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The Wild Robot Escapes: 03/31/18
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown is the sequel to The Wild Robot (2016) which per the author's afterword took an extra six months to write. It was six months well spent crafting a lovely follow up to a beautiful book about family, gender, identity, and what it means to be a parent.
The book opens with Roz being shipped from the factory where she has been repaired and reprogrammed. She's then sent to a family farm and dairy that has been struggling since the father was injured and the mother was killed in an accident.
Roz was bought refurbished because that's all the farm can afford. She's there to tend to the milch cows, repair the old equipment, rotate the crops and basically be the farmer that the dad used to be.
Do you think Roz was truly reprogrammed? No. Of course not. So she still knows how to talk to animals and that makes her the perfect robot for farming.
There's just one big problem: she misses her friends and family on the island. The island is her home and she will almost anything to get back there.
The book has three acts. Act one is the farm and life on it. Act two is Roz's attempt to get back to her island. Act three is a brief coda where we learn more about Roz's background and the world in which she lives.
Roz's story is basically done now. It's a satisfying arc across two books but Peter Brown has done a ton of world building to make Roz's story so compelling. If he's ever tempted to revisit Roz's world and tell new stories with new characters, I will be there.
The Way to Bea: 03/30/18
The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh is about a middle grade student trying to reorient herself as she feels like her life is spinning out of control. Bea is now in seventh grade. She's not ready to be a big sister. She feels lost in her new school. She misses her old routine. Her only escape is the comfort she finds in writing and thinking in haiku.
Bea as a coping mechanism leaves haiku poems hidden in the remains of an old wall that runs between her home and the route to school. One day she finds a note written to her where she had hidden a haiku. The surprise and excitement of finding a note opens her up to other possibilities. It pushes her to expand her horizons.
Bea sees herself navigating through her teens as an off-road, lost experience. Though she's not literally trapped by a cornfield or within a maze, she is emotionally. That emotional entrapment is what leads her to become friends with a boy who is obsessed with labyrinths.
Since Dan is very precise in what he likes and what he doesn't: labyrinths, not mazes, I will be too. Although the words are often used interchangeably, there are schools of thought that define the two a very different things. Labyrinths have a single winding path that goes in, goes to to the center, and winds its way back out again. Mazes, on the other hand, have blind alleys and require some thought to solve.
Dan uses labyrinths as a form of meditation. They calm him down in stressful situations. He likes to visit famous examples of the form as well. He's heard that nearby there is a labyrinth and he's obsessed with getting a way to see it. It's through her desire to help Dan see the labyrinth that she and he and a couple other students form a close knit group of friends.
I have about three pages of favorite quotes transcribed from the book for my road narrative project. I'm still in the process of annotating them. Once I do, I will have a more analytical reading of this book posted as an essay. Right now, though, the short version is that even beyond connecting with it for my research, I loved the book.
Monsters Beware!: 03/29/18
Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (illustrations) is the conclusion of the Chronicles of Claudette graphic novel fantasy series. Mon Petite Pierre has become the host of the Warrior Games after years of being banned from the competition. They don't want anything to go wrong but of course, Claudette has found a way to participate with her brother and best friend at her side.
We learn that Mon Petite Pierre has been banned from participating because it's last team used magic when magic is strictly forbidden. Of course, it was the team that included Claudette's parents as tweens! But things should be fine since the village prevents magic from being cast (except for Gaston's gelato magic — so food magic is apparently ok).
As the competition goes, teams start disappearing. It becomes blatantly obvious to everyone that one of the teams is made up of shape changing monsters, except Claudette who is too obsessed with winning to notice. Thankfully for everyone involved, Claudette does come to her senses.
If you're paying attention during all the adventure, the ending is what it should be. That said, it's still epic and it's still satisfying. It's a good conclusion to this trilogy.
I hope Aguirre and Rosado collaborate in the future. I want to read more adventures that they dream up.
Place Character Shibboleth: Towards an understanding of bypass stories: 03/29/18
In the beginning there was the land, the river, and the animals who traversed the landscape and carved out the first roads through their repeated movements. Then came mankind across the land bridge and the animal roads were repurposed and new paths created. Then came European mankind across the sea and larger communities were built with roads to connect them. Some were the old animal paths. Some were the Native American ones. Some were larger, guarded things — turnpikes with money collected to maintain them, to keep the landscape from encroaching and reclaiming the soil.
Then came the Industrial Revolution and with it the Engine. Water, steam, and gasoline when given axels and wheels could drive faster and farther across well made roads or along large waterways or along smooth laid rails. But it was two particular vehicles: the safety bicycle and the gasoline driven automobile that demanded the biggest change in to landscape. Their wheels worked best with smooth, dry, straight or gently curved roads. First came the named highway, then the numbered routes, and finally the interstates.
With each new road comes the reality of isolation through bypass. Old lands, old homes, old towns all run the risk of being forgotten as new roads find new routes. In the American road narrative, these bypass stories fall into two categories: ones where good towns are forgotten and the new road is the enemy, and others where evil lurks in those forgotten, bypassed locations.
In my study of the American road narrative, I have collectively called these types of stories, "Crossing the Cornfield" because it was the cornfield stories I first recognized. As I read further and expanded my horizons, I came to realize that the cornfield is but one manifestation of the bypass story.
These stories have three distinct features: a place that is separate from other places, a particular type of character who either is trapped by the bypass or is the warden of said bypass, and a lexicon of magical words or special items that are the key to freedom.
I'm using the word shibboleth loosely here because it fits so well with my initial "crossing the cornfield" designation. Shibboleth literally means "ear of corn" but it has been used to mean a secret word to prove one's right to pass — or more broadly a distinct sign of one's nationality or membership in a group. For the bypass story, the shibboleth is the word or thing that allows free passage across or through or around that bypass.
Take for instance, Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. The first Oz book opens with Dorothy feeling trapped in her gray world of routine on her aunt and uncle's Kansas farm. A cyclone (Baum's choice of word) picks up her house, carries it over the cornfield and well beyond what she could cross on her own, and puts her down in Munchkin Land on the far eastern edge of Oz.
Now in this case, Dorothy is both free of her initial bypass entrapment, and now, newly trapped in a much stranger bypass. Oz, as we learn in later books is completely encircled by a deadly desert. On the other side of the sands are other countries and all of those collectively are then separated from the rest of the world or reality or whatever by an ocean. Oz is very isolated in comparison to landlocked Kansas.
But for that initial Oz encounter, Dorothy is promised a way home if she "follows the Yellow Brick Road." In The Road to Oz Dorothy will learn that when traveled correctly, the Yellow Brick Road can even take one back to Kansas. The road, though, here is not her shibboleth. Instead, that is a two parter: the slippers she takes from the corpse of the Wicked Witch of the East (be they silver or ruby) and the phrase "there's no place like home."
Again, interestingly for Dorothy, the "there's no place like home" changes meaning over the course of the series, ultimately settling on home being Oz.
