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August 2018

Rating System

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

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L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: 08/31/18

L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz

L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz by Katharine M. Rogers is a biography and analysis of Baum's novels. For a little over a year now I have been re-reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson. The journey began with the graphic novel adaptations by Eric Shanower and fed back into the original books (including a personal journey to own physical copies of the entire set).

One thing that has struck me about canon Oz are the sheer number of women in important roles. In more recent pastiches, dystopian Oz is always shown as being ruined by a woman as ruler and yet that is the exact opposite of what happens in the originals, beyond Jinjur's ineffective brief rule between the Scarecrow and Ozma.

So I wanted to dig a little deeper and research authors to see if I was just applying a modern reading to texts that would have been interpreted differently a hundred years ago. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reinterpreting a text. The ones that last are the ones that can grow and change as society changes. Shakespeare's plays, for instance, work well because they are so open-ended.

Rogers's biography was enlightening and thankfully very focused on his writing. Sometimes biographies end up straying into the lengthy histories of grandparents and parents before finally getting to the main subject. This is especially frustrating when one is trying to gain insight into their creative process.

I have taken copious notes for the project which will probably come into play as I continue to work through the Oz books. This book probably won't be for everyone and Rogers is clearly a fan, meaning her biography might not be as evenhanded as it should be. For instance, there is limited discussion of his racism (and the biggest fault of the Oz books is the lack of diversity).

I also don't know if I will be seeking out biographical information of other authors featuring prominently in my road narrative books. Part of that indecision stems from newer authors not having biographies written about them. Part of it to is my film studies background where the text has to stand alone unless specific records of intent can be found. Roger's biography while extensive is still her interpretation of Baum's life and works. It's a context but not canon.

Four stars

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Secrets & Sequences: 08/30/18

Secrets & Sequences

Secrets & Sequences by Gene Luen Yang is the third book in the Secret Coders series. The first book introduced the school and the secret language (logo). The second one introduced the school's true history. Now this one gives the secret coders a chance to save the school and the city from a supervillain with ties to the school.

Saving the school involves learning how to program with random numbers and giant flying turtles. Of all the computer languages out there, logo probably won't ever be used for world domination. But it's a fun, easy to learn language.

Yang's world building is so consistent that he just sells the idea that there could be a world where a mathematically based drawing program could be used to drive robots and bring about world domination.

The fourth book is Robots & Repeats.

Five stars

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FFCCFF: Orphans through cornfields and time: 08/30/18

FFCCFF: Orphans through cornfields and time

If utopia ("no place") is the most extreme destination for the road narrative, the next most distant one is uhoria ("no time"). Uhoria is my term for known places where the destination is defined more by time than by place. Uhorias can be (or appear to be) mappable but their location is defined by time, not space.

For this essay I'll be looking at three narratives: The "Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While" by Catherynne M Valente (2011), The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford (2012), and Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking (2017)

These three narratives share three elements in common: a lone traveler (or "orphan"), a destination where time is different ("uhoria"), and a route that takes them through a growing barrier ("cornfield"). These terms, orphan, uhoria, and cornfield are sometimes literal and sometimes metaphoric.

Of these three, the first two feature metaphoric orphans. Mallow who is both the "Good Queen" and the evil Marquess of Fairyland choses to abandon her family, not once but twice, to seek some peace and quiet. Her status as a literary orphan is one of personal choice, not circumstance.

Natalie Minks, meanwhile, is an only child, but not an orphan. Though she shares her mother's powers, she choses to work solo because of her mother's ill health. Just like Mallow, Natalie isn't a literal orphan but her journey is done without her family for personal reasons.

Finally there is the unnamed protagonist in Three Years with the Rat who is literally alone. The degree of aloneness varies depending on where (and more importantly) when we are in the novel. He has been cut off from his family and his sister is either dead or missing. He also is apparently the only person aware of the huge gaping inconsistencies in his Toronto neighborhood. By the climax of the novel when the protagonist takes his journey through time he is literally alone, even removed from the rest of society.

The destinations for these three narratives are places out of time. Time at the start of the trip and the time at the destination are two different things.

Through Mallow's short story we learn how time works in Fairyland. Time in Fairyland is finite and allocated as people arrive (as depicted in the climax of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). Getting more or less time in Fairyland is a fruitless endeavor as Mallow learns. To beat Fairyland at her own game is to lose oneself to Fairyland. Then as one returns home the memories remain but time snaps back to how it was (much as it does in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

For Natalie Minks and the brothers who arrive in her town, the cornfield and the Kairos Mechanism are their way to once again save the town from outside evils. The device also gives her a glimpse of a familiar utopia, namely, Nagspeake, but it here is just a footnote to explain how and why crossroads magic continues to be a problem in Arcata.

Finally there is the unnamed protagonist in Three Years with the Rat. His journey begins with the disappearance of his sister and her boyfriend. He is called to clean up their apartment when they apparently do a runner. Except he remembers things about them that don't add up to what the landlord is saying. And then things get

weird. This story line reminds me a great deal of Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate Zero (where the uhoric travel is done both by time machine and through a phonewave invention; and only the main character remembers all the different time lines)

All three books use versions of what I call "cornfields" though like the "orphan" protagonists, they don't have to be literal cornfields. Cornfields in the American road narrative are typically farmlands or other cultivated areas at the edges of more traditional roads but they aren't as undefined as the wild lands. For Canadian road narratives, however, the landscape used is more typically a meeting of trees at the waters edge from the Iroquois word tkaronto; or "place where trees stand in water" and for obvious reasons these types of narratives are most commonly set in or around Toronto.

For Mallow, her cornfield is her proximity to them as a child when she is with her family and not in Fairyland. For Natalie Minks's second adventure, it literally begins with a pair of boys carrying a body out through the cornfield at the edge of town. Furthermore, the cover art includes cornstalks as part of the mechanism with Natalie's silhouette in profile in the center.

The journey in Three Years of the Rat combines the tkaronto version of the "cornfield" with another place name Oshawa which is Ojibwa word aazhaway (the crossing place or across). So while the crossing over point isn't a literal cornfield, the use and result is the same, namely a way to travel to somewhere un-mappable, in this case, a place out of time.

These three narratives: two written for middle grades and one written for adults though apparently different on surface details share three important similarities: solo protagonists ("orphans"), a route that takes them through a defined vegetation barrier ("cornfield"), and arrive at a location that while named and mappable, is outside of the normal passage of time.

Narratives cited:

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Chile Death: 08/29/18

Chile Death

Chile Death by Susan Wittig Albert is the seventh of the China Bayles series. On the crunchy homefront, McQuaid is shot while on the job. On the mystery side of things, an obnoxious judge at a chili eating contest dies when one of the samples is tainted with peanuts. Then there's this whole other thing with a nurse who thinks one of the patients is stealing stuff at the nursing home where Mike is recovering.

The peanuts thing has been done. From the people I know with that severe of an allergy, none of them would be foolish enough to judge a cooking contest. They're skittish enough about eating at potlucks for good reason. Why put yourself at such an obvious potential risk?

Mike getting shot is a distraction from the affair plot of the Love Lies Bleeding [LINK]. China is supposed to be the loyal, all forgiving girl friend and rush to his side now that he's wounded in the line of duty. Mind you, they don't communicate well enough for his affairs to work in any sort of meaningful way. She's going to continue to be burned by him for melodramatic effect.

Beyond that I really don't remember anything. I've come to the point where I should just stop. The series hasn't held up well. I know its still on going but China is such a dated character. She's nothing but a series of clichés dressed up with herbs.

