Now 2023 Previous Articles Road Essays Road Reviews Author Black Authors Title Source Age Genre Series Format Inclusivity LGBTA Portfolio Artwork WIP

May 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

Reading Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

Beat the Backlist 2023

Chicken Art

Privacy policy

This blog does not collect personal data. It doesn't set cookies. Email addresses are used to respond to comments or "contact us" messages and then deleted.

Traveling party: 05/31/18

image from Questions Asked
by Jostein Gaarder

The third piece of the road narrative project after the road and destination, there is the traveler, or travelers. If this were an adventure or role playing, we'd be talking about the party. However you want to talk about it, it's the people or creatures or anthropomorphic personifications who are going on the trip. I can't just say people and I can't just say sentient because all sorts of characters end up on these trips and sometimes their sentiency or value as people or the self actualization is part of the journey.

In 2017 while sojourning in an apartment for the summer I split apart my genres of travel and my types of characters traveling. Originally I had a the two blended together but the more I read and the more I thought about the ontology of the road narrative — or if you prefer, the aboutness — I began to see that there were three things in play: the road, the destination, the traveler.

My initial look at the road narrative character types was part of my deconstruction of The Greenglass House by Kate Milford. The colors I used were an attempt to link the characters to the genres I had categorized. If I am to take the road, destination, and character as three separate axes, then I need to rework the color scheme of these individual elements, to create a new road narrative palette.

The types of characters I've identified so far are:

  • the orphan: often a literal orphan, but sometimes a loaner by circumstances
  • the siblings: often a pair of siblings, sometimes twins, more rarely, more than two.
  • the privileged: usually a young, white, cis gendered, heterosexual man. Sometimes an older white woman of means.
  • the romantic couple: where romance is found on the road, or where the couple needs to reunite via a road trip.
  • scarecrows and minotaurs: scarecrows stand guard outside, minotaurs stand guard on the inside.
  • Marginalized travelers: woman, travelers of other ethnicities, foreigners. These are the travelers who risk the most.

When I first identified these types of travelers, I thought the privileged was at the top of the list — the person for whom a successful trip is most guaranteed. He's the hero. He gets things done. But further reading, especially in the horror and fantasy genres says that's not the case. The privileged gives the illusion of being the safest, most successful traveler because he takes the least amount of risk.

Instead, it's the orphan who ALWAYS makes it through the end and has the most success at being a hero. Being an orphan invokes "orphan magic" a term borrowed from Greenglass House. If there is a hidden passage, a dangerous route, no apparent escape, a life or death situation — the orphan will find the path, survive the journey, and do whatever it is that everyone else has failed at.

The next most successful set of travelers are the siblings. Siblings can temporarily invoke orphan magic if they are separated, or if one is seriously injured, or in extreme cases, if one sibling dies. If a sibling dies, often a part of the reward of wielding orphan magic is the ability to resurrect or heal the other sibling. The Winchester brothers in Supernatural are an extreme example of siblings repeatedly invoking orphan magic to save the day.

Scarecrows and minotaurs can either be features of the landscape, ie, part of the destination, or they can join the party. In that regard, they are the most unusual of the party members. Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ends up traveling with one of each: a literal scarecrow who doesn't want to be stuck in the field he's been made to protect, and the cowardly lion who is supposed to be the monster of the forest but doesn't feel brave enough. There is also the Tin Woodsman who is a privileged traveler shown for his true nature — in that he doesn't have the heart for travel but goes along anyway when asked because Dorothy can keep his hingers well oiled.

Finally there are the marginalized travelers. In the worst, most lazily written (often by white, male writers) these travelers are included to show how dangerous the road can be. Any bad thing that can happen does happen. A prime example of this mindset is Mosquitoland by David Arnold.

When a road narrative is written by a marginalized person the marginalized characters usually recast into other character roles. Sometimes the danger of the road is still part of the narrative as racism and xenophobia is sadly a reality but the characters still get to be the hero of the story.

Comments  (0)

My Boyfriend Bites: 05/31/18

My Boyfriend Bites

My Boyfriend Bites by Dan Jolley and Alitha E. Martinez is the third in the My Boyfriend is a Monster graphic novel series. Vanessa Shingle is a high school senior who has a habit of trying to change people — especially the men in her life. Then she meets Mr. Perfect — the janitor at the local college.

Around the same time bad stuff starts to happen. It starts as a series of near fatal accidents, and then attacks by local teens, and then monsters. Each time, she's saved by Mr. Perfect.

The tone of this book is a cross between first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Clueless. It has similar plot points to the beginning romance between Buffy and Angel but played more for the comedy than for the on-going metaphor of the dangers of May-December romance.

For me, the attempt at broad humor doesn't work here. The bordering on slapstick hindered a more natural development of the plot. Vanessa goes from well meaning but slightly ditzy do-gooder to almost victim to prophesied monster slayer with little to no segue.

The next in the series is Under His Spell by Marie P. Croall and Hyeondo Park.

Three stars

Comments (0)

Bad Neighbors: 05/30/18

Bad Neighbors

Bad Neighbors by Maia Chance is the second of the Agnes and Effie mysteries. The remodel of the inn has gotten the green light and while progress is slow it is coming along. Agnes finds out, though, that her aunt's inn will get its first real test when a fall colors tour bus breaks down and the passengers need somewhere to stay. While most of the passengers can go to established inns, there just aren't enough rooms available, so Effie's inn has to help out.

Meanwhile, one of the mechanics in this small town is found murdered. It looks like Otis, Agnes's new boyfriend, is the prime suspect. With a tag along crew of elderly tourists, Agnes sets out to prove his innocence.

Agnes and Effie are such an odd couple: the jaded twenty or thirty something, and the exuberant, live life to the fullest aunt. Either one by themselves would be a archetypal cozy mystery sleuth but I can't recall a pairing of these two in any other series I've read, especially when there is a familial bond, rather than a romantic one.

Effie, especially is a throwback to a kind of character I haven't seen in other recent series. She reminds me of Endora from Bewitched, minus the magic of course. She's that aunt or mother figure that everyone should have but no one necessarily wants. She's the one who has tried everything at least once and is still finding new things to try.

Agnes, meanwhile, is the millennial down on her luck and forced to move home. She's a breath of fresh air to the flood of Baby Boomer generation of protagonists that have flooded the mystery series market in recent decades.

Admittedly the mystery is still a little rough around the edges but the clues and the pacing are different and fresh. I like where this series is going and hope to be able to follow it for a bunch more books to see how it grows and evolves.

Five stars

Comments (0)

The Journey of Little Charlie: 05/29/18

The Journey of Little Charlie

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis is set in mid-1800s in South Carolina, Michigan, and Ontario. The story follows twelve year old Charlie Bobo as he is orphaned and then forced north to track down three escaped slaves. Charlie maybe young but he's big for his age and that gives him opportunities most kids his age wouldn't have but that responsibility forces him to do some serious growing up.

In print the book is completely written in dialect rather like how The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is. I am terrible at reading dialect. The words don't sound right to me and I end up struggling so hard with getting through even a paragraph that I end up hating a book even if I would otherwise like it.

As this particular book covers Canada's part in the Underground Railroad, specifically Buxton, a town founded by former slaves. While the Canadian piece of this novel is only the last quarter — or maybe third — of the novel, I am counting this book as an honorary Canadian book challenge addition.

So after three chapters in print, I switched to the audio version, read by someone capable of making the dialect sound like a spoken accent and also bring the characters to life. For anyone else who struggled with the book in print, please try it again as an audio.