The point though of my Dorothy Gale example is that the bypass story has three parts: a specific location, specific characters who can interact with the location, and a specific phrase or item that allows passage.
Below is a chart of ones I've cataloged so far.
Book Clubbed: 03/28/18
Book Clubbed by Lorna Barrett is the eighth of the Booktown mysteries. Angelica is now the Chamber of Commerce president and has set up her office upstairs of the Cookery. Tricia is helping out with the chamber affairs while her shop is under repair. And then the still loyal to Bob, Chamber secretary ends up dead — flattened by a bookcase.
As so often happens around book seven, or year seven of a TV series, there is enough time elapsed between beginning and current story to revisit old themes and plots. In that regard, Book Clubbed is very much like Murder is Binding in that most of the novel ends up being a character study of the murder victim and the unveiling of her darkest and saddest secrets.
Meanwhile, a trusted, close character (and with the length of the run, a long-running recurring character) is set up to betray everyone. That said, the betrayal here is a long one coming and makes sense given the previous volumes.
Of course a new story can't completely rehash an older plot an expect to keep loyal readers coming back. So mixed into the familiar sleuthing by way of breaking into the departed's house, there is a side plot involving Tricia's past that explains a lot of the ambivalence she feels for her parents, especially her mother.
Tricia's back story reminds me most of No Ghouls Allowed by Victoria Laurie minus the paranormal aspects. My one complaint though is that Tricia's backstory has such a strong parallel with a major plot point of Murder is Binding that in retrospect it's hard to believe that first Stoneham murder didn't trigger this memory. Realistically, though, the author probably hadn't thought through all of Tricia's backstory in her first book.
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh: 03/27/18
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami is set in California in the central valley during the early days of the Japanese internment. Maria Singh by today's standards, a typical California girl. Back then, not as much, being the daughter of a Sikh man and a Mexican woman.
What Maria loves more than anything is baseball. While she can't find a way to play it, she does find a compromise with a newly created softball league and team. Getting her parents to allow her to play in pants, takes some doing, but even that isn't an insurmountable challenge.
Just as things are shaping up for Maria there is the chance that her family will be evicted and the promised ball park won't be built. Both are because of racism and classism. With the "success" of forcing the Japanese out of their homes and off their land other immigrant families fear that they will be next.
On top of that, home buying was (and sadly still is, though not as overly so) stacked against anyone who isn't white and middle or upper class. Maria's family has the money to buy their home but can't because of how the laws are written.
On the home front, then, it's the story of how the Singh's save their home. On the community level, it's about how Maria and her friends convince their parents to rally to save the park that's been promised to them. Those two threads are then used to weave together a larger picture of what life was like back then with WWII, with the Indian independence movement, and the diaspora like feelings Mexican-American families had in the decades following California leaving Mexico and becoming part of the United States.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee is as the title implies, a Romeo and Juliet pastiche. That it happens to be a middle grade and queer is startling and delightful.
Mattie is a star student and a voracious reader. She ends up part of the sixth grade play and she wants a minor role because she's a reader, not a performer. She's had a crush on a boy for a while and her besties are waiting for to finally make a move. But then, there's new girl Gemma (who is perfect for the role of Juliet and is instantly cast as her) and Mattie's world turns upside down.
Mattie is completely, utterly, one hundred percent taken in with Gemma and slowly but surely comes to the realization that she's bi. (She does still have the crush on the boy but Gemma seems to be genuinely interested in her, too).
The school happens to have no rules about who can or can't play roles in a play (unlike the strictly gendered roles in the Charlotte's Web play in George. And while there are a couple goofballs teasing about who gets what role, the school (teachers, administrators, and students) are all rather positive about who gets cast for each roles.
Each character in the book has a Shakespearian counterpart and they aren't necessarily the roles they've been cast in the play. Being familiar with the play (though there is enough explanation of the roles in the context of the novel) helps to understand the school dynamic and the growing relationship between Mattie and Gemma.
Thankfully for our two star-crossed lovers, their school romance isn't a tragedy. They do get a chance at a happily ever after — though what happens after the play is left to the imagination.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 26): 03/26/18
I have a bigger than I'd like pile of library books coming due soon so I'm reading more than I'd like. I know — I could just return them unread and try again later but that seems like I'm wasting other readers' time.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Alienated by Melissa Landers is the start of three book series about a study abroad program involving extra terrestrials. Cara Sweeny's family is hosting one of the L'eihr students, a male named Aelyx.
First Aelyx will spend time in Cara's home and her school. Later she will go to his world. It's part of an outreach program for better understanding on both parts. That any two governments would send their children before diplomatic relations are established is a stretch at best.
The book is told in alternating points of view between Cara and Aelyx. Sometimes Cara's blog entries are included. Cara has to deal with the growing feelings of distrust among her human neighbors and the rising popularity of an anti-L'iehr society.
Aelyx's chapters are more dubious. There is something underhanded afoot. There is also as much xenophobia on his species' part as there is on humanities.
As so often happens in a trilogy, the last act is rushed. The two main characters go from tolerating each other to being passionately in love. Meanwhile, all the stuff that's been stewing in the background has erupted, leaving the book to end on a whopper of a cliffhanger.
Rethinking Urban Fantasy: Where is Nagspeake?: 03/24/18
Five years before I restarted my road narrative analysis project, I wrote a short essay, Urban fantasy is a two way street defining urban fantasy vs traditional fantasy based on how easy it was to get to and from the fantasy world. Now in researching the offroad, negative spaces of the road narrative, I have been revisiting and refining my urban fantasy definition.
In that essay I collectively put the entirety of the Oz novels in the traditional fantasy category based on the fact that if there is a trip from our world to Oz in the book, it only happens once with the protagonist leaving our world, traveling to Oz, adventuring in Oz, and then returning home. Having now begun my re-reading of the series in terms of the road narrative, I have come to the conclusion that the Oz books could qualify as urban fantasies, even if the books only include one return trip (if there is a trip).
My refined definition then of "urban fantasy" would be a world in which more than one method of travel is available. In the Oz books ways of getting to Oz have included: balloon, cyclone, near drowning, earthquake, getting lost, explosion / eruption. As I still have many more books to read, I am still cataloging the methods. In Catherynne M Valente's Fairyland series methods include: being kidnapped, going underground, getting lost, going off road while driving.
But the place I'm most interested in right now, probably because the series is on-going and therefore, the rules are still changing (or being revealed, depending on how the author's writing methodology) is Nagspeake. Keep in mind, haven't yet read Bluecrowne which explains "the secrets of the Greenglass House" and introduces readers to Nagspeake, so some of this essay (maybe all of it) might be wrong.
Oz and Fairyland canonically exist outside our world. Thus how they relate to our world is moot beyond methods of travel. For Oz the means to get there is a matter of being an orphan or a loner at the brink of death (with special exception to Dorothy's aunt and uncle who are invited to retire there by Ozma). For Fairyland the route is open to children (or the rare adult) who are emotionally detached from life).
