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June 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

Beat the Backlist 2024

Ozathon: 12/2023-01/2025

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

Chicken Prints
Paintings and Postcards

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The Chosen Ones: 06/30/18

The Chosen Ones

The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas is the second of the WorldQuake series. With the post event world set up where there is now magic and two alternate worlds: the Otherworld and the Underworld, now it is time to see how magic can be exploited.

Effie and Maximillian both have been last readers, traveling to magical places by way of last editions. Their adventures have caught the attention of people who want to exploit the power of the last edition for their own greedy reasons.

Meanwhile at school, their teacher seems unnecessarily strict with magic and magical items (boons). The teacher's attitude and behavior reminds me of Dolores Umbridge but better written. Then there's the evil elite school who cheats at everything and is now up against Effie's school in tennis. It's a funny aside that shows how magic works in the real world and how different types of people can use magic differently. Basically there's no one size fits all.

As to be expected from second book in a series, the plot is more complex as the emphasis here is on character building and the setting up the board for the big confrontation that's coming in book three or later — depending on how many books are planned.

Aside from setting up the series for a big future confrontation, there is a self contained mystery. It's possible to solve it based on what's been established Dragon's Green and what is further set up in The Chosen Ones

The third book in the series, which comes out in 2019 is Galloglass.

Five stars

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Crossing the Tracks: 06/29/18

Crossing the Tracks

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber is historical fiction set rural Missouri in the heyday of the model T. As her father is set to re-marry, Iris is hired out to work as a housekeeper to a country doctor and his aged mother. Iris is understandably furious and sullen about the whole thing, knowing full well that she is qualified to run one of her father's shoe stores instead. But he wants her out of sight and out of mind so that he can move on with his life with no reminders of his first wife.

Iris's first encounter with her new employer is a dark and dusty house. She begins to imagine the worse — a near corpse of a woman trapped in her living room. Instead as soon as she's instructed to open the curtains, she meets a feisty, independently minded woman, who though clearly old, isn't frail or near death.

Crossing the Tracks settles into a tale of family is the people you chose, not the ones you're born to. The old woman teaches her how to manage a house and a farm. The doctor teaches her how to drive.

The tale of Iris's growth into a self reliant person is spun in threads taken from the Persephone myth as well as road not taken road narrative. At Iris feels trapped in a far away, dusty, near-dead place that she doesn't know and doesn't want to know. As time passes, she grows to love her employers as a family she has been denied at home.

On the road narrative spectrum it progresses through:

Act I Act II Act III
family, home, railroad orphan, rural, railroad privileged, home, railroad

I read the book as part of my road narrative project and I will probably need to re-read it more closely. My initial live blog of favorite quotes is on Tumblr.

Her second novel is Girl in Reverse (2014).

Five stars

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Ignoring the eight percent: 06/29/18

May book sources

My background in narrative analysis is film. Film theory is heavily steeped in the cult of the white cis-gendered heterosexual male. The man as hero. The window into the diegesis being male. There are only two things to do in film — to see yourself as the hero or imagine yourself being banged the hero (if you're a young, white cis-gendered heterosexual female).

For all other narratives and characters, there is the cult of the other. There is no attempt to read film from any other point of view than that of the default white male. The other is alien. The other is threatening. The other is danger. The other is there to provide narrative foils for the hero. The other is there to be the villain. The other is there to make the hero a hero.

I began the road narrative project from the point of view of a would be PhD candidate. I still believed the male centered theory foolishly even though I in no way fit the bill (beyond having a rather masculine way of thinking sometimes).

Time passes and interests evolve. My road narrative project was reborn in the beginnings of the "we need diverse books" campaign and the call for book bloggers and book reviewers to make more of a conscious effort to diversify our reading.

Now that I've quantified just how many types of road narratives there are, I've come to realize how narrowly focused the road narrative analysis I've read is. Even when doing literary analysis, the road narrative analysis is narrowly focused on the white male just as film analysis is.

The academic discourses I've read so far have looked at road narratives where the traveler is white, usually male, and usually well to do. The trips are primarily to the city or the country and are primarily done on safe roads; either the railroad (for older stories) or the interstate (for newer ones) or on the smaller highways.

The scholarship on the road narrative only includes women in the context of a romantic coupling, a person to be rescued, a person to be a victim on the road, or in the greater context as a family member on the road. The privileged and couple / family travelers are at the safest, most common end of the road narrative spectrum. The table below outlines the stories covered in standard "road scholarship." These twelve narratives out of the 216 I have categorized account for only eight percent of the total narrative types but get the majority of the analysis.

Hypothetical narratives
Character Destination Road Hex Color
Privileged City Interstate 000000  
Privileged Rural Interstate 003300  
Privileged Home Interstate 006600  
Privileged City Blue Highway 000033  
Privileged Rural Blue Highway 003333  
Privileged Home Blue Highway 006633  
Couple / Family City Interstate 330000  
Couple / Family Rural Interstate 333300  
Couple / Family Home Interstate 336600  
Couple / Family City Blue Highway 330033  
Couple / Family Rural Blue Highway 333333  
Couple / Family Home Blue Highway 336633  

Moving forward, I will be purposefully ignoring these twelve narratives as they have written about in excess. Instead I will be seeking out narratives that fit into the other ninety-two percent. I will be seeking out road narratives featuring travelers of color and road narratives by authors of color.

That's not to say I will completely ignore white characters or white authors but I am turning my attention away from these twelve stories.

To see how I came to this conclusion, please read my notes/analysis of American Road Narratives on Tumblr.

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Fleep: 06/28/18


Fleep by Jason Shiga is a webcomic that had a brief print run. That's long over but the web comic is still up for anyone interested. Like all of his comics, it stars Jimmy in another impossible adventure.

In this story Jimmy wakes up inside a telephone booth in an otherwise completely dark space. The only things available to him are the phone book (in a language he doesn't understand) and a Russian to that language dictionary. At least with the Russian he recognizes it, even if he's not fluent.

In these forty-four pages, Jimmy has to figure out where he is, who he is, what happened, and how to escape. After reading Demon, I found this locked room adventure almost laughably plausible.

Reading through the comic, though, I was struck with the notion that maybe all these Jimmys are on the same timeline. In Fleep we don't see anyone but Jimmy, so how the rest of the world is populated is undefined. That got me to thinking. What if Empire State, the rather mundane almost love story is the start of Jimmy's adventures. Then he's driven by grief and later morbid curiosity and revenge in Demon to completely remake the world in his (and Sweatpea's) image. The world completely populated with now mortal clones of them would be in a bit of a fix. So what if the mad scientist in Meanwhile was trying to undo the mess that original Jimmy made? Fleep, meanwhile, could be a side story happening before the time travel choose your own adventure or concurrently with it.

Regardless, I like Shiga's stuff. It's always a little messed up and it certainly messes with your head as you read it. But in a good way.

Four stars

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White Night: 06/27/18

Malaika’s Winter Carnival

White Night by Jim Butcher is the ninth in the Dresden Files series and the first one in ages I've read as an audiobook. I've come to the conclusion that listening to James Marsters's performance is my favorite way to enjoy this series.

The witches of Chicago are dying. The deaths look like suicide but to Harry Dresden's trained eye, they're carefully crafted murders. Worse yet, it's obvious that Harry's half brother is somehow involved. Given his demonic background, Harry expects the worse.

I have to say I figured out most of what was going on before Harry did. That said, I felt this story was better grounded than some of the previous ones. Harry's scrying / spying by diorama was particularly interesting and better thought out than say Charmed's street map of San Francisco approach.

The one place where the book fell flat for me was an extended dream sequence / flashback which gives background on a disastrous training run Harry and some others had partaken in the recent past. The sequence is there to fill in well needed information and build suspense as it comes on the heels of a life and death situation.

The next book in the series is Small Favor.

Four stars

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Canadian Book Challenge: 2018-2019: 06/26/18

May book sources

July 1st, Canada Day, is also the starting day for the annual Canadain Books Challenge. It's been running for eleven years and this twelfth year will be the second year of it being hosted on the Indextrious Reader Blog.