The afterword includes the creative process for the novel. The story was inspired by an actual article in a Canadian newspaper about a young black man duped into riding a train back towards Windsor (the Canadian city just across the river from Detroit). Originally the plan was to alternate stories between Syl and Charlie but Charlie's voice won out.

While I can say that Charlie has a unique voice and perspective, I can honestly say I wanted more of Syl's story. I wanted more Canada. I wanted more of Windsor, Buxton and Chatham.

Four stars

Comments (0)

The Sandwich Swap: 05/28/18

The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich Swap by Rania Al Abdullah is a picture book about best friends, Lily and Salma. That is except for their tastes in lunch. Lily brings peanut butter and jelly. Salma brings hummus. Will their different lunch choices break up their friendship?

The short answer is no. But there are pages and pages of both girls being awful to each other all because they don't eat the same lunches.

The afterword explains that the book was inspired by an actual event from the author's childhood, where she and a friend swapped lunches. In this day in age, I doubt the kids would be allowed. Peanut allergies have become a schoolwide concern at a lot of schools. In some schools, food trading isn't allowed because of the fear of allergies and that is even a plot point in Frazzled by Booki Vivat.

Four stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 28): 05/28/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 28)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

All the big projects are turned in and the big tests taken. The last things on the end of school calendar are all my daughter's performances: chorus, violin, and the school play. On Wednesday I have the volunteer tea to attend for being on the School Site Council for the last two years.

At home I've finished the first of my new ten painting series of avian portraits. As the chestnut backed chickadees are our personal favorite, I did this portrait. I call it "The Godfather."

An acrylic portrait of a chestnut backed chickadee, ©2018 Sarah Sammis

What I read:

The Journey of Little Charlie Paradox in Ox The Orphan Band of Springdale Runaways French Pressed The Speaker

  • The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis; personal collection (audio)
  • Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower (Illustrator); library book / research
  • The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet; personal collection
  • Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell; personal collection
  • French Pressed by Cleo Coyle; personal collection (audio)
  • The Speaker by Traci Chee; library book

What I'm reading:

The Shadow Cipher Down Among the Sticks and Bones Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity The Penderwicks

  • The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire; library book / research
  • Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection (audio)

Up Soon:

Welcome to Nightvale Hello, Universe The Alcatraz Escape Inside Hudson Pickle

  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; personal collection
  • Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (24)

Secondhand Souls: 05/27/18

Secondhand Souls

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore has convinced me that I'm ready to move on from my thirties obsession with Moore's books. While I've matured as a reader, any growth shown in Sacré Bleu must have been a fluke. Or maybe I was the only reader to like it.

Secondhand Souls is the sequel to A Dirty Job. But the inspiration behind the first book, which while goofy, was still compelling and touching, is missing here. Instead we're giving sophomoric jokes, zombie squirrels, sex jokes, and other filler.

Example of the printing errors

To make matters worse, the copy I had was poorly made. The print run was blurry and ink stained. I've read self published books with better quality assurance than this sad volume. It's so illegible in places that I'll have to throw out the book rather than sell it or donate it.

One star

Comments (0)

Sibling magic on and off road in the fantasy and horror road narrative: 05/27/18

Cover art

In most of the horror and fantasy road narratives I've read, the protagonist is a singleton, often an orphan. Even when the protagonist has a family, they're often adopted, thus still giving them access to orphan magic. Siblings, though, bring a different dynamic to the journey.

In the early part of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (2017) as Jacqueline and Jillian are facing the unexpected spiral staircase in the attic trunk that once held their dress-up clothes, that asserts their journey is different. Specifically:

It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole.

The idea here is that Dorothy and Alice had an easy time getting to their fantasy worlds. Alice fell down the rabbit hole and pushed through the looking glass. Dorothy on her first two trips was carried away by a cyclone (Baum's choice or word) and washed over board in the South Pacific en route to Australia.

While Alice and Dorothy do have stories of adventures in alternate worlds, I don't count Alice's stories in my road narrative project. Alice's adventures are fundamentally different from Dorothy's primarily because they are British stories.

British travel stories are to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, "there and back again" tales. They are about the journey to a place with the understanding that the final stop on the itinerary will be home — no matter how great the adventure. Alice in both her trips, goes home and never considers the possibility of staying, where as Dorothy, even in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is told she might have to settle there if the Wizard can't find her a way home. Then of course, later in the series, she does in fact settle in Oz and manages to get her aunt and uncle to move there too. Fantasy worlds in American road narratives are the new frontier.

Another way Dorothy and Alice differ is a matter of family. Alice has her parents, her governess, her big sister, and her cat. Dorothy has her aunt and her uncle, and of course, Toto, but in the first book, the events whatever they may be that orphaned her are still raw and recent. They are recent enough that Aunt Em wonders in chapter one how Dorothy can still manage to laugh. Looking at another famous alternate world British story, Peter Pan, Mary, John and Michael were siblings who traveled together — but they too had a mother and father waiting for them at home and there is never really an worry that they won't get home at the end of their adventures.

Family adventures in American road narratives, especially in fantasy and horror ones, are rare. The most common type appears to be the siblings traveling together. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones the siblings are twin girls — who have been raised arbitrarily separate people: one very boyish and one very girlish, contrary to their own personal wishes. They go to Moors to find their true selves and that doesn't involve being twins or a like in any way.

Back to McGuire's assertion that the trip to the Moors is harder for Jack and Jill (as they are known in the first book, Every Heart a Doorway) vs. Alice and Dorothy. Removing Alice from the equation and looking at Dorothy, as an exemplar of "orphan magic," the question is, "is sibling travel different from orphan travel?"

Tentatively, I say yes. In discussion of Speedy in Oz I noted that travel to Oz seemed to most often come as the result of near death experiences. For the orphan who is the last remaining of a family — due to death or perceived death — it appears that they can avoid dying or that the process of dying is transformative — taking them to a new place rather than taking their life.

When siblings travel together, the stakes are higher because it's entirely possible that one will die, leaving the other. This threat is supplanted numerous times in Supernatural (2005 - ?) as both Winchester brothers have died at least one and the surviving brother with the temporary power boost of orphan magic is able to resurrect or otherwise rescue the fallen brother. It has gotten to the point that the reapers and Death themself are annoyed at the Winchesters, and yet they still manage to cheat death.

As am I only two thirds of the way through Down Among the Sticks and Bones I don't know how the sibling dynamic will play out for Jack and Jill, beyond knowing it won't go well for them. We know the Moors weren't a happy place for them from how they are characterized in the first book. We know they have seen death and we know they are capable of killing. I just don't know quite how that comes to play yet.

Comments  (0)

The Orphan Band of Springdale: 05/26/18

The Orphan Band of Springdale

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet is set in inland Maine in 1941. Augusta "Gusta" Neubronner is sent to her maternal grandmother's home as her father flees the authorities. In her possession is her suitcase and her French horn.

What unfolds after Gusta's arrival is the fictionalized account of stories Anne's mother's time in Maine. The afterword explains how the real events informed and inspired the fictional ones. Springdale is inspired by Sanford.

To describe the plot would be to give it away. It's a nuanced, messy set of events. In this regard it's very much like Cloud and Wallfish (2016).

The title reflects Gusta and her cousins forming a band to play at the summer fair. Their goal is to be a red ribbon band (earning second place) so that their grandmother will allow them to sing and play music in the house.

But it's not just about the band. It's about trying to do the right thing and standing up to injustice when adults can't or won't. It's about telling the truth and breaking open family secrets. It's about making your own family and remember the ones no longer living. It's about injustice of racism and the dangerous nature of enforced patriotism.