But Naspeake is different. It's clearly a magical land, albeit much smaller than either Oz or Fairyland. It's probably the size of a city state like Washington or the Vatican. It clearly has magical elements as evidenced by the existence of ghosts, changeable landscapes, and homes of dubious interiors. Yet, Nagspeake is clearly grounded in our world with characters who know about important historical events and extant countries. That suggests that Nagspeake is somehow part of our world while still being apart from it. So where is Nagspeake? Before reading The Left-Handed Fate, I supposed that Nagspeake was up near Maine — somewhere on the coast between the United States and Canada. It's neither of the two because Nagspeake is described as a self governing place and in Ghosts of Greenglass House a United States quarter is described as foreign currency.
Because of the snow and frost that features so prominently in the Greenglass House books, I naturally put Nagspeake up north. In The Left-Handed Fate, however, Nagspeake is described as being south of Baltimore and Norfolk. Because of the name, I had supposed that Naspeake could be near Nags Head in the sandbar islands off the coast of North Carolina. Now with the path the Fate takes, that seems to be the most likely location.
So where down there could Nagspeake be and still be a separate entity? I went through options like an island in the Bermuda triangle to Atlantis until the Left-Handed Fate pulled into port so soon after Norfolk. There is one magical place (ie cursed) place known for swallowing up civilization: Roanoke.
Yes, there is still Roanoake Island and the Roanoke Island Marshes here in our world, but what if the marshes for the right minded navigator could lead to Flotilla and ultimately to Nagspeake? I was skeptical at first because of the snow and frost, but apparently that area of North Carolina gets on average seven inches of snow in the winter.
So are the Nagspeake books urban fantasy? Yes because they have a regular sea-based commerce with the rest of the world. Navigation to and from Nagspeake is difficult but not impossible. That the Bluecrownes can maintain a home outside of Nagspeake and still run British colors speaks to the fact that they are regularly leaving their unusual home for more mundane ports.
In conclusion then, what makes an urban fantasy world? Multiple points or methods of entry and egress. Accessibility to more than one person. Knowledge of the outside and inside worlds.
American Panda: 03/24/18
American Panda by Gloria Chao is set in and around MIT and follows the first year of university for seventeen year old Taiwanese-American Mei. Her parents and extended family expect her to get good grades, avoid boys, marry a good Taiwanese doctor, and become a doctor herself. There's just one problem: she's squicked out by all her medical and biology classes.
Chao makes it very clear early on that Mei's family are traditional to the extreme. Mei's mother, for instance, insists her daughter use the very formal mūqīn instead of màma. The men in the family as well hold all the power and the older women in the family bully the younger women to do what the men demand to keep themselves out of trouble.
On the sidelines of Mei's time at MIT are the rumors she hears about her brother Xing (who has been disowned for dating a woman the family believes is infertile) and a woman named Ying to whom every bad rumor is attributed. Mei over the course of the book meets up with both people to get their true stories and decide whether she wants to still try to be the impossibly "good daughter" her family demands.
The novel starts light-hearted but by the middle of the book has spiraled into a gut-wrenching emotional drama. Mei's vision of herself is torn apart and rebuilt. Her transformation makes for an emotional page-turner.
Out of Tune: 03/23/18
Out of Tune by Gail Nall is a middle grade road trip story, similar in premise to Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold (2016). This one though is set in Wyoming
Maya loves country western music and wants to audition for a TV talent show, Dueling Duets. She has a deadline to be in Nashville by a certain date but that might mean running away from home. Home, though, is now an ancient RV that's traveling across the countryside.
Like The Someday Birds, Maya's road trip takes her and her family (caravanning in two RVs) to Yellowstone National Park. It's here that she begins her plan for running away to Nashville. Though the blurb promises a "one-hundred-mile bike ride with her know-it-all little sister, a cute nature boy, and blue-haired, earbud-addicted Shiver (a.k.a. the most annoying girl ever)" the reality of the book is that most of the book is Maya's plans being repeated thwarted.
A lot of times these stories where the parents for dramatic plot reasons have to suddenly uproot the family but refuse to explain the situation to their children end up in the children being forced to do something different and learn a life lesson from the initial disappointment. That lesson is here too but the adults in the book are given a chance to redeem themselves. Although Maya doesn't have the summer she expected, she does get to participate in Dueling Duets. How that happens, though, is a big part of the novel.
An Age of License: A Travelogue: 03/22/18
An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley is a graphic novel memoir that covers her solo trip through Europe. It was part book tour and part journey to catch up with kith and kin. Events covered in this book come just before Something New.
The title comes from the French concept of l'age de license and she spends much of the book on and off contemplating what it means and how it applies to her life. The trip came at a time where she didn't know where she was going. She was between relationships.
The book has a similar outline as Displacement but it lacks the emotional focus. But the format that I love about her books is there, just in a rougher form.
The Case for Jamie: 03/21/18
The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro is the third of the Charlotte Holmes YA mysteries. After the tragic events of The Last of August, Charlotte and Jamie are separated. Jamie is still at school but Charlotte is with her family or in rehab or on her own trying to get her life in order.
From Jamie's point of view this volume reads like an update to "The Adventure of the Empty House," the first story after Sherlock's death where Doyle revived him because of the demands of his fans. Since it's just not practical to try to kill of a Holmes (or nowadays pretend to), Cavallaro uses separation to the same effect.
Basically without Holmes, Watson does eventually go to pieces. Here, though, Watson is systematically being driven over the edge. He's being gaslighted. By whom and why he's not sure but Charlotte's influence was strong enough to at least help him realize that he's being targeted.
From Charlotte's point of view there is the extended flashback. The gap in the original timeline between "The Adventure of the Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House" is three years. Here, because they are teenagers, that gap is kept to months, but we're still given an extended look in Charlotte's life and the events that made her who she is at the start of A Study in Charlotte through to the events after The Last of August.
Most of the novel — more than two thirds is told from completely separate locations and on different timelines. It's really not until that final third that everything comes back into focus as one coherent adventure that reunites Charlotte and Jamie. I'm usually pretty astute with what's going on but I missed some big plot points so the big reveal was extra fun during the climax.
The fourth volume, coming out spring of 2019 is A Question of Holmes.
A Family Is a Family Is a Family: 03/20/18
A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O'Leary is a short picture book about a teacher doing a family assignment with her class. The idea is to get them thinking about what makes their family important. After a bunch of answers, the classroom decides that a family is a family no matter what.
The families represented are fairly diverse. There are blended families, families where a child is adopted, families where the children are living with grandparents, two mom and two dad families. There's a child in foster care whose foster mom considers all her kids "real family."
It's a nicely sentimental book.
The Bone Sparrow: 03/19/18
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is set in one of Australia's permanent detention centres for refugees. The main story is told from the point of view of Subhi, the first child born in the centre as he and his family and everyone else endures under the poor living conditions and terrible heat.
