by Kelly Thompson; personal collection (comic)

What I'm reading:

March Book Two Ozma of Oz Voltron Legendary Defender Vol. 2: The Pilgrimage Flaming Iguanas

  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and, Nate Powell (illustrator); personal collection
  • Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum; research
  • Voltron Legendary Defender Vol. 2: The Pilgrimage by Tim Hedrick, Mitch Iverson, and Jung Gwan
  • Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez; personal collection / research

Up Next:

A Dash of Trouble Soupy Leaves Home Stanley Will Probably Be Fine Sovereign

  • A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano; library book
  • Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci; library book / research
  • Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla; personal collection
  • Sovereign by April Daniels; personal collection

Reviews Posted

Comments  (28)

A Night Divided: 02/18/18

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen is set at the building of the Berlin wall, in East Berlin, with a family physically divided by the wall.

If I were younger and this were my first Berlin Wall story, I would probably rate it higher. As it isn't, I could see all the pieces falling into place based on the many tropes that have developed in the three decades the wall stood and people told stories about crossing it.

Also with the dates, places, and East German words so carefully included and defined, it's artifice as historical fact-tion is more obvious than it would have been if all those details had been included instead in an appendix and glossary.

The book is basically a dry, book report trying to be a family drama adventure in a historical setting. But with so much of the emphasis being on making sure the reader learns something about the Berlin Wall and the many different ways people managed to cross it at great personal risk.

Two stars

Comments (0)

Let's Talk About Love: 02/17/18

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann is about Alice. She's recently broken up with her girl friend and moved in with her two best-friends (who are now a couple). She works at a library and is avoiding telling her parents that she doesn't want to be a lawyer. She's asexual, bi-romantic, and lives in the Bay Area. She's also one of my all time favorite YA protagonists.

Alice rates everything in her life by the Cutie Code. Everyone and everything that interests her gets a color. The top of the chart is red. It's not an "I want to bang that list." It's an aesthetic list — a how long she finds herself staring at that person or animal or thing. As an awkward starer at people, animals, and things — I completely relate to the Cutie Code.

Enter Takumi into her life. He's working part time at the same library and he breaks the Cutie Code. As he's the newbie and she has rank and experience, she gets stuck training him. It makes things really awkward.

I really went into this book expecting to not like Takumi. He does come off weird in his intro but so does Alice in her reaction to him. I would say that both crossed the line into harassment those first few days at work. But they work it out by actually communicating.

Takumi steps up after Alice is ditched (or not ditched depending on who you ask) at a costume party. It is after that they they genuinely start to become friends. Mostly it stems from Alice wanting a safe place to be because she's now in the middle of a fight with both roommates.

The middle of the book settles into three different story lines. There's Alice and her parents (and her older siblings) all who want her to declare law as her major. There's Alice in therapy where she tries to come to terms with being asexual and her inability to out herself beyond the three people she's told (her two roommates and her ex-girl friend). Finally there's the relationship between Alice and Takumi.

The book is rather episodic. I mentally read it as a series of short stories or short situations that were linked across a larger arc, rather than in one single novel. That style of narration won't work for everyone but I liked it because it kept any one scene from getting too long.

Five stars

Comments (0)

The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature: 02/16/18

The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature by Donald Gutierrez

The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature by Donald Gutierrez is a collection of literary analysis around the motif of the labyrinth in modern literature. I read the collection to see if it was relevant for my road narrative project. Save for the introduction, the short answer is no.

Guitierrez in the introduction writes that he will use the word labyrinth and maze interchangeably. Unfortunately most novels I've read where one or the other is used, the language is specific and the allusion is purposeful. The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh builds its story around the contrasting motifs of maze (a puzzle with blind alleys) and labyrinths (a single spiraling path that goes in to the center and back out again). Trying to use Guitierrez's methodology on such a book would be futile.

Guiterrez's thesis is the the maze / labyrinth is a metaphor or life or parts of life (adolescence, sex, death). As he puts it: "Life is often presented as a line (a path, a road) or sometimes as a circle. But it also has been regarded as a labyrinth or maze, a dark or mysterious place full of windings and exits that lead nowhere." (p. 2)

However, in the road narrative books I've read where a maze or a labyrinth features, the inclusion is always as some method of barrier or some unattainable thing. The maze (often a maize maze, see Lowriders to the Center of the Earth for an example.

In my reading of road narratives that feature a maze or a labyrinth (or in viewing television series or films that do), the maze serves as a barrier: either to keep the characters in or to keep something (a town or a magical land) hidden. This barrier usually can only be crossed on foot, or via "the walking world" as Kate Milford calls it in The Kairos Mechanism (2012). In the case of Labyrinth (1986), the film uses both a maze (the thing Sarah actually has to go through to rescue her brother) and a metaphorical labyrinth (the change in her state of mind over her feelings of jealousy for her baby brother).