I have been participating since 2009. With the current challenge that ends on June 30th, I had my best year, managing to keep to my goal of reviewing 52 (or one Canadian book a week). The actual goal is read and review 13 (one for each province).

Last year's theme was the great Canadian Road Trip, which was perfect for my Road Narrative Project. While I didn't read every single book recommended on the blog, I did manage to find and read a number of them, expanding my understanding of how Canadian road narratives are similar yet different from those written and published in the States.

This year's theme is roadside attractions of Canada. So last year the goal was to get from point A to point B. Now I guess we're supposed to stop along the way and take in the sights.

Books read during the 11th Canadian Books Challenge

An asterisk indicates the Canadian person involved or covered in the book if the author isn't Canadian.

  1. Adventure on Whalebone Island by M.A. Wilson
  2. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
  3. Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire
  4. Black Hammer Volume 2: The Event by Jeff Lemire
  5. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
  6. Boundless by Jillian Tamaki
  7. Canada and the Canadian Question by Goldwin Smith
  8. Cadillac Couches by Sophie B. Watson
  9. Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey
  10. D4VE by Ryan Ferrier
  11. A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong
  12. Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
  13. Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
  14. A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O'Leary
  15. Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
  16. Flo by Kyo Maclear and Jay Fleck (Illustrator)
  17. The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
  18. The Fog by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak (Illustrator)
  19. From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle
  20. The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear
  21. The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley
  22. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
  23. Internet Famous by Danika Stone
  24. The Journey of Little Charlie* by Christopher Paul Curtis
  25. The Lotterys Plus One* by Emma Donoghue
  26. Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green
  27. Malaika's Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn and Irene Luxbacher (illustrator)
  28. Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer
  29. The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel
  30. The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
  31. The Night Garden* by Polly Horvath
  32. Nurse, Soldier, Spy* by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix
  33. Red Leech (aka Rebel Fire) by Andrew Lane
  34. Roughneck by Jeff Lemire
  35. A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett
  36. Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
  37. Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  38. Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen*
  39. Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami
  40. Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book One by Jeff Lemire
  41. Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski
  42. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
  43. This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong
  44. Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking
  45. Time Ghost by Welwyn Wilton Katz
  46. Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
  47. Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings
  48. Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
  49. Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin
  50. The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
  51. We Are the Engineers by Angela Melick
  52. Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 25* edited by Rosamund Kidman Cox

Click the comments link to see the books completed in 2018-2019.

Comments  (2)

Square: 06/26/18


Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen* is the follow up to last year's Triangle. Square spends his days finding square shaped rocks in his cave home and taking them outside where he stacks them. All that changes when Circle visits, decides his stacks of squares are art and commissions a portrait of herself.

On the one hand, Square is a very straightforward explanation of imposter syndrome. Square doesn't see himself as an artist. He's certainly not described that way before the visit by Circle. What his motivation is for removing the square shaped rocks from his cave aren't stated. For all I know, Square doesn't even know why he does it.

With Circle's commission along with the statement that he is both a genius and artist, Square does his best to meet Circle's demands. He wants to create a circular rock out of one of his square rocks. Anyone who has tried to do that freehand with scissors and paper knows how tricky making a perfect circle is.

Out of Square's failures — the bits and pieces of corners strewn around where he sat outside a circular pool of water collects, which Circle declares is the perfect and genius portrait she had hoped for.

But here's the thing that irks me: it's the gendering. Most often Klassen's characters are male. Even when dealing with things that aren't people or animals, they are gendered as male. Part of that is the quirk of the English language, that things default to male most of the time.

But I knew before I even read any of Circle's pages that she would be a she. Of course she would because she's curvy. Or whatever. Sure enough, out of nowhere comes an inexplicably female geometric shape.

Why? Can't there be male circles? Or would male circles be too effeminate? Would a male circle be read as gay? Or transgender? And would that reading — if it wasn't played for stereotypes – be bad thing?

* Counting book as number 52 for the 11th annual Canadian Challenge as the illustrator is Canadian.

Four stars

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The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora: 06/25/18

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is set in Miami, Florida in a Cuban neighborhood. Arturo is spending the summer washing dishes in his Abuela's restaurant. Meanwhile there's a developer threatening to forever change the landscape of the neighborhood and if he gets his way, the Zamora family restaurant won't get to expand and worse, it might even be closed!

I happened to read Arturo Zamora on the heels of a similar situation in our own neighborhood. Here, it was a bookstore, but the story was otherwise the same: an outside developer was threatening to close a fifty-year-old institution so that they could redevelop an old building into work-live-lofts. There's no actual evidence that our city has the need for that sort of development but there was no arguing with faceless developers.

Arturo's family has the advantage of the developer being a single man and one with enough of an ego that he has to be there in the thick of things. That means the developer's ego can be his own downfall, given enough room and time. Also, since Arturo's family owns their own building, they are on a stronger footing than our bookstore was.

The Zamoras get a happy ending. They get a bigger restaurant. The neighborhood keeps its character and gets improved in a way that everyone wants. (In our case, the bookstore ended up having to change ownership and move across the street.)

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 25): 06/25/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 25)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

The first full week of summer is done. My daughter spent her time at the local Girl Scout cabin, volunteering as PAinT. My son meanwhile is buried under AP and Honors homework for next year.

What I read:

Classified as Murder Better off Read Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil Inside Hudson Pickle The Chosen Ones

  • Classified as Murder by Miranda James; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Better off Read by Nora Page; personal collection
  • Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil by Jeff Lemire; personal collection
  • Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge; personal collection
  • The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas; personal collection

What I'm reading:

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz Love, Penelope The Wonder Engine Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin; personal collection
  • The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher; personal collection (ebook) / research
  • Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt; library book / research

Up Soon:

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris Paradox Bound Ravenous CatStronauts: Robot Rescue

  • The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Paradox Bound by Peter Clines; library book / research
  • Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly; library book
  • CatStronauts: Robot Rescue by Drew Brockington; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (34)

I'll Save You Bobo!: 06/24/18

I'll Save You Bobo!

I'll Save You Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal is the sequel to I Must Have Bobo!. Bobo is Willy's stuffed monkey but Earl the cat still likes him too.

Willy wants to write a story with Bobo, about their adventures. Earl, though, wants nothing more than to cuddle up with Bobo in a nice quiet place for a nap.

It's cute and recognizable for anyone who has a cat. My cats don't steal toys but they do take socks and blankets. One cat pulls blankets onto the back of the couch to sleep on. The other hides socks under the couch to sleep on.

Such is the life with cats.

Five stars

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On counting books: stop policing other people's reading: 06/22/18

May book sources

With regularity, the bookish part of the internet feels the need to ask prolific readers how to read more. If they are a celebrity, all the better. These experts will make reading fun and easier for everyone who wants to squeeze an extra book or two or dozen into their lives.

The advice always goes like this (Because it is basic sound advice):

  • Always have a book with you
  • Watch less TV
  • Stop reading books you aren't enjoying
  • Try audiobooks in the car or when doing household chores

And with predictable regularity the backlash from "hard core" readers who weren't asked for their advice weigh in. These arguments always go like this:

  • Obviously these readers don't have lives outside of reading
  • They must be counting picture books, individual short stories, audiobooks and books they didn't finish
  • Even if I did watch less TV I still wouldn't have the time. No one can possibly read more than what I read (regardless of how much or how little that individual happens to read)
  • But what about quality over quantity?
  • It's wrong to stop reading a book
  • I bet they are only reading a chapter and moving on and counting all those unfinished books
  • Audiobooks don't count; if you're blind that's what Braille is for.

This time around it's GoodReads that has the learn how to read more post. But that's inconsequential. The same damn post will show up somewhere else soon enough.

As I've mentioned before, I've been tracking my reading since the summer of 1987. I have had years where I've read more than 600 (and by the end of it my brain felt ready to melt) and years when I was overworked, stressed, and depressed and managed to read 20 books. Last year Goodreads said I read 327 (of my 300 goal) books. By my own count (which runs June to May) I read 350.