Subhi has his mother's stories to keep him going and he believes that the stories are coming true, bringing hope on the Night Ocean. His grasping at a magical solution is one of survival under inhumane conditions.
Were this book just about Subhi, his family, and the other refugees, I would rate this story higher. Unfortunately his story is pushed aside by the insertion of a girl, Jimmie, who lives in the town outside of the centre.
Sure, Jimmie has lost her mother and she's illiterate — two personal tragedies. And lucky for her, there's Subhi to read to her and to make her feel special. And that somehow makes Subhi's situation better even though nothing changes for him.
Take for instance the main motif — a sparrow. For Subhi, a sparrow in the house means death. Of course it does; death is all around him. If not actual death, it's the specter of it that lurks in the illness, the lack of food, the intolerable heat, and so forth. But Jimmie comes in with no sense of perspective and blithely says that a sparrow means hope. And from then on it does because of her privilege gives her the say-so.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 19): 03/19/18
It's been a week of rain and we're expecting another week of rain. We did have a break today.
I know it looks like I got a ton read but until yesterday, I only had two finished. A couple other books that I've been slowly working on finished on the same day. The Nancy Drew and the map book were both short.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Road trip to the underworld: the Nome King and Hades: 03/18/18
The road narrative has a long tradition of being a metaphor for life and death. Donald Gutierrez aligns the literary maze with death in his collection of essays: The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature. While I disagree with the reach of his statement, I must agree that death and the road do share a literary history.
Four classic Greek stories that feed into the modern road narrative as it intersects the underworld are: Persephone and Hades, Orpheus and Eurydice, The Odyssey, and Theseus and the Minotaur. Of them I'm most interested in the Minotaur as a road narrative figure. See in particular these essays: Mapping the roads of the American nightmare (2017), Crossing the cornfield (2017), The maze isn't for you — except when it is, and my reviews of: Are We There Yet? by Nina Laden, Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
But the unification of the rural, American experience with the labyrinth and the underworld is not restricted to the twenty-first century. L. Frank Baum's third Oz book, Ozma of Oz (1907), while at first glance is the meeting of Dorothy and Ozma and the forming of a series long friendship, it's also encoded with numerous references to the underworld.
One theory I'm working through is that Oz is most easily visited through near death experiences. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger — or takes you to Oz. The name, Oz, by the way, means strength. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy should have died when her farm house was ripped from its foundation by the cyclone (and it is called a cyclone in the book, not a tornado). Ozma, herself survives infanticide through transformation. Now in book three, Dorothy survives drowning at sea by washing ashore on a land adjacent to Oz (save for the dessert that separates the two) The first hint that Oz is aligned with the Underworld in Ozma of Oz is the destination of Dorothy and Uncle Henry. She was accompanying him to Australia for his health. Here is a bit of wordplay. Australia is both known as "down under" and Oz. It's a natural progression to go from down under to under ground to Underworld and Oz.
Dorothy and Ozma, though, team up to restore the devastated Kingdom of Ev by rescuing the royal family imprisoned by the Nome King. The Nome King is again a pun. Said out loud it brings to mind Gnome King, or a magical creature who protects the "earth's treasures underground" (New Oxford American Dictionary). But by spelling it Nome, it also brings to mind the Greek root nomos which gives Nome — the name for governmental districts in Greece — and pasture (the root of nomad). Like Persephone, Ozma, who can bring inanimate things to life (see The Marvelous Land of Oz, and has a long standing relationship with the Underworld, and in this case, The Nome King, rather than Hades. The Nome King's anger stems the above-grounders digging up his mountain and taking his kingdom's crops (gold, jewels, other precious items).
To return the royal family of Ev requires a trip into the mountains and then into the mountain. They have been transformed into inanimate objects. They might as well be dead and stored away in catacombs. The Nome King and Hades both hoard people. The ultimate rescue of the the Ev royal family aligns nicely with Orpheus going to the underworld for Eurydice or Odysseus's detour to talk to his fallen crewmate.
The Penderwicks in Spring: 03/18/18
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall is the fourth book in the series and the first one I've read. For this reason, I will probably end up re-reading and re-reviewing the book after I've had a chance to read the previous books.
The Penderwicks are a blended family. The oldest ones can remember life with the original mother. The youngest child is the daughter of the new step mother. But they seem to be a coherent, loving family.
The neighbor is coming home on leave from the war. If it's Iraq or Afghanistan, or some alternate world, fictional world, I don't know.
Though the book appears to be set in the present, there's an old fashioned style to the story. Despite the iPads, iPhones, Internet, the Penderwicks seem more at home with the creations of the last century's authors: Joseph C. Lincoln, Edgar Eager, Eleanor Estes, Mary Norton, and Beverly Cleary. In fact I found the disconnect between a nostalgic writing style and the contemporary setting as very distracting.
Beyond that I can't really comment. In retrospect no character has made much of an impact on me. There was just a warm fuzzy feeling while reading it.
Come back in a year or so to see when I've read the rest of the series, reviewed them, and re-reviewed this one. The first book is The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.
The Belles: 03/17/18
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is the start of a new fantasy YA series. In the Kingdom of Orleans beauty is everything. Beauty is life. Beauty is law.
Controlling, defining, and shaping the trends of beauty falls in the hands of the belles — young women trained from birth from bloodlines of belles, and blessed by the Goddess. Now Camellia Beauregard and her flower named sisters are about to find out just how demanding their fated profession is.
Orleans is a series of islands separated from the rest of the world by ocean. Where Orleans sits in time and place is never fully stated but from there are clues in the world building and the language to imagine it as a flooded and reborn New Orleans — perhaps a post apocalyptic one, or an alternate universe one.
It's in the world building that The Belles comes alive. Camellia's day to day routine first in the the salon and then in the palace allows time to fill in the details through repetition and variation. It's a different but consistent world.
But throughout the story of Camellia being proud of her work and striving to surpass herself and her sisters there's an underlying feeling of wrongness. It's not just the artifice of beauty. There is more. There's a mystery surrounding the crown princess's health. There are strange screams at night. There are inconsistencies in what the Belles remember and what other's tell them about their past. There is a systematic rewriting or obfuscating of history.
As this is the first book, it does end of a cliffhanger. I'm definitely hooked. I'm eager to see what happens next.
Ozma of Oz: 03/16/18
Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum is the third book in the Oz series and marks the second return of Dorothy Gale. It's also the first time Dorothy and Ozma meet. All of that, though, is tied up in discussions of gender, of life and death, and family. Each of these themes require further investigation through essays, the first of which is Gender in Ozma of Oz.
The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz are the two Oz books I've read the most times. It all began for me in 1985 with the release of Return to Oz, a live action Disney film that mashes together these two books into one visually stunning but narrationally illogical piece.
The film begins with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry not believing Dorothy's tale of her adventure in Oz. All of this comes to a head with Dorothy being sent off to an insane asylum. It is in the asylum that she gets her first glimpse of Ozma and is able to make her escape back to Oz.
