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October 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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Espresso Shot: 10/31/18

Espresso Shot

Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle is the seventh in the Coffeehouse mystery series. Ex-husband Mateo is getting married and Clare's been hired to design gourmet coffee and dessert spread for the reception. It becomes acutely apparent that someone wants to hurt Breanne before her wedding when a dancer who looked just like her is shot down just outside the Village Blend.

Since the intended victim is Breanne, Clare ends up having to learn more about Mateo's fiancé. That means a closer look into the world of fashion reporting. With a New York setting, it's hard not to compare Breanne's empire to Mode Magazine in Ugly Betty.

Breanne's attitude ends up explained through the hard work she had to put into making a name for herself. She ends up being one of those people who had made a lot of enemies over the years. With her wedding being such a public thing there's more than one person wishing her ill. Imagine if you will, The Trouble with Harry except that Harry lives.

The actual murder mystery is buried in all these other hostile red herrings. The clues are there for the observant reader. I figured it out, though did try a couple different ways to tie the A plot into a more complex one with the many B plots. Eventually though it became obvious that it was a straightforward plot buried in less obvious ones.

That said, I enjoyed this book. Wedding plots often make me cringe but this one was fun.

The next book in the series is Holiday Grind.

Five stars

Comments (0)


Monoceros: 10/30/18

Monoceros

Monoceros by Suzette Mayr is about the aftermath of a gay student dying by suicide after endless bullying at a religious Canadian school. We never get his point of view, just words put in his mouth by people who think they know what he was thinking and feeling.

The primary narrator is a unicorn obsessed girl who knew him only through his coffee of choice. Then there is his secretly gay school teacher. And there's a drag queen who happens to be related to unicorn girl.

And I just couldn't read this mess of a book. It's suicide for edutainment. It's another unnecessary kill and torture the queers so that misguided but well meaning straights can learn a heartwarming lesson.

One star

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Cybils Update (October 30): 10/23/18

Cybils update

The author publisher nominations ended last Thursday. For middle grade fiction we have a total of 131 to decide from. By the end of the first month I have read twenty books, which comes to 15 percent of the total. November is the month where I will be absolutely dedicated to reading through the books on hand as well as getting as many of the books I can from the library.

The Numbers:

  • Nominations: 131
  • Read: 20
  • Currently reading: 4
  • On hand: 27

What I read last week:

Louisiana's Way Home No Fixed Address

  • Takedown by Laura Shovan; library book
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee; library book
  • Harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson; library book
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen; personal collection

Currently reading:

  • The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson' personal collection
  • Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender; personal collection
  • Wild Blues by Beth Kephart; personal collection
  • Soof by Sarah Weeks; personal collection

What's on hand:

  • Al Capone throws me a curve by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • The rhino in right field by Stacy DeKeyser; library book
  • The Mad Wolf's daughter by Diane Magras; library book
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles; library book
  • Class action by by Steven B. Frank; library book
  • Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor; library book
  • The Button War by Avi; library book
  • Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech; library book
  • Smack dab in the middle of maybe by Jo Watson Hackl; library book
  • So Done by Paula Chase; personal collection
  • Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin; personal collection
  • The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage; personal collection
  • The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection
  • The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; personal collection
  • Amal unbound by Aisha Saeed
  • Boy bites bug by Rebecca Petruck
  • Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
  • The Parker inheritanc Varian Johnson
  • There's no base like home by Jessica Mendoza and Alana Mendoza Dusan and Ruth McNally (illustrations)
  • The Bigfoot Files by Linday Eager; personal collection
  • Drum roll, please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
  • The not-so-boring letters of private nobody by Matthew Landis
  • Tiny infinities by by J.H. Diehl
  • Everything else in the universe by Tracy Holczer
  • The night diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • Out of left field by Ellen Klages

Comments  (0)


Pride: 10/29/18

Pride

Pride by Ibi Zoboi is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I'll be upfront and say I'm not a fan of the source material but I am a fan of Zoboi's works.

Zuri is proud of her Brooklyn neighborhood and watches with fascination as the brownstone across the street from her family's apartment building is gutted and modernized. At the start of summer the Darcy family moves in. They are black and they are rich and Zuri can't quite wrap her head around that combo.

Zoboi calls her novel a remix. It takes the salient pieces of the original and reworks them into a modern, Brooklyn setting. It looks at the Darcy family in terms of gentrification and class within the black community. It explores the noise and chaos of poor urban living, vs. the more controlled, sterile one of wealthy urban living. It looks at how what some take for granted what others have to struggle to achieve.

The book also fits into the road narrative project. It's a 336633, or family, home, blue highway. Basically the entirety of the novel is set against the apartment and Darcy home as they exist within the neighborhood. Even Zuri's trip to DC and the eventual move farther out in Brooklyn are set in contrast to the apartment building and the roads that lead to it.

While Zuri is the narrator, she includes her sisters and her parents in her story. She is not in contrast to them. Even when she is traveling alone or with Darius, she is thinking about her family and her neighborhood. Even later when she has fallen in love with Darius and has moved, she is still thinking of her family.

The blue highway connects Zuri to her neighborhood via bus or by a ride given by Darius. Or it's the subway. The subway which connects the city together while vitally important isn't on the same scale as the interstate or railroad.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 29): 10/29/18

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

Here it is the last Monday of October. I didn't do any painting last week as I was busy with reading for the Cybils and doing other things. Saturday was the dedication of the new library but it still needs a few more weeks before it's open to the public. I'm looking forward to seeing inside.

What I read:

Bluecrowne Burntown Louisiana's Way Home

  • Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller; library book
  • Time for Bed, Fred! by Yasmeen Ismail; library book
  • Bluecrowne by Kate Milford; personal collection / research
  • Takedown by Laura Shovan; library book
  • Burntown by Jennifer McMahon; library book / research
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee; library book
  • Harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson; library book

What I'm reading:

Small Favor No Fixed Address Elementary, She Read Mystery of the Missing Mask

  • Small Favor by Jim Butcher; personal collection (audiobook)
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen; personal collection
  • Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson' personal collection

Up Soon:

Sweep Binti Vanderbeekers of 141st Street Little Red Rodent Hood

  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier; personal collection
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor; library book
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser; personal collection
  • Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon; personal collection

Posts:

Reviews Posted

Comments  (20)


Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer: 10/28/18

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter is a memoir of urban farming Oakland. To someone outside of Alameda County, that might seem revolutionary or unbelievable. For someone living here, I can say it isn't and it's become more commonplace every year I've lived here.

Novella Carpenter moved to Oakland from Seattle. She had an urban farm up there and set about turning an abandoned lot adjacent to the place she rents into an urban farm. She began with bees and fowl. Things didn't go as planned but she had some successes among her failures.

This book isn't a DIY urban farming book. It's a memoir about the trials of urban farming, especially as a newcomer to a place. It's about farming and living on a street with homelessness, gangs, shootings, and so forth.

That said, there is still enough of a cross sectional culture of urban farming (including beekeeping and poultry raising) that Alameda County encourages the practice (within reason and of course, and within the discretion of local city ordinances). Oakland's rules (for poultry) are that it is unlawful to keep fowl unless a cage or kennel can be provided that is 20 feet from any dwelling, church or school. Stick said chicken coop in the middle of an abandoned property and you're golden.

To learn more about urban farming and animal husbandry in Alameda County, please see my pathfinder: Resources for Raising Livestock in Unincorporated Alameda County (April 2011).

Four stars

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The Ice Witch: 10/27/18

The Ice Witch

The Ice Witch by Joel Ross is the conclusion to Beast & Crown. Ji, Roz, Sally, and Chibo, still transformed by the Summer Queen's curse are racing out of the kingdom to hopefully find a away to undo the magic and save the kingdom.

Ross's magic works by equivalent exchange or as he puts it, balance. The more one uses magic, the more one loses from it. For Ji and company, the more they try to use magic to locate someone who can help them, the more of their humanity they lose.

But it's not just people who are affected. The land is too. The entire kingdom and surrounding wildness has been transformed by the repeated abuses of magic perpetrated by the Summer Queen or in the name of the Summer Queen.