The first big "no-no" that the naysayers always harp on is the counting of unfinished books. As it happens, I do count the unfinished ones just so I can remember that I've tried and failed to read them for one reason or another. I set them apart from unattempted books by rating them one star (as stated on every page on my blog in the left navigation bar). Last year I didn't finish twelve books. As my stated goal was 300 and I read according to GoodReads, 327, subtracting those 12 still puts me above my stated goal.

The next "no-no" is reading shorter stuff (picture books, children's books, etc). To that I say fuck you. I like middle grade fiction. It's my go-to for unwinding. My middle grade fiction review are also the most popular on this blog. If middle grade fiction or picture books or whatever else aren't your thing, fine, don't read it. But don't have the gall to chastise someone else for reading it and counting it on their personal challenge.

Finally there are audiobooks. Here's the thing. A lot of people lose their sight as they age. There are other people who struggle to read because of dyslexia or maybe the language isn't their native language or maybe they just didn't get a chance to learn in school. That's again, not your thing to police. And as far as the "that's what Braille is for," here's the reality of the situation, you have to learn how to read Braille and Braille readers or Braille books have to be available to you. Audiobooks are far easier to get than Braille books.

If you're going to follow up with "but it's listening, not reading." Again, fuck you. It's still consuming a text and making it your own. You have to concentrate on the spoke words to understand the story just as you have to concentrate on the words on the page to actually read it beyond looking at the words.

Comments  (4)

Surprise Me: 06/23/18

Surprise Me

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella is a standalone novel about a couple trying to keep their marriage fresh and interesting after hearing that they're both so healthy they might end up married for sixty-eight years or more. Beyond that, the set up is that they've been together for ten years (married for seven) and already feel like they can predict each other's every word, move, and opinion on things.

Sylvie challenges husband Dan to a "surprise me" contest where they each have do surprising things for each other. The first bunch of surprises are disastrous and Sylvie's not sure this was the right idea after all.

In the background of all these marriage hijinks is the on-going feeling of loss that Sylvie has for her father. He died unexpectedly in a car crash and she still hasn't gotten over it. Nor has her mother and it seems that Dan can't live up to the dead father's perfection.

If you've read through the Shopaholic series, you'll recognize plot elements that featured in Shopaholic and Sister but this time around they're taken more seriously. Rather that adults owning what they did when they were younger and rolling with it and the consequences of their actions, this book is about the fallout of bad decisions made worse by hiding the truth.

That said, there is still humor and Sylvie and Dan make a cute and believable couple. I would definitely read the further adventures of these two should Sophie Kinsella ever be inspired to revisit them.

Five stars

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The Road Is Yours: 06/21/18

The Road Is Yours

The Road Is Yours by Reginald M. Cleveland is a history of the early days of the American automobile industry and the highway system it spawned. My recent read of this book was actually a re-read, a revisiting of one of the books I first read as a graduate student trying to plan out a PhD thesis topic.

Back then my focus and approach were both different. My focus was on road films more than road narratives, with my emphasis being on the semantics of the road and how the signs, markings, and other pieces of the American highway system we take in as part of our driving experience could be used to construct the narrative of the American road film. At the time, 1995 to 1997, the internet as we know it was a very new thing and Google didn't exist. So finding books on topic was more a matter of casting a wide net to see what useful tidbits one would find.

Now in 2018 my focus being on books more so than films or television and more on specific motifs and tropes than on the semantic interplay between the real world and the narrative process. Also with the internet and Google and World Cat, among other online tools, I don't feel as compelled to read everything that might be vaguely relevant to my topic. Also, my focus has narrowed too.

Let me be upfront and say going into this re-read, I knew the book was no longer on topic. I read it strictly for nostalgia sake even though the book is decidedly out of date — or rather, the story of the great American highway ends at the close of WWII.

What this book has that few others covering the same topic have, is coverage of the many different brands and models of automobiles that didn't end up coalescing into the major manufactures we know today. Besides having descriptions, it also has pages and pages of photographs of these long forgotten cars.

Three stars

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Traveling between utopia and uhoria: an introduction to the use of space and time in Oz and Night Vale: 06/22/18

May book sources

At the far end of the spectrum in the American road narrative, are the places that can't be traveled to under normal means or normal circumstances. These are the places that are either out of time (uhorias) or are out of place (utopias).

I am using Sir Thomas More's original usage, meaning a "no place" rather than a futuristic, perfect place as the word has come to colloquially mean. From that, I have coined "uhoria" to mean a no time, to describe the places in road narratives that are somehow unfixed from time or unrelated to the time where and when the journey started.

When traveling to or through uhoria time divides. There is land time and there is personal time, or as it's called in Paradox in Oz, Oz time and Ozma time. And for the extra special uhorias, there is Zoey time, or backwards time. But backwards time a frame of reference time where two types of time when compared to each other results in one appearing to be happening opposite of causality.

Within the uhoric landscape, narrative is driven by who is aware of the unusual circumstances of time. In some cases, everyone is aware of time functioning differently (as in Paradox in Oz). In others, some are aware of the unusual time but either can't do anyhing about it or they chose to not do anything about it (as in Welcome to Night Vale). Finally, there are the uhorias where an elite minority are aware of the time problems and these few either set out to fix time or to prevent others from fixing it (such as various seasons of Once Upon a Time).

Over the next few weeks I will be writing essays that use the color codification narrative analysis to delve into the world building of Night Vale by doing a close textual dialog with Welcome to Night Vale. As the book (like the podcast) uses world play to world build, Night Vale's road narrative hues are as varied and nuanced as the Glow Cloud.

Through the analysis I will be comparing and contrasting Night Vale to Oz as they share many points in common. While I've been adamant that post Dorothy's return to Oz can't be dystopian (because it already was dystopian in The Marvelous Land of Oz, I will concede that Night Vale comes closest to being a uhoric modern rendition of what dystopian Oz would look like.

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Wandering Son: Volume 3: 06/21/18

Wandering Son: Volume 3

Wandering Son: Volume 3 by Takako Shimura continues the story of Shuichi and Yoshino. I think I've waited too long between volumes to keep the characters organized in my head.

Perhaps it's the mangaka's intent — but I can only tell the characters apart when they are dressed to fit their gender, rather than the one assigned at birth. This volume though has both main characters forced back to being their assigned at birth genders at school to avoid teasing — or because of the teasing.

Meanwhile there's a whole weird plot about Shuichi and her sister being chosen for a modeling gig. That's just a set up for sibling melodrama with the sister being manipulative and mean, and the other models turning their anger on Shuichi. Whatever quiet hopefulness that was present in the first two volumes, just wasn't there.

Three stars

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Better Off Read: 06/20/18

Better Off Read

Better Off Read by Nora Page is the start of the Bookmobile mystery series. The series opens after the a bad storm with a seventy year old librarian at odds with the mayor who is too focused on the development of a fishing pier to care about fixing up the historic (and well used) library.

While the library sits damaged and only partially opened, Cleo is making do with a donated and converted bus, now renamed Words on Wheels. While out doing her rounds in the bookmobile, she's trying to gather together allies who will help fight the mayor's plan and get city hall back on track.

Given the set up, I expected the mayor to end up dead. He doesn't. It's one of the library regulars who ends up being a piece of work and a bit like Harry from The Trouble With Harry (1955).

Another odd thing with this first book, one that made me check numerous times to see if it was in fact the first book, was how everyone in town insinuates that Cleo has poked her nose into mysteries in the past — and not just the fictional kinds. Typically these first books make the murder a new and shocking thing for the protagonist, so it was odd to see someone who had prior, outside of the book, experience.

Oddities aside, the book was a quick and entertaining read. I will keep my eyes out for the second book. At this time, a second one hasn't been announced to the best of my knowledge.

Four stars

Comments (2)

Time Ghost: 06/19/18

Time Ghost

Time Ghost by Welwyn Wilton Katz is set in the near future and the recent past, although at the time it was written, the "past" would have been the present. Sara and her brother Karl are reluctantly going with their grandmother on a research and protest trip to the North Pole.