The film has the Emerald City over-run by a witch who has a collection of different heads but goes by the name Mombi; essentially a mixture of the woman Tip runs away from and the princess left in charge of Ev after the Nome King tricked the royal family.
By making Dorothy's arrival key to saving Oz it removes Tip and Ozma's story arc. Tip with just the barest sense of who he's supposed to be and Ozma, having now lived as her true self for some time, is a capable, compassionate, smart — albeit still somewhat naive and somewhat impulsive person. Dorothy is not the messiah of Oz.
In all of the Oz books where Dorothy is a character, it is made abundantly clear that she loves her Aunt and Uncle, and they love her. Only in the films (1939 and 1985) is their status as a loving, trusting family put into doubt, and it's done to serve the three act nature of American photoplays.
So how does Dorothy get back to Oz in this book? She floats there in a chicken coop after being washed overboard. She and her uncle (for his health) are en route to Australia (Oz, if you will). While the book is titled, Ozma of Oz it's not her adventure exactly; it's the first meeting of Dorothy and Ozma, each having heard stories told of the other.
The road to that first meeting is not the Yellow Brick road. Instead, it's the forlorn remains of the Kingdom of Ev, it's lunch and dinner pail orchard over run with dystopian wheeled monsters called Wheelies. The only person remaining who knows what happened is a mechanical man named Tik-Tok, who was created by an engineering firm now long out of business.
Dorothy does what she does best. She fixes him. She's a farm girl. She knows how motorized machines work. She probably can drive a tractor and keep it and the other equipment running.
Dorothy also runs into the princess of Ev who wears a different head every day and wants to add Dorothy's head (in exchange for a used one) to her collection. This is the woman who blended with Mombi was the person in charge of the Emerald City (instead of General Jinjur).
It's here, though, that Ozma is first introduced to Dorothy and shown learning how to be the leader she is in later books. Ozma comes, effortless crossing the dessert using one of her many magic items. She brings a caravan of advisors and an army. She rescues Dorothy and vows to rescue the remaining members of the royal family of Ev.
In later books, this task would have been an easy one for Ozma. But here, she is new in all her forms of power. She is vulnerable. Dorothy, while a sensible, headstrong farm girl, isn't the perfect person for the job either, though she is good enough to at least save herself and one member of Ev.
Giant Days, Volume 6: 03/15/18
Giant Days, Volume 6 by John Allison collects issues 21-24. Daisy, Susan, and Esther have moved into a new off campus flat and aren't necessarily ready for the added responsibility.
The book opens with the flat being robbed. Our heroines have to call the police and they get someone who looks like he's right out of CSI Miami. They also get someone else who is actually able to find their stuff.
Mostly though what I recall from this book is the romance of Daisy. The exchange student is back in her life and it's taking over her entire existence. I happy for her and I recall with fondness the early days of my college romance — equally all consuming.
Volume seven comes out at the end of this month.
Latte Trouble: 03/14/18
Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle is the third of the Coffeehouse mysteries. I listened to the 2011 audiobook. Clare Cosi, the manager of the Village Blend has let her place be overrun during Fashion Week. Her delicious coffee inspired a new line of fashion jewelry, resurrecting the career of Lottie Harmon after a thirty year hiatus. Everything is going well until one of the high profile guests ends up poisoned during the party, and her best barista is in jail on suspicion of murder.
I am not a fashionista. I don't personally care about Fashion Week. The set up and setting, though, reminded me fondly of Ugly Betty. Clare is written though as a character who also isn't interested in Fashion Week, but does know more about fashion than I do. But even she comes across numerous times in this mystery as a fish out of water.
In the second book, a lot of the narrative time was taken up with insights into the workings of the "genius" — the murderer. This time, that space between scenes, is given to flashbacks. Much of what transpired in the Village Blend was the result of events that unfolded at the initial end of Lottie's career. To uncover the truth, Clare must find people with local knowledge to piece together the story.
My only quibble is the narrow focus on Jackie O's style of dress. It makes sense for Clare's former mother-in-law to be enamored with her look as she is of the same generation. Clare and I through are closer in age and she would have taken her female role models from the women of the late 1970s and 1980s both for attitude and fashion.
Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book One: 03/13/18
Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book One by Jeff Lemire is an omnibus of volumes one (Out of the Deep Woods) and two (In Captivity). The story is divided by two points of view: Gus's — the deer antlered boy on the cover, and, Jepperd a man who takes Gus under his wing for reasons all his own.
At first it seems that Gus is a one of kind freak of nature kid. He's being kept in isolation by his ailing father who claims to speak directly with God. When the father dies of the illness that apparently has been killing most people these last seven or so years. Gus is left on his own. That's when he runs into Jepperd and goes via horseback on a roadtrip in search of a sanctuary that takes in kids like Gus.
The book opens in the deep woods of an old state forest in a post apocalyptic Nebraska. Nebraska being pretty much grasslands, only has a few forested areas. The most likely location being around Crawford, along highway 20.
Despite being set in the breadbasket of United States, Lemire uses distinctly Canadian motifs to build his story. Instead of being along a cornfield or other type of multi-acre farm, Gus and his father live in a cabin in the woods. It brings to mind the Oshawa / Toronto connection I discussed in Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking (2017). Likewise, in Jepperd's memories of the before time, there is a post hockey game frame recapitulated in Roughneck.
Originally the series had six books. In the deluxe editions (the ones I'm reading through my library), there are three.
Topsy-Turvies: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination: 03/12/18
Topsy-Turvies: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination by Mitsumasa Anno is a wordless picture book about gnomes living in an Escheresque world. Purposely the explanations of what's going on in each illustration is left out, leaving it up to the reader to "stretch the imagination."
According to GoodReads, I was first interested in the book in the summer of 2016. Based on the date, I had just come back from a whirlwind road trip. I believe I heard about his books on one of the many lists suggesting math books for young children. Specifically they recommend Math Games and the Multiplying Jar.
I chose Topsy-Turvies for my own nostalgic reasons. When I was a child my grandparents would take me to the library for story time. While I didn't like sitting crisscross applesauce (as my kids call it), I did like being read to.
The one story time I remember best (which isn't very well at all nearly 40 years later) is one that was themed around optical illusions and color theory. Mitsumasa Anno's books, whether this one, or a different one, was probably among the lot read to us.
The frustrating thing about the story time was that I LOVED the books. I wanted to take them home and re-read them. But I couldn't remember what had been read to me. What I should have done (but I was young and at the time librarians were scary to me, except when reading books) was ask what books had been read. Or had my grandfather ask on my behalf. But I didn't.
Topsy-Turvies for the most part works. There is one page with a cutaway showing the inside of a farmhouse. Some of the gnomes are on the ceiling and some are not. It's otherwise a fairly normal looking scene. There's really nothing surreal about it. Nor was there any sort of discernible optical illusion.