Basically it's a timely, relevant, thoughtful book that I hope makes it into classrooms.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Small towns and out of the way places: 05/25/18

Cover art

Besides the road, the road narrative needs the small town or the out of the way place. Even when the narrative is the standard one of a cross country trip from New York to California, the meat of the story lies in the encounters along the way, with small town encounters being the most memorable.

Just as the road is constantly in a narrative tug of war with off road travel, the big cities are in a similar opposition to the small towns or even the single dwellings. Road narratives are driven by the negative spaces — the places without roads or with poor roads — and small towns, the places where people can get lost, the forgotten, haunted, bypassed areas.

It is the extreme examples of these small towns that interest me the most, especially in how they are used in orphan magic, labyrinth, or crossing the cornfield stories.

Rural place as portal:

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is carried to Oz on her first journey via a cyclone from her aunt and uncle's struggling farm in Kansas. In later volumes, the ways into Oz multiply, but it's the first trip that is best remembered and the most iconic.

In the Fairyland stories by Catherynne M Valente that center on September, she is always shown leaving her Omaha farm house. Omaha happens to be the 43rd largest city in the United States but in comparison to a big coastal city, it feels small and by setting the departure point from a single house on the outskirts of the city, drives home the sense of remoteness and isolation.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman features a single house that is a portal to an alternate and deadly version of itself. For the film, that house is set on the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon (with a population of 22,000 — or roughly 18 times smaller than Omaha).

While the first two examples provide access to rather positive experiences for protagonists — enough so that both Dorothy and September ultimately decide to relocate to their alternate worlds, Coraline's is a deathtrap.

Rural place as trap:

Coraline is the perfect segue to the the most common of the small town stories (especially in the horror genre), the small town as trap. Here there are two versions of the trap: the townspeople themselves are trapped, or about to be trapped; or the town is the honey pot to lure in outsiders for nefarious reasons.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby opens with the protagonist lamenting that his mother has left him and his brother behind in Bone Gap. She has managed to escape. Everything is okay, but not great, as long as his brother's girlfriend is around. When she is kidnapped in front of the protagonist and no one believes him and people start to act as if she was a figment of his imagination, he begins to wonder if Bone Gap is more than just a middle of nowhere town. Turns out he's right and the only way to see the trap for what it is to go off road and cross through the cornfield (thus the inspiration for my term "crossing the cornfield.")

More extreme examples of these trapped towns are "It's a Good Life" by Jerome Bixby (and so excellently done as an episode of The Twilight Zone with Bill Mumy as the monster; and Boneshaker by Kate Milford, where a traveling medicine show almost spells the end for Arcane. Of course Boneshaker takes inspiration in set up and motifs from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (especially the Disney film which puts all the short stories into a single, coherent horror narrative)

To see what small town centered road narratives I've reviewed so far please see:

Comments  (0)

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones: 05/25/18

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt is the start of the Mabel Jones middle grade adventure series. There are pirates in an alternate world who find pirates from our world by grabbing those who do the dastardly, unmentionable deed. When Mabel Jones does the deed and they grab her, they don't know what to do. They've never grabbed a girl before!

The set up didn't sound promising but I was in the middle of reading about orphan magic, a term used in Greenglass House. There are so many examples, especially in middle grade fiction, of children (often actual orphans, though ones who feel like loners also qualify) being transported to an alternate world or being able to escape from a bad situation when no one else can.

The first third of the book involves Mabel's shock at being kidnapped by pirates and the pirates being horrified by capturing a girl. Mind you, there is a history of women pirates and it's presumptuous to assume all girls would be too dainty or feminine to pick their noses. I lost track of how many times I came close to closing the book early and counting it as a did not finish (DNF).

Around the second third of the book things start to change. Mabel has convinced them to let her lead the quest that she had been captured for. Through the questing, there is world building. And that's when things get interesting.

It begins with a pirate who appears to be the embodiment of DEATH. He can do things that the pirates cannot but that Mabel can. She is either invincible or she and he are more similar than they are different. The clues are there for readers to figure out before the big reveal.

By the final third, the reality of this alternate world is laid bare and it's not what I was expecting. It's far more epic than such a silly (and sexist) premise would lead one to expect. The pirates are living in a dystopia and it's one that's more closely tied to Mabel and our world than is first made apparent.

The second book in the series is Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City (2016).

Three stars

Comments (0)

March: Book Two: 05/24/18

March: Book Two

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (illustrator) covers the actions of the Freedom Riders who attempted to ride busses from Washington D.C. down to points in the South to test the compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling to desegregate interstate busses.

Riders, such as author John Lewis, faced arrests, beatings, the threat of lynchings, and firebombing of the busses. Busses were often stopped at state lines, refused passage, refused maintenance or gas, or delayed until riders gave up.

I dare you to read this graphic novel and not get angry. I dare you to not go through every negative emotion. I dare you to not think about today's environment and get angry again, keeping in mind that the book was published at a time of hopefulness.

Book three rounds out the trilogy and I will be reading and reviewing it soon.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Secret at Mystic Lake: 05/23/18

Secret at Mystic Lake

Secret at Mystic Lake by Carolyn Keene is the sixth of the Nancy Drew Diaries. George has invited Nancy and Bess along on a three day bicycle tour of Mystic Lake to celebrate her birthday. From the very first stop things start to go wrong: bags are missing, half the food is gone, and then the tour leader disappears! Nancy might be on vacation but she knows she has to solve this mystery before everyone is hopelessly lost or worse.

Personal circumstances put me right in the middle of this book. Back when I was Nancy's age I worked as a camp counselor for a summer. On our one and only over night hiking and camping trip things went pear shaped. First, an entire carload of stuff (sleeping bags, backpacks, etc) never made it to the site where we were hiking. The working theory was that someone had stolen the stuff after it was dropped off but before we arrived. Next, animals almost made off with our food (raccoons, not bears) and I learned in the process of chasing after them that I'm thankfully not allergic to poison oak. Finally we had to cut the trip short, though I can't remember why.

Because of the similarities of personal experience, I didn't catch on to what was really going on. That made the mystery all the more suspenseful. Of the series so far, it's my favorite. It's the right balance of character driven plot, remote location, isolation, and dangerous weather.

The next book in the series is The Phantom of Nantucket.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli: 05/22/18

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad is another in the series of picture book biographies about famous visionaries / oddballs of the 20th century.

Bloom covers the fashion designer's childhood, her early career and touches on some of the ways she was inspired. Some highlights include her inspiration from colors and textures in nature, and later her passion over finding both the perfect shade of pink and the perfect shade of light blue.

Much of the heavy lifting in this short biography is done by Julie Morstad's colorful illustrations. For instance the cover shows a time when Schiaparelli tried to grow flowers from her face so that she could be the beautiful person she wanted to be, rather than the ugly duckling her mother always said she was.

The other biography these two collaborated on was Julia, Child.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Sunny: 05/21/18


Sunny by Jason Reynolds is the third in the middle grade Track series. As with the previous books, this book is told from the first person perspective of one of the track members — Sunny.

For Sunny's story, everything is written in diary form and each chapter includes the image of a bookmark in the corner. The Diary entries begin after starting "Dear Diary." Sunny explains why he does that and not use journal or some other word when speaking to the book in the earliest chapter.

Sunny's voice is poetic — very much like a younger, more hopeful one to Xiomara's slam poetry in The Poet X. There's a Hip Hop vibe to his entries but that vibe is tied into his desire to always be moving.