The essays themselves were literary readings of old modern literature, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and ones of similar vintage. The novels I've been reading are significantly younger than the ones selected by Gutierrez. His selection were also primarily British and mine are primarily American.

Road narratives featuring mazes or labyrinths

Two stars

Comments (0)

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time!: 02/15/18

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time! by Scott McCormick

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time! by Scott McCormick is the start of Mr. Pants series. Mr. Pants is a cat with feline siblings and a human mother. Mr. Pants and one of his sisters go to elementary school. The youngest sister is too young for school but wants to be treated like a big kid.

It's back to school time and Mr. Pants has been promising all summer that he'll clean his room. When he doesn't but his youngest sister does, he's forced to attend a princess sparkle party — where kids get to make their own princess doll.

The entire book is about Mr. Pant's last day of summer not going as planned and him making the best of the situation. A lot of times these stories spent inordinate amounts of time with the main character being an absolute jerk when things don't go their way. Instead, it's about a big brother rolling with the day and managing to have fun even if it's not the sort of day he planned.

The artwork and premise are both goofy but it strikes a chord with its intended audience — elementary school aged readers. My daughter, who is currently nuts about the Mr. Pants books, has been drawing her own cats in elementary school students.

Three stars

Comments (0)

Fax Me a Bagel: 02/14/18

Fax Me a Bagel by Sharon Kahn

Fax Me a Bagel by Sharon Kahn is the start of Ruby, the Rabbi's Wife series. Although the series is known as "the rabbi's wife" it really should be the rabbi's widow as Ruby's husband is month's dead by the time the book opens.

Ruby is getting back on track with her life after the tragic death of her husband. Her synagog is looking to hire a new rabbi and she's not entire sure why she has to be included.

Then while on a break for a well earned bagel, another customer ends up dead of an obvious poisoning. The question this is who did it and why? More mysteriously, her death seems related to Ruby's husband's hit and run death!

The complexity of the plot is on a par with an average Murder She Wrote. The only big differences are Ruby's religion and her location. That means the book is pretty easy to read, perfect for just before bed reading or maybe reading while on a road trip. It's not, though, as satisfying as some of the modern series I'm following.

Three stars

Comments (2)

Three Years with the Rat: 02/13/18

Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking

Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking is a science fiction horror that falls into the crossing the cornfield category of the road narrative. As it is Canadian science fiction it uses slightly different imagery which I will explain below.

The book is told through three interlacing timelines. From our point of view, everything is set into motion when the protagonist is telephoned by an angry landlord who demands that he come clear out the stuff left behind by his sister (Grace) and her boyfriend (John). Grace, we learn rather quickly, has been gone for some time — and it's presumed that she has died by suicide. John, apparently, believes she is simply missing, fallen victim to an experiment they have been running.

Our protagonist not sure why he's been summoned to schlep and clean if John has pulled a runner. He figures John is just as dodgy as his sister was. Inside the apartment he finds a small wooden box with a rubber seal around one side, a large wooden cube big enough for a person to sit inside, a lab rat in a cage, and a note explaining that these few things are the tools to finding and rescuing John and Grace.

Faced with a person-sized box and the desire to not clean and schlep, the protagonist opens the box and looks inside. It is completely covered in mirrored glass. He decides to try it out. He sits inside, closes the door and is amazed at how dark it is with the door closed. And that's when things start getting weird and awesome.

Like Lewis's wardrobe, this wooden box with mirrors inside is a portal to somewhere else. The mirrors and dirt from a particular street in nearby Oshawa (the rest of the novel being set Toronto or on lake Ontario) are the trick to making the box more than just a box.

The blurb for the book compares Three Years with the Rat to House of Leaves and there is some similarity (the bigger on the inside and horror bits) but narrative structure and overall tone reminded me most of The End of Mr. Y. Put more accurately, Three Years with the Rat is at the intersection of the two — in that it does deal with a labyrinth and there is a minotaur-like creature — but there is also the notion of experimentation and of being experimented upon. In other words, the labyrinth on the cover isn't necessarily the one that the rat has been running through, nor is the rat the only lab rat.

Let's now look at how this story counts as a crossing the cornfield road narrative. Like Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, the story begins with a disappearance and the protagonist's complete conviction that he can find this missing someone. Both use features of urban life and travel as a conveyance to another world. In Lowriders it's a suped-up car and a maize-maze. In Three Years it's a dead end street (or dirt from that street) in Oshawa and glass-box in/to Toronto.

