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Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, Vol. 1: 07/31/18
More than any comic or graphic novel I've read recently, Sherlock Frankenstein for its outlandish title and its equally vivid cover is the one that has generated the most comments and questions. Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire collects issues one through four of a side comic to Black Hammer.
Sherlock Frankenstein in the Black Hammer comic is presented as the supervillain of Spiral City. To me his name makes him sound like he's related to Casanova Frankenstein from Mystery Men. But to the younger readers who have come across the book, it's the Sherlock part of the name that grabs them. As in he must be smart. But then, what's this? Frankenstein — so he's a mad scientist detective?
The first glimpse of Sherlock Frankenstein being anything other than a super villain comes in the back half of The Event as we learn about Gail's backstory. She is shown in her later years dating Frankenstein. The big question is why? Is she a superhero gone bad? Is he a supervillain gone good? The answer is messier and more nuanced than either of those options.
Caleb and Kit: 07/30/18
Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel is about a secret friendship between children who live across the river from each other. Caleb is experiencing his first summer of relative freedom, unusual because he has cystic fibrosis. Kit is newly moved into the old house across the stream and she is full of stories of fairies and magic. But not everything she says adds up.
The story is narrated exclusively from Caleb's point of view. He's twelve and he's going through a rebellious phase. He's upset at being forced to go to summer day camp — something usually reserved for much younger children. His older brother is working an internship. His parents are divorced. His mom, therefore, is working extra shifts and she doesn't feel like she can trust Caleb to be by himself.
Caleb spends a lot of this book ignoring his mother's wishes and sneaking out from day camp. He's being a kid but he's also putting himself at risk because of the CF. Because of his ongoing irritation at being different and at having a condition that most people don't understand he comes across as a not so likable character.
But the book does include all the details of what it is like to live with CF — something I've not seen in a novel before. The only other CF book I can think of is Breathing for a Living, Laura Rothenberg's memoir.
The book isn't just about Caleb. There's also Kit. She's clearly not being well cared for — any adult reading this book will see that. She pulls Caleb into a bunch of things he otherwise wouldn't be doing — some that could get him into trouble or hurt or worse.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 30): 07/30/18
Last week my daughter had her book camp where she learned some basics of book binding, tried her hand at some illustration techniques, and had a ton of fun making zines. They also worked as a group to paint a mural.
Also last week the new laptop my husband ordered came in, so I've been having fun getting it set up. Actually the initial set up was a breeze compared to earlier models. But there are still the passwords and whatnot. But I think everything is now the way I need and want it to be.
Then today I had my day planned around doing chores and gardening and maybe doing some reading. Instead, my ten minute errand to the library ended up being a four hour quest to jumpstart my car and then buy a replacement battery on a Sunday. Thankfully we got it all done and got the last repair slot at our local Sears.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Country Matters: 07/29/18
I maintain a good sized family library. We used to live in a tiny town home and we're all avid readers. Currently most of our family library is in storage. Yet, for the most part I have a good idea of what we have in our collection — what we've read and what we still have to read. I even used to have a catalog, the BTC, but I haven't updated it in ages. Believe or not, the turnover of our books is consistent enough that keeping up a catalog was a lot of work. Every once in a while, though, the system, such as it is fails.
Country Matters by Michael Korda is one of those points of failure. Back when I was active with Bookcrossing I brought home a copy of the book. Korda is the nephew of Alexander Korda and the person who gave me the book knew about my film studies background and insisted that was the reason I had to read it.
At the same time I was just finishing up Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins — a roman à clef about building a home in the countryside while still commuting into the city. But 2008 or so was a busy time for me with young children, a full time job, this blog and review copies coming out my ears. Fun reading time was a premium and while I though the book sounded like it had potential, I had other titles vying for my attention.
As it turns out, I had also joined GoodReads back then because the wishlist site that used to be maintained by a fan of Bookcrossing. Somehow my to be read annotation for Country Matters also somehow included wishlist. Wishlist to me means I don't have a copy on hand and I need to get one before I can read the book.
That brings us to the present. Country Matters had boiled up to the top of my wishlist. It took eight years and by then I had forgotten that I already had a copy. My library didn't have a copy so I had to do an interlibrary loan, even though I had a copy sitting on my shelf in my bedroom!
Was the book worth the effort? Not really. Korda's memoir is outlined as a series of essays about the lessons learned from living in the countryside. It's rather homely and cute but it's also rather dry. There's not a lot of there, there. There's no sense of the town, no sense of Korda.
To Kill a Kingdom: 07/28/18
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is a retelling of The Little Mermaid with a blending of Greco-Roman mythology. It's told in alternating points of view between Princess Lira, the daughter of Sea Queen, and one of the most lethal of sirens, and Prince Elian, a seafaring / pirate prince.
The setting isn't quite the Mediterranean but it's certainly inspired by it. There are Japanese influences too, in the form of a tavern owner with an interesting past. The world building is just familiar enough and just magical enough to give the reader plenty of things to imagine and think about without getting lost. It compares favorably with the world building in The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton and the Sea of Ink and Gold series by Traci Chee.
Lira and Elian are both well imagined characters with compelling reasons to do the things that they do. The foundation for this story is more Disney than Hans Christian Anderson but with darker motives and better thought out characters. Gone is the "because he's cute" and the "humans have cool stuff" reasons. Both characters are working for their kingdoms, sometimes together and sometimes at cross purposes.
Road Narrative Spectrum: 07/28/18
At the start of June, I announced a new, very focused, quantified way I was analyzing road narratives, both fictional and nonfictional. At the time, though, on the website I was still sorting the reviews I've read for this project by an older prototype. Meanwhile, for my own use, I had a color coded spreadsheet.
After nearly two months of using this road narrative spectrum to analyze and group similar narratives, I have found it an invaluable tool. I believe it's valuable enough to group the actual, public facing project. Therefore, I've rebuilt the road reviews page to be sorted via the spectrum. It's divided in six sections, with the traveler(s) as the topic heading for each group.
Included above the narrative reviews is a section of road narrative analysis I've read. These books being too broad stand apart from the spectrum but are still worth including to see where else I'm learning about road narratives.
