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The Penderwicks: 11/30/18
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbit, and Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall is the start of the Penderwicks series. I read The Penderwicks in Spring, the fourth book, for the Cybils a couple years back. Feeling that I was missing some things for a lack of context, I've decided to go back and read the series in order.
The series opens with the Penderwicks heading to a summer home they've rented called Arundel. There's the Latin language loving dad and his daughters: Rosalind (age 12), Skye (age 11), Jane (age 10), and Batty (age 4). Their mother died of cancer shortly after giving birth to Batty.
The home they are renting is owned by Mrs. Tifton who has a son about the age of the oldest girls. He's rather lonely at the house. Mrs. Tifton is very formal and has a boyfriend who is just as stuffy. The Penderwick girls are just the distraction he needs.
While there is a plot about the girls' friendship with Jeffrey, the book is pretty episodic. These are small adventures taken over the course of a summer holiday away from home.
In terms of the road narrative project, the first Penderwicks novel comes in low on the spectrum at a 33CC33 (family, uhoria, blue highway). The family is the Penderwicks. The blue highway takes them to their summer home. These two pieces are obvious and part of a large number of family road trip stories.
The uhoria is the timelessness of the novel. Birdsall includes some modern things like minivans but avoids the trappings of present. The novel seems to straddle the present and the 1940s or even earlier in the last century.
My thesis is that lower down on the spectrum a story falls, the safer the tale is. While uhoria higher up can mean time travel and ghosts, in this instance it just means a timelessness. It's a narrative that isn't dependent on particular technology or world events.
The second book is The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (2008)
The three faces of Eleanor: 11/30/18
This essay will compare and contrast three road narrative travelers all named Eleanor. Two of them happen to be the same character, rendered differently through adaptation (Eleanor Vance of The Haunting of Hill House). The final one will be Eleanor West of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire.
Besides Hill House itself, Eleanor Vance, is the standalone protagonist of The Haunting of Hill House. The use of her image combined with the roofline for the recent Netflix adaptation is a perfect visual metaphor for how linked she and the house are.
Although the relationship of the visitors to Hill House to each other and to the House change between book and television series, Eleanor's is nearly stable.
In Shirley Jackson's novel, Eleanor has come to Hill House to escape her sister after years of sharing the duty of caring for their ailing mother. She has access to her sister's car but very little agency over herself and her life, becoming her sister's caregiver and housekeeper, bound at home by her sister's whims. Taking the car and driving it hours away to Hill House is her final act of self determination and defiance.
During her stay at Hill House, book Eleanor repeats that she "has no mother." We know that she had a mother but it wasn't good relationship in recent years. It might not have ever been good. For book Eleanor, her status as "motherless" should give her the protection of orphan magic.
But her introduction to Hill House shows that she isn't an orphan; she is privileged. She has driven herself to a rumored haunted house (uhoria) via a blue highway. The privileged traveler on a blue highway should be the set up for a standard lark of a road trip story. The inclusion of a uhoric destination, is what makes this novel horror. But it is her arrogance at trying to invoke orphan status that sets her up as the House's prey.
In the Netflix version, it's obvious from the very beginning, before the first second of the show by the cover art of the series. The top half shows Hill House and four children standing before it. They are without their parents, a sign of how the summer at the house will tear apart the family. Then there's a rip as if Eleanor's portrait has been torn in half, and the bottom half placed below the family photo. That turns the dormers of the house into Eleanor's eyes and a tear runs down her cheek from the direction of the Red Room (and source of house flooding / and the uhoria). The over all message is that Eleanor and the House are one and the same.
Through the horror of uhoria, Eleanor haunts herself for the remainder of the series. She is the first ghost shown on screen. She is the first ghost to haunt a house that in the novel was ghostless. It's through her own haunting that Hill House lures her "home" to reunite her with her mother (the first to die in the TV series). In both cases, then, Eleanor is rendered motherless to drive the narrative forward.
But more broadly, Eleanor and Hill House are linked. Of all the visitors, it is Eleanor that the house wants most. The house in both version is also demonstrated to be a uhoric space — a place out of time.