Hosking was nice enough to have his characters discuss the significance of both Oshawa and Toronto. Given that he is Canadian and the largest population center is in Toronto (and more widely, the province of Ontario), he could have left these details out, and trust curious, non-clued in readers to look up the places. Ontario is said take its name from the Iroquois word for the area, tkaronto; or "place where trees stand in water." Oshawa, meanwhile, comes from the Ojibwa word aazhaway (the crossing place or across). Putting those two ideas together in a magic box (or a mirrored representation of a tesseract, perhaps) allows Grace, John, the rat, and the protagonist to cross into an alternate version of Toronto — a wilderness where the rules are different and the stakes are higher.

Hosking though isn't the first person to use Toronto's origin story as imagery for a crossing the cornfield type of story, or perhaps a crossing the mangrove story would be more appropriate for a Canadian setting. All Our Wrong Todays begins in Toronto and features alternate versions by means of time travel. In comic book form, the visual of trees in water (adjacent to a menacing cornfield — for American audiences, I guess) is the barrier in the Black Hammer comic by Jeff Lemire.

Looking at Three Years with the Rat while in narrative analysis mode, I felt like a bunch of big pieces fell into place in my understanding of how Canadian and American road narratives use different motifs to convey similar ideas.

Five stars

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Finding Audrey: 02/12/18

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella is a standalone YA novel about anxiety disorder. Audrey was horribly bullied in school and after an explosive (but vague — left to the imagination) event, she's been living at home away from the world. She wears dark glasses and keeps her room dark, to avoid eye contact and other forms of interaction.

Meanwhile Mum is worried about older brother, Frank's obsession with LOC (a multiperson shooter). There's an international tournament coming and he and his team are trying to practice. But the Daily Mail says that too much screen time can be a sign of addiction. She decides to stop Frank before he's ruined forever, but taking away his computer. But this being a Sophie Kinsella book, Mum's approach is over the top. It's the mayhem of Frank trying to play LOC and Mum doing everything to thwart him that acts as the catalyst to help Audrey work through more intense therapy.

While the set up is similar to The Goldfish Boy, there is one key difference — the timing. Audrey has already been diagnosed and she's been going through therapy with Dr. Sarah well before the book opens; Matthew's story primarily takes place before his diagnosis.

Finally there is Frank's friend Linus. Some reviews complain that the romance between them is unrealistic because of her anxiety. Others argue that he magically fixes her and that's unrealistic. Linus is part of initial commotion where Mum is threatening to toss Frank's computer out the window. He's someone new in Audrey's life and he's willing to be a friend on her terms. He's also willing to help her through her tougher therapy homework (like going out in public to crowded places).

Linus and Audrey's relationship develops over the course of the book. It's a slower and more organic one than many young adult novels I've read. He's really there more as a friend until near the end when she is very clearly interested in him romantically.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 12): 02/12/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 12)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

If you look at the books I read you'll see I read a ton. Even by my standards, it was a crazy busy week for reading. Some of the books I read were short. Some of them I had been slowly reading since the start of the year and they happened to end this week. And some of them were due at the library and I didn't have any more renewals. Rather than watch TV, I read so I would have the time to finish them.

Now onto a funny story. You know that for the last couple of weeks I've claimed to be reading Murder Past Due by Miranda James. I have been listening to an audio book called Murder Past Due but there were some inconsistencies between the book's description and what I was listening to. First big clue: the listed narrator wasn't reading the book; instead there were two narrators. Second, there was no Maine coon cat. Third, the book was taking place in Texas instead of Athena, Mississippi. Can you see where I'm going? I was listening to a completely different book (which I've included in my read list. So — this week I've been listening to the Miranda James mystery of the same title.

Plum tree in bloom

One of the reasons we purchased our condo back in 2004 was the three story tall plum tree that grew between our building and our neighbors. We could go out to our balcony to enjoy the flowers in February or to pick fruit in June and July. Our house happens to also have a plum tree and now that February has rolled around it is in bloom. As I have done every February since 2004, I'm photographing the plum blossoms.

Daughter playing in the sprinklers

My daughter and I also did some gardening. We had some ice plant that didn't really fit where it was under the plum tree. So we pulled it out. In its place we sowed some nasturtium and California poppy seeds. In the back garden we planted forget-me-not seeds, and a package of wildflower seeds. Of course we had to water where we had planted. Even though it's February and still technically winter, my daughter insisted on playing in the sprinkler.