Now that he's hit a block in his running where he can't focus on the races, he's trying to find new outlets for his need to move. Sunny's story covers that transition from runner to discus thrower. While I've not thrown a discus, I did do shot-put in junior high and found it one of the few track and field events I was actually good at. The techniques that Sunny learns are very similar to the ones I learned, so it was fun to have that connection.

Book four, Lu, comes out in the end of August.

Five stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 21): 05/21/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 21)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

It's been a busy week. The school year is wrapping up, so I've been spending a lot of my free time making sure my youngest works on her big projects. Those are both due this Tuesday and then things will get back to normal.

What I read:

Bad Neighbors Depth The Mushroom Fan Club Wicked will rise Sunny

  • Bad Neighbors by Maia Chance; personal collection
  • Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen; personal collection (audio)
  • The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel
  • The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds; personal collection

What I'm reading:

The Shadow Cipher The Journey of Little Charlie Runaways The Orphan Band of Springdale

  • The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis; personal collection (audio)
  • Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell; personal collection
  • The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet; personal colelction

Up Soon:

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity Welcome to Nightvale The Speaker Paradox in Ox

  • Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection
  • The Speaker by Traci Chee; library book
  • Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower (Illustrator); library book / research


Reviews Posted

Comments  (16)

Ratscalibur: 05/20/18


Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb is at the intersection of Arthur and the Invisibles and Sword in the Stone. Joey and his mother have moved to New York and are trying their darnedest to adjust to a very different life. That is until a magical talking rat gets in, bites Joey and turns him in to a rat!

There's an ancient battle brewing among the city creatures of New York City. For readers familiar with the classic fantasy (like King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings, etc) will recognize the inspirations for this story.

But this one is also its own tale. It's not just a retelling. Lieb offers up a new explanation of how *agic works and how different animals can use it. Magic is mankind's version, for example.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Reading Current: 05/20/18

Cover art

When I took my love of reading online I realized just how much of the social aspects of reading are with reading and discussing whatever is new. Of course in the book blogging community, there is another level of participation through the reviewing of arcs and egalleys. That part I'm not interested in, but being aware of and being able to talk intelligently about what's recently in print, is something I want to do.

Last year when faced with the reality of a move (first believed to be international, and then locally) and the need to put 90% of our family's possessions into storage for half a year or more meant that I couldn't do what I usually do — namely read through a mixture of library books and older books I had on hand. So I turned to newly purchased ebooks, read on my phone or my computer.

During the time we were sojourning in an apartment while we sold our condo and bought a house, I settled on the review schedule I'm using now where Saturdays are the day I review a newly published book. I also have days dedicated to Canadian books, mysteries, graphic novels, and road narrative books.

This year I as I realized I was nearly through my years' long backlog of reviews and could realistically be facing a time when I had at most a month's worth of books to review at any given time (rather than half a year's worth or more), I started optimistically populating my review schedule with newly published books or upcoming books into these other categories (newly published Canadian books, newly published mysteries, newly published graphic novels, and newly published road narrative books).

And that's where I'm hitting my biggest mental block. I am feeling overwhelmed some weeks when facing two or three newly published books that I've decided I will read and review. I'm still trying to balance out the excitement of these new books with my more laid backlist approach to reading. In the past I've been able to schedule out reviews for half a month at a time and now I'm at two months at a time because if I try to schedule everything else in, I'll feel trapped by a reading or reviewing schedule, and that's not the purpose of my schedule.

What I've reviewed this year by year published.

Comments  (0)

The Mushroom Fan Club: 05/19/18

The Mushroom Fan Club

The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel is a short, jaunty book that defies easy classification. It's nonfiction. It's a memoir. It's an introduction to mushroom hunting. It's a graphic novel. It's a picture book.

The book is inspired by the author and her family's enjoyment of mushroom hunting in the forests near Montreal. The fungi are drawn in this delightful balance between being realistic enough to be recognizable, but with cartoony faces, with wide eyes straight out of a comic strip.

There's one representative mushroom from each of the basic types. There's a page that outlines the parts of a mushroom. My son commented that the gills, though drawn on this generic mushroom, aren't labeled. The next page explains that decision; not all fungi have gills but enough of them have the other parts that those are labeled.

Regardless, it's an adorable and informative book. It's also a reminder that I have enjoyed books from her Les petits dégoûtants (disgusting critters) series and I should read more of them. There are eight in total, though only seven have been translated into English.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Getting there: it's the road, stupid: 05/18/18

Cover art

When I started the road narrative project in 1995 and restarted it twenty years later, I naively approached the topic with a driver's mindset. What made a road trip a road trip, I thought, was the act of driving across the country.

Both times I started with the creation of the automobile, as is the automobile created the genre. Certainly, the automobile fundamentally altered methods of travel and spawned a subgenre of narrative, both nonfiction and fiction. But the automobile isn't the ontological crutch of the genre.

It's the road. And when the road isn't there, it's the absence of the road.

Let's look at an extreme case where it would seem that the automobile, or vehicles, in general, were the point of the story: Cars (2006). Or going back further, The Endless Pavement by Jacqueline Jackson (1973). Or look at Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming (1964). There are many many others: magical cars, sentient cars, self driving cars, haunted cars, and so forth. All these cars as characters, and what are they dependent on: the road. Or what makes them special? Being able to go off road. Or what makes them scary: forcing humanity to stay on the road.

Cars, busses, trains, carts, balloons, feet, etc, are all methods of following, or not, a road. The road could be a literal representation of the narrative: a typical road trip along an interstate. The road could be a thing of safety if people are held prisoner in some out of the way place. The road could be an illusion, where going off road is the only way towards salvation. The road could have a mind of its own (as the Yellow Brick Road is sometimes characterized).

In my research of the road narrative, most of the emphasis has been on studying the automobile as the catalyst, essentially narrowing down the focus on just one type of story. These stories are then further categorized by descriptions of plot for arbitrary periods of time. The categories go like this: stories about making / surviving the journey in an automobile (1900-1915); romance on the road (1915-1930); camping on the road or the great migrations of the Depression (1930-1940); young man's coming of age on the road (1940-1960); the Babyboomer disillusionment of the road (1960s-1975); post Vietnam feminist road trips (1975-1980s); Dystopian road narratives (mid 1980s-1990s). As the studies I've read were all published early 1990s, they don't include the most recent decades. (See American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film by Ann Brigham for more examples and discussion)

The problem with the approach of naming each era by the dominant type of story from the vehicle focused road narratives is that it runs the risk of ignoring outliers or shared tropes.

It was in my tracking down of the "crossing the cornfield" types of stories: basically the ones where the vehicle is left behind and the main characters are forced to go off road or can't find the road, etc., that I began to see a larger driving force to the American road narrative.

Comments  (0)

Soupy Leaves Home: 05/18/18

Soupy Leaves Home

Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci is a historical graphic novel set during the Depression. Pearl Plankette escapes her abusive father and runs away. After swapping her dress for some boy's overalls and a cap, she is befriended by a hobo who calls himself Ramshackle. Needing a new identity she settles on the name Soupy.

Castellucci combines the history and lore of hobo code with an orphan magic road narrative. Soupy learns that she isn't alone in the desire to separate herself from her family, to effectively self invoke orphan status and if one follows the code, reap the rewards of orphan magic.

Interestingly, too, is way the cardinal directions are used as a metaphorical way of living one's life. For Soupy who wishes to stay lost, she follows Remy south. North is when you know where you are and you have a steady path. West is where you go to die. East is going home.