There are also further explorations of the Troll and Ogre people and their cultures. Ross's take here is one I haven't seen before, where they are one and the same being more culturally different than species different.

All of this adventure is again set in a California inspired landscape. Given the rough terrain (made rougher and more dangerous through magic) it is as if they are going from Santa Barbara, through the Los Padres Forest, under Lost Hills and the rest of the San Joaquin valley, and up into the glaciers of the Mammoth Lakes Area. All the while, carrying a stolen bag of avocados.

I know I'm being vague again but these two books are worth experiencing without expectations. They are delightfully different from other fantasy worlds.

Five stars

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Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish: 10/26/18

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya is set in the summer before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Marcus Vega is tall for his age and he's taken on the role of protector at school, putting himself between the bully and his victims. All that comes to a head when the bully goes to far and Marcus breaks his nose.

Marcus was defending his younger brother's honor. The younger brother, Charlie has Down's Syndrome. He is otherwise a delightful boy who loves Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and has a Willy Wonka hat. But to bully (a rich white kid as bullies often are) he's an easy target.

Marcus and Charlie's mother who works long hours at the airport decides what she and her boys need more than anything is time away from home and a chance to reconnect with family. Although their dad isn't in the picture, he has family in Puerto Rico and it's them that they visit.

Marcus, ever hopeful, sees the trip as a chance to reconnect with his father. Most of the trip is spent trying to track him down, to get the adults in his family to talk about him. It doesn't go well but he does eventually get the answers he needs, even if they aren't the ones he wants.

Meanwhile, Marcus is documenting his journey with a borrowed camera, loaned to him by a friend at school. It is really through his photography that he is able to meditate on his situation and re-contextualize it.

As it happens this middle grade novel fits into the road narrative spectrum project. It's a 336666: family, home, offroad. The trip to Puerto Rico allows the Vegas to reconnect with extended family and as a core family unit. As Marcus was born in Puerto Rico, it is a chance to return to his original home and learn about his roots, even though he doesn't speak Spanish. Finally, as main journey is via an airplane (coming and going), it's an offroad journey.

Five stars

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Giant Days: Extra Credit: 10/25/18

Giant Days: Extra Credit

Giant Days: Extra Credit by John Allison is a collection of extra material in the Giant Days universe. It's really like a collection of back of book stuff.

My favorite of the lot was the first one, a what if scenario. What if Daisy, Esther, and Susan had failed to meet on that first day of university? What if Esther ended up with a group of popular girls who bully the rest of the dormitory?

The other memorable one for me (though apparently not popular among most GoodReads readers) is "How the Fishman Despoiled Christmas." You know the expression about guests and spoiled fish? Imagine if your Christmas guest was a spoiled fish man. Yes, it has nothing to do with actual story but it's funny.

I don't know if more Extra Credit collections are planned, but I will read them if they are.

Four stars

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FF99FF: Orphan wildlands cornfield: 10/25/18

FFCC33: Orphan Uhoria Blue Highway

Sometimes in the road narrative, the thing which protects needs protection or needs finding. Sometimes only a single person can accomplish that task, even if it means going through the most untamed places. That is the essential pieces of FF99FF, the orphan, wildlands cornfield.

One example of FF99FF is the children's book, Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved by Patricia Hruby Powell (2003). Corn for the Diné is a sacred plant and Powell's book (also translated into Diné bizaad) is a retelling of how corn came to be recognized as the sacred plant it is.

In most of the cornfield narratives I read (or watched), the cornfield is already there and well established. It is a place on the map but of indeterminate size that serves as a barrier between worlds. It guards, it protects, it incarcerates (if the story is horror). Rarely, though, does it itself need protection.

In these previous narratives, though, they are all created by authors of extra-American descent. They are primarily written by white authors. Corn, while often associated with death and the underworld or the supernatural, is most often associated with death as evil or death as demonic among white and male authors.

The cornfield as crossing point to the supernatural among Latinx authors is more of a neutral experience. There are good and there are bad on the other side. To protect yourself when traveling, it's best to be willing to connect with your departed loved ones.

In Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved, the story is about a time when the corn needed protection. It needed protection to protect and nourish the people. It is a reminder of one's duty to the land.

In other corn stories, the protagonists are almost never directly connected to the corn they travel through. Exceptions to this are Anthony from "It's a Good Life" by Jerome Baxter, where the keeper of the corn is the monster of the story, and Stephen King's "Children of the Corn." In the horror genre, monsters grow corn.

Zinnia is also notable for Red Bird's need to take a journey through the wildlands to find someone who will teach him how to save the corn as the crops have begun to fail. In other stories, the corn stands in opposition to the road. The road is predictable; the cornfield is not. But to find protection for the corn, one must turn away from man and look towards nature for guidance.

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Lost and Fondue: 10/24/18

Lost and Fondue

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames is the second of the Cheese Shop mystery series. Charlotte Bessette is catering an event at a long abandoned winery. The building is being transformed into an art school and gallery but people are on edge on rumors of buried treasure. Then one of the promising artists ends up dead and a friend of Charlotte's is fingered for the crime!

Mostly with this book I recall the setting. A lot of work (or perhaps borrowing of local knowledge) went into creating a believable back story for this building and the family who owned it. There is lore tied up with the winery that involves a possible murder suicide and a person dying in an insane asylum.

I happened to be reading this book while I was in the middle of a large family genealogy project. There were some striking parallels to this fictional family and my own. Maybe being in the right mind set or at least intimately familiar with similar tales made connecting the historical dots to the present day mystery dots an easy task.

Although I knew early on what was going on I still had fun reading the book. I felt the characters and setting were better established than in the first book. The emphasis was on the mystery and not on the cheese or on setting up personal non-mystery-related drama.

The third book in the series is Clobbered by Camembert. I'll try to keep my Chat Noir jokes to a minimum when I review it.

Four stars

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Still Missing: 10/23/18

Still Missing

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens is a thriller set in the backwoods of Vancouver Island. It's told primarily in flashback through a series of monologues at therapy sessions where Annie O'Sullivan recounts her time she was held captive in a remote cabin where she was raped and forced to bear her rapists's child.

But there's also a present day narrative that shows how she's recovering, how she comes to understand what happened to her, and the RCMP's interest in her case. Of course her ordeal ends up being a very personal one, one where she was carefully chosen and people close to her, had a big part in her capture.

I read this book for two reasons: for the Canadian Books Challenge and for my road narrative project. While it qualifies for both, I found the book disappointing and predictable.

For the road narrative, it sits almost midway through the spectrum at a dark gray, 666666. Put into words, it's marginalized, rural, offroad. Annie's role here is primarily that of victim. She has very little in way of agency and her trip to the woods is not one she choses for herself. Except for the identity of the accomplice, the narrative is as gray as its placement in the road narrative spectrum.

Two stars

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Cybils Update (October 23): 10/23/18

Cybils update

The author publisher nomination period will be ending soon. In the meantime I am keeping busy with reading the books I have and to check out as many as I can from my local library. In November publisher copies will start arriving from those that aren't readily available.

The Numbers:

  • Nominations so far: 123 nominations.
  • Read: 15
  • Currently reading: 4
  • On hand: 26

What I've read:

Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty; personal collection
  • My brigadista year by Katherine Paterson; library book
  • Just like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard; library book
  • 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling' personal collection
  • Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller; library book

Currently reading:

Louisiana's Way Home No Fixed Address

  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen; personal collection
  • The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson' personal collection
  • Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender; personal collection

What's on hand:

  • Takedown by Laura Shovan; library book
  • Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee; library book
  • Harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson; library book
  • Al Capone throws me a curve by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • The rhino in right field by Stacy DeKeyser; library book
  • The Mad Wolf's daughter by Diane Magras; library book
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles; library book
  • Class action by by Steven B. Frank; library book
  • Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor; library book
  • The Button War by Avi; library book
  • Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech; library book
  • Smack dab in the middle of maybe by Jo Watson Hackl; library book
  • Wild Blues by Beth Kephart; personal collection
  • Soof by Sarah Weeks; personal collection
  • So Done by Paula Chase; personal collection
  • Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin; personal collection
  • The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage; personal collection
  • The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection
  • The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; personal collection
  • Amal unbound by Aisha Saeed
  • Boy bites bug by Rebecca Petruck
  • Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
  • The Parker inheritanc Varian Johnson
  • There's no base like home by Jessica Mendoza and Alana Mendoza Dusan and Ruth McNally (illustrations)
  • The Bigfoot Files by Linday Eager; personal collection

Comments  (0)


Bruja Born: 10/22/18

Bruja Born

Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova is the second of the Brooklyn Brujas and like Labyrinth Lost, is a road narrative, though this one more metaphorically so than its predecessor.