What I read:

Internet Famous American Street Dragon Overnight Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part 3 A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings Murder Past Due West with the Night The Maze in the Mind and the World Mildred Pierce The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate How to say goodbye in robot Canada and the Canadian Question

  • Internet Famous by Danika Stone; personal collection (ebook)
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi; personal collection
  • Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and, Emily Jenkins; personal collection
  • Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks by Victoria J. Coe; personal collection
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang
  • A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings by Matt Sewell; library book
  • Murder Past Due by D.R. Meredith; personal collection (audio)
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham; library book
  • The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature by Donald Gutierrez
  • Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain; library book
  • The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate by Shannon Hale snd LeUyen Pham (illustrator); library book
  • How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
  • Canada and the Canadian Question by Goldwin Smith

What I'm reading:

Murder Past Due March Book Two Ozma of Oz Let's Talk About Love

  • Murder Past Due by Miranda James; personal collection (audio)
  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and, Nate Powell (illustrator); personal collection
  • Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum; research
  • Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann; personal collection

Up Next:

The Kairos Mechanism Flaming Iguanas Crossing the Tracks Love Lies Bleeding

  • The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford; personal collection / research
  • Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez; personal collection / research
  • Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber; library book / research
  • Love Lies Bleeding by Susan Wittig Albert ; library book


Reviews Posted

Comments  (36)

The Worst Class Trip Ever: 02/11/18

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry is set in Washington DC against the backdrop of an eighth grade class trip. Wyatt Palmer, bored on the flight to DC notices a mysterious man on the plane and decides he's a terrorist. When he tells his teacher and various other adults and no none believes him, he decides to wrangle his friends to prove the mysterious guy is a terrorist.

Long story short, of course, the mysterious guy from a made up, vaguely Russian / vaguely Muslim sounding country. These bad guys are basically from Madeupistan comprised of every negative stereotype possible for potential terrorists.

Even in light of the attack in France and more close to home, the shooting in San Bernardino, I still don't see any of the so-called humor this book promises. Instead, I'm treated to xenophobic, racist dogma. While I normally say that one star means I didn't finish the book, this time, it means it's an extra specially bad book that I can't recommend to anyone.

One star

Comments (4)

Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks: 02/10/18

Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks by Victoria J. Coe

Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks by Victoria J. Coe is the third in the series of the adventures of a dog and his short human. As everything is told from the dog's point of view, a big part of the fun of these books is figuring out what's really going on.

This time Hattie's parents (Fetch Man and Food Woman) have put up the evil gate across the room they kept Fenway in when the family first moved into the new home. Fenway, though, isn't in the room. Instead there is the smell of paint and other horrible chemicals.

The other strange thing in Fenway's life now is an old steamer trunk — a box big enough to hide in (if you're a small dog). Inside the trunk are rings, scarves, balls, and fake flowers. Hattie has decided they are more fun to play with than Fenway.

From these initial clues it seems that the book is going to be about Hattie learning magic and making Fenway her canine assistant. While Hattie does continue to practice her magic but the book takes a tangent — the sort of tangent that comes with being a pet owner.

Fenway is out playing when suddenly he needs to go the vet. The circumstances of what happens and how his recovery goes are the heart and soul of Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks.

Four stars

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The Splendid Dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz: 02/09/18

The Splendid Dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz

The Marvelous Land of Oz is the second of the Oz books but really the one that sets up most of the rules of how Oz as a magical land works. Dorothy, the protagonist of the initial book (and many subsequent ones) is absent in this one, replaced instead by a boy named Tip and his traveling companions: Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Woggle Bug. This volume is also the first in many examples of why dystopian Oz stories strike me as so improbable.

The book's cover, even in the original 1904 edition, shortens the title to The Land of Oz. The publication data, though, always lists the book with the additional "Marvelous." Let me explain why the marvelous is crucial to the understanding of the Oz series as a whole.

We know from Dorothy's adventures that there are five distinct parts to Oz: Munchkins to the East (blue), Winkie to the West (yellow), Gillikin to the North (purple), Quadling to the South (red), and the Emerald City in the center (Green). If we were observant, we know that West and East are flipped (evidence, I argue that Oz is another earth like box inside a tesseract).

Looking at the shorter version, the world building aspect of the novel is clear. This is the book that does the bulk of the world building. It takes the initial information provided in The Wizard of Oz and expands upon it. Primarily it shows how important and tangible color is for each land. Tip as runs away from Mombi he takes note of the changing palette of the landscape:

"Tip noticed that the purple tint of the grass and trees had now faded to a dull lavender, and before long this lavender appeared to take on a greenish tinge that gradually brightened as they drew nearer to the great City where the Scarecrow ruled." (p. 59)

Color is so much a part of Oz and it's regional identities, that when the Emerald City is under attack, the army and its general, Jinjur, are dressed in a uniform that includes all five of Oz's colors.

A colorized illustration to show Gen. Jinjur in full regalia

Recall, though, that the complete title is The Marvelous Land of Oz. Marvelous is adjective form of marvel. It means extraordinary, causing great wonder, good or pleasing, or splendid. Oz, even in a power vacuum left by the Wizard's departure and the reluctant leadership of the Scarecrow (a literal manifestation of a guardian of the cornfield), the land of Oz is good. At it's complete nadir, it is still good.