These philosophical statements of direction are something to keep in mind in comparison to Baum's Oz books. Although a printing error is "blamed" on the reversal of East and West on the Oz map, I believe the error was to the service of the world building and to Dorothy's journey both through Oz and as a form of character growth.

Soupy too grows and starts to see Ramshackle as a stand in father figure. When he eventually does go west — first literary for his health (presumably tuberculosis) and then metaphorically, Soupy realizes it's time to be homeward bound (from which hobo is derived). She resumes her old life, but independent now. She finds a job. She goes east to attend Ramshackle's funeral and to tell his family (a wife and child) about his passing.

As some reviews have criticized, Soupy's experience as a hobo as well as the hobo lifestyle is romanticized. I take the romanticism as a metaphorical setting for given a different setting would be a classic coming of age fantasy questing story. The hobo code and songs and signs here are used as a foundation for the book's magical realism, with the emphasis being on the realism wit the magical there to convey character growth.

Four stars

Comments (0)

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #5: Pinkie Pie: 05/17/18

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #5: Pinkie Pie

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #5: Pinkie Pie by Ted Anderson is about Pinkie Pie coming to terms with the impending retirement of her favorite clown, Ponyacci. Apparently the clown's name and story is a pun on a character in The Watchman. I didn't catch the reference (beyond the old cliché of the clown being sad on the inside) because I haven't read The Watchman.

Any fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic knows that Pinkie Pie obsesses over things. All of the Mane Five do but Pinkie is the most over the top about how she expresses her otakuness.

Imagine now that you're an old, tired clown who might be fighting depression and might just need time away from the worst of the fandom, only to be stalked by a loud, boisterous, and semi-famous, fan who insists you can't retire — that she won't let you. Wouldn't you be scared out of your gourd? I would.

In the end, Pinkie does manage to find a "good" solution to her "problem." Namely, she convinces Ponyacci to teach at the clown school. And that's supposed to make everything better for both characters. Except it's all Pinkie's doing and even at her worst, she's usually more caring about ponies.

It's hard to see the humor in Pinkie Pie's actions in the context of fandom discussions, the doxing, the rape threats, the boycotts, etc that some fans threaten other fans or even performers they are fans of. Is the message here appropriate? No.

If this book had been an actual episode from the cartoon, Pinkie's closet friends would have staged an intervention. They would have told her in polite terms to shut the fuck up and leave Mr. Ponyacci alone. Without their help and caring, though, Pinkie Pie becomes a very frightening, potentially dangerous pony.

Two stars

Comments (0)

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: 05/16/18

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant reminds me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson in terms of tone and characterization. If you like Larsson's book, you will probably like this book. If you're like me and didn't, then you will probably like this book more than I did.

Pia is a British-German girl living in a small German village with her parents and grandparents. Everything is pretty humdrum until her grandmother dies at Christmas in a fiery blaze involving a careless candle and too much hairspray. Suddenly Pia is the outcast at school, not because she's British, but because she's bad luck or likely to explode.

Pia's bad luck though isn't the point of the book. Instead it's a lengthy, overdone introduction to the actual plot — the disappearance of Katharina Linden from the fall festival. She was dressed like Snow White when last seen and that fact inspires Pia and some of the other children to see ties to her disappearance with the unadulterated Grimms' fairytales.

But once you peel away the subterfuge of a small German town obsessed with the brothers Grimm, the actual plot is blatantly obvious. Getting to the conclusion — to the big rescue is laid out with neon colored breadcrumbs. Except the narrator — our eyes and ears on the scene — is too dim to see them until we've suffered through three quarters of the novel.

Two stars

Comments (0)

Flo: 05/15/18


Flo by Kyo Maclear is a picture book about a laid back panda and her very busy siblings. The panda family has a fully schedule, every day, every waking hour. Flo meanwhile, would prefer to dance, to sing, to experience nature, to make art.

This story takes place on a particular day when Flo has had enough of her family's schedule and procrastinates enough to miss the boat. Flo gets a day to do her thing and her siblings get to do their thing.

When at the end of the day, they run into trouble, Flo is able to come to rescue but in her own, special laidback way.

Fleck's use of simple shapes, pastel shades and of course the black and white of the panda characters creates whimsical world that fits Flo's way of thinking. Other examples of his work are available in this interview.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Bat and the Waiting Game: 05/14/18

Bat and the Waiting Game

Bat and the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold is the sequel to A Boy Called Bat (2017). Bixby Alexander Tam has come into his own with the help of an orphaned skunk kit, Thor, that he's been caring for. Skunks aren't normally pets, but Bat's mother is a veterinarian who sometimes also treats wild animals.

As summer draws closer, Bat is coming to realize that pretty soon Thor will no longer be a kit. Once Thor is grown up, he'll have to be rehabilitated for release into the wild. I'm not sure how that's going to work, given just how hand raised Thor has been and just how imprinted he is on Bat. For this book, though, those questions don't have to be asked as Thor is still slightly too young to even consider release.

Bat, who likes routine, has to change his to accommodate his sister. She's in drama club and has a role in the upcoming play. Since she can't take him home, he has to go home with his best friend. Although they're friends, Bat has never been to Israel's house.

This book's skunk expert is Dr. Theodore Stankowich, though he doesn't play a role as a character like Dr. Jerry Dragoo does in the first volume. There's a lot of thought and work in describing Thor as realistically as possible within the context of a middle grade novel.

Thor's story arc isn't complete. The big question of his fate once he hits adulthood are still there unanswered. I hope this means that 2019 will have a third volume on offer.

Four stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 14): 05/14/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 14)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Last week I started on a painting to give to a friend. It feels good to work with acrylics after two years. I stopped just after I finished the avian portraits because I didn't have room for any new pieces in the condo and then we were suddenly deciding to move.

I plan to do ten new avian portraits, again from birds I've photographed. I probably won't restrict myself to the county I live in this time. I did that to fit the rules of the library's call for art.

Before beginning on the birds, though, I painted a still life of some tomatoes a friend of mine grew last year. She sent them home with me when I had volunteered to watch her twins. They were so pretty — a herritage variety, mostly yellow with some red to the skin. So I photographed them before I cooked them. Those photographs became the reference for the painting.

Detail of a still life painting of tomatoes
"You Say Tomato" ©2018 Sarah Sammis

What I read:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Don't Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami Bloom If I Had a Little Dream Dear Mrs Bird

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Don't Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami by Sharon Kahn
  • Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
  • If I Had a Little Dream by Nina Laden, Melissa Castrillón
  • Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce; personal collection

What I'm reading:

Depth Wicked will rise The Shadow Cipher The Journey of Little Charlie

  • Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen; personal collection (audio)
  • The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis; personal collection (audio)

Up Soon:

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity Welcome to Nightvale Bad Neighbors Runaways

  • Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection
  • Bad Neighbors by Maia Chance
  • Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell


Reviews Posted

Comments  (20)

This is Paris: 05/13/18

This is Paris

This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek is the start of the "This is" picture book series. It covers the most notable features of the City of Light like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower with illustrations that bring to mind the opening credits to The Pink Panther or A Shot in the Dark.

This is a fire-alarm

But the book isn't just about the big things. There are many little details too to bring 1950s Paris to life. Like the title, each of these things are introduced thus: "This is —"

As I read a recently reissued copy, the book includes a few footnotes about what has changed. The bicycle cops have been disbanded. The Louvre has the pyramid at the entrance.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Dear Mrs Bird: 05/12/18

Dear Mrs Bird

Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce is set in in London in 1940. Emmeline Lake is doing her part for the war effort. She's AFS, volunteering her time as a fire brigade operator. She wants to be a war correspondent and believes she has finally landed the perfect job towards that goal as a junior at Lancaster House.