Two stars

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Somnambulance: 08/28/18


Somnambulance by Fiona Smyth is a collection of comics drawn over from the years 1983 to 2017. Put another way, when these first comics were drawn, I was ten.

Fiona Smyth is now an illustrator based in Toronto; she was born in Montreal. I'm going to admit that until Somnambulance I hadn't heard of her. I'm not sure I've ever seen her work on display or in print here in California.

Her work is described as feminist and sex positive. It's mostly line art in swirling contorted shapes that harken back to the late 1960s, early 1970s. There are lots and lots of surreal or abstract depictions of nudity.

The problem I had with reading the book isn't with the style or the subject matter. Instead its with her lettering. She's a shit draftsman. Her letters especially on the older tiny comics are impossible to read even with my glasses on. Even though the compilation is over sized, it's not big enough to render her lettering in a legible manner.

Three stars

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This Is Just a Test: 08/27/18

This Is Just a Test

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang reminds me of Rose Kent's Kimchi and Calamari in that it's a middle grade novel about a boy growing up in a blend of cultures. In this case, it's about a Chinese-American boy, David Da-Wei Horowitz getting ready for his bar mitzvah. As it's framed around a bar mitzvah, it's also a good match for My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman.

While David is trying to get ready for his bar mitzvah he has to contend with two very opinionated grandmothers who both believe their way is the best way. In the past, David's only had to worry about one but now both are living in his home — at least for the duration of the preparation. It doesn't matter what it is, they each will insist they know the right way to do it. A great scene demonstrating the clashing grandmothers comes at Hanukkah where they get into a latke competition (wok and chopsticks vs frying pan and fork). The upside is that David and his family have more latkes to eat as they "judge" the best way.

All of this mayhem is set against the backdrop of the made for TV movie The Day After which aired in 1983. It gets David's friends thinking about nuclear war and they decide to prepare. They do this by trying (and failing) to dig a fallout shelter.

As some one who was just about David's age in 1983, I can say the historical setting is written with an authentic voice. That backdrop isn't necessary for such a family and friend oriented story but it does fill out the fictional world.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 27): 08/27/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 30)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

It's back to school today. It's middle school for the youngest and 11th grade for the oldest. Their summer homework is all done. Youngest didn't get her schedule until just before school so as I post this I'm still not sure what classes she has. Oldest had a really tough set of classes picked out but the scheduling didn't work out. It's not a crisis, thankfully.

Today is also my birthday. We celebrated on Sunday with a barbecue and ice cream cake.

Readingwise, it was for me another slow week. Two of the three books I read were from the library. I really had hoped to have finished Does My Head Look Big in This? but I misplaced the book, only finding it on Saturday.

CYBILs season is gearing up again. The call for readers and judges just went out. I have volunteered to be a first round reader again. If you're a blogger, booktuber, ir podcaster who covers children's books from picture books through YA and you have the time to read a bunch of books, I encourage you to volunteer your time.

What I read:

You Go First Mini Shopaholic Summerlost Wandering Son Vol. 4

  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella; library book
  • Summerlost by Ally Condie; library book
  • Wandering Son, Vol. 4 by Takako Shimura, Matt Thorn (translator); library book

What I'm reading:

Does My Head Look Big in This? Whatshisface? Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 Anger is a gift

  • Does My Head Look Big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah; personal collection
  • Whatshisface? by Gordon Korman; personal collection
  • Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru (Illustrations)
  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro; personal collection (ebook)

Up Soon:

Wind/Pinball Young Frances Holiday Grind The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

  • Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami; personal collection
  • Young Frances by Hartley Lin; personal collection
  • Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle; personal collection (audiobook)
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection (audiobook)


  • FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans

Reviews Posted

Comments  (30)

Arnold of the Ducks: 08/26/18

Arnold of the Ducks

Arnold of the Ducks by Mordicai Gerstein is the story of a boy raised by ducks. Arnold is picked up by a nearsighted pelican as a baby and dropped in a duck pond. There a young family of mallards decide he's one more beak to feed and take him in.

Of course a human baby looks nothing like a duckling but when it's time for them to fledge, the ducks help Arnold don his adult plumage. In Tale Spin-esque logic, if it has wings and in this case, feathers, it can fly.

Arnold's transformation into a duck boy is complete and he spends his days soaring with his duck siblings. Until he stumbles upon his old home. A quick bath and he's back to being just Arnold.

You'd think Arnold's parents would be more freaked out by his disappearance. His vanishing is just taken as matter of fact and his reappearance is just as easily welcomed by running some warm water.

One could argue that all of these adventures have been within the confines of Arnold's back yard. Perhaps he has only been playing at being kidnapped by pelicans and raised by ducks. Perhaps his wings really are only collected feathers and mud, and thus the bath is the natural end to a long, creative day of play.

I don't know. Thoughts?

Two stars

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No Man of Woman Born: 08/25/18

No Man of Woman Born

No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll is a collection of fantasy short stories featuring transgender / gender queer protagonists. The story uses neo-pronouns as well as his and her depending on the character in question to show that there's no one right way to express gender or to be transgender.

Some of these heroes are heroes because their gender doesn't fit a prophecy. Some are heroes because they've been. The choice of pronouns is never explained and isn't the point. None of these stories are about coming out and that is so refreshing.

My favorite of this selection of seven stories is the titular one. There's a prophesy that the king can only be harmed by "no man of woman born." Now if you know Shakespeare, you know the traditional narrow interpretation of how to get around this statement, a man born via c-section can kill the king.

But what about all the people who aren't men? Women? Non-binary? Demi-girls, etc? Now this isn't about one person who fits into any of these other interpretations of the prophesy. Instead, it's about the crowds of people who do, who are fiercely debating all these various ways harm can come to the king.

This particular reminds me of the seder where there's a debate on how to interpret the scripture. It's a long passage of semantics and that's what Mardoll's characters do here. They debate gender and they debate killing the king but he remains alive by the end of the story.

Four stars

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Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development: 08/24/18

Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development

Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development by W.H. Matthews is a history of mazes and labyrinths from ancient times to the present (as of the time it was written). The book is available through the Internet Archive as a downloadable PDF.

The word maze and labyrinth can be used interchangeably but some scholars and aficionados prefer to keep the two concepts separately. Per points brought up in The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh as well as some discussion in Matthews's exhaustive study, I have chosen to differentiate the two.

Labyrinths are primarily circular paths with an ending in the middle. The goal is to walk the path and meditate. Mazes are primarily rectangular with numerous blind alleys with the goal being an outside exit that is different from the entrance after passing through the center.

Where things get tricky is the minotaur. The minotaur is a monster imprisoned in the center of a maze like dungeon. As there is no exit beyond the entrance where the sacrifices are sent to their doom and the goal is the monster in the middle, his prison is almost always referred to as a labyrinth. Matthews shows how the concept of the minotaur's prison has evolved over the centuries — as well as the minotaur's basic shape.

One place this book falls short (beyond its survey ending at the start of the 20th century) is the lack of new world examples. Here in the United States, there is the corn maze or maize maze, if you will. The corn maze is part of the fall / Halloween tradition but how corn and mazes are interpreted depends on the region and ethnic group. They are often associated with the dead and the underworld but again, whether or not that association is a positive one depends on the person telling the story.

I'm still debating whether or not nonfiction road narrative references should be classified in the spectrum. However, as I have already classified some, I have decided to classify this one. As it is a history of mazes and labyrinths and the use of minotaur iconography, I'm putting it in #9933CC (minotaur, maze, rural).