What if, there is more to Eleanor's story that just a miserable life, the painful death of her mother, being lured to an evil house, and finally dying at the house? What if "death" at Hill House is "her door" as Seanan McGuire would put it?
Let me be blunt and say that nowhere have I read where Seanan McGuire has said she has Eleanor West is at all inspired by Eleanor Vance. This is just me seeing connections having read and watched the two authors back to back.
Eleanor West in the Wayward Children series is elderly but very much alive. She gives her age in Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018) as 97. Given that not much time has passed since the first book, Every Heart a Doorway (2016), one can estimate that Eleanor West was born in 1919 or thereabouts. In 1959 when Jackson's story was published, again assuming a contemporary setting, Eleanor would have been about forty, the age when adults do often have to care for ailing parents or see their parents die.
So what if Eleanor West's death, either by car or by hanging (the Netflix version) was her door to whatever utopia that's not quite the mundane United States with lingering aspects of the worlds where the children have gone. What if her school is a Hill House that has found its purpose. What if this is the redemption of Hill House?
Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq is a graphic novel about the author's father's childhood in Lebanon as a refugee from Palestine. It's rendered in black and white in a style similar to Marjane Satrapi's.
The book is short, only 125 pages, and can easily be read over the course of a single sitting. I happened to read it while having lunch.
The book is both devastating and hopeful. It's about trying to be a child and trying to grow up when every day the rules change and the environment becomes more dangerous and more uncertain.
Beat the Backlist 2019 and other reading goals: 11/29/18
A year ago I wrote down my reading goals and signed up for this year's Beat the Backlist challenge. While I didn't participate in a lot of the social aspects, I did enjoy the reading part.
This year the reviewing aspect of the challenge is not longer that of the challenge. The reading is still there.
The goal is to read as many backlist books between January 1 and December 31, 2019 as possible. Especially if they are ones already sitting on your TBR pile.
A year ago my reading goals were to:
For the challenge, the bullet point didn't qualify and won't qualify again. Nonetheless, reading current is part of my personal goal for this blog.
Although there is one month left, I have pretty much completed my goals. My other goal of working through my backlist of old reviews. As the 2019 challenge doesn't address reviews, I'll make a different post about that aspect of the blog
My goals for 2019 are remarkably the same as 2018:
But there is one change. In January I plan to dedicate the majority of my reading to all 2018 books I've purchased but have missed reading.
For a total of 360 books. Of those, more than half should be diverse (written by authors from different countries, authors of color, Native/First Nations authors, queer, disabled). That would be 181 books, minimum.
For this challenge, I'll post what I read by what category they were primarily read for.
Books read in 2019. Books with a * are newly published and don't count for the Beat the Backlist challenge
Published in 2019
Comic books / graphic novels
Road narrative books
For the ones that actually qualify for the challenge, I'll tag on Goodreads on a Beat the Backlist 2019 shelf.
Once Upon a Spine: 11/28/18
Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle is the eleventh of the Bibliophile mysteries. Derek's parents are visiting from England while rumors abound that the courtyard shops across the street will be closing to make room for more high-end high-rise homes.
Across the street are stores that I can't recall being important to Brooklyn before they are suddenly plot relevant, but they apparently are. There is the cobbler, the bookseller, the Rabbit Hole juice bar and a couple others. Brooklyn, though, discovers the body the juice bar owner buried under a toppled shelving unit.
The heart of the matter is an old copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It might date back to the original run that the author had destroyed because the illustrations had been printed smudged and blurry. As so few of these volumes exist, the ones that do can bring an extraordinary price.
The people in the trendy "Courtyard Shops" are uniformly awful people but they are thematically linked to the book in question. Namely, they are all stand-ins for characters in the Alice stories. This is something that many cozy writers do but one that Carlisle hasn't used much in this series. It was fun to discover that she had done it here and made the otherwise horrible characters fun.
The next book is Buried in Books.
Elementary, She Read: 11/27/18
Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany is the first of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. I come to the series by way of the Lighthouse Library Mystery series, written under the name Eva Gates.