There's just a wee problem. She's been hired as a junior typist, not a reporter, and the job is with a failing women's magazine that's stuck with a late Victorian sentiment. Their head editor and advice columnist is a stern woman, Henrietta Bird, who refuses to respond to letters of "unpleasantness."

Emmeline's supposed to destroy the offending letters but she choses instead to read them and as things progress, respond to them. As Mrs. Bird becomes increasingly distracted by her war time efforts and the letters in to the magazine continue to dwindle so that finding any acceptables, Emmeline realizes she can go one step further — publishing her responses in the magazine.

In terms of tone and setting, Dear Mrs. Bird is a good read along or follow up to Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford (2016) except that Maisie and Hilda have a good working relationship, and Emmeline and Henrietta's borders on toxic.

Five stars

Comments (0)

In the upside-down: the hobo life in Oz: 05/12/18

Cover art

The original map of Oz shows Munchkin Country (where Dorothy and her house land) on the left and the Winkie Country (where Dorothy and friends are sent by the Wizard) on the right. Above is Gillikin Country and to the South is Quadling Country. We know though from the witches that Dorothy encounters (and kills), that Munchkin Country was the domain of the Wicked Witch of the East, and that the witch she is sent to kill is the Wicked Witch of the West — which is in the Winkie Country. The Good Witch of the North who meets Dorothy and gives her a kiss to allow her safe passage throughout Oz is from the North. Glinda, Good Witch of the South, is Dorothy's final destination.

One possible reason behind the mirroring of east and west could be a printer error or artistic error. Regardless though of it's origins, I propose that this mirroring of East and West is crucial to the very nature of Oz and it's surrounding nations — namely that these are extra dimensional lands accessible through special portals or as the case is often in the Oz books, near death experiences. Oz and surrounds are the nicer parts of the Upside-down, as coined by the kids in Stranger Things (2016).

Original map of Oz

The Oz books, especially the early ones, put an inordinate amount of emphasis on directionality and orientation, something that other contemporary children's fantasies don't. For Alice, getting to Wonderland is either through a rabbit hole or through a mirror, and Peter Pan's Neverland is "the second star on the right and straight on til morning" which is vague but brings to mind night time nautical navigation, thus playing into the pirates the Darlings meet there.

Oz, though, takes care to give a sense of direction while still maintaining the mirror nature / upside-downness of Wonderland. The Wizard of Oz being written in the late 1890s, would have come into being as a the hobo (homeward bound) alternate lifestyle was coming into vogue. Hobos were itinerant workers who often hitched rides on the freight trains that criss crossed the nation. There are actually a number of possible meanings / origins for the word hobo, but for Oz, I believe the "homeward bound" origin story is the one that drawn upon for inspiration.

In this first foray into Oz, Dorothy's one goal, after the initial one of surviving the cyclone, is to find her way home. She travels Oz along the Yellow Brick road, as other trails, doing odd jobs, finding other travelers, and taking up odd jobs all with the goal of finding or earning her way home to Kansas.

In Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci (2017) there is a passage where Remi is describing the cardinal directions to Soupy, showing how they can be used as philosophical statements on life. The passage is:

When we need a star to guide us, a man goes north. North is steady. We know where are in the world. East and west, that's the sun's path. But when a person wants to get lost, like I suspect you do, you go south.

Let's look at Dorothy's first travels through Oz against this hobo rubric. Dorothy, carried away in her house from Kansas — an event that should have killed her but didn't — lands her instead in the Eastern expanses of Oz and kills a witch that has been oppressing the people of Munchkin Country. She has started at the beginning of the sun's path — except that it's a reversed path here in Oz. She is literally forced to travel widdershins in order to stay oriented and find her way home.

Dorothy, though, is oriented to the Yellow Brick Road by the Good Witch of the North. She also gives Dorothy a motherly kiss on the cheek that serves as a visible mark that she is protected by the Witch of the North, allowing her safe passage. So although Dorothy is pointed widdershins west, she is being guided by Oz's version of the north star. Once at the Emerald City, Dorothy and her companions — a woodsman, a scarecrow (farmer), and a lion (wild untamed wilderness) are sent further west (where hobos go to die), either to meet their deaths or if they are lucky, kill the Wicked Witch of the West. When Dorothy succeeds and returns (or goes in the homeward direction) to the Emerald City she is unable to go with the Wizard via balloon, and instead must go to Glinda in the South (the direction ones goes to get lost) in order to finally learn that she has had the power to get home under her own power all this time.

Thus Baum has combined the mirrored / upside-downness of Lewis Carrol's wonderland books with the Hobo rose compass to map Oz while still keeping it magical and otherworldly.

Comments  (0)

Slider: 05/11/18


Slider by Pete Hautman is a middle grade novel about competitive eating vying with "family expectations" as the blurb puts it. Those family expectations mean caring for a younger brother who happens to be severely autistic.

The book opens innocently enough with David proud of his abilities to eat large amounts of food quickly and with this fascination (reverence) for competitive eaters. His mother seems rather nonplussed by it and even jokingly encourages him to practice his craft.

David in one of his moments of thinking about competitive eating contests, sees a half eaten hot dog for sale on this book's fictional eBay. He decides to bid on it — using his mother's credit card. He also sets it up to autobid to a certain max price and screws up. He ends up charging a HUGE amount to her card for a partially eaten hot dog.

Things that astonish me about this book's set up:

  • That this book can go on from this point for chapters without the mother finding out
  • That he is dumb enough to do this
  • That the fictional eBay company has no policy in place for this sort of situation
  • That he has no way of contacting the seller to work something out (or admit that he's a minor using a stolen credit card)

But the thing that bothered me the most was a throw away detail. It's the name of the autistic brother — Mal. As in unpleasant. As in faulty. As in improper. As in inadequate.

Mal is there to provide a distraction for David to make a mistake with his online bidding. Mal is there to make the mother too harried to notice how untrustworthy David is. Mal is there to ultimately make David feel good about himself when everything works out for the best. Basically, Mal is a plot device.

Two stars

Comments (0)

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #2: Rainbow Dash: 05/10/18

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #2: Rainbow Dash

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #2: Rainbow Dash by Ryan K. Lindsay follows Rainbow Dash as she comes head to head with an obstinate cloud. In Equestria, pegasi are in charge of weather control, including cloud wrangling. Rainbow Dash while performing her famous rainbow boom comes head to head with a cloud infested by gremlins. They spoil her boom and she's injured.

Besides being injured, Rainbow Dash who is always trying to be 20% cooler, begins to doubt her abilities as a flyer. She also has a huge stubborn streak, so she does keep trying and failing, until she's almost ready to give up. Although we see the gremlins straightaway, it takes Rainbow Dash most of the book to figure out they are behind it.

Now if this were the animated series, the other ponies in her immediate group of friends would notice that she wasn't acting like herself. Though it would be a struggle to get her to listen, they would find a way and help her get to the bottom of the problem. It's the lack of the other pony friends: Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Shutter Fly, Apple Jack and Rarity that makes this book seem very out of character.

Three stars

Comments (0)

The Mad Apprentice: 05/09/18

The Mad Apprentice

The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler is the second book in The Forbidden Library series. An apprentice has gone rogue and Alice is sent to track him down. She is met by the apprentices of other the librarians.

These libraries are like different levels of consciousness in Inception. It's difficult to tell what is real and what isn't. Anything read into a story or out of a story is potentially harmful. Add into the mix a group of apprentices who seem to be working on a common goal but don't necessarily know each other and things dangerous and chaotic.