Besides the internal landscape of Oz, there is discussion of how Oz lies in relation to Earth (and more specifically the one piece they know of it, Kansas). Kansas is described as "a place in the outside World." (p. 36), implying that Oz is contained within something. It could be a magical cornfield (as I suggested in Crossing the Cornfield) or it could be a tesseract (disguised by a cornfield).

Through Jinjur's revolution and through the Scarecrow's ready admission that he doesn't feel qualified to rule if he was given the crown by way of a previous usurper (the wizard), it is established that the balance of power of Oz is teetering. That is where Tip comes in — as in tip the scales — or in a more meta-reading, tip one's hand (namely, Baum revealing the rightful ruler of Oz).

As I wrote in the transformative power of the cornfield, The Marvelous Land of Oz is also a book of transformations, or if you prefer, transitions. There is a transition of power in the Emerald City, there are inanimate things transformed into living ones (Jack, the Sawhorse, and the Gump), through magnification (the Woggle Bug), Mombi through her many disguises, and finally Tip (though for Tip, it is a reversal back into her original form as Ozma).

Ozma even more so than Jinjur is an example as to why the dystopian Oz stories don't work. In Dorothy Must Die and Tin Man, the premise is that women in control have ruined the magical land of Oz. With the exception of King Pastoria (Ozma's father), Oz is at it's lowest points during the rule of the Wizard and the Scarecrow.

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Noragami: Stray God Volume 4: 02/08/18

Noragami: Stray God  Volume 4 by Adachitoka

Noragami: Stray God Volume 4 by Adachitoka goes into the long history of Bishamon and Yato. Bishamon blames him for destroying her family, one she has built from all her shinki.

While Bishamon is fuming over the family she lost her current one is threatened from within. One of her beloved and trusted family members is secretly plotting against her, reintroducing the blight that eats away at her.


If having a large family of shinki is dangerous to the god, why does Bishamon risk it? That comes down to a difference of philosophy between Yato and her. The specifics are further explained in volume 5.

I read volume 4 after seeing the anime version of this plot. While in either form, I'm honestly not that interested in Bishamon's story, I do appreciated the more subtle nuances of the manga. I'll address that further in my review of volume 5.

Five stars

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Rueful Death: 02/07/18

Rueful Death by Susan Wittig Albert

Rueful Death by Susan Wittig Albert is the fifth China Bayles mystery and the first one out of these early ones (beyond book three) that I've genuinely liked. China has headed to St. Theresa's Monastery with her friend Maggie to collect her thoughts and relax away from the hustle and bustle of running her shop. There's just one problem — someone is terrorizing the nuns and it looks like it's all tied up with the merger of two orders and the threatened closure of the monastery.

Monastery was the word choice of the book — the author and the publisher. Monastery usually refers to monks, not nuns. I would have gone with convent. It's just one of those odd things that kept me from being completely immersed in this mystery. But it wasn't a big enough detail to completely derail my reading.

The mystery itself is basically contained within a closed community. The clues are obfuscated by ritual and silence. China as an outsider, but knowledgable of herbs and tinctures is curious enough to ask the right questions and to see clues that others might not.

The thing with these closed society mysteries is that there's only so many people who could have done it. Were it someone outside of the initial cast of characters — then it would be horror. With that in mind, it wasn't that hard to piece together who had done it and why, and then to ride out the rest of the book. That said, it was still an enjoyable read.

The next book is Love Lies Bleeding and I have it checked out from the library.

Three stars

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Unmappable structures: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George: 02/07/18

A road narrative analysis of Tuesdays at the Castle

Now that the series is complete, I've decided to revisit the books, but this time as audiobooks. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George is the start of the Castle Glower series. Like the Greenglass House, Castle Glower is a building that is hard to map. Where the Greenglass House does it through confusion or distraction, the castle does it by changing (and usually on a Tuesday).

The current royal family takes the castle's changeability as a matter of fact. It is what is and it always has been. The castle not only changes on its own whims but it also selects the next king by how it configures the rooms. While the king and queen are gone to take their eldest son to the wizard school, Celie and her brother (and crown prince, if the castle is to be believed) are left behind with servants and advisors and visiting dignitaries.

What I missed the first time around was the importance of the castle's configuration. Celie insists that her parents and brother are alive from the moment news gets through that they were attacked on the road. The evidence is in the castle and how it refuses to reconfigure itself to acknowledge a new king. Castle Glower is labyrinthine but it is also capable of customizing its experience to everyone within its walls. If it likes you, you will regularly find the shortest path. If it doesn't, your room may end up drafty and suddenly next to the privies.