I have taken numerous notes from the book and will be transcribing them to Tumblr.

Three stars

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FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans: 08/24/18

FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans

While the majority of utopian orphan road narratives rely on either the cornfield or an off road itinerary, sometimes the orphan is presented with a clear path in the form on a well established road: either a railroad or an interstate.

Where the journey to utopia is relatively easy and safe for the orphan, the point of the journey isn't utopia (or a return from utopia in the case of Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Instead, the point is one of self discovery.

The two examples I will be discussing here are The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (La Mécanique du coeur) by Mathias Malzieu, a French road narrative that has been published here in the States and made into a film, and The Vacation by Polly Horvath and American-Canadian road narrative about an orphan on an endless roadtrip with his aunts.

Jack in The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart leaves his home in Edinburgh in search of love and to test the boundaries of his condition. He has been given a mechanical, wind-up heart that might kill him if he falls in love. But he already has, with a beautiful flamenco dancer and it is she that he is searching for.

Henry, meanwhile, isn't an orphan but is abandoned by his parents. They have left to for points unknown in Africa (the most unforgivable detail of this middle grade novel) and is therefore, even in the presence of his two aunts, feeling orphaned.

Jack's destination is a traveling circus after a train ride during which he meets both Jack the Ripper and Georges Méliès. As the circus is in an undisclosed desert location (possibly northern Africa) and is arrived at via a train ride from Scotland, the trip is to a utopia (an impossible place) via a railway which is something that should be as straightforward a method of travel as possible in that the cars stay on the track and go via predetermined, scheduled routes.

Henry's journey is via interstate and maybe some blue highways too. His aunts have decided he needs a vacation to break out of his funk. He's depressed over his parents leaving him behind. When they appear to go missing later on, he fears that he may now be a literal orphan. The road trip with no specific destination is therefore a utopic one that happens to pass through real world, known locations on real world, known roads, and can be mapped up to the limit which is the unstated destination.

Jack and Henry both while traveling via conventional means find themselves. Jack learns that he is capable of love and of being loved. Novel Jack learns that his mechanical heart is a metaphorical one and that he has been long since cured of his childhood affliction, whereas cinematic Jack learns ways around his physical limitations. Henry (and his aunts) learn how to accept their new status as a family and Henry works through his feelings of abandonment while coming to enjoy the company of his eccentric aunts.

To sum up, these two journeys are utopic in that they can't be mapped by conventional means, even though conventional, mainstream travel options are used in the journeys. Both novels are ones of self discovery by characters who are orphan travelers. For Jack, his journey ends when he finds the love he was seeking. For Henry, he has the chance to go back to Virginia at any time with his aunts, but the book ends before they have decided to do so. Instead, they have opted to find a new home as a traveling family.


Books cited:

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Paths & Portals: 08/23/18

Paths & Portals

Paths & Portals by Gene Luen Yang is the second of the Secret Coders graphic novel series. Hopper, Eni, and Josh have found an underground classroom and the secret origins of present day Stately Academy. They've learned the tragic backstory of the groundskeeper and have agreed to be his students.

Meanwhile Principle Dean has enlisted the aid of the rugby team to find out what secrets Hopper, et al. have discovered. They are big, mean, and look like they can't be stopped.

Mixed in with this are further lessons on coding logo. The turtle robots are literal representations of the turtle that takes commands and echoes them to the screen. Logo was the first thing I actually loved to do on the computer back in seventh grade after two mind boggling years of "programming" Basic in the library (which meant typing exactly what the teacher read out loud to us to see what it did). There wasn't any sort of motivating factor to get us inspired to learn beyond whatever we happened to glean from following commands.

Anyway, this is a fun take on a beginning programming language, one that gives these kids access to secrets and control over many different sizes of robots.

The third book is Secrets & Sequences.

Four stars

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Ruddy Gore: 08/22/18

Ruddy Gore

Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood is the seventh of the Phryne Fisher mysteries. The book is centered around a the Melbourne performance of Ruddigore, where there is, of course a murder. The playhouse appears to be cursed and bad things keep happening — beyond the murder. Phryne decides to step in and investigate.

The mystery involving the play is pretty good. It's tied up with long forgotten scandals and bad feelings left to fester. By itself, it's a good, albeit easy to solve, mystery.

But there's a separate, tangential plot involving Phryne coming to the rescue of two Chinese immigrants: Lin Chung and his grandmother. I get the Phryne can kick ass while looking like the bees knees but I sincerely doubt that anyone would mistake her for a deity. To have these two mistake her for one just opens up one in a long string of Chinese stereotypes that aren't made better by Phryne bedding Lin. It's not true love. It's not even just casual sex. It's fetishizing the other.

Two stars

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The Spook in the Stacks: 08/21/18

The Spook in the Stacks

The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates is the fourth book in the Lighthouse Library mystery series. According to the afterword it was inspired by the "Save Our Cozies" group on Facebook. Regardless, I was delighted to see a new addition after two years.

It's nearly Halloween and Lucy Richardson is getting the library for a local hauntings and lore presentation. Meanwhile, a former resident and multimillionaire has returned to offer the library his collection of rare historical documents. The library isn't guaranteed but is in the lead against the other competing institutions.

Then on the day of the big presentation, the collector is found dead and his adult grand-daughter is accused of the crime. Lucy's pressed into service again to clear the grand-daughter's name but the evidence is very convincing.

Combine the October timeline and the Nags Head setting, and it's easy for some paranormal hijinks to grace the pages. Previous books in the series have also had a spook or two. Some can be explained by mundane things and some can't. So far these details haven't dominated the books and if there is a fifth book, I hope that trend continues.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Fortunately Eva Gates is a pen name for Canadian author Vicki Delany. I currently have on hand her three Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries to read soon.

Five stars

Comments (2)

This Is Not the Abby Show: 08/20/18

This Is Not the Abby Show

This Is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer is about a Jewish girl with ADHD who makes a horrible mistake and ends up in summer school. ADHD is under diagnosed in girls and under represented in children's literature.

Abby uses humor to navigate the ups and downs of having ADHD. Unfortunately it's not enough of a tool for her and by the start of the book she has alienated her teacher, her classmates and she's running the risk of doing the same with her family.

Through summer school, Abby learns better to control her outbursts and to stay focused. All her hard work culminates in an entertaining stand-up routine at the climax of the book.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 20): 08/20/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 30)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Last week was a crap week for reading. We all caught the summer flu that is going around. While none of us got really sick, we were all sick enough to not want to do much. I barely got any reading done.

This weekend, though, was fun. My in laws spent the weekend with us to celebrate my son's birthday. But with guests over, again, no time for reading!

What I read:

Espresso Shot Island of the Mad Hello Lighthouse

  • Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King; personal collection
  • Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall; library book

What I'm reading:

You Go First Does My Head Look Big in This? Whatshisface? Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1

  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Does My Head Look Big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah; personal collection
  • Whatshisface? by Gordon Korman; personal collection
  • Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru (Illustrations)

Up Soon:

Anger is a gift Wind/Pinball Mini Shopaholic Summerlost

  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro; personal collection (ebook)
  • Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami; personal collection
  • Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella; library book
  • Summerlost by Ally Condie; library book


Reviews Posted

Comments  (18)

Chu's Day: 08/19/18

Chu's Day

Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex is the first in a series of picture books about a young panda with a very big sneeze. Chu's parents take him out, knowing full well the destruction one of his sneezes can have. They think they've escaped disaster when, boom, he sneezes.