Delany primarily writes mysteries for her native Canada but this series like the lighthouse one is set in the United States. This one is set on Cape Cod and the main character, Gemma Doyle, is a Londoner (UK, not ON). Her mixture of British and American English is a nice little in joke for how Canadian English borrows from both (but is uniquely its own language).
Gemma runs the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop. It's at 222 Baker Street and it shares a spot with Mrs. Hudson's tea shop. Basically it's a similar set up as the Booktown Mysteries minus the sisterly connection between the two shop owners.
Everything begins to go awry when after a tour bus departs, Gemma discovers what appears to be a rare magazine issue of the Strand. When she goes to return it, she finds the would be owner murdered!
As this is the start of a new series a lot of the set up and execution is by the cozy numbers. It gives Delany time to set up the character dynamics. Gemma is well meaning, incredibly honest and sometimes snarky. Jayne is enthusiastic and a little too quick to goad Gemma into doing things. Gemma, like Sherlock, is analytical. Gemma, though, isn't yet as obvious a Watson as perhaps she will be.
I have books two and three on hand to read soon. The second book is Body on Baker Street.
Cybils Update (November 27): 11/27/18
Thanksgiving week kept me busy and I didn't get as many books read as I would have liked. My group has decided to meet online to make our shortlist. I'm debating if I should post two more updates before we meet. Regardless, the shortlists will be announced on January 1st.
What I read last week:
What's on hand:
How to Say Goodbye in Robot: 11/26/18
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford is a YA novel about a Beatrice being forced to sit next to a boy everyone calls "Ghost Boy." He's the friendless weirdo that is this book's emotional punching bag because it's something that this type of novel requires.
Beatrice finds her creative voice at night through a talk radio show. That's where the Robot persona comes in. So there's lots and lots of talk radio transcripts that are supposed to boost the narrative through character development. Instead they just suck the life right out of the book.
Finally there is the book design itself. The pink cover is cute but the pink and san serif type face get incorporated inside the book making for an ugly, difficult read. Even with glasses this book is hard on the eyes.
Quirky? No. Memorable? No. Realistic? No. Fun? No.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 26): 11/26/18
Thanksgiving was lovely. It was just the four of us and my husband's parents. We had all the favorites and just enough leftovers for Friday. The little bit of turkey that's left now is going into a pot of chili.
My daughter and I made the pumpkin pie from scratch and it was our best ever. We did what the canned pumpkin makers do and made ours from a mixture of butternut squash and sugar pumpkin. We roasted the pumpkins for an hour at 350°F (175° C) and then mixed the innards with a can of sweetened condensed milk, two eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Plunk into a pre-baked pie crush and bake for 20 minutes at 450°F (230°C) and then lower the temp back down to 350°F (175° C) for another thirty minutes. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Delicious.
The new paints I ordered came in early so I've gotten back to work on the cockatoo. I love how the florescent colors are bringing this piece to life. I have one more session to put in the remaining shadows as well as some complimentary colors to make the portrait pop.
In other news, I've been asked to show my latest bird portraits at our local bookstore. After the cockatoo I have one more do finish. I plan to finish the hen painting before NEw Year's Eve.
Two more weeks of reading for the Cybils. We're on schedule to be finished by the 15th. The short lists won't be announced until January 1st. That means I'll have two weeks to read through as many of the 2018 books that I purchased but haven't gotten to. I bought about 130 books this year and have read and reviewed 96 of them.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld is a picture book about a little cloud who wants to make her place in the world. She likes being small; it gives her a chance to squeeze into tight places; she can see all the best sites; but when it comes to making rain, she's too small for the job.
At one point in the story, Cloudette is blown away from her friends while they are busy being storm clouds. She ends up in a dry spot with some very thirsty frogs. They're stuck in what used to be their pond.
What Cloudette comes to realize is that even a small person can make a big difference — it's all a matter of scale. A refilled pond is a huge deal to the creatures who live there. A brief storm to children looking to escape the summer heat is as well.
Cloudette is a good book for anyone looking for inspiration on a personal, small scale. Not everyone can have the effect of giant storm cloud but they can do something.