Because of all the layers of artifice and the large ensemble cast, there are some timing issues. The story jerks around, sometimes taking way too long on a scene and other times racing through a bunch to catch up lost time.

That said, the book ends on a whopper of a cliff hanger. I'm intrigued enough to continue on with book three: The Palace of Glass.

Three stars

Comments (2)

The Night Garden: 05/08/18

The Night Garden

The Night Garden by Polly Horvath is set during WWII, near Beechey Head on Vancouver Island. It's a rural, small town area, that at the time was mostly of interest to the Canadian military as they needed to keep the coast safe from invasion.

Among the full time residents is a girl Franny and her adoptive parents. They've taken in a pair of children whose mother has gone after their father when she realizes he's about to do something fundamentally stupid. Their father is an airplane mechanic on a top secret Canadian airplane.

Franny's family takes in these children and hires a less than stellar cook (who likes to do fortune telling on the side). They can because they're living in an old house that was once a mansion or a hotel or something. It's large enough to have tennis courts as well as numerous themed gardens. I'm picturing a slightly smaller scale Butchart Gardens but with a view of the Juan de Fuca strait.

One garden in particular is the Night Garden. It is off limits to everyone save Old Tom (Franny's adoptive father) and the hermit who comes to garden it. It is said to have the power to grant wishes. Old Tom and Sina don't want the children wasting a wish or making one in haste as wishes can't be unwished.

That is the set up to a quiet adventure involving ghosts, the military, a UFO, and wish-making. The tone of the book is somewhat like Mary Norton's The Magic Bedknob (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1943) which collectively inspired the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Five stars

Comments (0)

The Bicycle Spy: 05/07/18

The Bicycle Spy

The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough is set during the occupation of France. Marcel's parents run a bakery and he's asked to make deliveries from time to time on his beautiful green bike.

What Marcel wants to do more than anything is be a part of the Tour de France. Unfortunately there hasn't been one since the war started. He's stuck instead with recreating the best moments in his head while riding around on his bicycle.

It's in one of these trips that Marcel realizes his parents are more than bakers. Not only that, but they're using him and his bicycle to pass important messages.

The story itself is an interesting enough slice of life from a middle grade perspective. Unfortunately it's muddled up in a writing style that is awkward to read. Nearly every sentence is strung together with an excess of adjectives and adverts.

Two stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 07): 05/07/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 07)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

This week I received fantastic news regarding an art proposal I put together for a new library that's being built in the center of town. Back in 2016 they put out a call for art by local artists that reflected the diversity of the area. I spent two months back then painting ten bird portraits from photographs I've taken at local landmarks and just made the deadline. I didn't hear back that summer and by 2017 when we were so caught up in the move, I figured I hadn't been picked.

Turns out they had to work with the largest pieces first as they need to be built into the building as it's being built. Now that the building is just weeks from opening, they're buying the smaller pieces to hang on the walls. The library has opted to buy the entire collection and they will hang on the first floor.

So May will be busy getting these paintings packed and shipped to Sacramento where they will be framed. Then I'll have to start work on a new collection for my home. I had been hanging my birds in my dining room.

What I read:

The River at Night Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City Clockwork Boys A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army Bat and the Waiting Game

  • The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
  • Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt
  • Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon); personal collection (ebook)
  • A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats; personal collection / research
  • Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti; library book
  • Bat and the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold; personal collection (ebook)

What I'm reading:

Don't Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Dear Mrs Bird Depth

  • Don't Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami by Sharon Kahn
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce; personal collection
  • Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen; personal collection (audio)

Up Soon:

Wicked will rise The Shadow Cipher Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity Welcome to Nightvale

  • The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (24)

Rhymoceros: 05/06/18


Rhymoceros by Janik Coat is the follow up to the concept book Hippopposites (2010). Now with the help of a blue rhinoceros, Janik teaches the concept of rhyming words.

The humor in this book lies once more in its apparent simplicity. The rhinoceros just like the hippopotamus looks like a piece of computer clip art. There just doesn't seem like there's much that can be done with it while keeping it relatively unchanged.

But it's in the surprises to expectations (especially to older readers) that the delight and laughter is elicited. For the intended age group, the book also includes tactile experiences, such as the quilted or bumpy rhinoceros. quilted and bumpy

Five stars

Comments (2)

Don't Cosplay with My Heart: 05/05/18

Don't Cosplay with My Heart

Don't Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci is a YA about self love, crushes and cosplay. Edan Kupferman is a fan of Team Tomorrow, especially Gargantua who is the opposite of how she is in real life. Edan decides to cosplay as her at the last minute at the local comic-con. She can't get tickets and ends up being given a one by a classmate named Kirk.

With that rough start, Edan decides to start a cosplay club at school. She calls it SEW. She and others learn how to make their own costumes and they end up building friendships. It's all rather like a high school club anime but set in America.

Edan is also dealing with feelings of low self esteem and anxiety. Cosplay ends up being therapy for her. In this regard she's like Stanley Fortinbras of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla. The big difference is tha Stanley's story is set in a town I grew up. Stanley's knowledge of comic book heroes is drawn from a lot of older and by today's standards, obscure ones, making for fun easter eggs for readers.

Edan's fandom felt completely made up. It also didn't feel well realized. Gargantua reads like a quick sketch of Susan / Ginormica from Monsters vs Aliens. I never really got to know Edan the way I got to know Stanley. Without that connection I wasn't as invested in the story.

Three stars

Comments (0)

Re-Mapping the road narrative project: 05/05/18

Cover art

When I initially started / re-started the road narrative project in 2015, I either reviewed books that I had read as research or I posted essays of either compiled thoughts from the literature read or updates on the over all process. This essay is one of those updates, or roadmark essays, if you will.

Since January, I have been posting one road narrative review and most weeks I am also writing and posting an essay. This means the body of work is steadily growing. Before things get too disorganized, I need make clear what I'm working on and where I am in that process.

In the last three years, the project has amassed 258 reviews (as of posting) and thirty-two essays. At the start of 2018 I realized my reviews had become too numerous to make any sort of sense of what sorts of road narratives I was most interested in. To make my focus of research more obvious, I stopped categorizing them just alphabetically and moved instead to organizing them by the sub-genre or major trope I had classified that book as falling under.

Now although I'm still under three dozen essays, I felt it was time to re-categorize the essays by their broadest topics, rather than just alphabetical. Here, though, the immediate goal is help me focus my efforts. Namely I need to know what essays to write next, especially in areas I haven't focused enough on.

As the project continues I might adjust the categories. With only thirty-two essays I went with very broad topics. I suspect as I put more of my notes, thoughts, and quotes down into essay form I will need more granularity in my topics.

The recategorized essays are available from any page from the Road Essays tap in the header.

Comments  (0)

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean!: 05/04/18

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean!

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox (Kirsten Hubbard) and M. Shelley Coats (Michelle Schusterman) is the first book in the Secrets of Topsea middle grade series. Davy Jones and his mother have moved to this weird seaside town for a new start after the death of Mr. Jones. Davy is finding it hard to fit in even though the kids and adults seem friendly enough. Everything though about the town and its people seems weird. Davy feels like the only normal kid here and that's after coming from a town where he was anything but normal.

That set up sounds like any one of a certain type of middle grade novels. You know the type — the new kid in town who has a checkered past and is now a fish out of water. Often the kid has grown up in the big city (or a suburb of one) and is now living in some out of the way country town that has maybe fifty people in it.