Of course with all that build up, when Chu does finally sneeze, he doesn't just take out the circus. He takes out the places he visited before: the library and the restaurant.

I think this book would be fun for story time. Reading it quietly, there's just not enough here beyond the obvious gag. The fun would come in the acting and in the audience participation.

Three stars

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The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley: 08/18/18

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens is a middle grade book about friendship and loss and living inside your own head. Most of the plot happens in the protagonist's head through observation or deep emotional analysis.

Frances Pauley prefers the name Figgrotten. She loves the out doors, even to the point of sleeping with her window open year round and bringing nature into her bedroom. Her mother having decided she's a lost cause has given up on trying to get her to clean her room and pretty much just lets her keep her nature journals and spend her time outside in the nearby forest except for when she has to be in school.

At home Figgrotten feels ostracized by her older sister. Their mother says it's due to the older sister going through puberty. To me, that sounds like a crap excuse. The mother seems extremely detached from her part in the family dynamics. I don't know if she's supposed to be depressed, an example of liberal parenting, or a terrible parent. She, like most everyone else in this book is so sparsely crafted that she is little more than a name and a couple informed attributes.

At school, Figgrotten only has one friend, the bus driver. He seems to be the only person in the entire book willing to take her as she is but also give her guidelines so she knows what he wants too. So of course the only other three dimensional character in the book has to die to move the plot forward.

Overall The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley left me somewhere between unsatisfied and bored.

Two stars

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The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole: 08/17/18

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas is a historical fiction that goes on a science fiction tangent that becomes a philosophical exploration of time and the human condition. Put more another way, through there is no travel in the traditional sense, it qualifies as an American road narrative, on the fantasy end of the spectrum.

Stella Rodriguez wants to get the sound of her dead father's voice added to the golden record that will be sent out with Voyager. When she is turned away from NASA she is followed home by a small, shy, and hungry black hole. This set up is actually very familiar (though the details different) to Thrice Upon a Time by James P. Hogan (1980).

The second third of the book is about Stella trying to take care of the black hole and dealing with her grief. She sees the black hole as a means to an end — a way of ridding the world of the things that upset her. But taking out one of something, takes out all those instances. A thing ceases to be and soon the consequences of her actions go beyond what she can control (as does the black hole).

The solution to the problem is to face the problem head on. It means facing painful memories and recreating the world as it should be from the pain that has been ignored. Summed up: "This sentence is really a map which is really a memory which is really a wish to go home." (p. 146)

In terms of the American road narrative spectrum, I'm placing at #FFCC66 (orphan, uhoria, off road) but it begins at #CC6633 (siblings home blue highway). It progresses through (in the second third) #FF6666 (orphan home off road) as Stella looses control over her grief and the black hole, and ends up feeding her brother to the black hole. She is only successful in undoing what she has done because she has lost everything, thus invoking orphan magic.

Act I Act II Act III Epilog
siblings home blue highway orphan home off road orphan, uhoria, off road family home blue highway
MC grieving loss of father. Wants to send message of him to space. Is closest to her brother. MC feels alone. Ends up feeding brother to black hole MC is alone. Has to go into the black hole to save life as she knows it MC now feels like part of a family, at home

Five stars

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Under His Spell: 08/16/18

Under His Spell

Under His Spell by Marie P. Croall and Hyeondo Park is the fourth of the My Boyfriend is a Monster graphic novel series. Each one of these is a standalone story featuring a different type of paranormal romance.

Bethany Farmer is devoted to the game of soccer. She doesn't want romance. She wants to win. Then her world is turned upside down by the arrival of a strange exchange student, Allein. Soon she finds herself in the middle of the Seelie / Unseelie kingdoms.

This volume is different from the previous ones in that it incorporates color to separate the mundane, human world, from the land of the fae. The contrast of color brings to mind the MGM adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (1939) where Oz was used to sell Technicolor to the masses.

But here's the thing, I am still bored with this fae story. I know it's a classic. I know it's part of my culture. But it's been done to death, especially recently in the realm of paranormal urban fantasy.

The fifth book is I Date Dead People by Ann Kerns.

Three stars

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FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia: 08/16/18

FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia

After three years of reading, the most popular way for orphans to find utopia is by going off road. While in British fantasy, it's imperative to stay on the path (with second being don't eat the food), the American road narrative is more forgiving about off road excursions.

The trite explanation would be to drag Frederick Turner's Frontier Thesis out of its moldy grave and hold it up as the reason going off road is so important to the American road narrative. But that explanation is too narrow and too white centric.

As I have mentioned before, the road is always there. It's either the means of travel or it's in opposition to the means of travel. When there isn't a road, there is a narrative need to find some other way. Sometimes, even flights or space travel can qualify as a road narrative, although Ina Rae Hark would disagree with me (see the essay, “Fear of Flying” in The Road Movie Book, p. 206).

Off road is the catch-all state when the path isn't as tangible as a railroad, an interstate, a highway, streets in a town. Nor is off-road as magical or metaphorical as the last three routes: the maze, the labyrinth, and the cornfield. Put another way, off road is the cross roads of the road narrative routes. There comes a point where the traveler can pick the relatively safe roads or the more dangerous, magical ones. When neither is available or the traveler can't decide, off road becomes the default state should they wish to continue. If they don't, then they have reached their destination.

For the narratives I've read so far, off road routes have consisted of: travels through illusion and allusion, various portals into various fairylands, flight, by boat, via alternate dimensions and by magic carpet.

At the most metaphorical, off road can literally be a travel of the mind or a travel of word play. Adele, Big Audrey, and Milo (The Phantom Tollbooth), all travel through visual illusions, mental and literary allusions, and wordplay. All three begin their journeys through conventional means: Adele by going to the park, Big Audrey by taking a bus to Poughkeepsie, and Milo by riding through a toy tollbooth in a miniature car. Adele finds a world of visual puns (which don't translate well from French). Big Audrey finds the truth path through discussions of old movies and the apparent rants of a self-institutionalized mentally ill professor, and Milo rides through literal representations of music, puns, and math logic.

In these examples, there are four different methods to Fairyland that qualify as off road travel. Catherynne Valente provides three off road routes to Fairyland. September first flies to the border of fairyland before being dropped into the ocean just offshore after some trouble with customs. On her third trip to Fairyland, September, drives in a similar fashion to Milo, though, in an actual model A truck. But her path is so off road that it takes her into Fairyland and brings her truck to life in the process. Then there is Hawthorne, who as a changeling shouldn't be able to find his way back to Fairyland but does by making his own magic and his own off road path. The last traveler to Fairyland is Callie who is a half elf member of the Seelie court. After traveling by train to Chicago she learns various ways to the court.

Ina Rae Hark might not want to include airplanes (and probably boats and space ships) but I see them as no different than other forms of group travel, things such as the stage coach, the locomotive, and the bus. Examples of these methods of travel are found in The Long Utopia, Orphan Island, Ozma of Oz, Slaughter-House Five, Speedy in Oz, and Transcendental.

The off road vehicles include: boats, an airship, a flying island, and spaceships. Dorothy and the orphans of Orphan Island all travel to their utopias (Ev and the island) by boat. Dorothy's journey begins on ship bound for Australia and ends up being a ersatz raft made from a chicken coop when she is washed overboard. For The Long Utopia, various people travel between Earths by way of special airships that can "step" between these alternative versions. There are other means of traveling, including step boxes, natural stepping, and soft spots, but the main mode of transportation are these airships.