24 Hours in Nowhere: 11/24/18
24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling can be summarized as The Treasure of Sierra Madre meets The Goonies. It also fits into my road narrative project as a 6633CC (marginalized, rural, maze) and comes at a time in my project when I've been contemplating theoretical representations of mazes and labyrinths in terms of the road and the road narrative.
As the title implies, the narrative takes place in 24 chapters, each chapter representing one hour of a day from the time Bo Taylor, the bully of Nowhere Arizona confiscates Rossi Scott's prized dirt bike the night before the race. He ransoms it for gold from the Dead Frenchman mine, a notoriously dangerous former mine just outside of town. Since Rossi lost her bike defending Gus, he feels compelled to go into the mine and make the impossible happen.
Although Gus plans to go alone, he is joined by Rossi and friends he didn't know were his friends. At least he didn't know they were close enough to risk their lives with him in the middle of the night in a former gold mine.
What transpires is a tale of survival (after a cave in), of local history (finding the truth behind the man who died in the cave), and a treasure hunt.
For the road narrative, the traveler is a group of almost teenagers who are dirt poor and bullied. They are short on time and have no other options than to do what Bo Taylor tells them. In this regard, they are marginalized (66). Their location is a small, poor, rural town in Arizona (33). Finally, their time spent in a gold mine and cave system has blind alleys, traps, and paths that go back on themselves. This journey through the mine and cave is akin to a maze (CC); it just happens to be one that goes through a mountain. Put all together it's 6633CC, or about midway through the spectrum.
The Shadow Cipher: 11/23/18
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby is the first of the York series. It opens with a man following a woman to her brownstone at the close of the 18th century. It's set up as if she's going to be his victim but then she isn't. It's at this moment that New York as we know it and New York as Laura Ruby imagines it, diverge.
The remainder of the book is present day, present time. But it's not our New York. Imagine if you will, a modern day steampunk New York. Imagine if a pair of eccentric brothers had bought the majority of the city and rebuilt it as a living, breathing, clockwork maze. Imagine Kate Milford's Nagspeake on the scale of a city of eight and a half million.
Imagine it's the current day and still no one has solved the Moringstar cipher. Imagine entire subsets of society built around studying the clues.
The main characters, Tess and Theo Biedermann are the children of the current super the most famous Morningstar building. Now there is a developer who has plans for the building and everyone has been given eviction notices. Besides their own apartment, they have their grandfather's apartment, full of a lifetime of research on the cipher (as well as a hoarding issue)
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, The Shadow Cipher is a 3300CC, or family in the city trying to solve the maze (that is their city). Although Tess and Theo and their friends do the heavy lifting in this book, I'm downgrading it to a "family" protagonist because of the work older generations did. Theo and Tess aren't working blind or from scratch.
The next book in the series is The Clockwork Ghost which comes out on May 19, 2019.
FF9933: orphan wildlands blue highway: 11/23/18
Next on the orphan part of the road narrative spectrum is the journey to or through the wildlands via the blue highway. This is a particular narrative that I haven't read an example for the project. Therefore this post will be descriptive rather than analytic.
The orphan is a solo traveler. Or the orphan is a literal orphan who is traveling with other companions. Milo Pine is a literal orphan with traveling companions in his two highly metaphoric adventures at the Greenglass House. Milo of The Phantom Tollbooth begins his journey as a literal solo companion, but picks up traveling companions on his way.
The wildlands are any undefined, untouched bits of land that are there in the periphery of the road narrative landscape. These are the negative spaces that are sliced through by roads of varying ilks. The wildlands are like utopia in that they could be unnamed or unknown, but they aren't proper "no places" because they can be found on mundane maps between other places.
The method of travel for this narrative is the blue highway. These are the one or two lane highways or other small country roads that meander through the landscape. Where the rail roads and interstates bypass the smaller places, the blue highway goes through them.
One example of an orphan wildlands blue highway narrative would be any of the monster of the week episodes of Supernatural where the Winchester brothers are separated. There have been times when Dean has been dead or captured and when Sam has been dead or captured. When this happens, the remaining brother is temporarily elevated to orphan status and is able to save the day and his brother through that added supernatural boost.
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two: 11/22/18
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh is the second installment of the first comic after the end of the series.