These two books are connected through the sisters. The first one was from Alex's point of view. This novel is Lula's story and comes months after the conclusion of book one.

I admit to buying and reading the book without reading a single blurb about the book, not even the one included with the book. I knew I was going to read it and I didn't care to know what it was about. That ended up being very effective because after the start of a rather humdrum sister feeling out of sort and needing her own time to heal post return from Los Lagos, everything is literally and figuratively violently turned upside down. (If you want to know how, go read the second paragraph of the blurb on Goodreads or any other online book website)

Put bluntly, Lulu like everyone else in the accident, should have died. But she's a bruja with bruja sisters and they were able to help her live. When she tries to do the same for her boyfriend, Maks, who is one of the victims, things go horribly wrong.

For my road narrative project I've put the orphan or lone protagonist at the top as the most powerful traveler. However, coven stories have their own traditions, where sisterhood is more powerful than a single witch or bruja. Córdova broadens that tradition to include la familia, living and dead. It's well in keeping with Latinx traditions.

While an orphan protagonist might be the most magical for many types of road narratives, sometimes family is. Lulu is only able to fix the mess she's made (raising an undead horde) after she brings in her entire family to help.

Bruja Born, then, is a 3300FF (family city cornfield). The family is Lulu's sisters and parents. The city is New York, though more specifically, Brooklyn. The cornfield is Coney Island, used as the entry point to where Death herself is trapped. Coney Island as a place along the water is a tkaronto crossing.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 22): 10/22/18

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

I had a very busy week of reading, so much so, that I gave myself the weekend off. Five of the books I read for the Cybils. One of the books, Anywhere by Here is a DNF because I found the mother cruel, rather than charming. The rest of the books were for fun reading or research. Of course, I'm doing my road narrative spectrum project for fun, so there really isn't much of a difference.

Reggie the turkey painted in acrlyics

I finished the portrait of Reggie the turkey.

Macaw painted started, in acrlyics

I've started a painting of a macaw from a photograph I took about five years ago at the Oakland Zoo.

The start of a Mabel Pines costume

I sewed on some felt to help my daughter with her Mabel Pine's costume. Here she is showing off the new complete turtleneck.

What I read:

Supernova Echo's Sister Louisiana's Way Home The Benefits of Being an Octopus Tintin in Tibet Lowriders Blast from the Past Miscalculations of Lightning Girl Sodom Road Exit Anywhere but Here (DNF) Just like Jackie 24 Hours in Nowhere The 13 clocks

  • Supernova by Kazu Kibiushi; personal collection
  • Echo's Sister by Paul Mosier; library book
  • Rust Volume 4: Soul in the Machine by Royden Lepp
  • The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden; personal collection
  • Tintin in Tibet by Hergé; library book
  • Lowriders Blast from the Past by Cathy Camper and Raúl Gonzalez III; personal collection / research
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty; personal collection
  • Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn; personal collection / research
  • Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard; library book
  • Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson; library book / research
  • 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling; personal collection; research
  • The 13 Clocks by James Thurber and Marc Simont (Illustrator); library book

What I'm reading:

Small Favor Bluecrowne Louisiana's Way Home No Fixed Address

  • Small Favor by Jim Butcher; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Bluecrowne by Kate Milford; personal collection / research
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen; personal collection

Up Soon:

Burntown Elementary, She Read Mystery of the Missing Mask Sweep

  • Burntown by Jennifer McMahon; library book / research
  • Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson' personal collection
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier; personal collection

Posts:

Reviews Posted

Comments  (20)


Bitter Seeds: 10/21/18

Bitter Seeds

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis supposes that WWII was fought with supernatural forces. The British have demons. British intelligence suggests that the Axis powers are up to something sinister. They aim to find out what it is.

The scenes are set up as little vignettes written with the same gritty realism as an Alan Furst's Night Soldiers series. Except that there's that lingering supernatural aspect to it.

Here's the thing. WWII was a horrendous war. What makes the Nazis the monsters that they were is that they were human — mortal. Muggle, to borrow Rowling's term.

By adding in monsters — the undead — they become less evil. Whatever atrocities these fictional Nazis commit can be credited to an otherworldly influence. There's no heart of darkness here — no man's inhumanity to man. They can be exorcised and exonerated. Their monsters can be destroyed without guilt or without wondering how someone could become so hateful.

One star

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The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case: 10/20/18

The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case

The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case by Elizabeth Eulberg is the third of the Shelby Holmes middle grade mysteries. Shelby and John are hired by an ice dancing coach who is worried because her star student has been receiving threatening notes in a cypher made up of stick figures who are ice dancing. The two go undercover to solve the mystery.

Immediately the ice dancer cypher brings to mind "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" (1903). It's one of the classics and can be found in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It's also one of the rare ones where Sherlock can't keep his client alive. Thankfully the stakes are less high for Eulberg's characters and the client and her student survive!

With threatening notes being sent to a person in a competitive sport, I'm also reminded of The Mystery of the Midnight Rider (2013) by Carolyn Keene. Turns out the plot is more complex than the Nancy Drew Diaries one and is more akin to Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle.

Simply put, Eulberg continues to adapt Sherlock Holmes for middle graders, making her mysteries complex and compelling but set in situations relevant to modern middle schoolers.

Five stars

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Paradox in Oz: 10/19/18

Paradox in Oz

Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower is a recent edition to the Oz lore. I'm going to go as far as say that if it isn't canon, it should be. It's the most Oz like Oz book I've read outside of Baum and Thompson's works.

As the book is so closely tied to the original series I want to step back to look at The Road to Oz (1909) as it is the turning point that introduced concepts expanded upon in Paradox in Oz.

As the fifth book in the series and with Baum busy with a full writing career and slowly but surely failing health, he thought it was time to "close the door" to Oz. While the book is primarily about how Dorothy and her family come to live in Oz full time, it also introduces the word "fairyland" to situate the Kingdom of Oz in the realm of the fairies. It is also the first time that Ozma is called a fairy.

If practical but still magical Oz is to be inhabited by the fae, then the wherefore of Oz must be something more than what has been implied in the first four books. There just might be a narrative paradox here.

Enter Edward Einhorn ninety years later to retcon the paradox that separates the first four Oz books from the remaining oeuvre. Backing him up is Eric Shanower who can draw like John R. Neill when he wants to. (I should note that I adore Shanower's sassier renditions of Baum's characters in his graphic novel adaptation of the first five books).

In true Ozian fashion, if a pun is to be had, there is magic. If you look at the cover art, you'll see Ozma resplendent white flowing robes is riding atop a parrot-ox. It's a time and space traveling parrot-ox summoned at the moment when time began to flow again for Oz.

In fairyland it is fairly standard for time there to work different and separately from time here. There are numerous stories of children going there, growing up, only then to return as children after living entire lifetimes. Likewise there are stories of children who go, spending an hour or two, only to come home and find everyone else significantly older.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz time flows normally for Dorothy. Her time in Oz is equivalent to the time she is away (and presumed dead) from the farm. Time between that book and the third book, Ozma of Oz is also equivalent between Oz and Earth as well as between the years of publishing. Meaning, that about six years has passed between the publishing book one and three and that is reflected in Dorothy being about six years older (or roughly twelve) by this book.

Ozma has also been shown to have aged from her introduction in The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. She has gone from about ten to about twelve or thirteen.

By the later books Ozma and Dorothy settle on being perpetually young women — maybe late teens or early twenties. They are drawn to look like either the Gibson Girl or as young regal flappers. But years and then decades passed especially as Thompson took over the series. (Interestingly she was about as old as Dorothy was supposed to be, assuming she was six in 1899/1900).