Transcendental is in many regards nearly identical in structure to Greenglass House except Milo and the other storytellers stay put in his home during a fierce winter storm. Both novels use the exchange of stories to pass the time and to give the sense of travel while the actual travelers are essentially stuck. For Milo Pines, there is snow and the possibility of freezing to death. For the travelers in Gunn's novel, there is space.

Speedy gets to Oz by flying twice. First he's launched into space via a geyser like Old Faithful but more powerful. Then he happens to land on a floating island that is en route to the Emerald City. Essentially he travels to two different utopias via two different methods of flight.

Finally there is Ozma, who also travels to Ev in Ozma of Oz. She as we discussed in The Marvelous Land of Oz is an orphan with similar powers over the cornfield as Dorothy. That power extends (with magical tools) to the Deadly Desert. While Dorothy (and Bill) float to Ev, she and her retinue travel via a magic red carpet that unrolls ahead of them allowing them to safely walk over the border between Oz and Ev.

These eleven examples all have off road routes to utopia that in the strictest eight percent of road narratives don't qualify. The work as road narratives because there is a traveler, a destination, and a route. That the route doesn't include a paved or marked road is immaterial.


Books cited:

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The Phantom of Nantucket: 08/15/18

The Phantom of Nantucket

The Phantom of Nantucket by Carolyn Keene is the seventh book of the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy and friends are in Nantucket for a vacation and to visit Bess's long time friend Jenna. She has an exhibit opening soon at the local whaling museum but everything seems to be going wrong: pieces are missing, other things are being sabotaged, and Jenna's afraid her job is on the line.

There's something about Nantucket (and similar Atlantic Coast locations) that inspires writers to tell certain kinds of stories. There has to be a lighthouse. There has to be a museum or a library. There has to be missing treasure. There has to ghosts or mysterious disappearances. The ghosts can either be real (such as in the Missing Pieces series by Joyce and Jim Lavene or they are red herrings such as in Lighthouse Library Mysteries by Eva Gates.

Book seven, written for upper elementary school readers uses all of the conventions and probably for most of the intended audience, these tropes will be new. For me, they were more like a well lit roadmap to unravel the plot well before it happened. I still enjoyed the book; I love the dynamics of Nancy and her friends, but the book held no surprises for me like previous ones did.

Three stars

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Oscar Lives Next Door: 08/14/18

Oscar Lives Next Door

Oscar Lives Next Door by Bonnie Farmer and illustrated by Marie Lafrance is a picture book from the point of view of the girl who lives next door to future jazz musician Oscar Peterson. Oscar plays music late at night when her Pullman Porter father needs to sleep. Although her father hates the crazy jazz coming from next door, the girl loves it.

The picture book has three parts: the introduction to Oscar and his music, Oscar's illness with TB, and Oscar's return home and how he adapts to having scarred lungs.

His childhood trumpet playing was cut short by TB. Fortunately Oscar survived but his lungs just weren't strong enough to keep blowing his trumpet like he used to. He finds a new voice through the piano.

There's an afterword with a short biography on the musician and a description of the Montreal neighborhood then known as St. Henri, and now known as Little Burgundy.

Five stars

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Orion and the Dark: 08/13/18

Orion and the Dark

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett is a British children's book about a boy who is afraid of the dark. From an American point of view, the title seems only like a clever pun, making a constellation afraid of the very thing that contains it.

But it's not just that. Besides being the name of the hunter in Greek mythology, Orion is a boys name in Britain and has been gaining popularity in the United States in the last few years. According to Baby Center, it's the 356th most popular name.

So here is a boy with ties to the night through his name. But he's afraid of it — of the strange sounds — the strange shapes and shadows. There is only one thing to do, spend a night with the personification of the Dark. Dark gives Orion a tour of the night, showing what makes the sounds, what makes the shapes, and becoming friends with Orion.

Over all, Orion and the Dark reminds me of an update to There's a Nightmare in my Closet by Mercer Mayer. It's a sweet little book about facing one's fears.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 13): 08/06/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 30)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Summer vacation is winding down. It's time to sign back to school paperwork, buy supplies, and go to orientations.

The days have been smoky with so many huge fires burning in the state. We're not near them to be in danger but we're still close enough to smell the smoke on certain days.

What I read:

The Poisoned House Penguins of America Bobo the Sailor Man Yellow Brick War Two Times a Traitor

  • The Poisoned House by Michael Ford; library book
  • Penguins of America by James Patterson
  • Bobo the Sailor Man! by Eileen Rosenthal
  • Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • Two Times a Traitor by Karen Bass; library book

What I'm reading:

Island of the Mad You Go First Does My Head Look Big in This? Whatshisface?

  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King; personal collection
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection
  • Does My Head Look Big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah; personal collection
  • Whatshisface? by Gordon Korman; personal collection

Up Soon:

Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 Anger is a gift A Sky Full of Stars Wind/Pinball

  • Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru (Illustrations)
  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro; personal collection (ebook)
  • A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson; library book
  • Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami


Reviews Posted

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That Book Woman: 08/12/18

That Book Woman

That Book Woman by Heather Henson is told from the perspective of a teenage boy whose life is completely focused on the family farm. His younger sister is a book worm and he holds her passion with withering disdain.

That is until a woman arrives on horseback with her saddlebags stuffed full of books. She hands one to Cal's sister. It's on through her mastery of the horse and her persistence even in the worst of storms that Cal begins to appreciate that books might be important and special.

The book is illustrated by David Small. He brings a ruggedness to the characters and their environment. Through his paintings we are teleported to Kentucky during the Great Depression. It is an impoverished time, a time when the dustbowls of the Great Plains are pushing eastward and the failing banks, collapsing real estate market, and vanishing jobs, further puts poor families at the mercy of the land.

Four stars

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The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings: 08/11/18

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas is a middle grade fantasy set in a world where most people have lost the their trust in books and have locked them away in libraries. Librarians with magical pages (here actual flying pieces of paper or parchment) keep the books safe and the people safe from the books. But now someone, or rather, something, is killing the librarians.

Alex, probably the only, young apprentice librarian, has gone to the queen to save her from whatever evil is lurking in the royal library after both his librarian, and the queen's librarian have mysteriously died. His way in is to pretend to be his dead mentor, except no one can remember ever seeing such a young librarian before.

Meanwhile, the queen is young herself, and frustrated at how condescending her uncle, the former regent is to her. She's not ready to be queen but at the same time she believes she can do a better job at it than her uncle. But it seems that everyone is trying to make everything more complicated.

It's a good mystery in a fantasy setting that is fresh and new. It has expected elements like swordplay and castles but it also has a different sort of magic and different sort of technology that's either high tech or magic tech. There is a history behind the Lost Books and the closing of the libraries that could easily be expanded.

With a title that uses a colon, it seems like The Scroll of Kings should be the first book in a series called The Lost Books. So far, I haven't found any evidence that this book is anything other than a standalone. I would love to see the world expanded and watch as Alex and maybe the queen's brother go on quests to wrangle up the other Lost Books.

Five stars

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Adele in Sand Land: 08/10/18

Adele in Sand Land

Adele in Sand Land (2017) by Claude Ponti is the English translation by Toon Books of Adele et la pèle (1988). It is a surreal picture book about a young girl going on a strange, otherworldly journey that begins and ends at park.

Although I'm primarily focusing on American and Canadian road narratives for my research, this images I saw from it on the Gathering Books blog, made me feel like it was a good outlier candidate.