To see the redesigned, newly sorted reviews, click on Road Reviews, available on the header of every page.
Tim Ginger: 07/27/18
Tim Ginger by Julian Hanshaw is a graphic novel set in an out of the way corner of modern day New Mexico. The titular character is a retired test pilot and widower who now spends his time reminiscing and playing cricket.
Ginger's quiet routine is upset with the appearance of a conspiracy nut and an old friend from his test pilot days. Ginger reexamines his life and his choice to isolate himself in a tiny trailer.
The conspiracy aspects of the plot didn't really do anything for me. I admit to skipping those sections as they didn't seem to be going anywhere.
The part that did interest me were the lengthy discussions on various reasons to not have children. For Ginger, it's revealed that he and his wife probably did want children but she was killed tragically before they had a chance. But now his old friend, has pegged him as one who did decide to be childless and is happy with that decision.
Overall I found the book disjoined and depressing.
Questions Asked: 07/26/18
Questions Asked by Jostein Gaarder, Akin Duezakin (illustration), and Don Bartlett (translation) is a Norwegian picture book about a child on a walk with their dog and lost in the thoughts. Questions Asked in its original form is called Det spørs which means "it depends," a far more opened ended title than what we get in the translation.
Much of the heavy lifting of this story is done by Duezakin's illustrations. While the child is thinking about different questions of life and the human condition, they walk through a forest and are soon followed by a ghostly figure. As the story unfolds the child's relationship to the ghost becomes more and more apparent until it's fairly obvious that the child was once a twin.
Akin Duezakin's illustrations are nearly monochromatic and etherial. They remind me of the art style in Three Shadows (Tres Ombres) by Cyril Pedrosa (2007). Given the book's pondering on life, death, family, grief, and self harm, it's an appropriate and heart-wrenching style to use.
Although the book is Norwegian it can be read against the American road narrative components and comes remarkably close to a recurring theme in Supernatural. If the ghost who is following the child is a twin, then we have an orphan (orphan in the sense of being the only living character besides the dog) who goes off the beating path to a wilderness lake. In the road narrative color codification, it would be #FF9966 — or about two thirds up the spectrum to full fledged fantasy or horror.
The child while at the lake goes through the motions of the last time there. Now if they were Sam or Dean and the other brother were dead (both have been dead more than once), the act of going to the lake would be the start of resurrecting the other brother. Here, the child seems to be on a path of repeating the accident that killed the twin (as evidenced by the worried expressions on both the dog and the ghost). Whether or not this is carelessness brought on by grief or it's self harm is left to the imagination (the 'it depends' part of the reading).
This scene at the lake though is crucial to understand the closeness between the siblings and to see an interesting twist on orphan magic. In American orphan magic stories where there is a dead sibling, the living sibling is the one imbued with the magic. It is the living one who can bring back the dead one. Here, though, it is the ghost who saves the living twin.
As this book is just one Norwegian book in a sea of American ones, I'm not going to make an theories on if this reversal of orphan magic is the norm. If you happen to know of other Norwegian examples where a ghost saves a living person, drop me a comment.
Poisoned Pages: 07/25/18
Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett is the twelfth book from the Booktown mystery series. It opens with the trial of Bob and him cursing Tricia and her extended family. It's the first time I can recall this series using a prolog.
After that the action gets going quickly, with a man dying of an apparent acute reaction to a food allergy at Tricia's house warming party, post remodel. It's one more tick in the jinx column for her as far as the townsfolk are concerned, and it comes right as she's announced her candidacy for president of the chamber of commerce.
The death and the campaign though are secondary to Angelica's problems. Someone is blackmailing her regarding her business dealings as the reclusive Nigela Ricita. Again, Angelica is trying to keep secrets that really aren't secrets to anyone who know her well. But we do get to have theories confirmed and she gets to learn that her good deeds have endeared her to the town and to her growing family.
As to how the death at the party and the blackmailing are related came as no surprise to me, even while listening on a cross-state road trip. That said, I didn't care that I knew because I'm thoroughly invested in the characters. This book probably wouldn't work for a new comer to the series. If you're new, start with Murder is Binding
Inside Hudson Pickle: 07/24/18
Inside Hudson Pickle by Yolanda Ridge is a middle grade novel about a family coming together. It opens with Hudson and his mother having to pick up his uncle after an apartment fire. Uncle Vic claims he fell asleep and it was just a simple accident, but Hudson's mother believes drugs were involved and the fire inspector believes it might be insurance fraud.
Set against the mystery of the fire is a health issue. Hudson has asthma and that contributed to his being cut from the AAA hockey team. Now Uncle Vic has picked up a persistent cough that he claims is just from the smoke. His cough brings to light a genetic disorder that explains Vic's cough as well as some other family tragedies.
There'a a third side plot involving Hudson's absent father and drug abuse. But these three plot threads never really comes together into one coherent or compelling narrative.
One amusing bit is that Hudson says he lives in western New York. That's a New York state short hand for Ontario. The author is Canadian, so I'm working with the assumption that it's a little inside joke.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus: 07/23/18
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling is told from the perspective of a girl who is tired of people asking her what's happened to her arms. She was born armless and her adoptive parents don't know and don't care about the reason behind her missing arms. They believe she can do anything she sets her mind to. That's all well and good until her parents get a job running an obscure Western themed park in Arizona.
When you have no arms, you have to eat with your feet. At Aven's old school, she sat with friends. Here she feels like she's on display. So she tries to find somewhere quiet and alone to eat. It's there that she meets Connor, a kid who also eats alone.
As their friendship blossoms, the two kids set out to solve the mystery of the missing park owner. No one has seen Joe in years. Aven believes she can solve the mystery with Connor's help.
There's a lot more going on here than just a quirky armless girl and a boy who barks. There's a well thought out history to the park. Aven's abilities are plausible. The life with Tourettes is also explored for its different nuances and for how it progresses.