In this regard, Castle Glower is like the home in House of Leaves. The royal family, though, being in tune with the castle and accepting of its influence over their lives, don't find the changeability of their home a threat. The castle may grow or rearrange rooms to its heart's content, but they aren't afraid of what that means or of what could happen the next time it reorders itself.

Celie, throughout Tuesdays in the Castle is the one person who can read the castle and can keep an accurate blueprint of it. Her atlas as she calls it is as flexible as the derrotero of the Skidwrack in Ghosts of Greenglass House.

That is until the final third of the book when Celie, her sister and brother are clearly in danger not from the castle, but from the guests. Both as a method to protect them and as a result of being attacked magically, the castle begins to turn on the family. Passages that once were available, no longer are. And safe havens become traps.

In most stories I've read where a house (or other structure) is able to change, that ability is seen as sinister from the very get go. Or even if it were first treated as a novelty or an amusement, as soon as things start to go wrong, the unreliable space is seen as evil and as something that needs to be destroyed or escaped from. Castle Glower, though, is trusted throughout the order and when the castle itself is apparently neutralized, is mourned as a recently deceased loved one.

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Dragon Overnight: 02/06/18

Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski

Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and, Emily Jenkins is the fourth in the Upside-Down Magic series and by far my favorite. Rory and her classmates are on a three day school field trip to a nearby dragon rehabilitation facility in the woods. It's rather like our Sulphur Creek, a local wild animal rehabilitation site that also runs camps for school children.

As happens when a single school isn't sending enough children, these trips end up doubled up with another nearby school. For Rory and friends that means being at the camp at the same time as the private school her father runs! As you can imagine, that makes Rory feel very conflicted. She's glad to see her father but she's also still frustrated that her magic isn't good enough for his school or for him.

Giving Rory a chance to confront her father on neutral territory is good. She finally gets to voice her opinion on what living with her aunt has been like and what she wants her father to do differently. I hope book five will give Rory's dad a chance to be a more sympathetic and present character.

But the thing that really sets this book apart is the work that went into creating all these different dragon species. Dragons here are given the sort of diversity in size and behavior as birds. There's a small species that lives in a hive and individual members glow different colors when they fly. There are melon eating dragons. There are ones that need help learning how to fly but are otherwise docile. There are others that are rare and hard to raise in captivity which is adding to their decline; part of the problem is that they imprint quickly on whomever or whatever they see when they hatch.

The park itself reminds me of a mixture of my Sulphur Creek (for what it does) or even the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue (as some of the dragons are big and very wild), mixed with somewhere magical like Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Regardless, I want to go back there and learn more about the myriad of dragons.

The fifth book, Weather or Not comes out in September.

Five stars

Comments (2)

The Final Kingdom: 02/05/18

The Final Kingdom by Michael Northrop

The Final Kingdom by Michael Northrop is the conclusion to the TombQuest series. Alex and Ren are back in Egypt for the final show down. Things are pretty desperate with the The Order turning themselves into Death Walkers and stone warriors. Alex also has to contend with the fact that he's the rope in a tug of war between his mother and father.

For the most part, I was glad to see the series come to a conclusion. It started to lose it's momentum in book four, The Stone Warriors. I kept reading because I knew I only had one volume left and I wanted to see what happened to Alex.

Alex, recall from the first novel, was brought back from the dead by ancient Egyptian magic. The magic set everything else into motion. Throughout the series it was hinted that he would have to die to undo everything.

This final volume, as the title implies, offers a different interpretation to the solution. I have to admit, too, that I didn't see this creative solution. Thirty years ago, when I was obsessed with late eighteenth dynasty Egypt, I would have seen the solution. I would have seen it from the very first book. But it's been decades and interests change. The solution is surreal but in keeping with the mythology.

Three stars

Comments (2)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 05): 02/05/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 05)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

It's gotten warmer, right after we got our new fireplace insert installed. We also had to have the plumber by because the house had a clog somewhere and water was flooding out of the garage sink. Thankfully I was able to move the boxes in time and nothing got ruined.

What I read:

Marvelous Land of Oz Whiskerella Mystic River The Newlyweds Dragons beware Nurse, Soldier, Spy Three Years with the Rat Simon vs the Homo Spaiens Agenda

  • The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection (re-read)
  • Whiskerella by Ursula Vernon; personal collection
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane; library book
  • The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger; library book
  • Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre; personal collection
  • Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss, John Hendrix (illustrator); library book
  • Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking; research
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

What I'm reading:

Internet Famous American Street Murder Past Due Dragon Overnight

  • Internet Famous by Danika Stone; personal collection (ebook)
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi; personal collection
  • Murder Past Due by Miranda James; personal collection (audio)
  • Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and, Emily Jenkins; personal collection

Up Next:

Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks March Book Two Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part 3 Ozma of Oz

  • Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks by Victoria J. Coe; personal collection
  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and, Nate Powell (illustrator); personal collection
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang
  • Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum; research


Reviews Posted

Catch you later, traitor A Darkness Absolute Ghosts of Greenglass House Magician's secret MLP Waiting for Unicorns Whiskerella

Comments  (34)

Catch You Later, Traitor: 02/04/18

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi is set in 1951 at the height of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations into Communism and other "subversives." But this is Brooklyn and our main character is a "regular kid" named Pete Collison.