The ice has mostly melted. The seas have risen. The atmosphere is heavily polluted and most cities are now living under domes. Sara and her family live in the Ottawa dome.

The trip happens to coincide with Sara's birthday. She's given a gift of a pendant that has a miniature loon inside. In this near future the loons have disappeared and Canadian money reflects its disappearance by removing the loon from the one dollar coins.

Sara having spent her hole life effectively in doors is a bit agoraphobic. She's also possibly air sick from the flying vehicle her grandmother pilots. Regardless, she's not in any sort of mood to accept a sentimental gift from her grandmother.

In the background of all of this is a time experiment that two of the grandmother's passengers are doing. The idea goes like this: at the north pole (the actual axis of rotation, not magnetic north which is over PEI) the time zones all converge into a no-time point. What happens at that point? Could it possibly be a portal for time travel?

Well, given the title, the answer for this book is yes. But time travel isn't done by clocks or other time devices. It's a personal experience and it happens on what Edward Einhorn calls "personal time" in Paradox in Oz. The object of connection for Sara and her grandmother and their separate timelines is the pendant.

The second and third parts of the book are set in the past where Sara and the others who were present at her polar temper tantrum are now stuck in the bodies of people from the grandmother's past. All except for Sara, who is floating at the side of a girl as a "time ghost."

Through this leap into the past Sara learns about her grandmother, gets a glimpse of what the wilderness used to be like. She also gets to hear and see the loon that her grandmother is always talking about.

In terms of tone, the book waffles between melodrama and eerie predictions of environmental collapse at the hands of big business. Although we might not end up with domed cities by 2030, we are on a path where bird migrations and biomes are moving north as the world warms.

Three stars

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Rooster Joe and the Bully: 06/18/18

Rooster Joe and the Bully

Rooster Joe and the Bully by Xavier Garza is a bilingual middle grade novella about a boy in Rio Grande Valley who loves to draw and has a problem with bullies. The bully is one of those kids who demands lunch money from the smaller, younger kids. Joe's favorite thing to draw are birds, specifically chickens and more specifically, a certain rooster.

As this book is very short even for a middle grade, there's not enough time to work through two plots: living with the bully to ultimately confronting or getting help with dealing with him; and his love of art and chickens. As it is, the story feels rushed, especially because nearly every page also has an illustration.

One good thing though is the bilingual nature of the book. The story is included in its entirety in both English and Spanish. Rather than put both languages side by side, the reader has to flip the book over to pick the other language.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 18): 06/18/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 18)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Last week started out slowly reading-wise. I got myself unnecessarily stressed out when by Thursday I hadn't finished Welcome to Night Vale even though I had been reading it for five weeks. I finally found the time Thursday night to finish the book.

Graduation day

On Wednesday our youngest graduated elementary school. She'll be heading to the middle school at the end of August. She also earned her "pathway to biliteracy" award for successfully completing seven years of Mandarin immersion. She also had to do an interview and write two essays (one in English and one in Mandarin). She will be continuing with the program in middle school.

What I read:

Under his spell Welcome to Nightvale Love & War The Saturdays Hello, Universe Square

  • Under His Spell by Marie P. Croall and Hyeondo Park (Illustrator)' library book
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection / research
  • Love & War by Melissa de la Cruz; personal collection
  • The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright; library book
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (illustrator); library book

What I'm reading:

Inside Hudson Pickle Better off Read Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil The Chosen Ones

  • Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge; personal collection
  • Better off Read by Nora Page; personal collection
  • Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil by Jeff Lemire; personal collection
  • The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas; personal collection / research

Up Soon:

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz Love, Penelope Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book The Wonder Engine

  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin; personal collection
  • Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt; library book / research
  • The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher; personal collection (ebook) / research


Reviews Posted

Comments  (20)

The House on East 88th Street: 06/17/18

The House on East 88th Street

You've heard the rumors of crocodiles and alligators living in the sewers of New York City. You've heard the stories of the marvelous old brownstone with a horrific past. And yet they are so desirable, so charming, that people keep buying them, even the ones with dubious paths. That is the set up to The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber.

East 88th Street runs West / East in the northern portion of the Upper East Side. It's close to Harlem but not in Harlem. It's not the place a respectable middle class family would expect any problems with their new brownstone. Which makes it exactly the place narrationally, one will expect trouble in their home.

The Primms, while moving in, hear strange splashing and gurgling noises in their bathroom. OK... maybe it's the plumbing. Those old pipes can get air in them. They can rattle through the floors. Nope. It's a crocodile living in the bathtub!

They are made aware that Lyle's previous owner, a retired vaudevillian, will be coming back but they are given instructions for keeping Lyle happy while he's off making arrangements. Lyle in this regard is like Eugene from the delightfully goofy New Zealand horror film, Housebound.

Like Eugene, bad things happen when Lyle does leave the brownstone. Lyle is unhappy. The Primms are unhappy. The vaudevillian is looked at suspiciously as the era of vaudeville ended thirty years before. Sometimes you have to exorcise your unwanted guests and sometimes you don't.

Five stars

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Love & War: 06/16/18

Love & War

Love & War by Melissa de la Cruz is the second book in the Alex & Eliza YA historical fiction series. This book covers the first three years of their marriage including Alexander's first client as a lawyer, moving into the brownstone on Wall Street, and Eliza sitting for a portrait by an artist who was in debtor's prison at the time.

There's an afterword that explains de la Cruz's thought process on what to include and what to gloss over. For narrative reasons and because she's writing YA, she opted to leave out Eliza's earliest pregnancies. She wanted to give more time establish Eliza and Alex's relationship.

I liked the volume more in that it seemed to rely less on tossing Hamilton lyrics in the text. They're still there but they aren't as obvious. De la Cruz seems to have found her voice for making Alex and Eliza hers.

I do like how the emphasis in this book was on rebuilding after a war and the importance of family and routine during and after the revolution. So many books set during these decades are so focused on the battles at the expense of everything else. It was refreshing to see so much thought put into what life on the home-front was like.

There's a third one planned but no title or release date has been announced yet.

Four stars

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: rereading for the American road narrative: 06/15/18

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: rereading for the American road narrative

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was written over the course of the late 1890s and finalized in 1899. It was published on May 17, 1900, right on the cusp of the close of one century and the opening of a new one. Six years ago, I read the century full color reprint with annotations by Michael Patrick Hearn. Let's just say I was unimpressed with the experience.

Since then, I've restarted my road narrative project I have been revisiting the Oz books. I actually started with The Road to Oz in graphic novel format (illustrated and adapted by Eric Shanower). That one features Dorothy and the Raggedy Man walking back to Oz from Kansas.

As my project has grown and I've come to better understand the American road narrative, I've come to realize all the Oz books I've read over the years qualify. So here I am back at the beginning to understand the origins of Oz.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the story of a young orphan, Dorothy, and her trip across Oz as she tries to find someone who can help send her home to her aunt and uncle in rural Kansas. Along the way she befriends a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, a Cowardly Lion, kills two witches, dethrones a foreign dictator (the Wizard), and befriends two other witches. For more on Dorothy, please read who is Dorothy?

Because Baum and his original illustrator, William Wallace Denslow, were trying to wow the publishing world and their target audience, they went all out with four ink colors. The book was designed to incorporate the illustrations and colors into the text area. It makes it hard to read and that's what left me unimpressed with 2012 re-read.

But the colors also set up the color schema that makes Oz, Oz. There is the blue of the Muchkins (and Dorothy, which marks her as a friendly witch), the Purple of the Gillikins, the Yellow of the Winkie, the Red of the Quadlings, and finally the green of the Emerald City, capitol of Oz.

This book also sets up the upside down, otherwordliness of Oz, though this aspect is refined over future books. As I discussed in In the upside-down: the hobo life in Oz, I explained the narrative significance of the flipped directions of East and West.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a rough start but it gave Baum what he needed to figure out Oz and to be inspired to flesh out the world.

Five stars

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Who is Dorothy?: 06/15/18

May book sources

Asking who is Dorothy seems at first to be an idiotic question. Dorothy is the girl who rode a farmhouse through a cyclone and ended up in Oz. In later pastiches, Dorothy is either a mother (Barnstormer in Oz by Philip José Farmer), the last great Monarch (Tin Man), or a power obsessed despot (Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige).