My one quibble comes with a big spoiler that I'm not going to reveal here. It has to do with the timeline of the park. 1973 is a long time ago. I think this book would have made more sense if it were a recent historical fiction, set maybe back in 2000 or the mid 1990s, rather than the present day.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 23): 07/13/18
We're home. My husband is home. Summer day camp starts up again this week. I have another small ton of library books to finish.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Froodle by Antoinette Portis is about a neighborhood comfortably set in its ways. Every creature has its part in the daily sounds and it's all somehow orchestrated by a very serious crow. That is until a little bird gets bored.
The idea is that it's nice to mix things up. It's nice to be silly. It's good to try something new to spice up the old routine — even when there's someone saying that you shouldn't.
The crow, though, was a strange choice of character. Is because he's the biggest bird? Is because he's all one color? The line that just gets me is this: "Everyone knows there is no such thing as a silly black crow!" Really? Since when?
What about the crow and raven being traditional trickster animals? Shouldn't the crow be the one starting the froodle trend? Or is this a case of reverse psychology? No, don't be silly. We must always be serious. Or else!
The Kiss Quotient: 07/21/18
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang is a contemporary romance set in the Bay Area and is at surface level a gender swapped Pretty Woman but it's so much more. Stella Lane is an econometrician; she analyzes user data to predict future purchases. She's also autistic.
Stella would probably have continued with her daily routine had her parents not pointed out that she was thirty and they were starting to hope for grandchildren. Stella, though, hasn't enjoyed sex. From how her reaction to it, she seems asexual, but she's not adverse to the idea of being a mother.
This novel could have gone in any number of directions. It could have been yet another meddling parents trying to force their daughter to date until she somehow either finds someone she likes on her own or manages to like one of her blind dates. Or it could have been that she skips the dating scene and goes for IVF or adoption. Instead, Stella takes the direct route. She hires an escort to teach her how to like sex.
The Kiss Quotient alternates between Stella's point of view and Michael's (the escort). Often I'm inclined to skip the alternate point of view to stick with the first person's point of view (in this case, Stella's). But Hoang's characters are alive on the page and Michael in his first paragraph had me enthralled with his part of the story.
While this book is a romance with sex and a delightful lack of euphemisms, it's also about consent and respect. Michael is outraged at the treatment Stella has had by other men. He's not jealous — he's genuinely concerned for her. Besides the actual sex and foreplay there's tons of cuddling and just basic coupling that a lot of romances I've read seem to skip over.
One of my favorite early scenes is Stella's first encounter with Michael. They're at a swanky hotel and after all sorts of baby steps the eventually settle on cuddling. Stella's getting genuinely interested — something that's never happened to her before — and then suddenly it's the next morning. She fell asleep while cuddling. It's silly and real. I can't tell you how many times a good back rub has resulted in me falling asleep before getting around to having sex.
I could on about how great this book is but I don't want to spoil it. Go get a copy and enjoy a weekend curled up on the couch reading it.
The Once Upon a Time Map Book: 07/20/18
The Once Upon a Time Map Book by B.G. Hennessy and illustrated by Peter Joyce is a short picture book featuring maps of six classic children's fantasy books.
The maps themselves are very nicely done and manage to make tangible the dreamlike quality of Alice's journey through Wonderland. But they are just that, maps. In a picture book format, there's not much more to do than look — no scrolling in, no discussion on why the map was drawn in the shape it was. There is very little extra to go with these maps, basically no context.
My favorite of the maps was the one for Alice in Wonderland, because it reimagines the entirety of the book in relationship to the Red Queen's hedge maze. To understand the significance, though, one needs to know about Alice Little's background and the Victorian interest in hedge mazes, as none of that is included.
My least favorite map is the one for Oz. This map really isn't needed. There are maps that came with the original editions, including the flipping of East and West (which this map doesn't do, even though the lands are flipped as they should be.
I read this picture book as part of my road narrative project. I am in the process of re-reading the Oz series. I am also reading more recent pastiches of Oz, such as the Dorothy Must Die series. I wanted to see how one might go about mapping road narratives set in alternate worlds. The book did give me an idea of how to map the real and fantasy worlds of Labyrinth
CatStronauts: Robot Rescue: 07/19/18
CatStronauts: Robot Rescue by Drew Brockington is the fourth book in the graphic novel series. The book opens with Blanket's robot, Cat-Stro-Bot drilling an ice core on Europa. There's an accident and communication is lost.
The remainder of the book is about how the CatStronauts try to rescue Cat-Stro-Bot. How they go about it might give parents pause in that they don't follow rules and they steal (borrow) a spaceship to mount their rescue. Their reasoning is one of loyalty to a colleague and the question of Cat-Stro-Bot's sentience and value as an individual.
To hide their absence, the CatStronauts use other robots painted liked themselves and programed to act like themselves. There are some gags about first how much better they are at being CatStronauts than the actual cats. Then later when they short out, there are gags about how much worse they can be.
The payoff though comes in the furthering of science and technology while rescuing a friend. A new space ship is tested out (and it happens to look a great deal like the ship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Europa experiment is a success. Cat-Stro-Bot is rescued.
All in all it was a fun read but it wasn't as tightly woven a plot as previous ones were.
What isn't a road narrative: towards an ontological understanding of the road's importance: 07/19/18
In previous essays I have outlined what story elements make up a road narrative. I have also defined and enumerated 216 kinds of narratives built out of the elements I'm tracking. Now I am going to look at which stories at first glance appear to be road narratives but don't qualify.
As I mentioned in Getting there: it's the road, stupid, the road is the most important aspect of the road narrative. The road doesn't have to be literally present, but it most certainly has to be there metaphorically. The road (or lack there of) has to be an important driving factor in the narrative, in that there needs to be movement from point A to point B or hindered movement, or a desire for movement. One can be trapped and unable to actually travel and it can still be a road narrative.
If actual travel isn't necessary, it would seem that any and all narratives could be classified as road narratives. I admit, that I toyed with this concept for a while but there is an epistemological aspect to narrative analysis and I just knew that some books I had selected didn't qualify. This essay, then, is an attempt to back up that gut feeling with an ontological approach.
The key point is understanding that having a road present or even multiple roads present doesn't automatically make a novel a road narrative. Take for example Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochada. The cover features a desert highway at night. The opening scene is a naked man running down the middle of the 110 during rush hour traffic. At first glance this book should qualify but it doesn't.