First of all there's no such thing as a "regular kid" and the ones who insist that they are usually at the top of the privilege food chain. The 1950s spoiled white boy is what the modern day dangerous, mansplainer is emulating.

Structurally Catch You Later is like Nothing But the Truth but it's too wrapped up in 1950s pop culture. It's Brooklyn from the "Good Ol' Days" before the Dodgers left for Los Angeles. It's detective shows on radio.

Then his whole world is turned upside down when suddenly his family is accused of being communist. He's being followed by the FBI, shunned by his friends, and plagued by mysterious phone calls begging him to help. It's not to say that lives weren't affected — 300 people from the film industry had their careers disrupted by HUAC. These were primarily Jewish or other immigrant workers in the industry.

As no mention is made of Pete's ethnicity or religion and given his insistence on being "typical" we are left to assume he's a white, middle to upper middle class boy. It's unlikely that he or his family would be on the FBI's radar no matter how evil or insistent the teacher might have been.

So what we have here is a scary story — a threat to white privilege by means created by white men of power to keep minorities down. But until something significant changes, it's also complete hog wash.

One star

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Hamster Princess: Whiskerella: 02/03/18

Hamster Princess: Whiskerella by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess: Whiskerella by Ursula Vernon, the fifth book in the series, is a retelling of Cinderella. Harriet is stuck at home due to the arrival of the Bat Ambassador. With a foreign dignitary on hand the Queen feels compelled to host a ball (or three).

Harriet and Wilbur, always on the lookout for trouble, see a party crasher. She's a stunningly beautiful stranger in glass slippers. No one is naturally that beautiful and Harriet suspects a curse is afoot.

Harriet and Whiskerlla dancing

Helping Harriet and Wilbur this time is a stable boy named Ralph who happens to know quail better than anyone. He can even speak quail (but not enchanted quail). It's an opportunity to hear things from Mumford's point of view.

Like previous stories in the series, this retelling examines the price of a fairy gift. Ella, who didn't need rescuing despite having a step mother and step sister, is now forced to attend every single ball and dance in uncomfortable shoes until a prince sweeps her off her feet. The problem is: the local selection of princes (beyond Wilbur) is dire. They're all dumb and self absorbed. Harriet, though, with some help, comes up with a clever way to reinterpret the situation so that curse can play its course without forcing Ella into an unwanted marriage.

Five stars

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January 2018 Sources: 02/03/18

Inclusive reading report

January started with the kids still on vacation as well as my husband. He took an extra week off after they went back to school. Combine that with another bout of flu and a cold, I spent a lot of time home. Somehow, though, I managed to read a lot. Nearly a book a day.

ROOB Score for the last three years

With five new books all purchased and read in January, my score was higher than December. December, as you'll recall was already higher than most months because of the Cybils. Looking though at previous January scores I can see that January is usually one of the highest months.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Looking at all previous years, January 2018 is the second highest ROOB score, just behind January 2016. January 2015 which appears to be the lowest on the first graph is actually the third highest. All January scores prior to that year were lower (and represent years when I was a Cybils judge, meaning I was reading in January and February).

ROOB monthly averages

Another high January score meant an overall increase in the January average. Prior to this January it was -2.47 and now it is -2.37.

As I am continuing with my goal of reading and reviewing one newly published book each week, I am looking at four new books in February. I expect to see each monthly average increase.

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Ghosts of Greenglass House: 02/02/18

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford is the second of the Greenglass House series and another feature on an impossible map that she has been building throughout her writing career, though it probably began to first come together with The Kairos Mechanism in 2012 (review coming). Maybe too it was The Broken Lands (2012) which served as a prequel to The Boneshaker.

The Greenglass House series is about a house which cannot be drawn existing on the edge of a town that cannot be mapped. Nagspeake brings to mind Nags Head — in North Carolina — but the icy winter and the heavy forest brings to mind Maine or even coastal Canada. Nagspeake, is a paper town, existing outside of reality but still being pinned to an address in Google Maps. The map leads to an defunct but still up blog. A Whois search brings up the fact that it's owned by Milford's husband.