So at a later book (which I have yet to get to in my close re-reading of the series), time basically stops. Or at least the citizens of Oz stop aging and perhaps stop dying. I find this a rather dystopian element to the extremely upbeat 'perfect' Oz depiction.

Paradox in Oz begins with someone noticing a gray hair in their beard. Then other people start noticing that they too seem older and different. Ozma realizes that it all began when something important broke in the royal storage room. The only one who is old enough to know that that thing was is a toddler named Zoey who like Benjamin Button is aging backwards.

Ozma ends up going through time to try to find an age when Zoey is old enough to know what the thing is and be able to tell her. In doing so she learns to important aspects of time travel which Einhorn calls Oz-time and Ozma-time. These concepts I've defined and discussed in Traveling between utopia and uhoria: an introduction to the use of space and time in Oz and Night Vale.

In terms of the road narrative project, Ozma's travels through space and time put the novel solidly in the OOCC66 category: namely, a privileged traveler going off road to a place out of time.

In previous books, Ozma has counted as an orphan but at this time she is well established as the ruler of Oz, powerful in social standing and powerful in her magical abilities. Since Oz is a well established matriarchy, she is as powerful and privileged as she can be. As she is experiencing Oz and the surrounding kingdoms through time, her travels are uhoric, even though all of them are utopic destinations. From Ozma's point of view, they are all normal places for her but traveling through time is a novelty. As she is flying and teleporting with Tempus the Parrot-Ox, her method of travel is off-road.

Five stars

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FFCC00: Orphan Uhoria Interstate: The Polar Express, Waiting for Augusta, and Winterhouse: 10/18/18

FFCC33: Orphan Uhoria Interstate

The next category of the road narrative spectrum is FFCC00, or the orphan traveling through time via an interstate or railroad. Stories like this involve a solo traveler on what should be a surefire route encountering incongruous time.

Three examples of FFCC00 narratives are The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson, and Winterhouse by Ben Guterson. Both protagonists have families but travel alone over Christmas for very different reasons. During the Christmas holiday both experience events that are out of time, one in the form of Christmas magic and the other in the form of a restless spirit.

In Waiting for Augusta, Benjamin follows the railroad tracks to Augusta to scatter his father's ashes at the golf course. He has a traveling companion whom he believes is alive, but isn't. In Winterhouse, Elizabeth Somers, is left with money and instructions to stay at Winterhouse while her aunt and uncle have left on a much nice vacation. In The Polar Express, a boy is summoned to the North Pole by a magical train. It's a train that shows up with tracks and makes its own clearcut path to a magical, impossible place. Somer's train (and bus) are regular trains but they take her to a hotel with a curse and ghostly history.

In both stories, the uhoria is tied to the destination. No time beyond what should pass normally passes for both travelers, meaning that the temporal risks to them is minimal. More time passes for the journey to the North Pole and for the adventures there than are in a night's worth of sleep. For Elizabeth Somers, it's house and the ghosts that seem out of time. Time for Elizabeth, though, passes normally.

Another way that a narrative could be written from these three elements is to have an orphan or solo traveler pick up a ghost on the interstate (maybe hitchhiking from a rest stop) or to sit with the ghost on a train. Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson follows this method. A living boy takes a road trip with a ghost, except he doesn't know she's a ghost until nearly the end of the book. For this project, I don't count dead companions as protagonists, which is why a road narrative with apparently two travelers falls under the orphan heading.

Works cited:

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A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge: 10/18/18

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld is a graphic novel retelling of the events just before, during, and then years after Hurricane Katrina's storm surge overwhelmed the levees and flooded much of the city.

The stories follow a nurse and her family who are offered a place in a hospital to ride out the storm but decide to go home; a couple who leave behind a huge collection of comic books; a pair of brothers who ride out the storm in their deli; a family who end up having to send their children out of state.

The stories ring true because they are. They are rendered from interviews done with the author. It's a heart wrenching read save for the brief bit of hope in that these are the tales of survivors.

Five stars

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The Clue at Black Creek Farm: 10/17/18

The Clue at Black Creek Farm

In writing for television or movies there's an adage that after seven years it's safe to redo a plot because everyone has either forgotten it or there's been enough audience turnover that they didn't see it the first time. For a middle grade mystery series, I think that magic number seven is number of books, rather than number of years.

The Clue at Black Creek Farm is the ninth book in the Nancy Drew Diaries series. It revisits plot elements from a number of earlier books. The one it is most like is The Mystery of the Midnight Rider with a couple nods to The Secret at Mystic Lake.

Nancy and her friends are at an organic farm for a tasting of food prepared from the harvest. The very pregnant daughter-in-law of the owner ends up collapsing after becoming violently ill with food poisoning. The source of the contamination is e coli, a contaminate that comes from the guts of cattle. As there are no cattle nearby and the farm isn't using cow manure as fertilizer, there shouldn't be any.

The clues pretty quickly for anyone following the series from the beginning point to sabotage. What I wasn't expecting was the vitriolic anger of the saboteur. A rather paint by numbers mystery ends with an exciting climax.

The next in the series is A Script for Danger (2015)

Three stars

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Cybils Update (October 16): 10/16/18

Cybils update

The public nominations are closed and we have a week of author / publisher nominations to come. I'm a first round reader for middle grade fiction. Here's where I'm at in the process.

The Numbers:

  • Nominations so far: 107 nominations.
  • Read: 9
  • Currently reading: 4
  • On hand: 24

What I've read:

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine Sunny Bat and the Waiting Game Front Desk Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish The Doughnut Fix Echo's Sister The Benefits of Being an Octopus

  • Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla; personal collection
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds; personal collection
  • Bat and the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold; personal collection
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang; personal collection
  • The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens; library book
  • Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya; personal collection
  • The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz; library book
  • Echo's Sister by Paul Mosier; library book
  • The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden; personal collection
  • The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Currently reading:

Miscalculations of Lightning Girl Louisiana's Way Home No Fixed Address

  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty; personal collection
  • 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling' personal collection
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo; personal collection
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen; personal collection

What's on hand:

  • My brigadista year by Katherine Paterson; library book
  • Just like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard; library book
  • Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller; library book
  • Takedown by Laura Shovan; library book
  • Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee; library book
  • Harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson; library book
  • Al Capone throws me a curve by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • The rhino in right field by Stacy DeKeyser; library book
  • The Mad Wolf's daughter by Diane Magras; library book
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles; library book
  • Class action by by Steven B. Frank; library book
  • Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor; library book
  • The Button War by Avi; library book
  • Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech; library book
  • Smack dab in the middle of maybe by Jo Watson Hackl; library book
  • Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender; personal collection
  • Wild Blues by Beth Kephart; personal collection
  • Soof by Sarah Weeks; personal collection
  • So Done by Paula Chase; personal collection
  • Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin; personal collection
  • The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage; personal collection
  • The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection
  • The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; personal collection
  • The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson' personal collection

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Weather or Not: 10/16/18

Weather or Not

Weather or Not by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins is the fifth of the Upside Down Magic series. The first four books were Nory's arc. She has by now found her place, so it's time to expand on the stories and characters from Ms. Starr's classroom.

With "Weather" in the title, this book is about Willa, the girl who makes it rain inside when she's upset. She is struggling with her grades and she feels friendless at school and a burden at home because of how often she ruins things with her rain.

Now there's an annual town celebration that reminds me a lot of the the founders day event in Cicely, Alaska (Northern Exposure). Bing Day turns out to also have a romantic pair of women behind it too — a nice detail.

For Willa, though, she wants nothing to do with the celebration or the poster she has to do. She's been paired up with Rory. The teacher's hope is that Rory's successes will rub off on Willa. It does eventually but it's a long road there.

I hope future books continue to explore the lives and talents of the other students.

Five stars

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Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd): 10/15/18

Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd)

Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe is about the aftermath of divorce from the point of view of a middle schooler who was whisked away to her grandparents over the summer and ends up alienated from her long time best friends.

Now Wren Jo Byrd is at a new school and there's a new girl, Marianna who is very talkative but doesn't seem to listen. She's started calling Wren "Tweety" and keeps getting in the way of some well needed friendship repairs.