Many versions of Dorothy stop are extrapolations from the 1939 MGM film where Dorothy's adventures in Oz were essentially a vehicle for the studio to show off what Technicolor was capable of. In fact, Technicolor color theory that was thrust upon studios who wished to use the technology are responsible for some of the biggest changes to Oz: namely Dorothy's shoes becoming ruby slippers and the Wicked Witch of the West getting green skin.

Since the MGM version of Oz has it all being a coma induced dream populated with the farm hands and other people of Dorothy's Kansas life, I am ignoring cinematic Oz for the purpose of the road narrative project.

So let's go back to the source material, the 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which was written in 1899 and published on May 17, 1900. Who was that Dorothy and who did she become over the course of the books? Michael Patrick Hearn in the Annotated Wizard of Oz (2000) suggests that Dorothy in the first book is five or six years old. The illustrations by Denslow certainly suggest a young child.

Dorothy is five or six in 1899. She is a child of the last decade of the nineteenth century. She will spend the remainder of her life (if she gets home from Oz) in the twentieth century, at a time of rapid technological advancements followed by war, prohibition, the Great Depression, a second war. Baum, of course, couldn't see that far ahead, though those themes do appear in alter Oz adventures.

This Dorothy though, is an orphan who now finds herself living with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. She is too young to have been beaten down by the harshness of farm life on the great prairie. Toto keeps her happy and keeps her from turning gray. Although Dorothy is young she is practical. She has grown up on a homestead. Let's assume that before being taken in by her aunt and uncle, she was homesteading with her parents.

Dorothy, throughout her first adventure in Oz, remains practical and focused. Even in the cyclone (after closing the storm cellar door and rescuing Toto) she decides the ordeal hasn't killed her so she might as well just ride it out from the comfort of her bed. When in Oz she learns she has to walk to the Emerald City to ask for help, she takes a basket of food and her sun bonnet. In fact, through out the book Dorothy is constant replenishing her foodstuffs and or seeking shelter and help from the farm houses she meets along the way.

It is her practicality that allows Dorothy to add to her party. She starts by freeing a Scarecrow who was too well built for his intended job having become self aware while out in the cornfield. The Scarecrow, though, is very good at dealing with crows as evidenced by the forty crows (and their King) he kills single handedly when under attack by the Wicked Witch of the West. She's able to oil and maintain the joints of the Tin Woodman, thus giving him a reason to join her party. She's finally able to convince a lion that he's braver and more useful than he thinks he is.

Dorothy, not raised on the promise of magic in Kansas as her aunt and uncle barely have enough money to keep the farm afloat, is unimpressed by the Wizard's trickery. She takes on his quest to kill the Wicked Witch of the West because he tells her that he will then send her home. Dorothy does the thing not because the Wizard is magic, but because he is an adult (albeit presenting as a floating head at the time) and she is not.

In this first book, all of Dorothy's actions are based around the singleminded goal of returning home. In later, books, of course, Dorothy will come to see Oz as home and realize that home is where your family is (thus asking Ozma to let her aunt and uncle immigrate to Oz).

Dorothy doesn't even have a last name. She's just Dorothy, a young child of indeterminate age. Dorothy's last name, Gale, came from the stage play that Baum put on in the years between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. (L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz by Katherine M. Rogers (2002), p.190).

But must Dorothy die? By this, is she so power hungry and corrupted that she is singlehandedly capable of destroying her adopted home? So far with the Baum books I've read, no.

Is she capable of singlehandedly destroying Oz, early on, yes. Before Ozma and before the immigration of Em and Henry, Dorothy is imbued with orphan magic. Over the course of the series, though, she loses power as she gains friends and family. By the end of things, she is so clearly Ozma's girl friend, that she has relinquished her orphan magic to settle into be part of a couple. Similarly, Ozma has relinquished some of her power too (also being an orphan and aside from being magical due to that fact, is of her own, magical). Put another way, Oz is safer and more stable with Ozma and Dorothy together than it is with them apart or absent.

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Merman in My Tub, Volume 2: 06/14/18

Merman in My Tub, Volume 2

Merman in My Tub, Volume 2 by Itokichi continues with the four panel comic about a merman living in a high school student's bath tub. There are still new characters being introduced, including a cat, and a shark man named Agari.

This volume though seemed to have some pacing issues. The jokes with Agari-senpai are funny, especially his tales of working for Universal Studios Japan (I guess no mechanical sharks named Glenn there). The jealousy of the cat who doesn't want to share Tatsumi with Wakasa (and Wakasa who is convinced the cat will eat him, despite the size difference) is also hilarious.

I will definitely not allow such a thing

There's also a huge effort to put all the other high school tropes into Tatsumi's bathroom: a sports festival, Valentines day, White day. It's hard to pull off when it's essentially two guys, a bath tub, and occasional other visitors.

But there's the weird little sister who brings this uncomfortable incest, threesome vibe to comic. Sure, this isn't the only manga or anime to do it, and in some ways it's as expected as the love triangle in U.S. YA fantasies, but it's still a deterrent for my enjoyment.

Four stars

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Murder Past Due: 06/13/18

Malaika’s Winter Carnival

Murder Past Due by Miranda James (pseudonym of Dean James) is the start of the Cat in the Stacks series. Charlie Harris works in the rare books and archive at the university in Athena, Mississippi. He brings his Maine coon cat, Diesel with him to work. His university is offered the papers of a local murder mystery author and Charlie is tasked with deciding if it should be accepted and then, inventorying and cataloging the donation.

The author, though, ends up having a checkered past. When he ends up dead, Charlie begins to realize that the motive behind the murder might be in the donated papers and manuscripts.

Character-wise, I'm reminded of Lillian Jackson Braun's Cat Who series. There, the main character was a writer, not a librarian, but otherwise he's of similar age and temperament.

In terms of plot and the revelation of clues reminds me of the Goldie Bear Culinary mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson. The clues come in a mixture of character studies and allowing the main character do his job.

The second book in the series is Classified as Murder and I have it on hand to listen to soon.

Four stars

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Malaika’s Winter Carnival: 06/12/18

Malaika’s Winter Carnival

Malaika’s Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn and Irene Luxbacher (illustrator) is a follow up to Malaika’s Costume. Malaika is reunited with her mother but now she has to leave her extended family and her island home to move with Mummy and her new husband to Canada.

Malaika is now living in the far away, cold city of Québec, quite the difference from the warm sea, trade winds and palm trees. She has to learn how to bundle up with layers and layers of clothes in the winter, how to navigate in the snow, and all sorts of new traditions and customs.

Besides having a new stepfather, she also has a new stepsister, a girl named Adèle. They are nice but they aren't anything like the family she will be missing.

The culmination of things for Malaika is the promise of the Winter Carnival. She is thinking like the colorful event just before Lent but this is held during the winter — the dark snowy days. There is none of the music and pageantry she has been expecting. Frankly, it's disappointing.

Finally though, Adèle and her father help Malaika see how the Winter Carnival is special to them and she gets to learn how to make it special (but still different) for herself.

For me I found the story of the move and the culture shock of the tropical Caribbean with Québec the most compelling piece of this picture book. I've been through a move and the remarriage of my mother — but not as far as what Malaika had to experience.

I hope there's a third book to see how Malaika is settling in.

Four stars

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Karma Khullar's Mustache: 06/11/18

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Karma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge is about a Sikh girl going through puberty and having to face head on the impossible beauty standards and the rule not to cut ones hair.

On top of that, Karma is in a school district where sixth grade is the first year of middle school. She has a new school, new schedule, new kids, new cliques — all sorts of newness to face. That includes her best friend hanging out with a new, blonde — oh so perfect — friend. It also includes mustache jokes and teasing.

With her liberal mother busy at work and her conservative father taking over the household duties, Karma feels at a loss. She decides to tackle the mustache problem on her own rather than talk to either parent. She knows what Dad's answer will be. She figures Mom is too busy to talk and doesn't want to bother her.