There needs a desire for travel or if there is travel, perhaps a desire to not travel. Basically movement through space needs to be a driving force of the narrative.
In Wonder Valley there are four distinct plots in distinct places and times interwoven together by themes to tell a larger story of finding yourself. These places are all defined by nearby roads but these serve only as geographical markers, save perhaps for the one plot involving the college student who has runt to the desert after a fatal car crash.
Meanwhile, in Greenglass House and Ghosts of Greenglass House, Milo and "Neddy" and the characters in the books spend the entirety of the narratives within the confines of the Greenglass House grounds during two different Christmas holidays. Yet through role playing and arguments over local history and story telling the road is brought in doors and the extraordinary aspects of both Nagspeake (with its forever changing roads and landscape) as well as the possibility of the Greenglass House itself being unmappable on a smaller, more personal scale is made a central aspect of these narratives.
In Wonder Valley while the ensemble cast have moved around to their different locations and the roads they used are mentioned, the characters remain static both physically and emotionally throughout the duration of the novel. There is very little in the way of character growth, and whatever growth there is, isn't done in relationship to a road or in pathfinding. Meanwhile, Milo with Neddy's help does nothing but grow as a character and all of it is done through imagining that his home is a larger landscape laid before him with a magical road. It is in part his belief in the road that allows him to succeed in both books, even without ever leaving the confines of his home.
Moving forward, then, with this project, I will probably continue to review books I selected as possible road narratives on Fridays but I will state whether or not they qualify. If they do qualify, I will tag them with their placement in the road narrative spectrum by giving it a color. Or for more complex narratives, I will outline how its spectrum changes over the course of the book.
Books of a Feather: 07/18/18
Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle is the tenth of the Bibliophile mysteries. The focus this time is the work of John James Audubon, or more precisely, people who worked under him. There are two books in play, a folio of Birds of America: Audubon's famous life sized watercolors that were painted from 1820-1824 around the United States and then engraved and printed in England, a smaller collection sketches, also by Audubon, but of a lesser calibre. At the gala unveiling of the restored Audubon masterpiece, the man who hired Brooklyn to restore the book of sketches is found dead.
In the middle of all of this are two brothers who her boyfriend claims as friends. They are British-Chinese but one of them goes by his Chinese name and the other goes by the translation of his name, Crane. These two brothers are the weakest link in the book. Although one brother is now living full time in China and the other remains in Britain, they were both raised and educated in Britain, meaning their mastery of English should be equal and on a par with Stone.
Crane's decision to go by the translation of his name seems off to me. Sure, he's living in Britain and his translated name sounds like a common English surname but it still strikes me as a decision to link him to the bird theme of the book and to open him up to numerous awkward introductions where people call him Mr. Crane.
Outside of fiction where Crane's approach happens all the time, I've never met a person who will go with the translation of their name as their English language name. Instead, they either pick something that sounds enough like their actual name but is easier to spell and say in English. Or they go with the Pinyin transliteration of their name. So for Crane, 鹤, he'd be something like Hugh, or he'd be Hè (using Mandarin as an example).
The fact that he has a bird name (as do his other siblings) could have been better worked into the plot. Brooklyn lives and works in San Francisco. Finding someone who could read Chinese wouldn't be that difficult. Or she could rely on Google translate which is decent in a pinch.
The other weakness of this book is the way Audubon is presented. He is a lot more famous now than he was when his Birds of America was printed. The entire mystery hinges on assistants Audubon might have had. Yes — big named artists did have apprentices who would learn how to paint in their masters' style, thus allowing a single artist to take on loads of commissions that a single artist would never be able finish. At the time that Audubon's book was first finding a printer and was first being serialized, there is no evidence that he was that level of artist. He is said to have had a young assistant while he was out doing the initial sketches but that was in the Ohio Valley and southwards, not in England.
One last complaint, though this is with the book design itself. The bird on the cover is a blue jay. We don't have them in California yet the book is set in California. A California scrub jay or a Stellar's jay would have been more appropriate.
Love, Penelope: 07/17/18
Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin and illustrated by Lucy Knisley is set in Oakland in the year before same-sex marriages were given the green light by the Supreme court, and in the first year that the Golden State Warriors became a phenomenon. Though the novel is written by a Montrealer, this middle grade novel is the best East Bay depiction I've read.
In school Penelope has to do a heritage project but she's stumped because her father is dead and her mother is an orphan. The story she's been told is that both of her birth parents were orphans. The only one in her immediate family that has a heritage is Sammy, her mother's girlfriend.
Penelope outlines how she ends up fabricating her heritage by borrowing Sammy's in a series of letters she writes to her soon to be sibling as her mother is pregnant. This isn't a story of a much older half sibling being jealous of the baby-to-be. Penelope is thrilled to be a big sister.
Through Penelope's project we learn about Sammy's family. She's half Ohlone. Thankfully Penelope knows that she can't just claim to be Ohlone, even though that's what she first blurted out in school. Her project evolves into a way to honor her second Mom.
In the background of all of this are the Warriors. You live in the East Bay you can't avoid them. Penelope's enthusiasm for them rings true with so many children her age I know.
I could on for pages and pages about how authentic this book is. To that, though, I would end up spoiling the charming details. This book is delightful from start to finish.
The Sea Lady: 07/16/18
The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble opens with a woman in a sequined dress presenting an award for research on fish. It's some epic talent of hers or cosmic alignment or whatever that makes her appear to be a mermaid in a gown when the award could have gone to any number of other scientific discoveries.
From there the story slowly unfolds to be a mixture of reminiscences of childhood friendships, thoughts on the what-ifs of life and the desire to reconnect with those old friends. Ailsa, now a gender studies expert (though nothing of that informed research seemed to actually make it into the book or Ailsa's character) is now on her way home.
Meanwhile, Humphrey — the fish expert — is also headed home. He's more practical, I guess, and opts for the train. Or maybe that's frumpy? Mind you, all of this takes place in the UK. The UK just isn't big enough to need to fly from place to place unless you're island hopping. But I digress.