One illustration leads into the next through the manipulation and transformation of shapes, similar to M.C. Escher illustrations or Rob Gonsalves's paintings. But the individual scenes, especially as Adele gets further into this alternate world, are very surreal, almost psychedelic. Some reviews compare the art style to the Yellow Submarine.

In terms of a road narrative, ff one wants to argue that Adele is symbolically an orphan because she travels alone and could have been orphaned should she have been stranded, then it's near the far edge of the fantastic, with both an extraordinary protagonist and destination, but a linear path. The most extreme example of a road narrative is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Stepping back and looking at the book for its target audience, elementary school children who read comic books, I would say it will have limited appeal. It will delight children who are into surrealism, into optical illusions, into puns. I suspect the word play aspect of it works best in the original French.

Four stars

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FFFFFF: The far end of the spectrum: orphans who cross the cornfield to utopia: 08/10/18

FFFFFF: The far end of the spectrum: orphans who cross the cornfield to utopia

In hexadecimal colors, turning all the channels on to their fullest gives the color white. It is all the colors at their fullest potential. In the road narrative spectrum, it is the most powerful traveler, taking the most dangerous path, to reach the most impossible destination.

Although Milo Pine's story as told in The Greenglass House and Ghosts of Greenglass House inspired me to place the orphan at the of the list of road narrative travelers, his story is father down in the spectrum because Milo's adventures don't actually leave the confines of his home.

For this essay, then, I'll be looking at four stories: Emily the Strange: Lost Days by Rob Reger, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente, The Magic Cornfield by Nancy Willard, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. This group consists of a young adult novel, two middle grade fantasies, and a picture book.

The four "orphans" here are Emily Strange, September, Tottem, and Dorothy. Except for Dorothy, these travelers are "orphans" for their aloneness. Being a solo traveler, especially those who perceive themselves to be in danger or are told by others on the road that they are in danger, are metaphorical orphans. It is the aloneness and the perception of danger that gives the orphan their magic, or more broadly, their power over the road.

Dorothy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is for the modern American road narrative, one of the prototypes. The is a literal orphan, though, she does have family in the from of her Aunt Em, her Uncle Henry, and her dog Toto. But in the opening chapter Dorothy's status as an orphan is well established as is her resolve and mirth — two things credited to her age and her love of Toto. She is further "orphaned" when the cyclone takes her, Toto, and the farmhouse across the Kansas farmlands, across the Deadly Desert, and across some Munchkin Country farmlands to the start of the "road of yellow bricks." In less than ten pages, Dorothy has managed to check off all three road narrative pieces: orphan, cornfield, and utopia.

Remember, though, that utopia in its original use means "no place." It isn't an inherently better version of society. It is just a society or land outside of our known ones. Oz in the first couple of books is quite dystopian. But Oz is certainly not Kansas or the United States or even Earth as we know it. It is a land of magic, of talking animals, of witches, and of humbug wizards. It is a place, though, than can be conquered by orphans with power over the cornfield (and one could argue, by extension, power over the Deadly Desert). Dorothy and the Wizard can both invade and conquer Oz because of their solitude and their farmland upbringing.

Emily is alone because of amnesia. In later volumes she becomes more and more attuned to her family, which changes her power dynamic in relation to the road. Here, though, while she is in a town she doesn't recognize and can't recall her own name or how she came to be in this town, she is at her strongest. By strongest, I mean most invulnerable and most charismatic. She is able to charm or intimidate her way through things, and save the town, all before getting back her memory. It is through the act of being the impossible hero.

September in her final journey from Nebraska to Fairyland crosses the farmlands around her on her return but more importantly goes completely off road and cross country once in Fairyland, thus crossing two different types of cornfields. This last book is a race to find the next ruler. There are rules and traditions to how the race is run, none of which September knows, and thus ignores or breaks. Her secondary cornfield crossing is highly metaphorical, as are most of September's journeys through Fairyland.

The oddball in this selection is The Magic Cornfield by Nancy Willard. It is told as a series of postcards written by Tottem to their cousin Bottom. These are sent via a magic mailbox that somehow knows when Tottem needs to send a postcard and where they are within the infinite expanse of this cornfield they are attempting to cross to find help for car trouble.

Per Laura Ruby in The Bone Gap, cornfield is a sentient, magical entity that can be menacing or helpful, depending on the person asking. Willard takes that notion to the extreme, especially if you map the locales mentioned on each postcard in order of appearance. This is not just one cornfield near a broken down car; this is the mother of all cornfields. It is a never ending portal between disparate towns. It is both prison and transportation device.

Dorothy, Emily, September, and Tottem are all orphans who manage (with varying levels of success) to cross the cornfield and reach utopia. For Dorothy, the initial crossing is easily done but learning how to make the return trip is taken up in three separate quests: one to find the wizard, one to kill a witch, and one to find another witch. For Emily, the trip is easy once she is able to regain her memory but to do that she needs to save her utopian town. For

September, the crossing is done twice: once to Fairyland and once through Fairyland. Her second crossing requires learning the rules as she goes, despite everyone apparently trying to thwart her progress. Finally there is Tottem who is imprisoned within the cornfield as it takes them on a cross-crossing goose-chase across the continent as they try to reach their cousin.

Though the individual stories vary greatly, they all share three common elements: orphan travelers who are empowered by their solitude, cornfields or other rural expanses that serve as barriers, and finally a time in an unknown or unknowable place.

The itinerary through the cornfield, mapped onto Google maps

The itinerary through the cornfield, mapped onto Google maps

The itinerary through the cornfield, mapped onto Google maps

Books discussed:

See also:

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Tenements, Towers & Trash: 08/09/18

Tenements, Towers & Trash

Tenements, Towers & Trash by Julia Wertz is a large book, one you'd probably call a coffee table book, about the history of New York as only a graphic artist could tell it. It's also a memoir of life in New York and trying to make a living as a graphic artist there.

Julia Wertz took the time to learn the history of the buildings around her. Her books contain side by side renditions of "then" and "now." The then drawings show the building as it would have been when the city was going through it's initial end of the nineteenth century growth spurt. The "now" are more recent ones, drawn in the last few years.

This book because of its size allows for huge amounts of detail in Wertz's pen and ink architectural renderings. On the other hand, the hand lettering is a little small and my eyes aren't what they used to be. Having the longer text typeset would have made the book easier to read.

The size also makes the book cumbersome. You're probably going to want to sit at a table and read it that ways. It's not a curl up on a couch kind of book.

Three stars

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Black Ice: 08/08/18

Black Ice

Black Ice by Andy Lane is the third of the Young Sherlock Holmes series. Like the second book, Sherlock is once again traveling, though this time with Mycroft and his tutor. They're off to Moscow for matters of state.

In this adventure Sherlock learns how to disguise himself and how to use street urchins to his advantage. He also makes a dogs breakfast of a bunch of things and is betrayed.

I'm once again struck with the opinion that Sherlock stories are often at their worst when Sherlock leaves his personal bubble of expertise, namely the British isles. And frankly the farther afield he goes from London and it's surrounding areas, the worse of a detective, or in this case, junior detective, he is.

One particular place that never works as a Sherlock Holmes setting is Russia. Yet there are numerous attempts to take a cold war type set up, back date it to the late Victorian / or Edwardian times and swap James Bond for Sherlock Holmes. IT DOES NOT WORK. Making the story a training session to show how Sherlock got all his bad-ass skills makes even less sense.