The original animated series set up a city that was growing faster than it could cope with the basic planning a community needs. Filling in those gaps are corrupt politicians, rivals gangs, unscrupulous business moguls.
Current political climate has inspired the tonal shift in the comic. Now Republic City is being flooded with refugees at a time when the spirit world is trying to force everyone out. There's also a new race for the presidency. Meanwhile the gangs are gaining power. Crime is up and unchecked.
Meanwhile Korra is doubting her ability to find a peaceful solution to the turf war between the spirit world and the human residents of Republic City. Of course, her relationship with Asami is suffering too.
There's a lot of threads that will need tying up in Part Three.
Holiday Grind: 11/21/18
Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle is the eighth book in the Coffeehouse mystery series. It's nearly Christmas and Claire is think-tanking some new flavors of coffee with her employees to bring a festive feel to the cafe.
Clare has invited one of the "traveling Santas" to help test the new flavors. When he doesn't show, she goes out looking for him. Of course she finds him. Of course he's dead.
I'm going to admit that holiday themed books, even in beloved series, usually set my teeth on edge. Clare's enthusiasm for Christmas borders on nauseating but it's counterpointed with a wide arrange of reactions from the other characters. This book while set during Christmas isn't designed as a feel good warm-fuzzy break from the usual tone of the series.
The next book in the series is Roast Mortem (2010)
No Fixed Address: 11/20/18
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is set in and around the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia. It's an area I have family ties to so this book hit me hard.
Felix Knuttson and his mother had been living with his grandmother until she died. Since then they've been going from place to place, each time downgrading, until at last there is nowhere else to go but the camper van. They are officially homeless.
Felix is half Swedish, a quarter French and a quarter Haitian, but all Canadian. He's at the school he wants to be at because of subterfuge. Schools (especially high schools) require proof of residence. That's not something he can prove when living in a VW.
Part of what is keeping them homeless (besides the outrageous cost of living in Vancouver) is Felix's mother's mental illness. It makes it hard to hold down a job and as things spiral more and more out of control, she spends more and more of her time sleeping in the back of the camper van.
One thing that will stick with me is the way that Felix and his mother would park their van inside the garages of empty houses to use the power and water. Large chunks of Vancouver sit empty, owned by foreign investors. Canada has cracked down on this sort of real estate purchase but the damage has been done by further exacerbating a housing shortage.
No Fixed Address also sits on the road narrative spectrum. It comes in at a marginalized (66) home (66) blue highway (33). While Felix and his mother are a family, they are marginalized by their homelessness and by the mother's mental illness. Their goal though remains finding a stable, affordable home. That means the mother must find a job she can hold and probably government assistance. Finally there are the streets of Vancouver which have become their home. As the 99 runs into and through Vancouver, I'm counting the road for this book as a Blue Highway.
Cybils Update (November 20): 11/20/18
Publishers copies are rolling in on a regular basis. I'll made one more update next Tuesday. Come December I'll be running silent as we decide the shortlist. The shortlist will be announced on January 1st, 2019
What I read last week:
What's on hand:
The Benefits of Being an Octopus: 11/19/18
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is one of many recent middle grade novels that fall into the marginalized, home, blue highway category (666633) of the road narrative spectrum. It's also one of many from this year that features middle schoolers being the adults in the family when their fathers are absent and their mothers are either injured, physically ill, or mentally ill.
Zoey is a seventh grader living in the trailer of her mother's boyfriend. He also happens to be the father of her youngest sibling. Also living in the trailer is the father's TV loving, otherwise useless father. Both men do nothing but gaslight Zoey's mom and it looks like physical abuse might be next on their playlist.
Meanwhile at school Zoey is struggling. She has a debate assignment and she wants to do it on the octopus. She would love to have the extra arms of the cephalopod, or its ability of camouflage. But she has none of that. She barely has a safe place to do homework or light to do it by.
Thankfully for Zoey, there is a teacher at school who recognizes all the signs of a student in a bad situation and decides to use the debate club as a way into Zoey's life. It's through quiet perseverance that she's able help Zoey and her family. (It doesn't hurt any either that Zoey hears about all the terrible abusive things Lenny and his friends have to say about her, to realize she's a trustworthy friend in the form of a teacher).