The main problem with this book is that the plot is drawn out through the lack of communication between Karma and her parents. Were it a little tighter, it would have been a funny and memorable tale.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 11): 06/11/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 11)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

This is the last full week of school. With summer warming up, I'm having to water more frequently the few spots that don't currently have a drip system hooked up. Eventually I need to learn how our drip system is set up and figure out how to add to it.

Anyway, sometimes when I'm out front watering, I get to see my neighbors. Although we're in an urban area, we're literally at the edge of where it becomes rural. There's a horse trail that starts at the dead end of our street. So sometimes we see horses and riders. Like these two:

Last Tuesday was my daughter's Spring Music concert at school. She had a solo in Firework and they put on quite the show for that piece!

Thursday was the Drama Club's first performance of The Princess Bride where my daughter was Buttercup.

Buttercup swimming away from the shrieking paper bag eels
Buttercup swimming away from the shrieking paper bag eels.

Saturday night was the final performance of The Princess Bride with the second cast.

Westley just revived thanks to Miracle Max's chocolate.
Westley just revived thanks to Miracle Max's chocolate.

Sunday was the cast party, so we've been super busy!

What I read:

Ship It This is London Melena's Jubilee Paths & Portals Boat of Dreams Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #3 The Penderwicks Bo at Ballard Creek Time Ghost Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #4 Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #5 Noragami 10 Surprise Me

  • Ship it by Britta Lundin; personal collection
  • This is London by Miroslav Sasek; library book
  • Melena's Jubilee by Zetta Elliott and Aaron Boyd (Illustrations); library book
  • Paths & Portals by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes (Illustrator)
  • Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho; library book / research
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #3 by Kelly Thompson and Corin Howell (Illustrator)
  • The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection (audio)
  • Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill and LeUyen Pham
  • Time Ghost by Welwyn Wilton Katz; library book
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #4 by Kelly Thompson and Corin Howell (Illustrator)
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #5 by Kelly Thompson and Corin Howell (Illustrator)
  • Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 10: Back From the Dead by Adachitoka
  • Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella; personal collection

What I'm reading:

Welcome to Nightvale Hello, Universe Inside Hudson Pickle Love & War

  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge; personal collection
  • Love & War by Melissa de la Cruz; personal collection

Up Soon:

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz Better off Read Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil Under his spell

  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Better off Read by Nora Page; personal collection
  • Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil by Jeff Lemire; personal collection
  • Under His Spell by Marie P. Croall and Hyeondo Park (Illustrator)' library book


Reviews Posted

Comments  (24)

Ragtag: 06/10/18


Ragtag by Karl Wolf-Morgenländer is an urban fantasy about a clan of birds going to war with an invading clan of raptors. It's written from the point of view of a young swallow, named Ragtag. Their only salvation is a wounded bald eagle who is surprisingly in the city.

Before getting into the mechanics of how the story is told, there's already a bunch of problems. It's not that swallows don't visit the city. It's that they are only there during the summer. Many of the other birds are migratory as well.

Range maps of the tree swallow, barn swallow, and the bald eagle, showing an overlap in ranges ignored in the book.

Somehow too, the clan follows the wise advice of a great horned owl. Excuse me? First of all, they're nocturnal. No way it would be up to running council meetings when the other birds are awake. He might also be tempted to eat one or two of them (though he would prefer mice and frogs).

Then there's the bald eagle. It's been wounded by a poacher or hunter and captured by said person. Then he managed to escape and found himself in Boston. Yes, there was a time not that long ago when bald eagles were near extinction and one would have to drive into the most remote areas of the wilderness to see one. The eagle population nationwide has risen from approximately 400 pairs to approximately 5000 pairs in the last fifty years or so.

To put the rising numbers into a more personal perspective, in 1990 when I took a family road trip to Oregon and Washington, we were shocked and thrilled to see a bald eagle flying over the Willamette Falls area. In the last decade though, bald eagles have begun nesting on a yearly basis at Lake Chabot near Oakland, California.

So if urban California can have a regular population of bald eagles, how about Boston? Well, there's a website for that, It tracks reported sightings of bird species. In looking for bald eagles I bring up dozens of reported sightings, making the premise of this story all the more hokey.

An map showing bald eagle activity in Boston

Finally there is the narration — that's the way in which the story is told, rather than what it contains. The birds in Ragtag's clan speak with a pseudo Native American warrior brave English. We're talking James Fenimore Cooper type language. All it manages to do is tell a boring story. But it's more than that, of course. It's insulting to estimated 5.2 million Native Americans (2010 U.S. Census) who live in the United States.

The book being a lethal combination of poor research, insulting language, and pretentious plot, was one I could not finish.

One star

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Ship It: 06/09/18

Ship It

Ship It by Britta Lundin is a YA about toxic fandom and queerbating. Claire is a sixteen year old fanfic writer obsessed with a show called Demon Heart which was inspired by a series of paranormal novels. Now out of nowhere, her favorite show is participating in a comic con in nearby Boise and she's got to be there.

Claire ships the two main characters. She's been writing slash fiction about them and posting it on Tumblr for the entire run of the show. The fanfic is her escape and she's horrified when one of the stars tells her the characters aren't gay and they will never kiss on screen.

As that set up and payoff is the first third of the book, it would be a short story if Claire were to just go home feeling disillusioned with the show.

No of course not. We are to believe that the producers of the show are unprofessional enough to think up a contest at the last moment, rig said contest, and then invite a sixteen year old to be their official live blogger at the rest of the stops on the convention tour. We're then to believe that the adult stars of the show would be given access to said minor and she in turn would be given access to the official social media accounts.

As someone who used to work in social media as one accounts (though not Twitter and not Tumblr as neither company existed at the time) I can tell you what a load of hogwash this set up is. These accounts are typically highly scripted and highly monitored by the higher ups (or at least their personal assistants).

But that's not the half of it. The book also gives point of view chapters from the star who shot down Claire's kissing question. He is more concerned about a different acting role, one as the lead in a video game turned movie franchise. He's afraid that playing a gay character will typecast him against type for this video game movie role.

The third and final point of view, if it can be called that, are the snippets of Claire's fanfic. This part is my least favorite. It's overwritten and frankly since there isn't any actual canon, there's nothing to compare it to. (I should note that I don't like the fanfic parts in Fangirl for the same reason).

But mostly this book suffers from a lack of understanding of the intersectionality of fandom. Claire in the beginning of the book has to explain what shipping is to her mother. There's also a so many unnecessary scenes about the adults learning about Tumblr and Twitter — and setting both accounts up while at the conference. Trust me, these accounts would already be set up and active well before the conference road trip.

Finally it seems like the author didn't have a grasp on when Claire was born. If the book is contemporary and she's sixteen in 2018, she was born in 2002. She comments about not watching much TV as a kid and not having cable and only having rabbit ears. The conversion to a digital signal happened in 2009 (thus the nail in the coffin of the rabbit ears). She would have been five. I very much doubt she would remember them.

Claire also mentions growing up with a few favorite VHS tapes. VHS was already dying out to DVDs and later digital in her earliest childhood, if she was born in 2002.

Now let's pretend that this is taking place not currently and this show isn't a Riverdale-esque show (even though the author is a writer for said show) and instead this show is inspired by Supernatural which started in 2005 and therefore this is 2006, meaning she was born in 1990. The VHS and rabbit ears would jive but, wait, there wouldn't be Tumblr (it started in 2007). And Twitter would be months old (March 21, 2006).

Basically this book is sloppy. According to the afterword, it started as a screenplay and the author was encouraged to expand it into a novel. Films and television series are much shorter and these sort of plot holes get missed because the action has moved onto another scene. As a novel though, it doesn't hold up.

Two stars

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Thirty-one years of tracking my reading: 06/09/18

May book sources

Tonight brings the close of my 31st year of tracking my reading. I started my list between seventh and eighth grade when I realized I couldn't remember a book I had loved in sixth grade. That was only a little more than a year previous and I couldn't recall the title. Without the title I couldn't check out the book again!