All in all this is a very quiet book. You have to be in the right mood for it. If you'd like an American book with a similar emotional impact, I recommend Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins (2017).
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 16): 07/16/18
This Monday I'm on the road on the last leg of our road trip. I'm driving back up I5 to the Bay Area. Over the last eight days we were in Reno, Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, Big Bear Lake, and South Pasadena.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Goddess Boot Camp: 07/15/18
Goddess Boot Camp by Tera Lynn Childs is the sequel to Oh. My. Gods. Phoebe Castro has had rough first year at Dynamotheos and she's still struggling to keep her Nike inherited powers under control. As summer approaches, she's given an ultimatum, go to summer camp to learn how control her powers or risk being booted from the school.
There are just a few problems with summer camp. First of all, her step sister is her camp counselor. Second of all it's known as "Goddess Boot Camp". Third, she's the oldest kid there.
To put Phoebe's situation in perspective, it would like if in the future my high school aged daughter wanted to be an RA at the local Girl Scout Camp and was instead forced to attend camp as a Brownie. Phoebe is understandably mortified but she's also mature enough to know camp is her only option if she wants to continue going to school with the other demigods.
Goddess Boot Camp is an expansion of the rules of magic as seen through one teen's struggle to control hers. Each chapter begins with a Greek term and a definition that ties in with Phoebe's current lesson. I enjoyed the thought put into these rules and then seeing them play out.
Trail of Lightning: 07/14/18
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is the first of the Sixth World post apocalyptic urban fantasy series. In the vast majority of these types of stories, even ones that take place in a desert situation, never seem to have any people of color or indigenous people. This one, though, is set after a global flood, "The Big Water" in landlocked Dinétah — the Navajo Nation. In this post flood reality, the cataclysmic event has brought to life the magic and stories and along with it, the monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter. She is the last resort, hired by families when loved ones go missing. After a disastrous hunt where she ends up fighting a monster she's never seen before, a tsé naayéé, a "creature fashioned from a mixture of flesh and something organic. Wood, stone, even corn. But without the power of speech." (p. 41) The rise of these things requires Maggie to seek help.
Maggie is normally a loner — something unusual for a culture that frames everything around clan affiliations. She is also too focused on staying alive and staying good (believing she has been infected by evil). If Maggie were to work solo, the focus would be entirely on the monsters she sent to kill and her relationship with both Neizghání and Ma'ii.
So instead, the story of what happened and how Dinétah survived the Big Water is outlined through her collaboration with Kai Arviso, a young man who has been living in The Burque but has returned home for reasons all his own.
I read this book for fun but it does fit beautifully into my road narrative project. In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the book is either a #3366FF (a couple, traveling around home, though a cornfield (or in this case with the aid of sacred corn) or it's and #FF66FF if we count Maggie and Kai as orphans working their own separate magic around the homeland with the aid of sacred corn. For this first installment, I'm inclined to go with the former and wait and see how their relationship evolves over the remaining books.
The next book is Storm of Locusts which comes out April 23, 2019.
An update on the road narrative reading: 07/14/18
A year ago April I posted an update on my reading for the road narrative project. At the time I had 336 books in my "roadtrip" list and I checked how many I had read. At the time I had read 73 books. That came to 22% of my list read through.
Fourteen months later I'm now at 675 books. I've read 142 of the list. That accounts for 2!% of the list, meaning my progress has stayed in place as I've added to my list.
If you compare the two lists, you'll see that I've dropped some books that I have dropped books that I decided not to read. I have dropped books to better reflect the direction my research is taking. For more information on what I'm reading now, please look at There are 216 road narrative stories (that I'm interested in) and Ignoring the eight percent.
Being realistic, will I ever read through the entire list? Probably not. I am constantly adding to it as new titles are released or as I am made aware of titles. It also evolves as my research takes me in new directions. That said, I think I will be casting a narrower net in the future now that I have very specific categories I am looking for.
Every Heart a Doorway: 07/13/18
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is the start of the Wayward Children series. It's meta-fiction with hints of horror and urban fantasy. Nancy, the latest arrival at Miss West's home, brings darkness and change to the home. Children start to die and it's up to her to stop the killer.
Miss West's school is definitely set in a utopia — a non-place. It's a home reachable by those who need to reach it, but otherwise outside of normal space and normal time. It's not like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs — a place with a fixed location but stuck in a time bubble. Instead it's everywhere and nowhere, now and never. It's more like the river in the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer.
It's no error that the headmistress of this school is named Miss West. West is the direction one goes to die. It's the direction of the sun and the close of the day. These children are essentially living in a self made purgatory, waiting either for their door to return or long enough to forget about their time away from the real world (or the apparent world as it's called in Japanese stories of this ilk).
This home is for children who can't adjust to being back in the real world after spending time in a fantasy world. In the Wayward Children series, the way to these fantasy dimensions is through a door. It's always a door. What the doors do to you depends on the world that calls you.
Although this first book gives nods to classic children's fantasy stories, such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Narnia series, and similar, it's reliance on doors as the method of travel is, like the motorized vehicle of my "Getting There" essay, too limited in scope.
By this metaphor, Alice doesn't reach Wonderland until she gets through the door in the room with the cake, even though she has fallen down an impossible rabbit hole to get there. Likewise, the Darlings are in Neverland the instant they step out of their shuttered windows in London.
Long running series are especially problematic. Take Oz, for instance. Dorothy's door is the door to her aunt and uncle's house — even though the entire house has gone with said door to Oz. Later, her door is Bill's chicken coop. But in the Road to Oz, there is no door, just a road that makes no sense. Speedy, meanwhile, is blown into the skies above Oz by way of a geyser; where is his door?
Narnia, too, only works by way of a door in the first (going in publication order), namely the wardrobe. Just like the Oz books, there are entire books that don't involve children traveling to and from the land at all.