I bring all this up because Ghosts of Greenglass House is about maps and navigation. George and Clem had done one last caper to retrieve an adjustable map — a derroterro — made by Nagspeake's most famous runner and cartographer. Nagspeake — a strange city state living in the present but in a sort of Edwardian bubble — well aware of the United States but outside of it — has only one allowed maker and seller of maps: Deacon and Morvengarde. Furthermore, Deacon and Morvengarde act as the governing body or have bribed the local government to make a very cozy arrangement. But now let's think of what else they could be. There's a throw away line on page 359 that if taken literally puts Nagspeake into sharper focus: "'You wouldn't believe some of the adventures I've been on trying to make deliveries when I've been stuck with a D and M map.'" Take out that "and" and it becomes "when I've been stuck with a DM map" or dungeon master.

As established in The Greenglass House, roleplaying is a big part of Nagspeake culture (or it was thirty years ago but has been rediscovered by Milo with the help of 'Meddy'). Much of the Greenglass House adventures and sleuthing are done through the perspective of Milo's alter egos — his gaming characters.

More domestically, The Ghosts of Greenglass House is a chance for Milo to reunite 'Meddy' and her father. They are two of the ghosts of Greenglass House but there are others that Milo et al will interact with.

Once again the story is set against the backdrop of Christmas Vacation. Milo is stuck sharing the holiday with unexpected and unwelcome visitors (the downside of having parents who run an inn). This year though winter proper seems to be holdings its breath, waiting for everyone to leave before it begins. There is only frost, no snow.

But here's the thing — everything we know of Nagspeake and neighboring Liberty — is informed through testimony by visitors or from stories they or Milo tell. Even if these characters are part of some greater beings' campaign, I want a chance to walk the streets of Naspeake. I want to experience its changeability and fickleness in modern day. I want to see Greenglass house in another season.

Regardless of what I want, there is a third book in the works. Bluecrown: A Greenglass House story (not to be confused, I guess with Bluecrowne the second of the Arcana books. (Which takes place in Nagspeake).

So while I wait for Bluecrown 2018, I will be reading through the older books of Milford that I have so far missed.

Five stars

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January 2018 Summary: 02/02/17

Inclusive reading report

January was completely free to read what I want. I've started off the year by continuing with the daily themed posts and with my commitment to read and review one newly published book each week.

The ice storms back east made my first week of January tricky. Books I had pre-ordered didn't make it to my local book store because the warehouse had to close early and obviously packages were't making it across the country as quickly. So I had to shift around my schedule a little and rely on ebooks.

January marked the seventh month in a row that I've read more inclusive books than not. The books were drawn evenly between ones I purchased and ones I've borrowed from the library. Some of the titles were Cybils books that I went back for a more closer read now that the short list has been finalized.

January's reviews were almost but not quiet fifty-fifty inclusive and not. As I'm also working more diligently on my backlog of reviews, the short fall reflects older reading when I was less concerned with curating what I reviewed.

February continues with the goal to work through those older reviews. Sundays are my day for posting the oldest ones then. Later I will devote Sunday reviews to posting recent reviews of older books I've read off my wishlist.

At the start of January I had twenty-three reviews from 2015 I wanted to post. That's now down to twelve. I shaved one review off the list from 2016, bringing me to sixty-four. I was more successful with my 2017 reviews, brining that number down to sixty-eight. Of course now, I'm building up a list of 2018 reviews that need posting. From January's thirty books read, I still have nineteen reviews I want to post.

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My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #1: Twilight Sparkle: 02/01/18

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #1: Twilight Sparkle by Thomas Zahler

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #1: Twilight Sparkle by Thomas Zahler sums up my first library job as an MLIS holder perfectly. Twilight, the librarian princess of friendship, though this story takes place before she got her wings, has been sent by Princess Celestia to help out at the royal archive.

The archive is run by a grumpy librarian who firmly believes that the stacks should be closed. Perhaps the Canterlot budget is as tight as many libraries here, because the archivist doesn't seem to have any staff. She's also clearly overworked as there are stacks and stacks of books and materials everywhere. Things are being used but not re-shelved. Things are also being acquired and not processed.

I wish I could say that what Twilight Sparkle finds here is pure fantasy but the sad reality is many libraries are understaffed and working with tremendous backlogs. Just as in Twilight's case, the reasoning to continue with the status quo (rather than allocate more money) is that kids these days are reading. Research at the Pew Institute shows though that in the United States libraries are still held in high esteem and people are still using them at a fairly steady rate.

Of course Twilight manages to work things out with the Archivist and it's happy ponies all around. I'm not sure she managed to get the stacks opened to the greater Canterlot public, though. Regardless, it was an interesting, an on point look at the gap that exists sometimes between perceptions of library users by those who fund them vs. the perception of the library from those who use it.

Four stars

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