As it so happens the junior high school library had bought a copy of the book I was trying to remember. As soon as I saw the cover, I was overjoyed. I decided I should take this good fortune as a sign. I probably wouldn't get such a lucky break in the future, so I had best write down what I had read!

In last year's summary, I predicted that by January of this year, I would cross ten thousand books. Silly me. I do read a lot but even I have my limit. Instead of ten thousand, I'm at 8415. At this rate, I will cross ten thousand in January 2020. That will still be about twenty years sooner than my estimate from 1998.

Last year I mentioned that I still hadn't reviewed Kraken by Wendy Williams, my last book read for year twenty-nine. I also glibly said it would be reviewed by November 4, 2017. Instead of posting that review, I posted a review of The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken. I don't currently have a review of Kraken planned, though one is written.

I have however, reviewed my last book from last year, namely Giant Days Volume 4 by John Allison. In fact I'm current with my reviews of that series.

My first book of this year was Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett. My last book this year is volume ten of Noragami, a series I'm not currently reviewing volume by volume.

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The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time: 06/08/18

The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time by Steven Sherrill is the sequel to The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2000). M has moved away from the Lucky-U mobile home park and is now in the Allegheny mountains, working at a Civil War reenactment park.

M is living in a hotel that allows for bartering. He does odd jobs and gets a room and homemade food. And sometimes he goes to battle, although he's awkward on the battlefront.

I really was ready to settle into another quiet thought piece comparing an itinerate life to being trapped in a labyrinth. This book, though, mixes things up by giving M a makeshift family in the form of Holly and her brain damaged brother, Tookus.

The original story was the literal Minotaur settling in a rural town along a blue highway because it was the closet thing he could find to his labyrinthine prison. Here he is attempting to assimilate by finding himself a family. Separately, there is the sibling dynamic having gone so far off road to end up in the a forgotten motel at the edge of the Allegheny mountains, and there is the Minotaur, trying to find his way home by getting further off the main road. Together, though, if they really are to become a family, then their collective power over the road — over space and time — is greatly diminished because their goals are completely at odds.

Two stars

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There are 216 road narrative stories (that I'm interested in): 06/08/18

May book sources

When analyzing a group of narratives one must decide what counts and what doesn't. Throw too wide a net and one gets nothing but noise. Cast too narrow and one'll miss important forms of variation an exceptions to the rule.

After two and a half years of re-visiting the road narrative project I was getting a sense of what made a road narrative and more importantly which types of road narratives I was most interested in. Because of the apparent binary to road narratives I was at first trying to categorize everything into an either / or type lists.

And then last year I had a eureka moment. The human brain perceives color in a circular manner. Red and blue come in the middle of violet, even though on the light spectrum, violet is at one end of the wavelengths from red. So my reasoning was: what if narrative building blocks are both circular and linear depending on how they were looked at?

To test this theory I arbitrarily assigned the major building blocks of the road narrative. I assigned blue to what I was calling "on the road" thinking of the privileged masculine stories of Kerouac, Supernatural (especially the early seasons). As it's complimentary color / genre building block, I put "there and back again" which is the classic British travelogue type story.

In the middle of the color wheel, I left a swirling mess of colors for the areas of this categorizing I hadn't figured out.

Old version

Then I assigned the types of characters to those genre colors. For just over a year this first generation genre wheel served me well. It gave me a visual way of analyzing road narratives I was reading, especially the more usual ones like Kate Milford's Nagspeake set books, Kat Yeh's The Way to Bea.

But as I got further and further "off road" and further and further into other methods of travel, such as the cornfield and the maze and

the labyrinth, I began to see that my initial genre wheel wasn't enough. It was essentially two dimensional when I really needed three dimensions to track the variations in construction of the road narratives I have been studying.

And that's when my designer mind came to the perfect solution: hexadecimal colors. Namely, the RGB colors that the web uses. Furthermore I had settled (through trial and error) on six types of building blocks for my three dimensions (or channels, if thinking colors): character types, destination, and, road. By keeping it to six each, I have a maximum of 216 basic narratives to worry about which I can color code with web safe colors.

How it works:

Character types   Destination   Road
Character Hex Color   Destination Hex Color   Road Hex Color
Orphan FF0000     Utopia 00FF00     Cornfield 0000FF  
Siblings CC0000     Uhoria 00CC00     Maze 0000CC  
Scarecrow / Minotaur 990000     Wild lands 009900     Labyrinth 000099  
Marginalized 660000     Home 006600     Offroad 000066  
Couple / Family 330000     Rural 003300     Blue Highway 000033  
Privileged 000000     City 000000     Interstate 000000  

Each of these three narrative construction pieces are assigned a number based on who the story is about, where that character is going, and who that character gets there. For more complex analysis, one could color code at more finite gradations, say by chapter or even by scene to see how the narrative evolves over time.

As there are 216 web safe colors, there are at most, 216 types of road narratives that I am currently interested in for this project. Of those 216, I am most interested in the the ones at the most saturated "on" channels, the ones were extraordinary characters take extraordinary routes to get to extraordinary places.

You'll notice at at the bottom of the list of genre construction blocks, is the most basic, most generic road narrative: namely that of a privileged person (usually a young white man), going to the big city by way of an interstate. This is the story type I am least interested, and frankly, the one that has gotten (and continues to get) the most attention.

In my next article, I will define the terms used here and give more concrete examples of the stories that most interest me and a brief description as to why.

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Runaways, Volume 1: Find Your Way Home: 06/07/18

Runaways, Volume 1: Find Your Way Home

Runaways, Volume 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell is the trade that collects issues one through six. I believe it builds off the series Noelle Stevenson wrote back in 2015. And then Brian K. Vaughn took a run at it. I haven't read either series, nor am I particularly up to date with most of what Marvel's done.

So why did I read this one? Well, Rainbow Rowell wrote it and I was curious to see what she'd do. I think she did a good job of getting newbies like me up to speed while introducing the characters and setting up the current arc.

It opens with a dead character being brought back from the moment of her death two years previous. Her resurrection / salvation allows Rowell to show that time travel exists, that magic exists (with some strict rules).

Once she's awake we get to hear about the other Runaways who have scattered in the last two years. So the remainder of the book is the getting the band back together.

The last one on the list is a girl named Molly. Here's where the next six issues are set up. Molly's grandmother is an evil scientist who looks like an elderly June Cleaver. She has mind controlled / controlling cats.

It was fun. It wasn't brilliant. I'm not as sucked in as I am with Paper Girls but it's fun enough that I'll at least read the second collection which comes out in October.

Three stars

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A Just Clause: 06/06/18

A Just Clause

A Just Clause by Lorna Barrett is the eleventh of the Booktown mystery series. Tricia is expecting for things to get back to normal after the cruise. Her store is open. She's got a book signing with an author she met on the cruise. And then one of the guests to the signing ends up dead and the author is missing!

To complicate things further, Tricia and Angelica's father shows up in town claiming that he's been thrown out by their mother. Dear old dad, John, as he's described and as he behaves like Anthony DiNozzo Sr. He talks the talk and walks the walk but he's an out of work, out of money, womanizer, who swears up and down that he loves his kids.

The gist of this book comes down to a tug of war of the clues. They either point to the father or to the would be cruise boyfriend. Since I'm familiar with this type of story as it was used in nearly every single episode of NCIS where DiNozzo the elder is featured, I knew who the murderer was.

Even though the mystery plot was obvious I still enjoyed it. It was nice to be back in Stoneham. I am looking forward to book twelve, Poisoned Pages which comes out in July.

Four stars

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Nurse, Soldier, Spy: 06/05/18

Nurse, Soldier, Spy

Nurse, Soldier, Spy by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix is a picture book biography of a Canadian who fought in the American Civil War and had wore many different hats in her career.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was one of many women who dressed as men to join in the war. Although here it appears to be more of a life choice beyond wanting to serve. Sarah took the name Frank Thompson and joined up with the Union Army.

The book grows through her initial trouble in joining up because she looked too young (no facial hair) to at the end being taken because all that were left were the teenage (and possibly younger) boys. John Hendrix uses bold lines and hand drawn lettering inspired by historical typefaces to bring Marissa Moss's words to life. Hendrix's style reminds me of Nathan Hale's illustrated novels.