If I were to classify this novel according to my road narrative, spectrum, the traveler would be a metaphorical orphan (orphaned in the sense of having been removed from her family for a long time in the fantasy world, and now a second time at the the school). The destination would be utopia in that the school is explicitly outside of time and space. Finally the road would a blue highway as the school can be reached by conventional means when it needs to be and it is via a car that Nancy arrives at the school. Thus it falls into #FFFF33, a bright yellow, at the far end of the fantasy spectrum for two of the three axes. Thus thematically it is tucked between Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder and novels such as The Vacation by Polly Horvath and The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu.
Nonetheless, I'm curious enough about the dialog between reader and the travels through the fantasy landscape, to keep reading. The second book is Down Among the Stick and Bones (2017).
Thornhill by Pam Smy is a hybrid graphic novel in the style of The Invention of Hugo Cabret with the present day story of a lonely girl living next door to the ruins of an old mansion, and the 1982 story of the last girls to live in that mansion when it was a school for wayward girls.
The story unfolds in a series of moments with the present day girl in her upstairs room over looking the burned out, overgrown remains of the building, and later with her explorations of the grounds next door. These scenes are cut together with diary entries from a girl who lived next door and was horrifically bullied by the other girls.
It's the counter play between the dark lines of the architecture with the darkness of Mary's story where the parallels between past and present emerge. The ending, while tragic, isn't a surprise. It's a satisfying pause in what will probably be a series of events linking the two buildings together.
Love Lies Bleeding: 07/11/18
Love Lies Bleeding by Susan Wittig Albert is the sixth China Bayles mystery. It follows immediately after the retreat to the monastery in Rueful Death. China is ready to say yes to McQuaid but overhears a conversation that sounds a lot like he's having an affair.
China's case is the apparent suicide by a retired Texas Ranger. More importantly, why did he marry his second wife, a woman with a criminal history that's as long as a CVS receipt?
Each book in this series has two distinct parts: China's personal life and the murder mystery. I've read these books for the mystery. I can't relate to China. I don't care about her romantic life or her piss poor personal decisions.
So for this book, I liked the mystery. I liked how China unwrapped the supposed suicide. I liked how the herb, love lies bleeding, worked into the mystery. For the mystery itself I've rated the book four stars.
If, however, you're reading for the romance you'll probably want to toss this book across the room. That seems to be the general consensus. McQuaid is an ass because he doesn't tell China that he's seeing another woman. It's not the act itself, it's the lack of communication.
House Held Up by Trees: 07/10/18
House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser is about a house that is built way out in the countryside. It covers the time from when it was new, through the family that lived there, to the house sitting empty and for sale, to finally being boarded up and left to nature.
The grove of trees is cleared away and the house. There is a tidy lawn and the kids play on it. The house is something that the man who owns it is proud of. It's implied that his children will grow up and want to keep the house.
But the house is very rural and the town never really comes out far enough. There's not enough to do or to live on out there. Presumably the now adult children move somewhere where they can makes lives for themselves.
So the house goes on the market. It doesn't sell. And over the remainder of the book, the house becomes like so many of those old abandoned farm houses one sees along two lane roads.
Except this is a wet place and the trees that had been cleared grow back. The final pages show how the house gets absorbed back into the forest. Like the famous bicycle in a tree photo that makes the rounds of the internet, the house becomes part of the trees.
It's a rather bleak story but realistic for a lot of small towns that didn't manage to hold on after various economic downturns.
The illustrations by Jon Klassen carry the bulk of the story. He uses his hallmark pallet of earth tones. Here those colors carry the isolation and desolation of this house next to and then inside a grove of trees.
Winter Wonders: 07/09/18
Winter Wonders by Kate Hannigan is the third of the Cupcake Cousins series. The family is all gathered back at Saugatuck for another wedding, this time of Cat and Mr. Henry.
It's going to be a Christmas day wedding. The cousins are in charge of the desserts but their hard work keeps going missing. Everyone claims it's Santa's Elves but they suspect something more sinister.
Just as Sweet William was the saboteur of the kitchen in Cupcake Cousins, I suspected the twins this time. Primarily I suspected them because of the reprise of the wedding as the thematic reason for the book.
That said, the book didn't end up being a retelling of the first book just redressed for Christmas. There's more going on here; the importance of community service, for instance. There is still, though, the on-going plot device of this family failing to communicate important things to their children. Basically anyone younger than teenagers is left to guess at what's going on, or is given half truths instead of useful, pertinent information.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 09): 07/09/18
Sunday was our 23rd wedding anniversary so we are on the road. Sunday we spent in Reno. Today and tomorrow we will be in Mammoth. Later in the week we'll be in Big Bear.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Dashwood Sisters Tell All: 07/08/18
Back in the early days of exclusively book blogging I received the first of the Adventures with Jane Austen and her Legacy books, Jane Austen Ruined My Life for review. Although I wasn't a Jane Austen fan, and at that time, hadn't managed to finish a single one of her books (that's since changed) but I liked the title.
I ended up loving the first volume and eagerly read the second, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. If you know me, you know I think Darcy's a complete putz, but I still loved the book. At that point I made a note of the third book's title and promptly forgot about it until it floated to the top of my Goodreads wish list this year.
The Dashwood Sisters Tell All by Beth Pattillo is about a pair of sisters going to England to another Jane Austen inspired tour. They are there on their mother's wishes, to find a place to scatter her ashes near her beloved author, and in her home country.
Along with the urn, there's also an old diary, one that they come to believe belonged to Jane's sister. It's through reading the diary and taking the walking tours that the women come to better know their mother, themselves, and to better appreciate Jane Austen and her books.
In the previous two books there was a secret society lead by a formidable woman named Harriet. Although the society is still working in the background of this story, it's not as willing to bring these sisters into the fold. Instead, they are left on their own, and much of the empty spot in the plot is filled in with an attempt at romance.
Although part of me is sad that I waited five years to read this book, I do believe I appreciated the setting more now than I would have back then. Much of the story takes place during the many walking tours and I read the book with my own recent summer walking tour of England and Wales still fresh in my memory. The heat, the humidity, the deceptive distances, and the blisters all rang true.
Were there ever a fourth book in the series, I would definitely read it.
Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army: 07/07/18
Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti is the second of the interactive Spy on History series. This volume is a short biographical sketch of Victor Dowd who was instrumental in the Ghost Army creation in WWII.