Wren makes things worse for herself but keeping the truth of the summer to herself and then fibbing to keep the illusion that her parents are still together. These lies get in the way of family events, such as sleepovers, and other stuff. But the thing is, Wren seems to feel bullied into perpetuating these lies because parents just don't get divorced where she lives.

Really?

Maybe in Wisconsin kids are more dramatically involved family gossip. I get that the friends were upset that Wren didn't respond all summer but even still, that sort of disconnect does happen sometimes during vacation even with cellphones and email and whatnot. In the eleven years I've had kids in public school I've seen families divorce and remarry, families move away, parents die, families lose their homes and have to move in with other relatives.

But the kids at school have maintained their friendships through the thick and thin. Sure, sometimes families move away. Sometimes the move means a friendship becomes a long distance one via email and texting, and sometimes old friends are replaced by new friends. But it's very rarely the sort of drama portrayed here.

Put another way — the children going through the life upheaval are understandably emotional but it's rare here for friends to turn on each other when one is going through an upset such as a divorce.

Three star

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 15): 10/15/18

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

Finished painting of a burrowing owl

I finished the burrowing owl painting. In the end all it needed were some sky blue outlines here and there.

Paritailly painted portrait of Reggie the turkey

Now I'm working on a new portrait of Reggie the turkey. He lives at nearby Sulphur Creek, a wild animal rescue center. My original portrait I sold to the library. It was the one painting that everyone was sad to see go.

Readingwise I had a good week. I had some library books due and got them read. I'm also now entering the third week of the Cybils. The public nominations are ending. So far there have been ninety-three nominations (and I've read nine of them). The remainder of the month will be publisher nominations and our list of books could grow by another fifty or so.

I won't list every single nominee that I look at, only those that I read cover to cover. As a first round reader, I'm not required to read every book word for word, just enough to get a sense of whether or not it needs to go to the next round.

What I read:

Rainbow Brite 1 Three Quarters Dead Pride Snake Bite I Date Dead People Dragon Kiss Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish The Doughnut Fix Foe

  • Rainbow Brite #1 by Jeremy Whitley and Brittney Williams (Illustrator); personal collection (ebook)
  • Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck; library book
  • Pride by Ibi Zoboi; personal collection / research
  • Snake Bite by Andy Lane; library book
  • I Date Dead People by Ann Kerns and Janina Görrissen; library book
  • Dragon Kiss by E.D. Baker
  • Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya; personal collection
  • The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz; library book
  • Foe by Iain Reid; personal collection / research

What I'm reading:

Sodom Road Exit Supernova The Benefits of Being an Octopus Tintin in Tibet

  • Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn; personal collection / research
  • Supernova by Kazu Kibiushi; personal collection
  • The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden; personal collection
  • Tintin in Tibet by Hergé; library book

Up Soon:

Miscalculations of Lightning Girl Anywhere but Here The 13 clocks Small Favor

  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty; personal collection
  • Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson; library book / research
  • The 13 Clocks by James Thurber and Marc Simont (Illustrator); library book
  • Small Favor by Jim Butcher; personal collection (audiobook)

Posts:

Reviews Posted

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Black Cats and Evil Eyes: A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions: 10/14/18

Black Cats and Evil Eyes: A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions

Black Cats and Evil Eyes: A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions by Chloe Rhodes is a "collection" of the origins of various superstitions. Collection here means dictionary.

I personally was hoping for more analysis — essays on a collection of similar themes or traditions. I wanted to see how similar beliefs come together and maybe trace back core roots.

Instead it's an alphabetized laundry list. Not only that but it's UK centric. The individual entries are written in a rather dismissive tone, implying that if you don't already know the thing you should be ashamed.

Put it simply, this book was a disappointment to read.

Two stars

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Running With Lionss: 10/13/18

Running With Lionss

Running With Lions by Julian Winters is a YA soccer novel romance. It's basically Yuri on Ice! the soccer edition. It's cute and upbeat and great if you're into soccer.

Sebastian Hughes is at a training camp before his senior year of high school where he'll most likely be the captain of the soccer team. He should be excited but he's completely distracted by the return of a once old friend — now more of a frienemy — Emir Shaw. Except now, Emir is hot and moody and so damn distracting!

This book is about sixty percent SOCCER!!!!!!, thirty percent MOODY EMIR!!!!!, and ten percent romance. It's unique in that the sexuality of the teammates isn't an issue. None of the tension is related to bullying or homophobia. It's all just Emir and Sebastian's rocky history.

For me, I wanted more off the pitch to balance out all the SOCCER!!!!!!!! I ended up skimming through most of the training scenes. They are well written; I just wasn't in the mood for them.

Three stars

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The Wicked Will Rise: 10/12/18

The Wicked Will Rise

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige is the second of the Dorothy Must Die series. Having failed to kill Dorothy on her own, Amy Gumm is now recruited into the Revolutionary Order of Witches. Their goal is to take charge of Oz again.

Now this whole series hinges on the idea that the Oz before Dorothy is the best Oz. Utopia in the sense of an extremely good place, rather than utopia in the original use of the word — a no place. The Oz under Dorothy's rules is a dystopia — or a bad place.

At the start of the Oz series, the rulers of Oz were missing, leaving the balance of power shared between two "wicked" and two "good" witches and one "humbug" wizard in the centrally located city state, the "City of Emeralds" (which later was just referred to as the Emerald City).

By the end of the second book, Oz was under the rule of the reinstated royal family, in the form of a daughter, Ozma. The "wicked" witches were both dead and now under the watch of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman.

By the end of the sixth book, Dorothy and her aunt and uncle had immigrated to Oz at Ozma's invitation. Dorothy was made a Princess of Oz — implying a very close relationship with Ozma indeed. Through book eleven, The Lost Princess of Oz there was no sign of a rift between Dorothy and Ozma, nor any sign of Dorothy vying for more power or using magic beyond the few magical items she used with Ozma's permission and supervision. Finally, if anything, Oz is shown to have risen to a utopia through Ozma's rule.

The other thing Paige's series hinges on is the return of Ozma's male self. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, most of the novel takes place from the point of view of a pre-pubescent boy named Tip who manages to escape from his captor, Mombi. It's later revealed that he is really Ozma, having been transformed into a boy to hide his existence.

But... later in the series, Ozma related that her father and her grandfather were also kept prisoners of Mombi and didn't manage to escape. As Mombi is never maternal towards Tip nor is the word mother ever uttered as part of her character, I suggest that Ozma and her father are transgender. It could even be (to explain the presence of the father the Wizard spoke to in the Emerald City, and the father captured by Mombi) that Ozma has two father — one of whom was capable of having children.

Instead of addressing any of these inconsistencies, Paige decides to just make all the "good" characters bad and make the "wicked" characters the heroes. She also decides that Ozma's male past is a separate entity who wants to live his life and is therefore breaking out whenever Ozma's concentration is down. To keep this fact a secret from fans who might have read the original series, he's going by a new name, Pete.

All these inconsistencies aside, the thing that bothers me most about Paige's Oz is how magic works. She describes it as something that's derived from the land (a rather Arthurian approach) and something that is controlled through mental acuity. Oz magic in Baum and Thompson's books doesn't work that way. Witches are witches because they own magical items and know how to use them. They also know how to brew magical recipes but even these recipes require magical words to work. Since it's the items that are magical that work with magical words, anyone in possession of the magical item can make it work if they know the correct words. Even then, some magical items have limits — for instance the crown that the Wicked Witch of the West used to control the Winged Monkeys; it only had three uses before being useless for a person.

So Paige's Oz isn't Baum and Thompson's Oz. It may be populated with people who share names and traits of their Oz but it is at best, a parallel Oz.

In terms of the road narrative project, this second book is a FF6666, or an orphan returning home via an off-road route. The book ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger that unites Oz with Kansas. More on that in my discussion of book three, Yellow Brick War.

Three stars

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FFCC33: Orphan Uhoria Blue Highway: A comparison of The Sentinel and Three-Quarters Dead: 10/11/18

FFCC33: Orphan Uhoria Blue Highway

The examples I'm finding most readily for the orphan uhoria blue highway road narrative are all ghost stories. The salient qualities of this narrative are the solo traveler: an orphan either literally or figuratively; a destination or location out of time; and access to a road that isn't as sure a bet as a railroad or an interstate. As many traditional "Blue Highways" (the US Highway system that predates the Interstate system) were routed through towns, for city centered narratives, I classify them as blue highways.