Also none of the individual illustration seem to be tied together in a plot or theme — beyond gnomes in unreal spaces. In this regard the book falls short of its potential.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 12): 03/12/18
It's the first day of Day Light Saving Time. Boo hiss. I don't like it. I really and truly prefer Standard Time. I'm exhausted and grouchy.
One of my side projects has been the building (re-building in parts) of the family tree. My MIL asked a question about her side of the family. To get to her side, I had to start with myself. My great uncle had already built one for my side (well, his side) of the tree but of course I had to add in my father's side, my step-father's side, my husband's side which then becomes my FIL and MIL's sides.
On Friday I noticed that there as a somebody or other who had married into the Barnum family. The Barnums aren't any of our direct ancestors but I was still curious to see where it would lead. Sure enough, after ticking up a bunch of generations and back down a bunch, I found P.T. Barnum.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Cold War on Maplewood Street: 03/10/18
Cold War on Maplewood Street by Gayle Rosengren is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Joanna is upset that her brother has gone away to war, thus breaking a promise to not leave like their father has. Mind you, Dad walked out on the family, while the brother is serving his country.
But hey, she's young and stubborn. Like so many tween books, the entire plot is driven on an artificially raised emotional tension. The external event doesn't have to be Cuba, it could be anything, because it's already decided that the protagonist needs to stay angry and needs to feel sorry for herself until some predetermined time when she can learn her lesson.
So then in the background there are the events unfolding in Cuba. Yes, it was a tense time and yes, the author did live through it. But whatever it is that she felt back — her fears aren't conveyed from Joanna's story.
The Problim Children: 03/10/18
The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd is the start of a new middle grade series about seven children, each named for and born on a different day of the week. As their parents are super special archeologists, they spend a lot of time at home alone.
The children live in a house behind a bunch of magical fog, away from society where they are their own mini community. That is until the end of chapter one when one of them accidentally blows up the house. In the rubble they find the deed to their grandfather's mansion in the next town over. With no parents to help with the current situation they decide to move.
Lloyd relies heavily on rhythmic onomatopoeia for her descriptive language. When a simple word will do, a two or three word sound description is used instead. I think these sounds would lend themselves to being read aloud — by a parent to a child, a teacher to a classroom, or as an audiobook. In print, though, they can get tiresome.
The youngest Problem isn't much of a speaker. Instead he prognosticates through flatulence. The text provides a number as to which kind of fart it was. Sometimes the other Problims translate and sometimes it's left to a footnote. These footnotes remind me of the early days of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. The odiferous language and translation is a cute idea but it sometimes get the way.
The sibling's new town is under the watch of a nasty piece of work with the last name O'Pinion. She is literally in the last minutes of buying the Problim house when the siblings show up. She is there like many adults in the Pippi Longstocking books who pretend to act on her behalf only because they want her pirate treasure. I know if I were younger, I would find her diabolical. Again — a good narrator will bring her to life in ways that my inner voice failed to do.
The Problim house also has something special to it. What exactly it is, isn't revealed here. This volume is just about setting up the world, introducing the characters, and seeing the initial dynamics play out.
The second book, The Formidable Foe comes out February 19, 2019.
Sweet Shadows: 03/09/18
Sweet Shadows by Tera Lynn Childs is the second of the Medusa Girls. The three sisters have been reunited and have been trying to balance their lives as sisters, as teens, and as heroes. Gretchen, the most experienced of the sisters is trying to train Greer and Grace.
The three begin to develop separate powers. Gretchen is the fighter and has strength. Greer, the socialite, sees things. Grace who is worried about her missing brother, can teleport. With a trio of magical girls and the San Francisco-ish setting, I can't help but think of Charmed but with a different backstory.
Monsters have been slipping into San Francisco for some time; that's why Gretchen is here. Presumably that's also why the other sisters have adopted families who have moved them here too. What is different, though, is the rate at which they've been entering. It should be a once in a while thing but now they are streaming in.
Now, though, if this were just another take on the power of three, or a Charmed pastiche, the three sisters would never leave the City. But they do. The last third of the novel is a complete change in direction and opens up the world building beyond an alternate San Francisco, to an entirely different dimension.
The third book Sweet Legacy will be set in that alternate dimension. It is because of how the land of the monsters is described, albeit briefly in Sweet Shadows that novel earned four instead of three stars, and is the reason why I want to finish reading the trilogy.
Introduction to the road narrative project: 03/09/18
The road is an integral part of the American narrative experience. It is part of the day to day American experience and has been long enough to be a central motif in non-fiction and fiction alike. The road for better or worse has defined the American footprint and continues to influence American texts.
This website site, while also a book review blog, contains a growing collection of road narrative essays and reviews of road narrative books (fiction and nonfiction).
From 1995-1997 I was a critical studies (film theory) graduate student at UCLA. At the time I was living in Pasadena as my husband was a graduate student at Caltech. With Los Angeles traffic being what it is, I faced between a two and four hour commute each day, giving me lots of time to think about school and about the roads I was driving.
The time on the road with my mind full of the films we were discussing made me realize that the road and road markings and roadsigns were used in American films as a secondary, shorthand language or punctuation to further the narratives. Some genres took greater advantage of these road narrative tropes (the road trip film, being an extreme example) but the vast majority of American films used these tropes, these visual clues. I decided I would make this shorthand language my focus of study for my PhD thesis.
The PhD plan didn't happen and my life took a huge detour. In 1997, I started my website, Puss Reboots, originally to do freelance web design. The site, though, (as all sites do) needed content, and I was the only one to write it. As my career evolved and I stopped freelancing, the website became a blog and that blog eventually became a dedicated book blog.
In 2015 during on online conversation (via Twitter) with a friend who is a current grad student working on the regionalism of American food, I happened to mention my old road narrative project. She encouraged me to restart the project for my own fun. I agreed and have been working on it since then. My first toe dip back into the project was Culture is our Business by Marshall McLuhan. On the my Tumblr companion site, I didn't even use the "roadtrip" or "roadshow" tags I later used to track the project.
Primarily I began with reading. I dug out my old notes and bibliographies and started there. Initially I wanted to track down the connection between the semantics of the actual, real-world, American road system to see how it developed and to see if its development tracked with the development of the tropes used in American film and literature.
I also wanted to re-familiarize myself with the early days of the automobile. I wanted to see if that time line again had any influence on tropes I knew as a late twentieth-early twenty-first century consumer of American film and literature.
The tools for research and my skills as a researcher have improved over time and the answer the questions I had been struggling over in those initial two years were easily answered — and I realized, had been discussed at length by many other theorists.
The official re-launch of the project, began with a post announcing a change in policy on my blog: Replacing ARCs with Research. In it I described my project as:
"the interplay between the English language (and more specifically U.S. English) and the road. In the middle of all of this is the road trip story, or even the experience of the road trip as a form of vacation."Suffice it to say the project has evolved significantly over time. For now, though, here are the basic sections (as of March 2018) to the project.
I plan to write and post at least one road narrative essay each month. Ideally the postings would be one a week. As I write more I will organize my road narrative project into a more coherent section on this website. Essays and reviews will continue to be posted as part of the daily blog but will also be indexed by theme for better searching and later reading.