For the biographical aspect the book is straightforward, showing how Dowd helped to create a fake army to confuse Germany. He was an illustrator and good at noticing details, and was able to use his talents as well as stage effects to give the appearance of an active army where none was present.
The interactive part of book, readers are supposed to use tools very similar to what were included in the previous volume, Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring to find Dowd's missing sketch book. While Dowd was known to sketch while on assignment and his sketches to do still exist, the look for a sketchbook feels tacked on, rather than being an integral part of the plot.
The book, too, despite covering an interesting subject, was a dull read. Dowd doesn't come alive in the same way that Mary Bowser does. In her case there is more personally at stake as she was a Black woman in Jefferson Davis's home. Yes, Dowd was a soldier but he was stationed in Britain doing some smoke and mirrors and while it was crucial to a successful invasion, it isn't quite the same level of personal danger.
Victor Dowd died on May 17, 2010 at the age of 89.
Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing: 07/06/18
Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing by Erika Lopez is the start of the Mad Dog Rodríguez trilogy. Jolene "Tomato" Rodríguez has gotten it in her head that she needs to take a road trip. Not any kind of road trip but one on a motorcycle — one with the abandon that would make Jack Kerouac blush.
There's just one problem. Tomato doesn't know how to ride a motorcycle. She's going to learn as she goes. As she learns the road and her machine we also are given glimpses through free form poetry and illustrations / and rubber stamp art of what's going on in her head.
The book is part road narrative, part graphic novel, part epic poem. There's really no easy to describe the book or the experience of reading it. While it didn't sweep me off my feet as it has many, I am still glad to have come across it.
The second book is They Call Me Mad Dog (1998).
Are small towns uhoric or utopic?: 07/05/18
The past month has been filled with fictional visits to small towns that are both out of time and out of place. These places I've visited are the Emerald City (Paradox in Oz), Night Vale and Kings City (Welcome to Night Vale, Sanders and Hourglass (Paradox Bound, and now Moshimo (Fireworks 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか? 横から見るか?). All of these stories involve people trapped in their towns by time and by remoteness. Some characters are more capable at traveling between towns than others.
Now, while my project aims to focus on North American road narratives (with emphasis on stories from the United States and Canada, though I am open to reading ones from Mexico), sometimes a story falls into my lap that can be read using the road narrative spectrum. As Fireworks fits so well thematically with the books I've read this month, I am including it in this essay. My essay tittle is a wee nod to the full title of the film which involves a question of should fireworks been seen from beneath or the side (to determine if they are round or they are flat).
In my first exploration of how time and space function at the fantasy end of the road narrative, Traveling between utopia and uhoria: an introduction to the use of space and time in Oz and Night Vale I outlined the three types of time: personal time (Ozma), shared time (Oz), and backwards time (Zoey). In this essay I will look at the mechanics of moving between places and between times as a function of the road while using examples from Welcome to Night Vale, Paradox Bound, and Fireworks.
When Jackie, the pawnshop owner, is introduced in Welcome to Night Vale, we are given conflicting pieces of information: she's nineteen years old and has recently taken over the shop from her mother, but she's been running the shop for as long as anyone can remember. She has apparently been nineteen for a very long time and her once nineteen year old friends are all grown up, married, and now parents. Jackie seems to be stuck in her own personal time which is further exasperated by Night Vale's own mixture of odd public time and lack of connectivity with the rest of the world, even though town members are aware of real world places (such as King City).
Time in Sanders (Paradox Bound) appears to go slowly, in that it seems to be dragging its heels, holding onto the features of the 1980s while being excessively reluctant to embrace newer things like cellphones and the internet. These things exist but they are hard to access / hard to use in Sanders, while things like VHS rental stores and video game arcades still do regular business (and not in a retro- nostalgic fashion).
Finally there is Moshimo, a small seaside town in Japan. The main characters are Oikawa Nazuna and Shimada Norimichi who spend a weird day together. Nazuna wants to runaway to Tokyo. Norimichi wants to spend the day with her. with the help of a lenticular sphere, whose shape mirrors the lighthouse that features so prominently, wishes are able to rewind the time and rework the world — at least within the bounds of the town. While the two teens are a couple for the course of the day, the ending implies that Nazuna by accepting her fate (of having to move and having to have a new step father at the end of summer) is able to escape the wish created uhoria, while Norimichi is too drawn into the power of his wishes to escape, and thus is also absent at the next roll call (but in an unexplained way from the point of view of everyone else).
Jackie, Eli, and Norimichi do their initial escapes as a pair with another traveler. None of these couplings are especially romantic, with only Eli and Harry's coupling ends up romantic at the end (or with implied romance at the end).
All of these narratives involve a dialog between unreachable space and unreachable time. Uhorias often slide into utopias, which is why I put the utopia — the no place — at the far end of the spectrum for possible road narrative destinations. The narratives I've discussed here, though, I believe are uhorias as their central twist is their interplay with unreliable time and how the unwinding / rewinding of time affects the narrative space.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part Three: 07/05/18
Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Part Three by Gene Luen Yang came out last year as we were in the middle of our move. This volume also happens to be the last of the comics that span the gap between the end of the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series and the start of Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
Part Three finishes up the plot of the gentrification of the Southern Water Tribe's main village. It's becoming a regular city and a lot of the money and effort is from the Northern Water Tribe. There is also corruption and some of the bad feelings that come to a head in the early bits of The Legend of Korra.
Reading this volume, though, it's obvious that it's the end of Yang's time writing for Avatar. Open plot threads are sewn together nicely and neatly. The foundation for plots needed for Korra is laid. It's a good last volume but as a stand alone it lacks the drive and punch of previous ones.
There's now a Legend of Korra comic, also by Dark Horse, but written Michael Dante DiMartin and illustrated by Irene Koh.
Mystic River: 07/04/18
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane opens with a scene of three boys growing up in a working class neighborhood. There's Sam, Jimmy and Marcus. They're thinking about taking a joy ride when a pair of cops pulls up and orders them into the car. One complies and the other two runs off. Turns out they weren't cops. The boy survives and does return home.