Two prime examples of this narrative type are Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck (2010) and The Sentinel by Jeffrey Kovitz (1974). One could even argue that Three Quarters Dead is a YA retelling (minus the Catholicism and homophobia) of The Sentinel.

So how do these two stories fit into "orphan uhoria blue highway"?

First and foremost they have a solo protagonist — one person who can interact with the people and places that are out of time. In both cases the protagonist is a young woman. In the 1974 version, she's an adult. In the 2010 version, she's a high school sophomore. Interestingly, Beck gives his high schooler more agency over her destination than Kovitz does to his.

The uhoria here isn't one so much of the protagonist being out of time or going somewhere out of time. Instead for Allison Parker (the model) and Kerry (the sophomore) it means interacting with people who are out of time — because they are dead. By no means does death have to be the defining feature for uhoria in an FFCC33 narrative, but ghosts are one way of bringing together two disparate times.

Finally there is the "blue highway" which is really a catch all for roads that are well defined but aren't as "on rails" as a railroad or an interstate. While railroads and interstates can (and do) go through big cities, they are better known for cutting straight lines through the wilderness and bypassing society.

In the two examples here, the orphans encounter uhoria inside New York apartments. For Allison, she's been lured into an apartment filled with damned souls who refuse to go to hell and are living (or reliving) their sinful lives in an apartment over a hell-mouth. Allison doesn't figure out the truth of her situation until near the end — as this horror. Mind you two of the villains are lesbians, which says more about the author's own hangups than anything else.

Peck's exploration of death is more effective because Kelly knows her friends are dead. The title is a play on that fact; she was the only survivor of the foursome because she wasn't with them when they crashed. The foursome is three-quarters dead at first because Kelly survived, and later because they are nearly corporeal ghosts who refuse to die until they get to the prom they had so obsessively planned for.

Both uhoric apartments are set within Manhattan. Though Kelly's ghosts are "living" in near past, they also recapitulate the hedonistic playing of a previous trio of girls — one of whom is the surviving, very old Aunt Lily. Their tastes for fancy food and their roller skating parties in the abandoned penthouse bring to mind both the "perverted parties" of The Sentinel as well as the blood sacrifice of "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935 — a much darker version of the song than it's later use in the 1980s Broadway adaptation of 42nd Street.

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The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Ones: 10/11/18

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Ones

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh is the first of a new series of comics that take place after the end of the Legend of Korra television series.

This first volume opens with Korra and Asami on a romantic vacation together in the Spirit Realm. When they return home they find the city up in arms over a land development project that overlaps the newly created portal to the Spirit Realm. Korra with help from the Air Benders wants a peaceful end to this development idea to appease the spirits. That, though, isn't going to happen.

Republic City is a corrupt city with a too small and underfunded government. The local gangs have divided up the town and have too much control. Korra despite her power is only one person and can't make up for the shortfall of the the city government (although it's implied that the city got into this pickle because Aang had been taking so much of the responsibility).

I heard about this series through Irene Koh on Twitter who was getting slammed by bigots for the diversity of her background characters. The to-do was over a few women in hijabs. The panel that caused the most uproar is actually in part three, which I will be reading and reviewing soon.

Koh's artwork compliments DiMartino's writing. Together they present a messier, more realistic view of Republic City. Korra and Asami's relationship is out in the open (for better or worse, as it's just one more thing that sets her apart from Aang). Personally I prefer comic book Korra to who she was presented in the series. But there is more freedom to explore her full character in print than there is on a series that is "family oriented."

Five stars

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Cat Got Your Diamonds: 10/10/18

Cat Got Your Diamonds

Cat Got Your Diamonds by Julie Chase is the first of the Kitty Couture mystery series. Lucy Marie Crocker has returned to New Orleans to open up the Furry Godmother, a pet costume and bake shop. She's still struggling to secure a loan when the diamond heists on her block begin. And then her shop is broken into and the diamond thief ends up dead, killed with her glitter hot gun.

It's a standard cozy series beginning. There's the new woman in town trying to get set up. Her first set back is a hostile neighbor or customer or lover. Her next set back is the death of someone (maybe even the hostile person) in proximity to her home or business. Next she is fingered for the crime by a police force that is either inexperienced, corrupt, or too small to be useful.

Then it is up to the woman to find the real motive and the real killer. At her disposal are her family (maybe), her close circle of friends (either old or new), her previous life skills (whatever she was doing before her new job or venture), and her current skills or business connections.

Lucy's first mystery falls well within those parameters but avoids some of the pitfalls. Her business success or failure isn't set up as a woman trying to do a man's job. Nor are there tons of asides on how different the sexes are. Nor does she have any weird quirks to make her different from other women. Lucy like everyone else in this book is a flawed, messy person.

The mystery itself was more complex than many series starts and that took me by surprise. It reminds me of some older TV mysteries like Rockford Files, Remington Steele or even further back, The Avengers. I like that the book made me work to figure out what was really going on.

The second book in the series is Cat Got Your Cash (2017)

Four stars

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The Million: 10/09/18

The Million

The Million by Karl Schroeder is a novella length mystery set in a far future Earth. The world is maintained by elite caretaker families while the majority of the population sleeps like cicadas in specially built chambers. These elite number one million. They are ruled by the Hundred, and even more privileged and smaller minority.

Gavin Penn-of-Chaffee lives with his adopted father and brother. He's not supposed to be there. He's not one of the Million. He's a visitor, someone who awoke when he wasn't supposed to, and is living on Earth in real time instead of the one month for every thirty years like the majority of Earth's population.

Given the description of mountains, grasslands, and bison, I'm going to imagine that the Chaffee lands are in Colorado and the house near or in present day Chaffee county.

When tragedy strikes Gavin is forced into an impossible situation. He has to pretend to be a member of a different family. And to do this, he has to attend school in Venice. His goal is to prove his brother's innocence.

In terms of the road narrative project, The Million sits fairly high up on the spectrum at a CCFFFF. It's the story of siblings (albeit through adoption) who are living in uhoria and may well become separated further in time by way of the cornfield. I know that sounds far fetched beyond the siblings which is self explanatory.

The uhoria here is twofold. First and foremost as the narrative opens, Schroeder presents a future earth. It's far enough ahead that technology has improved enough for mass hibernation to be possible. But there's a secondary uhoria, the fact that ten billion of the people sleep for thirty years a time, meaning that a year's worth of living takes them three hundred sixty years, or roughly ten generations of the Million.

So the cornfield. The cornfield here is Venice. It is a city on water. It is a tkaronto, which is typical for a Canadian road narrative. Both cornfields and tkarontos can be entry points to the underworld. As Venice houses one of the underground cicada fortresses which are stand-ins for the underworld in that most of the world's population is essentially "dead" for most of the lifetime of Million. Criminals are sentenced to joining the sleeping population because it will keep them out of the way for the remainder of the current Million's watch.

Gavin, is facing the reality that he and his brother will be separated. His brother will be sentenced to the life that he once had. As I've shown with other narratives where siblings are separated (or killed), the surviving sibling receives the power of orphan magic. He essentially returns to his status as an orphan but now gains the privilege of the Million.

Five stars

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It All Comes Down to This: 10/08/18

It All Comes Down to This

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English is set in Los Angeles in a fictional near Beverly Hills neighborhood in the months leading up to and then during the Watts riots.

Sophie and her family have moved into a white suburban neighborhood of Los Angeles. They have a housekeeper and a yard and Sophie has a new friend who happens to be white and liberal. She wants to join in the fun — like swimming at the neighborhood pool — only to be ostracized and called by racist epithets because of the color of her skin.

Meanwhile Sophie's older sister is light skinned enough to pretend to be Jewish so she can get a job at a department store in downtown. Sophie is horrified that her sister would go to such lengths and is afraid that she'll get in trouble or worse.