For this Canadian book challenge, I'm including this one as an honorary entry since Edmonds was Canadian.

Four stars

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Braced: 06/04/18


Braced by Alyson Gerber is a book about a teenage soccer player who like her mother has scoliosis. Just as Rachel is getting exciting for being the forward on her soccer team, she's hit with her doctor's orders to be fit with a back brace because her spine's curvature has gotten worse.

I think this is the first book I've read with a family who has scoliosis. I point this out, a year after taking my son in to have his spine examined. Sure enough, just like others in our family, he has it. Our family's scoliosis doesn't get bad enough to need bracing, but it was still something we talked about during the appointment.

Like Rachel, the diagnosis came just before my son started cross country. In the end, cross country didn't wasn't his thing, so it's not something we'll have to balance with his regular scoliosis check ups. But it could have been if he didn't have other interests that he wanted to spend his time on instead.

Like most problem books, this one follows a pretty standard narrative progression. The big exciting thing happens just before the big frustrating problem thing. So then comes the hating of the thing to fix the problem and being frustrated at not being able to do the exciting thing without the thing to fix the problem. Then comes the big event (game, contest, show, etc.) and with it comes some life altering mindset, where the protagonist comes to terms with the problem and the thing to fix (or not) the problem. So that in the end it doesn't matter if the BIG EVENT was upset because of the problem and everyone learns a lesson.

Bracedd has it's place to explain what it's like to live with scoliosis and be an active, athletic teenager. But it could have done more. Rachel's so focused on soccer that she really doesn't have a personality beyond her love of the game and her dislike of the brace.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 04): 06/04/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 04)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

This week is the last full week of school. That means a Girl Scout potluck, a music performance, the school play. I'll be crazy busy nearly every night this week.

What I read:

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

  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire; library book / research
  • The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; personal collection
  • 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

What I'm reading:

The Penderwicks Welcome to Nightvale Ship It Hello, Universe

  • The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection (audio)
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, personal collection
  • Ship it by Britta Lundin; personal collection
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection

Up Soon:

Inside Hudson Pickle Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz Time Ghost Love & War

  • Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge; personal collection
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum; personal collection / research
  • Time Ghost by Welwyn Wilton Katz; library book
  • Love & War by Melissa de la Cruz; personal collection


Reviews Posted

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The Outlaw Varjak Paw: 06/03/18

The Outlaw Varjak Paw

The Outlaw Varjak Paw by S.F. Said is the sequel to Varjak Paw. Varjak, now living on the streets with a gang comprised of stray cats and dogs has earned the ire of another cat, the leader of a rival gang.

Varjak continues to have spiritual dreams where he furthers his feline marshal arts skills. It's winter and food is scarce, so going against a rival gang that is unwilling to share what food they have is making things extra dangerous.

The first book had a weird dystopian feel with cats disappearing only to reappear as horrific feline cyborg toys. This book lacks that compelling side plot. The winter is dangerous and the rival gang is too but neither is as compelling.

Three stars

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The Alcatraz Escape: 06/02/18

The Alcatraz Escape

The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the third of the Book Scavenger middle grade mystery series set in San Francisco. The Book Scavenger is hosting "Unlock the Rock" a clues and riddle based game on Alcatraz. Emily, her brother and neighbor James and a school friend want to participate but someone is sending them threatening notes to get them to drop out.

As with the previous two books, Book Scavenger (2015) and The Unbreakable Code (2017) there are two mysteries: one related to the Book Scavenger game and a real world one.

This time around the real world mystery was the obvious one and the Unlock the Rock clues were the tricky ones. In both cases, though, since this is a middle grade mystery, the clues are there to be solved by any observant and persistent reader. The clue, for instance, the Emily gets as her entry to the game, is subtly devious but completely solvable. Frankly next time I see a riddle like that I'm going to be more observant with the pieces of the riddle.

The Alcatraz Escape is a little shorter than the second book, and frankly the perfect length for a fun afternoon of reading. I don't know if a fourth one is planned but I will definitely read it if there is.

Five stars

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May 2018 Sources: 06/02/18

May book sources

May was a nice month weather- and health-wise. I had far fewer library books to worry about but May is the start of the summer book season and my preorders came in like an avalanche. I had planned to read sixteen newly published books and managed only half that amount. Over all, my reading was down, my lowest amount since September (the month I was moving).

ROOB Score for the last three years

May looks pretty bad for reading my own backlist books in comparison to May 2017 and 2016 but is better than 2015. Part of this is due to my reading and reviewing newly published (within the same month of publishing) books. May would have been much closer to 0 if I had accomplished my orgionally stated goal.

May ticked up a little bit from April, up from -2.38 to -2.3. My best May of recent years was last year at -3.14. That year was particularly good because I was reading books as I was packing them.

The trend line is now basically flat after a five months of reading so many newly published books. I suppose in June it will start ticking upwards.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Looking at all previous years, May 2018 is right in the middle. May is the month where my wishlist reading kicks into gear.

ROOB monthly averages

Reading newly purchased books in May had a slight affect on the overall average, raising it from -2.54 to -2.51.

As May was such a disaster in sticking with my planned reviews, especially of newly published one, I'm not going to make a prediction of my June reading results.

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Labyrinth Lost: 06/01/18

Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova is the first of the Brooklyn Brujas YA series. It's set up with a similar premise as the Love, Sugar, Magic middle grade series, but with darker themes and higher stakes. Alex is a bruja and she's to come into her own during her death day ceremony. Again, like with A Dash of Trouble, brujas are initiated into the family through a birthday ceremony that summons the dead relatives who then help recognize the new bruja's speciality.

Alex, the newest initiate, is reluctant. She believes her magic is nothing but bad luck. She's tired of seeing her family get hurt and she doesn't want to add to it. So on her death day ceremony she tries to protect her family by stripping herself of her magic. Except the spell goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Given the emphasis on family — even dead family — participation in the upkeep of magic, it's not hard to see why or how even the spell went wrong. Alex, along with everyone else living and dead that is related to, ends up in the Los Lagos realm.

The set up, done in the first quarter or so of the book, evokes through well-meaning misstep, orphan magic and changes the setting an otherworldly labyrinth, very much like the maize maze that the Lowriders have to navigate to find their missing cat.

Through saving herself, navigating through Los Lagos, and reuniting with her family, Alex comes to understand how her magic works and how family makes her and her magic stronger.

I read this book for my road narrative project. It is a labyrinth and monsters on- and off-road tale that evokes orphan magic as the means for solving the labyrinth. I will write further about the symbolism of the book later.

The second book in the series, Bruja Born comes out on June 5th.

Four stars

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May 2018 Summary: 06/01/18

Inclusive reading report

May was a struggle not because of library books, but because of an over zealous schedule of newly purchased books I planned to read and review. I've come to the realization that I can't keep a pace of three newly published books a week and get reviews written for them and enjoy the process. Although I can and often do read what averages out to a book a day, actually committing to doing so every day is stressful.

I currently have seventeen books checked out and six holds (mostly for research) to pick up at the library. I'm less worried about finishing every one before they are due. I've decided that if I run out of time, I'll just return the book and re-request it if I'm still interested in reading it.

May was the first month after ten successful months where I missed my reading goal. Namely, I want at least half of my books to be from own voice authors, or from other countries. With reading twenty-three books, thirteen of them should have counted towards that goal. I only read ten — mostly from taking too long on some of the newly published books.

May's reviews, though, did feature a majority of diverse / own voice books. This is my third month in a row in reaching the reviewing goal. A large number of the books I read, especially of ones published this year, were reviewed in the month they were read, an unusual feat for me.

At the start of May, I had planned to review sixteen books published in 2018. In reality, I only managed to read and review eight of them.

At the start of May I had fifty-five reviews from 2016 to post. I'm now down to forty-four. My 2017 reviews dropped from forty-seven to forty. My 2018 reviews are holding steady, up a little from seventy-two to eighty-one.

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