Everything else takes place decades later in the aftermath of this initial crime. The actual mystery though, is the murder of the daughter of one of those now grown up boys. Her murder has to be investigated by one of the other now grown up boys. Her death stirs up old bad feelings and whatnot.
I know lots of people love this book and love the film. I haven't seen the film. I suspect I would like it more as a film. As a mystery, it bored me to tears. Other reviews mention that there's no formula except that there is. It's a horror formula applied to a police procedural.
I honestly don't care that there's a formula — it's part of the genre. I just wasn't compelled to turn the pages like I was with Shutter Island.
Melena's Jubilee: 07/03/18
Melena's Jubilee by Zetta Elliott and Aaron Boyd (illustrations) is a picture book that celebrates turning over a new leaf and taking a positive attitude even when the world wants to get you down. More importantly though, it's about how infectious small acts of kindness can be.
Melena begins her day thinking about the mistakes and problems she had the day before. She sees that it has rained over night and washed away all her chalk art — the one positive, fun thing she had done the day before. Rather than get upset about all her work being ruined, she sees that the sidewalk is ready for whatever creativity she has today.
When the ice cream man comes, rather than everyone getting the smallest thing, Melena suggests that they pool their money to get one big thing everyone can share. That way everyone gets a few delicious bites of a sundae.
Another small act of kindness involves not getting into a fight with her brother when he seems ready to provoke one, not demanding to be repaid by a friend. The idea there though, is a little troubling and the one reason I pulled off a star. She says he's bigger and hits hard. That's the sort attitude that so often gives abusers power.
Favorites of the first half of 2018: 07/03/18
The first half of the year is over. In that time I've read 186 books and I've reviewed 180. Here are my favorite twelve from the year so far. I'm picking a top six published in 2018 that I've read and reviewed, as well as a top six for backlist books that I've read and reviewed this year.
Favorites published in 2018 for January through June
Favorites backlist books read and reviewed in 2018 for January through June
The Football Girl: 07/02/18
The Football Girl by Thatcher Heldring is a middle grade novel about a cross country runner who learns to play flag football over summer and decides to go to football camp. The big THING is that this particular runner is a girl. Meanwhile, her mother is running for mayor and she's expected to help with the campaign.
The story is told from alternating points of view: Tessa Dooley — the would be football girl, and Caleb McCleary, the friend who teaches her how to play. In all honesty, I was more interested in Tessa's story than in Caleb's. We don't need him to validate her right to participate.
The plot with the mother running for mayor and having no time for anything else is reminiscent of The Unexpected Everything, minus the dog walking.
June 2018 Sources: 07/02/18
June continued with the nice weather and good health and fewer library books. The first two weeks were busy with the end of school year and all the end of the year events. June's pre-orders came in but I got none of them read, having still to work on the last of April's and May's. Despite that, reading was above expected with thirty-two books finished.
Since June was filled with reading purchases from previous months, my ROOB score was the best it's been for this entire year. That said, it continues a three year trend of June being the best month for reading through the to-be-read pile. Had I, though, stayed with my initial reading schedule (upset in May and not recovered from in June), my ROOB score would be at 0.
June dropped to -3.4 from last month's -2.38. The drop was such a surprise I re-ran the numbers three times and double checked my records to make sure I hadn't actually read any new books (new being published in June and purchased in June).
The trend line, though, remains flat but that is better than the upwards turn I predicted last month.
Looking at all previous years, June 2018 is the lowest (meaning best) month for reading from the to-be-read pile.
Since I didn't read any of the books purchased in June, my average for June dropped from -2.67 to -2.75.
As I now have June books to read in July as well as the ones I have ordered in July, I suspect I won't be getting to any July books this month. If that's true, my ROOB score will continue to be low. The trend line might even tick downards.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 02): 07/02/18
My daughter and two of her friends took drama camp at the local art gallery. My son has been keeping busy with summer homework and gardening. Next Sunday we're heading off for a road trip, so I might be extra slow responding to comments next week.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Sucks to Be Me: 07/01/18
Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley is the start of a trilogy. Mina Hamilton is a human girl whose parents want to turn her. See, they're vampires and she's reached the age where she has to choose whether or not to become one. If she decides against it there will be consequences and potential separation from her parents. If she goes along with it, then her "normal" high school life might come to an end.
Oh yes, it's a paranormal rom-com metaphor for growing up. Be like the parents? Go into the career they've chosen for you? Be a legacy in college? Or do your own thing?
There are tons and tons and tons of books like this. Not all YA, of course, is a metaphor for growing up, but a sizable chunk is. There still, though, has to be a story and compelling characters, and maybe some sort of conflict beyond the BE LIKE 'RENTS Yes/No?
Sucks to Be Me has none of that. Even written as diary entries, the story is flat, dull, and unmemorable.
June 2018 Summary: 07/01/18
At the start of June I had come to the conclusion that my initially posted reading schedule, especially for books published this year, just wasn't going to work. I was falling behind and it was stressing me out. When I am stressed, I don't want to read.
Freeing myself up from an optimistically generated schedule last December gave me the time to go back and enjoy what I was reading. It also gave me more time to focus on my road narrative project. In that regard, I made some incredible leaps forward, finally settling on a way of organizing and cataloging the books I'm reading. Now I have a concrete framework that I can use to focus my research which is a huge improvement from the "read everything and see what sticks" method I started with.
I currently have twenty books checked out. They are a mixture of pleasure reading and research. A bunch of them are by Canadian authors as the 12th annual Canadian book challenge launches today (it being Canada Day).
June's reading more than made up for May's slip where I didn't reach reading goal of having at least 50% of my books be about characters of color and better yet, written by authors of color. I read thirty two books and twenty-one of them fit the goal.
June's reviews also met the goal with sixteen of thirty books counting towards the goal. I read and reviewed seven newly published books but none of them were released in June.
At the start of June, 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 June I had forty-four reviews from 2016 to post. I'm now down to forty. My 2017 reviews dropped from forty to thirty-four. My 2018 reviews are holding steady, up a little from eighty-one to eighty-five.