Well before the Watts Riots plot started, I set the book aside. I had just come off of reading Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank (2017), a story that while flawed is so grounded in the reality of the time it's depicting that this book just fell flat. Sophie's voice is dull, lacking emotion. Frankly the book would have been better if it were written from the "white passing" sister's point of view because she was the one taking actual risks.

One star

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 08): 10/08/18

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

Today I'm coughing because there was a huge grass fire north of us. Thankfully it was in an unpopulated area and it basically put itself out when it hit the bay, but the winds filled the entire Bay Area with thick horrible smoke. Burrowing owl painting

I'm nearly finished with the burrowing owl painting. It needs a couple more small details and a signature. Next painting will be of Reggie, our local lovesick tom turkey. He dances and struts his stuff for every human woman who visits him at Sulphur Creek.

What I read:

Monoceros File M for Murder Bruja Born Giant Days Volume 8 The Ice Witch

  • Monoceros by Suzette Mayr; library book
  • File M for Murder by Miranda James; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova; personal collection / research
  • Giant Days Volume 8 by John Allison; personal collection
  • The Ice Witch by Joel Ross; personal collection

What I'm reading:

Sodom Road Exit Pride Foe Three Quarters Dead

  • Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn; personal collection / research
  • Pride by Ibi Zoboi; personal collection / research
  • Foe by Iain Reid; personal collection / research
  • Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck; library book

Up Soon:

Supernova Snake Bite Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish Dragon Kiss

  • Supernova by Kazu Kibiushi; personal collection
  • Snake Bite by Andy Lane; library book
  • Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya; personal collection
  • Dragon Kiss by E.D. Baker

Posts:


Reviews Posted

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Kraken: 10/07/18

Kraken

Kraken by Wendy Williams is a nonfiction collection about the study of squids. It should be the type of book I like to pepper my fiction reading with.

The blurb promises a wild narrative of science and adventure. Unfortunately the book isn't organized in any obvious, coherent way. The photographs included in the book are tiny, black and white photos that don't come close to illustrating the creatures described.

Two stars

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Death by Dumpling: 10/06/18

Death by Dumpling

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien is the start of the Noodle Shop mystery series. It's set in an Asian strip mall in Cleveland, Ohio, a refreshing change from the usual either famously large cities or fictional small towns.

Lana Lee, a Chinese-American (of Chinese mother and English father), has been working at her mother's noodle shop after quitting her stressful job. She is the one who ends up delivering the last meal to the mall's owner, Mr. Feng.

This mystery is one of location and one of shared history. The mall opened in the 1970s and has managed to keep most of its original businesses. The Lees were one of the first. As are all the suspects.

At first glance Mr. Feng's death is a tragic accident, food poisoning by extreme allergy. At second glance it looks like an act of revenge by the Noodle House's unconventional cook — a young man who loves to call everyone "Dude." But it's not that either.

I love that Chien avoids so many of the cozy tropes while setting up her world and her characters. For instance, Lana as the protagonist and one of the last people to see Mr. Feng alive could be a prime suspect, the detective in charge isn't set up as the antagonist who is going to do everything in his power to prove that she did it. There is no violent ex-boyfriend for Lana. Her parents aren't bugging her to find a husband. Lana has a good, healthy relationship with her family.

Anyway, it's a great start to a new series. The second book just came out, Dim Sum of all Fears.

Five stars

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Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City: 10/05/18

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins is the second Mabel Jones book. If you haven't read the first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones and are likely to, do that first. This review contains spoilers.

Here be spoilers!

At the close of the first book, there was a huge shift in the way the animal pirate world was set up. Rather than it being an alternate world where animals walk upright, speaking human languages, and even act as pirates on the high seas, it's revealed that this world is a far future after some sort of cataclysmic event.

The book takes a much darker turn than the previous one. For American readers, Mabbitt and Collins (through his illustrations) present a recognizable New York (or Noo York) City, over run by the forest and filled with skeletons caught at the moment of the event.

A classroom filled with skeletons

Although this series is British, it fits into the road narrative spectrum primarily because there is no guarantee that Mabel will return home. Or that she even wants to.

In terms then of the road narrative, book two is a CCCC66, or siblings in uhoria traveling off road. Yes, the destination is a known city, but it's time and it's history between now and then is unstated, though heavily implied.

Mabel's quest is to save her kidnapped baby sister, thus her quest is "unlikely" or all powerful since she's not traveling as an orphan. Her goal this time is singleminded and focused on her sister.

Finally there is the path she takes. It's off road. It's through a portal. It's over the water. It's through the jungles of New York that once was. There are no well defined routes, just legend and a hand drawn map.

The third book in the series is Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book.

Five stars

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FFCC99: Orphan Uhoria Labyrinth: 10/05/18

September book sources

The orphan or solo traveler will have ability to travel through time, though in this case the path, though twisted will be easier to follow than that of the maze. As labyrinths are designed to spiral in and spiral out for meditative purposes, the labyrinth here might also be a two way journey, allowing the orphan to travel to uhoria and then back from it. Or it's possible that the labyrinth itself will be a single, spiraling time loop.

One book that by its description fits this category is The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (2011). Thirteen year old Sophie slips back in time via a family hedge maze. She arrives in 19th century Louisiana and finds it completely different than she expected.

If you can think of other examples (they can also be films or TV episodes), let me know.

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Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles: 10/04/18

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles

Back in December my husband saw an article about the upcoming serious comic about Snagglepuss, reimagining him as a gay playwright in 1950s New York. The description and the cover art for Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan alone was enough for us to immediately preorder a copy of the final omnibus. So the short version of this review: did it live up to our expectations. Yes.

Placing Snagglepuss in the era of the HUAAC trials is logical and brilliant. Here's why.

When he was most frequently on TV, it was the 1970s. He was part of the schlock HannaBarbara was flooding children's television with. I most remember him as the host of the Laff Olympics. He was a tall, bright pink maybe mountain lion, and obvious rip-off of the Pink Panther as created by Friz Freleng for the Blake Edwards films. To make matters worse he was voiced with the then camp "gay voice."

Post blacklisting, actors taken down by the HUAAC witch hunt, often found new, much lower profile roles in god awful TV series. TV in the 1950s and 1960s was still a relatively new form of entertainment and it took a while to gain "legitimacy." Rising filmmaking costs, the break-up of the old top down studio to theater distribution system, and the end of the Hays code (replaced by the first version of our modern day rating system) made it tough for Hollywood in the 1970s.

Reimagining Snagglepuss as someone who was as out as was possible in the hyper conservative, very white, very heteronormative 1950s, makes a hell of a lot of sense to anyone who watched his cartoons in the 1970s alongside the live action series staring of Rock Hudson (MacMillan and Wife) and Ironside (Raymond Burr). Both shows were a step down (though with their San Francisco settings, more in tune with their well known but never mentioned sexual orientations) from their earlier roles.

So by using a coded as gay (to be funny) cartoon character to show what life was like for queer entertainers in the 1950s makes a lot of sense. It gives a chance to re-contextualize Snagglepuss in terms of a historical era. It makes a once annoying character understandable and sympathetic.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for September 2018: 10/03/18

September book sources

Now that the road narrative project is in full swing, I feel it might be a good idea to do monthly recaps as I do with other aspects of this blog.

I read four books: The Million by Karl Schroeder (CCFFFF), The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum (FF00FF), Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (666666), and An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (996699). Two of them are science fiction, one of them is a thriller, and one of them is fantasy.

Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
FF00FFCCFFFF 996699666666

I reviewed or analyzed six books: Bob by Wendy Mass (9999FF), Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher (990033), Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen (66CC00), The River at Night by Erica Ferencik (669966), The Witch's Glass by Holly Grant (00CCFF), and, The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher (330066). Four were fantasy, one was a science fiction/mystery, and one was a thriller.

Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum
9999FF99003366CC0066996633006600CCFF

Finally I wrote four essays: FFFFCC: Orphans, Utopia and Mazes, FFCC66: Orphans traveling off road through time, FF9966: Orphans off road in the wildlands, and, 99FFFF-990000: Scarecrows and Minotaurs.