Three stars

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Slug Days: 08/07/18

Slug Days

Slug Days by Sara Leach is middle grade fiction that features an autistic protagonist. Lauren describes her bad days as slug days — the ones where things get out of her control and she feels "slow and slimy." Her good days are butterfly days — ones where she makes her classmates laugh and she's the center of attention.

In Lauren's class, there's Dan. He's set up as her foil, but the way he's always there to get in Lauren's way and how he's always demanding (and usually getting) preferential treatment makes him a bully. His status as a bully is never addressed; instead he's set up as one of the kids Lauren should strive to behave like if she wants to no longer need counseling at school.

In fact this entire book is about how Lauren has to change to be normal. Sure, there are some social skills that autistic kids and adults learn to cope with crowds and other public situations. But it's also common decency to give a person leeway to be themselves, and to have a bad day. This book, though, is completely ableist. There is no attempt by any other characters to see things Lauren's way or to accommodate her.

The final straw is the book's lack of narrative structure. There are a few chapters of Lauren's days at school and a couple scenes at home. But there's no progression. There's no character growth. The book starts. It has some scenes. It stops.

Two stars

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Monster Trouble!: 08/06/18

Monster Trouble!

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson and Michael Robertson (illustrations) is about a girl who can't get a good night's sleep because of all the monsters in her life. We're talking monsters under the bed, things lurking the shadows, things that go bump in the night. It's not that she's afraid — quite the opposite — they're just loud.

These monsters are fluffy and colorful and bring to mind Sully and his coworkers from Monsters Inc. Winifred Schnitzel is older than Boo. Her monsters aren't out for her screams. They just like hanging out with her.

Like Boo's laughter being more potent than her screams, Winifred knows that kisses are monster repellent. She aims to kiss every single one out of her life so she can sleep through the night once more.

It's an adorable story with a positive message — facing things head on. It offers up the idea that problems can be solved peacefully and friends made of enemies. If only that were more the case in the real world.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 06): 08/06/18

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 30)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Busy week. Tuesday my son had three of his four wisdom teeth out. They hadn't even started growing in yet but they were blocking his molars and messing with his braces. He's fine and was on the mend really quickly. Friday my daughter got her hair colored for the first time. I should mention that I've never been to a beauty salon as an adult so this whole thing was a new experience for both of us. Fortunately I had a good book with me while I kept her company. Daughter with blue hair

Readingwise, I had four finished by Thursday. The remaining three I finished this weekend. Three of them are comic books and they're pretty quick reading. The Ghostbusters trade was actually a re-read as I read the five comics digitally earlier in the year.

What I read:

No Man of Woman Born The Doldrums and the Helmsley curse Sweet Legacy Somnambulance Spook in the Stacks Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 11 Ghostbusters: Answer the Call

  • No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll; personal collection (ebook)
  • The Doldrums and the Helmsley curse by Nicholas Gannon; library
  • Sweet Legacy by Tera Lynn Childs; library book
  • Somnambulance by Fiona Smyth; personal collection
  • Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates; personal collection
  • Noragami: Stray God, Vol. 11 by Adachitoka; library book
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call by Kelly Thompson; personal collection

What I'm reading:

Yellow Brick War The Poisoned House Island of the Mad You Go First

  • Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • The Poisoned House by Michael Ford; library book
  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King; personal collection
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly; personal collection

Up Soon:

Two Times a Traitor Does My Head Look Big in This? Whatshisface? Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1

  • Two Times a Traitor by Karen Bass; library book
  • Does My Head Look Big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah; personal collection
  • Whatshisface? by Gordon Korman; personal collection
  • Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 1 by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru (Illustrations)


Reviews Posted

Comments  (34)

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak: 08/05/18

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher takes place over the course of a weekend. It's supposed to be a "he said, she said" romance, but it's really just another tale of an idiotic, entitled white dude getting his way.

Zak is caught plagiarizing on a big assignment. To make amends for this, his teacher tells him he has to join the Academic Quiz team for the semifinals. Unfortunately for him it happens during the big comic convention in Seattle. Sure, he'll be in the right city, but he'll be stuck at the quiz.

Ana and her brother Clayton are the two stars of the school's quiz team. Amy is an over achieving, high strung teen who among other things is an archer. Because of her archery, idiot Zak gets the idea that she's some hot escape from one of his comics.

Long story short, the book ends up being Ferris Bueller's Day Off type story but told from both Zak's point of view and Ana's. There is no romance here unless you've been brainwashed by the white cis het male idea that women are there to be pursued and conquered.

One star

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Be Prepared: 08/04/18

Be Prepared

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol is a middle grade graphic novel inspired by the author's two summers spent a Russian Orthodox summer camp. For narrative simplicity, the two years have been condensed into one summer as explained in the afterword.

Vera has her group of friends and she loves the sleepovers one of them hosts every year. This year, though, Vera feels left behind. The other girls all have fancy dolls and the many things that go with them. Vera, though, doesn't because her single mother can't possibly afford something so expensive.

Although she has an awkward time at the sleepover, Vera decides she can do her own special sleep over at their apartment. It goes even worse and the girls all end up going home early. By now, Vera feels very much out of step with all the other girls at her school.

The one place Vera feels part of something is at the church services (even though she speaks limited Russian and can't read it). It's through church that she learns about a summer camp for Russian Orthodox kids. Best of all, it's free!

The remainder of the book is about Vera and her brother's time in camp. It wasn't the paradise she thought it would be and for a good portion of it, she wanted to go home. But she did find her place, made friends, and came out a better person for it.

Throughout we have the author's fantastic illustrations that will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier. They are just the right balance of realistic and humorous.

The book happens to end with a hook involving the family moving. I hope this means there will be the further adventures of Vera and her family.

Five stars

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How I classify the road narrative protagonist: 08/03/18

How I classify the road narrative protagonist

For many scholars the road narrative brings to mind young white men on their own against the lonely highway where they are on a quest to find themselves or meet the woman of their dreams. For anyone else, the road is full of untold dangers, especially if that someone else is a young white woman. A woman on the road is an act of desperation — to avoid domestic abuse or to seek rescue. Ask these scholars what about children or POC or anyone else and the answer is no: the road is too dangerous; the trip is too expensive; you can't travel without a car, etc.

But here's the thing — authors don't ascribe to these rules. Some do, of course, and there is a huge mountain of a certain kind of road narrative getting all the attention. Other authors, though, incorporate the road into their narratives and include protagonists who given the naysayers would expect to find danger or death.

In fact, it's usually just the opposite. The more vulnerable a character potentially is, the more heroic they often end up being and the more magical or transformative the journey ends up being.

In my road narrative spectrum, I've ordered types of protagonists from most to least vulnerable. Now my ordering is admittedly from a white centric point of view. For more explanation of the types of travelers I've recognized, please read Traveling Party.

This post, then, will go into how I place a protagonist in one of those six categories. Sometimes the narrative makes the choice obvious if the protagonist has one of the attributes.

For instance Milo Pines in the Greenglass House books is an orphan (albeit an adopted one). But his powers of understanding the road (including the ever changing landscape of Nagspeake) stems directly from his status as an orphan.

Likewise, M, in The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break and its sequel, is literally the Minotaur of mythology. He's immortal and free from the labyrinth but he's still living in a labyrinth of his own making, in this case, the lesser traveled roads of rural America.

But for many of these books finding the best way to describe the protagonist takes more work. A protagonist can have multiple aspects of the spectrum. Take for instance the sisters in Sweet Legacy by Terra Lynn Childs. By the third book they are established as sisters and descendants of Medusa. While they are monsters (scarecrows because they protect) it is their status as triplets (just like the Halliwell sisters in Charmed) that gives them their power.