Dragons Beware!: 03/08/18
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre is the second of the Chronicles of Claudette middle grade fantasy graphic novel series. The kingdom is under attack by Gromach, an evil sorcerer. Claudette's father and all the other heroes and warriors set out to save the kingdom but it means extreme danger and almost certain death.
Claudette, her brother, and the princess have a different solution — one involving dragons. If they can get the biggest dragon to cough up the magic repelling sword it swallowed years ago, they can use it against Gromach.
This second volume expands the characters introduced previous. Claudette's father, though in a wheelchair from losing his legs in battle, is still willing and able to go to war to save the kingdom and keep his children safe. Claudette's brother who loves to cook is trying to learn how to be warrior or a wizard because he believes that's what's expected of him because he's a boy. Claudette is as brave and impulsive as ever, but she's also
The idea that dragons might be more than just fire breathing, virgin eating, winged lizards isn't a new one but it's always a story I enjoy reading. Dragons Beware! pairs well with its contemporary, Dragon Girl by Jeff Weigel.
The newest installment is Monsters Beware! which comes out March 13th.
A Side of Sabotage: 03/07/18
A Side of Sabotage by C.M. Surrisi is the third of the Quinnie Boyd mysteries set in Maiden Rock, Maine. Quinnie's best friend has come back from Scotland but her boyfriend is moving to New Jersey! Meanwhile, a new restaurant has opened and now it and Gusty's are going head to head in a two week competition.
But then weird things start to happen. They seem to be absentminded accidents — the wrong soap being used, the walk in fridge temperature being bumped up. Quinnie and her friends, though, are convinced it's sabotage. They're on the case and doing what they do best: stakeouts.
Quinnie and her friends are noticeably more mature than where they were at the start of the series. That said, their approach to the mystery is more coherent and more importantly, the adults in their lives take their observations more seriously.
With and older ensemble of characters and a more established sense of Maiden Rock and it's residents, A Side of Sabotage reads the most like a mystery of the tree. That said, who the culprit is might be obvious to regular readers of mysteries. (They were to me, though the motive took longer to establish). Regardless, it was a delightful weekend read and I will definitely continue to follow the series should more be published.
Internet Famous: 03/06/18
Internet Famous by Danika Stone is about a high school student who takes online classes, while running a profitable internet site where she does live movie reviews and other pop culture commentary. Madison, though, still has to go to school every day to pick up her sister who might be autistic (based on described behavior but it's never overtly stated in the text).
Things start to fall apart for her and her website when her mother leaves on an extended business trip, throwing the family routine out of whack. Madison's sister, Sarah, can't handle these sorts of disruptions and clings even more to Madison for support. At the same time,
In the midst of all this chaos, there's a new love in Madison's life — a French exchange student. Their long distance romance is close enough for occasional in person visits. Madison just doesn't know if she can trust him.
The extensive mocked up screenshots of Madison's online activity — whether it's chats or her blog posts get in the way of the flow of the plot. I get that a big part of her life is online. So is mine. But I'm not going to bore you with screen shots of what blogging and chatting and Instagram look like. The other problem with including screenshots (even fake ones) is that they will very quickly become dated, more so than the text.
Peeny Butter Fudge: 03/05/18
Two years ago saw release of two books involving parents and children cooking that have sparked protest over the depiction of smiling slaves: A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and A Birthday Cake for George Washington by Ramin Ganeshram.
Parents and children do cook together, it's a way for the generations to bond. It's a way to pass down family recipes. It's a way to teach life skills.
But the narrative depiction of food: cooking it or preparing can bring tons of excess baggage. Food as narrative is so laden with gender roles, racism, stereotypes, sex, etc. etc. that authors writing for children need to write with care and consideration.
One way to circumvent troubles in this type of story is to make the story about a grandparent and grandchild, and to keep the story within the confines of a single family.
Peeny Butter Fudge by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison does exactly that. It's about a mother leaving her children in the care of their grandmother so she can go to work. She leaves a schedule and menu behind to make things as easy on Granny as possible. Of course the instant Mom leaves, the fun begins, culminating in the creation of peeny butter fudge.
The book includes fudge recipe, something similar one of the fudge recipes my own grandmother made.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 05): 03/05/18
Last week we finally had wintery weather. We had rain, hail, and our local hills even had some snow. Snow is unusual for the Bay Area but not impossible.
When it isn't raining, my daughter and I take our youngest cat, Salmon out for walkies. She's been fascinated with the new backyard and clearly wants to explore. As we are at the edge of where things get very rural and there are predators nearby, we don't want to just let her out. Fortunately she's easily taken to wearing a harness.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Lost in the Sun: 03/04/18
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff is a story of fresh starts and grief and feelings of guilt. Going into middle school, Trent is still reeling from the accidental death of his best friend during an ice hockey game. Trent hit the puck that hit his friend in the chest and killed him because of an undiagnosed heart defect.
Into Trent's life comes a new girl with a scar across her face and interesting name. Trent becomes obsessed with learning the history behind her scar, wondering if she is as torn up by the experience that he is with his friend's death.
Anyone knows this kind of story, knows that Fallon Little will never reveal the truth within the context of the story. She might tell Trent, and she apparently does at the end of the book, but we, the reader, will never be privy to that secret. The idea is that one's imagination will be far superior to whatever the author can come up with, so why mess with that?
But ugh. I personally hate that approach. It's been done to death. It's old and cliched and needs to be put to pasture. For a better approach to this kind of story, I recommend, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (2017).
A Dash of Trouble: 03/03/18
A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano is the first book in the middle grade fantasy series, Love, Sugar, Magic. Lenora "Leo" Logroño is the youngest child. Her sisters have all been invited to help out in the family bakery but so far she's being kept out of the family business. With el Dia de los Muertos coming and the bakery being super busy, Leo wants to help. When everyone in her family tells her no, she decides to find out why.
Leo learns that the women in her family are brujas de la cocina (kitchen witches). There are normal recetas (recipes) and magical ones. She convinces her older sisters to teach her simple spells and then things get out of hand. Can Leo fix things without getting Mami involved?
It took me a while to get into Leo's story because it seemed so improbable that a family with such a long standing magical tradition would be capable of keeping it a secret from those who aren't into their powers yet. It also seemed like a wasted opportunity to teach before their are actual magical stakes at risk. I also found it odd that Leo wasn't taught Spanish even though she would be needing it later on to read the recipes. The original, untranslated recipes are included in the body of book, as are Leo's English translations at the back of the book.
Qualms aside, the reasons are explained in story and once the stage it set the resulting story is a good mixture of humor and consequences. Leo working magic unsupervised goes horribly wrong but she is able to undo her mistakes.
Book two, A Sprinkle of Spirits comes out in 2019.