It is that, certainly, but it's so much more, in a very slim volume (193 pages with illustrations). The best way to describe A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! is to say it's like Welcome to Nightvale but for middle graders. In fact you can read the entire book in the time that it takes to listen to two episodes of Nightvale.

Where Nigthvale has the weather, Topsea has the tide reports. Where Nightvale has the hooded figures, Topsea has the PTA. Nightvale has the Dog Park; Topsea has a Water Park. Beware of old oak doors in Nightvale, likewise basements and sub-basements in Topsea. I could go on and on with comparisons, but you get the idea.

The spine of A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean has a handy 1 on it. I don't know what is planned for the second or when it's scheduled for release. I can, however, tell you that I will be ordering a copy to read as soon as it becomes available.

Five stars

Comments (2)

Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows: 05/03/18

Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows

Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill is the half way point of the series. More keys are discovered. More mayhem ensues. The main characters come to more danger.

Kinsey, who removed her fear at the close of the last book, is now living on the wild side. She's taking all sorts of risks, many of them unnecessary.

She and some friends go into an abandoned facility that's flooded by the ocean. She's looking for her father's name, proof that he was here once. She ends up getting everyone trapped and nearly drowned for her efforts.

Meanwhile the boys of the family are playing with a key that controls the shadows. The way its drawn, the shadows look more like black goo than shadows. Regardless, they become all sorts of monsters and creatures.

I really wish I could say I was hooked by this series but I'm losing interest. I'm reading it mostly now out of maternal obligation as my son devoured the series in one sitting.

Three stars

Comments (0)

April 2018 Sources: 05/02/18

Inclusive reading report

April was pretty good weather wise but we had visitors and it was Spring Break and my oldest was traveling. Basically there were lots of distractions. Somehow I managed to read thirty books.

Although I had a bunch of due library books, I had to cut my losses and return a bunch unread. May looks like it might turn out the same way.

ROOB Score for the last three years

April was a particularly one in terms of reading my own books despite my stated goal of reading more newly published books. While April 2018 (-2.38) wasn't as low a score as April 2015 (-2.61), it was lower than both 2016 and 2017 (-1.76 and -1.86).

The trend line is flattening out after years of heading into the desirable negative direction.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Looking at all previous years, March 2018 is right in the middle. March continues on my typical February trend where I start reading books I purchased the year before but didn't get to. It's also where my wishlist reading kicks into gear.

ROOB monthly averages

Reading newly purchased books in April had no effect on the month's average. In fact the average dropped minutely from -2.26 to -2.27

About half of my scheduled reviews for May are newly published books. Some of them are hold overs from previous months. We'll see what it does to May's average. Typically May is the point where I start really focusing on my own books and the average for May, June and July are the lowest of the entire year. That might change.

Comments  (0)

Not a Sound: 05/02/18

Not a Sound

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf opens with Amelia Winn and her dog heading out on the water for her morning exercise. She uses a standing paddle boat and takes to the quieter water ways behind her house. She needs time to prep for her first interview since the accident where she lost her hearing and the rest of her life fell apart.

At the turn around point, a speed boat comes dangerously close to her. She and her tossed off her board and they swim ashore. It's there that she discovers the body of a woman she recognizes.

That's the set up of a murder mystery that brings together Amelia's pre-accident life with her new life. Everything is mitigated through her experience of a deaf person living in a hearing world.

She makes the distinction between deaf (having impaired to no hearing) and Deaf (also being part of the Deaf culture and community). As her hearing loss happened as an adult, she doesn't feel apart of the community nor is she drawn to it.

Although this book is written as a standalone thriller or perhaps literary fiction with thriller elements, it still has enough hallmarks of the more typical cozy mysteries I read. For me, therefore, the identity of the murderer was obvious from early on but it was still a fun read.

Five stars

Comments (2)

April 2018 Summary: 05/01/18

Inclusive reading report

Like March, April was a struggle with library books coming due. As well, cold season hit again and with all of us sick at one time or another, I wasn't always in the mood to read. That meant some reviews got pushed back, though, not as many as in March. This month I ended up sending back a number of library books unread.

In April I requested even fewer library books than I did in March. I currently have nineteen books checked out and three holds. As we are now bringing home boxes of books from storage, I expect my library requests will dwindle to maybe one or two a month with most of my reading time devoted to books in storage and newly purchased books. The few library books I do check out will probably be for my research project.

April is the tenth month in a row that I read more inclusive books than not. April's reading continued March's trend of featuring diverse writers and books from different countries. One type of reading / reviewing where I am not being good about diversifying my reading is the mystery genre. As that's one day a week, I'm diluting my efforts.

April's reviews featured a majority of diverse books. It was the second time since July last year that the reviews worked out this way. April's ratio of diverse to not diverse reviews and books read was identical — a first since I've been tracking this. However, the books reviewed were not necessarily the same ones as the ones I read. Those that I missed reviewing in April will be reviewed at a later date.

For May I have sixteen newly published books that I plan to review. Some of them I've already read, but the vast majority of them I haven't.

At the start of April I had three reviews from 2015 to post. Those reviews have now been posted and the year is clear. My new goal is to clear 2016's reviews. I have fifty-five in total. My 2017 reviews are down to forty-seven. My 2018 reviews are now at seventy-two, up from fifty.

Comments  (0)

Canada and the Canadian Question: 05/01/18

Canada and the Canadian Question

Since 2009 I have been regularly including reviews of Canadian books, primarily fiction and primarily children's fiction. I've been tracking my progress through the Canadian Book Challenge, originally hosted at the Book Mine Set and now by the Indextrious Reader. The challenge has been around longer than I've been participating in it, but 2009 marks the birth of my niece. Since she's Canadian and a child, I thought I should learn about the books she'd be growing up with and into.

Fast forward to 2017 — which marked the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming an independent nation (though still part of the Commonwealth and the separation was far more polite than what we went through). It was also the year that we expected to move to Kitchener but didn't because of a global job shuffling.

Back in January of 2017 as Canada was preparing for July 1st and I was preparing for an international move, I thought I should include some nonfiction into my mix. The goal was also to fast track our becoming citizens and you need to know a thing or two to do that.

An obvious starting point is Canada and the Canadian Question by Goldwin Smith which was written thirty years into Canada's foray into independence. It's a combined history and study into the questions: why did it become independent and should it have done so.

Now as a one hundred twenty-seven year old text it is itself an interesting historical snapshot of where Canada was and what its reputation was like at the time. It also shows its flaws and prejudices as well as the author's own biases.

First and foremost (and it's still true though maybe not as strong as it was), proper Canada from Smith's point of view was English Canada. That's not to say English descended Canadians or Canadians who speak English. English Canada means Toronto and the immediate surrounding areas of Ontario, though not necessarily the entire province.

English Canada also means Anglican. If you were Catholic, you shouldn't bother with Ontario. You should go to Quebec (even if you didn't speak French).

Then we get to the rest of Canada (which for the purpose of this book doesn't really include First Nations groups). Canada is just made up of European stock. Anyway, the rest of Canada is the uncivilized, unsettled rest of the great frontier, including the extremely isolated British Columbia. By Smith's accounts, you would have to be insane to want to cut yourself off from the rest of the world by distance and mountains.

By the time I got around to actually reading Canada and the Canadian Question I was already settled into a new house only two miles from where my move started. Since I wasn't going to move to Canada after all, I didn't read this book as closely as I otherwise would have.

Two stars

Comments (2)

Twitter Tumblr Mastadon Flickr Facebook Facebook Contact me

1997-2023 Sarah Sammis