Sometimes a character is even more metaphorical. In my reading of American Street by Ibi Zoboi, both Fabiola, recently moved to Detroit from Haiti, and "Bad Leg" serve as metaphorical scarecrows (protectors) for their neighborhood in Detroit. Fabiola's protection is family oriented, turned inwards on her home — both the memories of her childhood home and her new home (and her desire to bring her mother home), while "Bad Leg"'s protection faces outwards to anyone faithful enough to listen.

Recognizing a protagonist's role in the road narrative is one of finding either their literal stated center, or their metaphorical or thematic center. A character's status may change over the course of the narrative as part of character development. When that happens, I will outline the progression but for the purpose of indexing the book, I will take the final evolution.

A good example of a road narrative (and protagonist) evolution is Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber. Iris starts in the middle of the scale as the member of a family and then goes as far as an orphan (the most powerful of travelers) but is then rewarded with a sizable inheritance as well as newly learned skills (namely driving), thus settling into the role of a privileged traveler who is centered on home and the railroad. Basically, while she has complete freedom to travel, she choses not to.

The protagonist of the road narrative is the one who interacts most directly with the road (or the lack of road). As most of the narratives I'm reading are character driven, the protagonist is therefore the first element in the spectrum.

Reviews mentioned

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American Street: 08/03/18

American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi is about a young Haitian immigrant separated from her mother by ICE and living with her aunt and cousins in Detroit. They live on the corner of Joy Road and American Street. Fabiola contextualizes her experience through her Haitian spiritualism as she struggles to do right by her mother and come to terms by how assimilated her aunt and cousins are.

At first glance, this book is a straightforward tale of the disconnect between newly arrived immigrants and their settled, established kin. It's about young women making bad decisions in regards to men especially when their circumstances don't seem to offer any better options. It's about these same young women trying to keep their younger cousin from making the same mistakes when she seems to naive to survive a day by herself.

But all of these narrative threads are laid out through Fabiola's Haitian culture and merged with road narrative tropes, especially that of the crossroads. Here's the big important difference, here the crossroads is a source of mentorship and good advice among all the other dangers and temptations.

In crossroads stories written by white authors the magic at the crossroads is always evil. It's something that will corrupt. It's something that expects a soul for payment. It's something that needs to be avoided and kept out — such as in Boneshaker and The Broken Lands both by Kate Milford.

For Fabiola, there is an "old man with a hat" who sits and sings from the empty lot across the street from Fabiola's aunt's house (p. 26). From his first introductory song, onwards, his words provide advice and prophesy that speaks to Fabiola in ways that no one else can. By page 82, she recognizes the man she has been calling "Bad Leg" as Papa Legba. From then on, he serves as protection for her.

American Street as a road narrative is a #996633 or a scarecrow / minotaur at home along a blue highway. Both Fabiola and Bad Leg are scarecrows, or protectors if you will. Fabiola for her family and Bad Leg for the neighborhood. The Blue Highway here meaning an established part of Detroit — although one that has fallen on economic hard times of late. Home is Fabiola's aunt's house and more broadly, her and her mother's desire for une belle vie.

Five stars

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Secret Coders: 08/02/18

Secret Coders

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes (illustrator) is the start of a new graphic novel series that introduces readers to programing and problem solving. Hopper is new to Stately Academy now that her mom is working there as a Mandarin teacher. Hopper though would rather play basketball but she seems to have the attention of janitor

Hopper ends up befriending two other kids who have also noticed oddities about the school. There are strange numbers. Weird four eyed birds. Secret codes and robots who are helping the groundskeeper.

As kids read on they will either recognize that the birds eyes are counting in binary and the robots are being run with logo. Or they will learn about binary numbers and logo programming. The book ends with a puzzle to open up a secret room under the school.

The book is fun with just enough plot to keep one reading to the next puzzle. For me it's nostalgic fun to revisit logo, something I haven't used since middle school.

The second book in the series is Paths & Portals (2016).

Four stars

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July 2018 Sources: 07/02/18

July book sources

July continued with the trend of fewer library books and more books on hand. Many of them were purchased in previous months or even previous years, but two of them were purchased this. They were new releases that I was eager to read: Poisoned Pages and No Man of Woman Born.

ROOB Score for the last three years

As I read fewer books in July (only twenty-one) and two of them were New books, my ROOB score ticked back up to -2.67, the highest it's been since July 2015, when it was at -2.48. While previous Julys have been my best month for reading my own backlog of books, that honor fell on June.

The trend line, though, remains nearly flat. It will probably start trending positive soon.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Looking at all previous years, July 2018 is the second lowest (meaning best) month for reading from the to-be-read pile.

ROOB monthly averages

Since I didn't read any of the books purchased in July, my average for July dropped from -2.67 to -2.75.

The two New books took a small bite out of the average ROOB score for July. It rose from -2.67 to -2.66.

I have so many previous months books still to read I doubt I will be getting to any August books. I have thirty-two books released and purchased in 2018 still to read.

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Murder Past Due: 08/01/18

Murder Past Due

Murder Past Due by D.R. Meredith is the third of the Megan Clark mysteries but the first through a confusing catalog entry at the library that I've read. Bear that in mind as you read this review.

Dr. Megan Clark is a reference librarian who runs a book club, Murder by the Yard. In this volume, the book club decides to do a historical reenactment of a couple of famous murders in Amarillo Texas. Their investigation into the apparent murder suicide of a couple opens up a modern day can of worms.

Megan and her best friend, Ryan (a co-narrator of this book) are roped into solving one of these old murders by one of the surviving members. The murder took place in the garden of a family estate and the murderer was most likely one of the surviving members of this old money family.

The mystery was quite engaging with just enough clues and misdirections to keep me interested. Interested enough that I didn't even notice that I was listening to the wrong book. I had planned to read the Miranda James mystery with the same title (the start of a very different series, set in Mississippi). The library catalog had both books under the same title heading, with a link to the audiobook (my preferred method for reading mysteries) going to the D.R. Meredith book, and the hold request link for the print version going to the Miranda James volume (the one I wanted to read). I didn't notice the goof until I was on the last chapter!

That said, I've ordered a copy of the first volume in the Megan Clark series, Murder in Volume (2000). I intend to keep up with both series.

Four stars

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July 2018 Summary: 08/01/18

Reading report

For the first half of July we were on an extended road trip through California. When I travel, I don't read much. My time is spent traveling, driving, and taking photographs. My schedule continues to slip from what I had initially mapped out for myself but I'm aware of the situation and have stopped stressing over it.

With the traveling, I read only twenty-one books, about ten shy of what I otherwise would have read. That said, I did manage to read two books released in July, along with a bunch of releases from previous months this year.

With the road narrative project now focused, I redid the page where I post the reviews read for it. 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 fifteen books checked out and will be returning a bunch later this week. Two of the books out are interlibrary loans and don't come with renewals. They are on my must read list for August. I also have seven newly released books to read.

July's reading was lower than June's because of the road trip. I did, however manage to meet my goal of having at least 50% of my books be by Writers of Color, Native, or from other countries. Eleven books counted towards that goal and ten did not.

July's reviews also met the goal with seventeen of thirty-one books counting towards the goal. I read nine newly released books, two of which were released in July. I reviewed six newly published books in July.

At the start of July forty reviews from 2016 to post; I'm now down to thirty-five . My 2017 thirty-four to twenty-nine. My 2018 reviews dropped from eighty-five to seventy-six.

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