Looking towards October, my reading will be heavily influenced by the Cybils as I am a first round reader for middle grade fiction again. Of course it's entirely possible that Cybils books will qualify for my road narrative project. If they do, I will mark them as such and include them in my research. For reviews, I have six planned but that might change as I write Cybils reviews. Bare minimum, I will post four reviews. For the essays, I plan to continue to work my way through the spectrum, outlining and defining the salient pieces of each color. If I feel the need to define terms, I will take a week to do that.

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Classified as Murder: 10/03/18

Classified as Murder

Classified as Murder by Miranda James is the second in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. James Delacorte who divides his time between being an academic librarian and a part time public librarian is hired by one of his regular public library patrons to figure out which books in his extensive collection have been stolen.

Delacorte wants to say no but the money is more than he can pass up. He's also allowed to bring his trusty cat, Diesel. He just has to contend with rude and eccentric relatives, and then the death of his employer.

Meanwhile at home Delacorte is dealing with his adult son who has returned home with a dog and a bad attitude. Although the son is willing to help with the book inventory, there is something else going on that is setting both men on edge.

Interestingly the main plot to this mystery was very similar to the secondary mystery of Murder Past Due by D. R. Meredith, the mystery I accidentally read when I thought I was reading the first of this series. It's another old Southern family gone sour on lost power and an unflappable sense of entitlement.

Coming on the heels of such a similarly set up mystery, I found the A plot easy to follow and easy to solve. The trouble between father and son, though, kept me listening.

The third book in the series is File M for Murder.

Four stars

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Restart: 10/02/18

Restart

Restart by Gordon Korman is a middle grade story of redemption through amnesia. The book opens with Chase coming to in a hospital room. Except he doesn't know who he is or how he got there.

Rather than tell him everything, the adults in his life (parents, teachers) decide to let him relearn through experience. Of course the idea is that it will help jog his memory. But as secrets come out, it's more likely that they are just so embarrassed by how horrible he used be and rather like Chase 2.0.

At school Chase ends up befriending the very kids he once persecuted. He ends up feeling horrible about what he did and can't believe for an instant that he would ever do those things even as he learns the facts from multiple reliable sources.

There is a second near the end of the book where Chase has to face the consequences of his actions. It comes in the form of a court case. Even there the amnesia helps him out of an otherwise bad situation because it gives him a way to show that he's reformed.

And that's where I have the most trouble with this book. Chase was a bully for most of his life, minus the few months in this book and his very early childhood. This book isn't about a bully learning or developing empathy through hard work or about his victims getting relief from his horrible actions through help from adults. Instead, it's a medical get out of jail free card.

Two stars

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September 2018 Sources: 10/02/18

September book sources

September saw a return to primarily reading my own books. The majority of these books were published prior to September. The exceptions being The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case by Elizabeth Eulberg, Weather or Not by Sarah Mlynowski and The Million by Karl Schroeder. However, since The Million was read for the road narrative project, it doesn't count against my ROOB score.

ROOB Score for the last three years

In terms of numbers read, I had another light month, though not as light as the previous bunch. I read three more than I did in August (twenty-five). With two new books, my ROOB score was higher than it could have been, but was still my lowest (best) September score since keeping track, at -2.96.

The trend line has begun to dip towards the negative. I'm curious to see how the Cybils reading will affect that.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Looking at all previous years, September 2018 is the lowest (best) September I've had since keeping track in 2010.

ROOB monthly averages

Even with the two new books purchased and read in September, my average for September dropped from -2.46 to -2.56.

In September my monthly average improved from -2.26 to -2.33.

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Midnight Without a Moon: 10/01/18

Midnight Without a Moon

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson is the first of the Rose Lee Carter series and is inspired by the stories the author heard from her grandfather. The setting is 1955 Mississippi. Rose works in the cotton fields but is secretly teaching herself everything she can about the NAACP. She has plans to leave Mississippi and make a better life for herself.

Rose's grandmother wishes she would leave well enough alone. Live with the evil you know rather than inviting new trouble on the family. Grandmother's advice seems to make sense when a neighbor is shot after registering to vote.

A lot of what is covered here is covered in March Book One but the target audience is younger. As the book is also based the memories of stories heard as a child, it's also less focused, weaving instead from one emotional hit to the next.

For me, it took until the last third of the novel to really feel like I knew Rose. It ended strongly with her deciding to stay and fight, something I hadn't expected given the emphasis on wanting to / needing to leave. It has left me curious enough to see what happens next.

The next book is A Sky Full of Stars, which came out in January.

Three stars

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September 2018 Summary: 10/01/18

Reading report

September is the last month of free reading before the Cybils start. At the end of the month I was invited back to be a first round reader for middle grade fiction. With that in mind I tried to focus my efforts on books already on hand.

Although I read more than I have in the last two months, it was still a lighter than usual month. I read twenty-five books.

Before the influx of Cybils related library books, I have fourteen library books checked out to read. Over this month and through November my library check out rate will increase with the vast majority of the books being for the Cybils.

September's reading was one three higher than August's. I did excellent with my goal having at least 50% of my books be by Writers of Color, Native, or from other countries. Eighteen of my reads qualified. On the review side nineteen of my reviews met the goal.

I'm trying something different with how I work through the older reviews. Every other month I will alternate between the oldest reviews and missed reviews from earlier this year. What this means is that in September I didn't make progress with my 2016 reviews but I did with my 2018 reviews. For 2016 I'm still at twenty-eight reviews to post. My 2017 reviews dropped by three to twenty-five. My 2018 reviews dropped from eighty to sixty-eight.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 01): 10/01/18

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

Last week was busy. My daughter now has her braces and a keyless expander. While she's glad to finally have her braces she's in a lot of pain. THe last few days haven't been for for any of us. I've been spoiled by my son who seems impervious to dental pain. He's getting close to being done and has always been rather blasé about everything.

Saturday marks the 1st anniversary of us being house owners after living in a tiny condo for most of our adult lives. We're still "moving in" but we're happy. A year in and we don't have a dining room table or enough bookshelves or the den set up the way we'd like it. We're also still working on getting the yard fixed up so we can adopt a dog.


Tortuga then and now

Sunday marks the seventh anniversary that Tortuga cat came to live with us. She was the run of a little of barely weaned kittens a local barista found. She believes her neighbor moved and took mama cat with them but didn't want the responsibility of a litter of kittens. Tortuga was small and not weaned and cold and scared. She was clearly going to need the most care. With my youngest child just in kindergarten, caring for an infant wasn't that far way from my memory so I made a choice and took her in. Initially my plan was to foster her until she was old enough to be weaned and spayed. Well, that didn't happen because the whole family fell in love with her (and named her).


Burrowing owl WIP

I'm about half way through a burrowing owl painting. The background and the bird both require a lot of attention to detail. I suspect I'll have many sessions of painting layers of grass and blades of grass.

On the blog front I realized my website was running almost at capacity. I had a ton of old crap from previous iterations of the site that I'm not using. Also when I moved to the larger images for posts, I wasn't careful early on with my compression. Those original images are huge and are taking up too much space. I spent most of Sunday cleaning house and still have more images re-compress.

Reading-wise it was a good week. This week I need to finish Monoceros by Thursday as it is due at the library. Of course tomorrow is the start of Cybils nominations so pretty soon I'll be busy reading whatever makes the long list.

What I read:

The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case An Unkindness of Ghosts Still Missing Weather or Not Robots and Repeats The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two This is Rome

  • The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case by Elizabeth Eulberg; personal collection
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon; library book / research
  • Still Missing by Chevy Stevens; library book
  • Weather or Not by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins; personal collection
  • Robots & Repeats by Gene Luen Yang; library book
  • The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh (Artist); personal collection
  • This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek; library book

What I'm reading:

Bruja Born Monoceros Giant Days Volume 8 The Ice Witch

  • Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova; personal collection / research
  • Monoceros by Suzette Mayr; library book
  • Giant Days Volume 8 by John Allison; personal collection
  • The Ice Witch by Joel Ross; personal collection

Up Soon:

Sodom Road Exit Pride File M for Murder Foe

  • Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn
  • Pride by Ibi Zoboi; personal collection / research
  • File M for Murder by Miranda James; personal collection (audiobook)
  • Foe by Iain Reid; personal collection / research

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Reviews Posted

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