For the road narrative project, Zoey is marginalized for a variety of reasons: her age, her living situation, and the way her mother is being emotionally abused at home. While Zoey and her mother and siblings technically have a home, it's not one that they have any control over, nor is it a safe space. It's not even a particularly home like environment. One of the goals of the book becomes finding a new home away from Lenny and his father, thus home is the key feature of the destination piece of the equation. Finally there is the two lane highway that Zoey and her family either walk along to do their errands, bum rides from others, or finally, escape along by taking Lenny's car. The highway is both a means of their entrapment and their means of escape.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 19): 11/19/18
For us her in the States it's the Monday before Thanksgiving. For us here in California it's been a week of devastating fires. We're not in danger from the flames but the smoke has been sitting on us at toxic levels since they began. It's been so bad that all local outdoor events have been cancelled. School was closed on Friday. The sun has been red.
Inspired by the terrible smoke and the eerie sun, I did a trio of pen sketches. My goal is to them as watercolors for next year's climate change art exhibit that our local gallery has been holding annually for the last few years.
In the meantime, the rose cockatoo I posted last week is still unfinished. An artist in England and I got into a conversation about workspaces and in the process he recommended a different brand of acrylics that have the vibrant reds I'm looking for. I've ordered them but they won't arrive until after the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the reading department I'm now literally up to my armpits in Cybils books. Well, ok, not literally as most of them are digital. I'm down to ten books that I can't get by any conventional form and will have to see if publisher copies come my way.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready is the start of a series by the same title. Aura can see ghosts and is among an elite group of people who is entrusted with helping ghosts move on.
All of this ghost sensing happened after the Shift. Something happened that blurred the lines between the living and the dead. Some now are able to see ghosts and some are not. The wherefore isn't known.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer fashion the main character has to end up with a dead boyfriend. Sure enough by the close of the first chapter, her beloved musician boyfriend has overdosed on some new street drug. Of course then there's a living boy to be the new boyfriend to have the required paranormal love triangle.
Long story short, the forced romance in this book drowns out the more interesting story, that of the Shift and how the government is trying to regulate those with the gift, the ghosts and shades now part of life, while protecting those who are unaffected.
There are many more books in the series but at this juncture I'm not inclined to continue.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl: 11/17/18
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty opens with Lucy Callahan explaining how she became a numbers wiz after being struck by lightening. The experience also left her struggling to have normal interactions with people so her grandmother chose to homeschool her. Now circumstances in her family life have changed and she's being sent to middle school.
My biggest problem with this book is its set up. Other than the lightening strike, the way Lucy describes herself and her relationship to numbers reads like it was cribbed off Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet, down to the colors of the numbers and the landscape of pie.
Basically the book doesn't need that set up. She doesn't even need to have been struck by lightning to have the nickname lightning girl. Just let her be lightning fast at numbers. Let her be autistic and OCD just because she is.
After all the set up, the book comes down to Lucy being paired with Levi, a boy who is struggling with math. They have to put together for a plan uses math and is a social service project to benefit the community. They come up with a pet rescue. Levi gets to use his love and knowledge of animals and Lucy gets to crunch numbers and basically do the SWOT analysis for the project.
Short version is: I liked the interaction of Lucy and Levi. I liked their project. I didn't for an instant believe Lucy's backstory save for the bits that were clearly either inspired by or plagiarized from Daniel Tammet's memoir.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones: 11/16/18
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is the second of the Wayward Children. It tells the story of what happened to Jack and Jill before they arrived at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. In their time line at home it's the years between twelve and seventeen but for them it's a lifetime.
For anyone who has read Every Heart a Doorway will have a very fixed picture of both twins. Here we are presented with the exact opposite for their pre-Wayward lives. Seanan McGuire sets up a Gothic horror around nature vs nurture gone horribly, horribly wrong.
When a couple long past worrying about children, comfortable in their aloneness are suddenly hit with the fact that there will be twins in their near future, decide to divide the work evenly. It seems like a good idea but essentially they each claim a child and decide to make her in their image.