February 2018 Sources: 03/03/18
February started with my husband on a business trip, meaning I was keeping up early to get our oldest to his zero period class, plus doing all the chauffeuring for both kids. It wasn't all that bad, just meant getting up earlier. If only I could have gotten to sleep at a reasonable time at night. Insomnia though didn't let me. So what do you do? You read.
Despite continuing with my read a new book each week, most of which I'm purchasing, my February score was better than January's. It fell from -1.69 to -2.15. This February was my second lowest for the last three years.
Looking at all previous years, February 2018 is right in the middle. February is where I really start to get into gear for a new year of reading. I'm trying to get through older books on my shelf but I'm also starting to get a hold of the newly published titles.
The new books though did make an impact on the monthly average, though just a slight one. The ROOB average for February rose from -2.38 to -2.35
March has five new books scheduled, where they will be purchased and read in the same month. That will probably continue to push the ROOB score up towards a positive number.
The Kairos Mechanism: 03/02/18
The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford is the sequel to The Boneshaker and the keystone holding together her Bradburyesque historical horror with her more Pratchettesque modern day fantasies.
In the same year as The Kairos Mechanism, there was also The Broken Lands which served as a prequel to The Boneshaker. It tried to explain the battle of the crossroads and the reason why Arcane was beset again with an evil traveling show (though the first time the city didn't survive, as evidenced by the ghost town near the crossroads). But New York City has its own rules and those rules didn't fit well with the way Milford world-builds and wordplays. At least on a first reading; I have a feeling I will need to re-read the book at a slower more critical pace.
The Kairos Mechanism happened outside the world of traditional publishing in that it was published through funds raised via Kickstarter. All of this happened though before Milford was even on my radar and three years before I even had the notion to restart my road narrative study.
As Milford's books always have stories wrapped in stories, let me set the stage for my reading of her books. The Boneshaker I ran into at Powell's in Portland. We were visiting for the Fourth of July. I read it on the way home in the car. Then I re-read it in the context of another road trip (to Los Angeles, I think) as an audiobook.
The next year she Kickstartered another book, Bluecrowne, which is now being re-released as part of the Greenglass House series. But this point where her career was taking off and she was finding her voice, I missed. So now I come to her earlier works with a mixture of awe and twenty-twenty hindsight. At least I didn't let twenty years slip by like I did with Terry Pratchett!
Thankfully someone had sold their copy of The Kairos Mechanism to a used bookstore and I was able to purchase it and read it in the run-up to the release of Bluecrowne.
This slim volume, only one hundred sixty pages, takes the foundation of the crossroads magic explored in both The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands and fleshes them out so that Raconteur's Commonplace passages in the Greenglass House books can be read with greater clarity.
The book starts simply enough, with Natalie Minks and the other residents of Arcane, Missouri taking notice of two visitors bringing home the body of one of their residents — a man who died years ago during the Civil War. Except the body is well preserved and the boys who bring him home appear to act and dress from a completely different era.
Thus is introduced two kinds of time: Kronos: time flowing in a line; and Kairos: the opportune time. There are moments in life and the universe that are so special, so unique, so indelible that they can be skipped to if one knows how.
Natalie with her open eyes and curious mind once again catches the attention of a dangerous visitor. But she also has the wherewithal to save her town. In doing so she catches a glimpse of the men behind the man who has come to plunder Arcane. Now having read the Greenglass House books first, I recognized their names. In this context, though, they were there as an Easter Egg, a clue, and a set up for Bluecrowne which was the original introduction to Nagspeake.
For fans like me didn't get to read The Kairos Mechanism the first time around, I hope it gets a re-release like Bluecrowne. Milford's upcoming books, besides the re-release, include Rialto (2020) described as a standalone middle grade (but so far none of her books are complete standalones), and The Raconteur's Commonplace (2020).
I will be diving further into Milford's use of time and crossroads in an upcoming essay.
The Prince and the Dressmaker: 03/01/18
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is a middle grade graphic novel set in Paris in the time leading up to the opening of Émile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise (Au bonheur des dames) (1883).
Frances is hired last minute to make a dress for the ball held by the King and Queen of Belgium in the hopes of finding a bride for their sixteen year old son, Sebastian. When the girl describes a dress that will shock and horrify the other attendees and Frances complies, she is about to be let go from the shop for her insubordination. Instead, she's hired by a man who has a client willing to pay well beyond her normal salary.
Her client ends up being Prince Sebastian, who is a "prince who likes to wear dresses" and sometimes "feels like a princess." His first job for her is to create a citrus inspired dress — one to go with a fiery red wig he's acquired. The dress and the wig lead to the creation of an alter-ego, Lady Crystallia.
I say the book is set in the time before Au bonheur des dames because one of the themes of the story is how women's fashion is changing. There is concern over the announced department store that will forever alter the way people buy clothing. Frances, though, sees it as an opportunity as she is feeling more and more trapped by the secrets that she has to keep for Sebastian.
Obviously the big drama is around Sebastian and his secret. The stakes are high because he's the crown prince. But a lot that turns out to be his own self driven fears of what would happen if he were found out. Of course he is found out and at first things seem to follow the worst case scenario. Except that's not how it plays out.
It's one of those graphic novels that will take you through a full range of emotions but will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. If you want more of the same but in a modern day setting, please check out Jen Wang's Koko Be Good.
February 2018 Summary: 03/01/18
February was also completely free to read what I wanted. That said there were two things that influenced what I read. The first is the schedule I made at the start of the year, to make sure I made time to read and review at least one newly published book each week. The second was a large number of library books coming due as happens when I am too impulsive in my requesting of books from my wishlist.
February did not have the scheduling problems that January did due to a small number of newly published books available and their delivery being hampered by storms back east. I actually now have a bit of a cushion of extra books all published in these first two months to read and review should future pre-orders arrive late. So far, though, they've been arriving early.
February marks the eighth month in a row that I've read more inclusive books than not. Inclusive, I admit, I'm being rather broad in my description. They are books that don't feature a white, male, able bodied, cis-het protagonist or means — nor are they books that are like me: California, upper middle class, white. But I am including books from foreign countries (unless they are ubiquitous here). I am striving to read more books by a diverse range of authors — not just books featuring diverse characters.
That said, more than half of February's books fit into the inclusive or diverse category (twenty-four in total). The remaining ten fell into the not-diverse, not-inclusive category.
February's reviews, though, fell short of my goal of including fifty percent of the reviews being from my diverse / inclusive reads. I should have reviewed fourteen to reach that goal. I reviewed thirteen. I am also trying to work through my backlog of older reviews and those books were chosen with less regard to author or character representation.
April will continue to work on the goals of reading and reviewing with more attention to representation. Right now my schedule shows I will be reviewing eighteen qualifying books, brining me over my stated goal. Of course schedules can change.
At the start of February I had tweleve reviews from 2015 I wanted to post. That's now down to seven. The 2016 reviews are down to fifty-nine from sixty-four. I posted seven reviews from 2017, brining that total down to sixty-one. My 2018 reviews have grown from eighteen to forty-six.