The mother takes charge of Jacqueline, making her the perfect girl child (as if such a person exists). She is clothed in the best, most beautiful, most impractical dresses. Her hair is kept long. Her manners are molded to be refined and dainty. She doesn't go outside lest she or her dress get dirty.
The father takes Jillian and reimagines her as the son he really wants. Her hair is cut short. She is given jeans, shorts, sporty clothes, and is encouraged to be a rough and tumble sort of kid. Twins, identical at brith, are cleaved through such stubborn, narrowly focused parenting.
It is the forced separation of identical twins and the resulting double dose of discontent that welcomes the "impossible staircase." In McGuire's universe, pathways to other lands are not by roads but by doors. In this case it is a staircase that is in a place that should not be and is longer than possible given the architecture of the house.
The remainder of the novella is their time in their fairyland — a world built around Gothic monsters: vampires, mad scientists, and the like. The girls take their sides and grow into the personas we know from the first book.
In terms of the road narrative (because doors can be metaphorical roads), this book is a siblings traveling to utopia via a labyrinth. Siblings are the second most powerful type of traveler. Or I should say, with the most agency in terms of the road and barriers faced on a given journey. Readers familiar with Every Heart a Doorway will know how frightening a pair Jack and Jill are at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. It is their status as twins that gives them so much power in utopia. Were they closer as siblings, they would have become an even more fearsome power.
Their journey to utopia (again used in this project to mean a no-place) through an impossible architecture in their house through a long but straightforward nonetheless staircase counts as a labyrinth. As it is a journey downwards, there is also a symbolic linking to the Labyrinth of Minos. That when their time in utopia ends and they are immediately thrust back into their old home and their old lives, further makes this a labyrinth. The way out is the same as the way in, just in reverse.
The next book in the series is Beneath the Sugar Sky which released January 8th, 2018.
A Map to the Road Narrative Spectrum: 11/16/18
Visualizing the Road Narrative Spectrum remains a challenge. It remains a work in progress. I understand it, but I'm the one who chose to map narrative elements to the 216 colors that make up web safe colors.
If you do a web search for images of web safe colors, you'll see diagrams similar to what I've made here. The difference is, that my six groups are organized by the traveler.
Reading from left to right, are the 216 road narratives I am researching and analyzing. The top row of travelers: orphan, siblings, scarecrow or minotaur, are the most likely to be set in a fantasy or science fiction narrative. They are also the ones who have the most power to transcend the road and other expected means of travel. The bottom three categories feature stories with marginalized, family or romantic couples, or privileged travelers. These three groupings tend to be more realistic fiction or even nonfiction.
In the gap between the two neighborhoods, the places were powerful / magical travelers take mundane journeys and where mundane travelers go to extraordinary places or via extraordinary routes is where the horror genre typically sits. It's also possible that the romance genre (paranormal romances between women an minotaurs, for example) sit, but I haven't read enough of them yet to say for certain.
I've placed a link to the PDF in the blog's left navigation. It will always be there if you need a visual refreshers for my reviews or essays.
Robots & Repeats: 11/15/18
Secret Coders 4: Robots & Repeats by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes is the fourth in the Secret Coders graphic novel series. Dr. One-Zero has added Advanced Chemistry to the school curriculum and it's mandatory. Everyone is making green soda for nefarious purposes.
Meanwhile the Coders in the race to stop Dr. One-Zero find clues that might lead to Hopper's missing father. It's the on-going mystery that keeps me reading.
Each book continues to include lessons in coding. This one as the title implies deals with repeating commands in code. Basically for loops to make the code more efficient and more flexible.
The next book in the series is Potions & Parameters (2018).
Lavender Lies: 11/14/18
Lavender Lies by Susan Wittig Albert is the eighth book in the series. I know, I know, I keep saying I'll stop but I keep coming back for more.
For reasons that are beyond me, China and McQuaid are now planning their wedding and the date is rapidly approaching. Except by planning, I mean, mostly moaning about how they don't want anything special and tossing out goofy ideas that their friends all nix.
In the background of all of this there's a hurricane that is threatening to ruin the wedding or at least drive the event inside.
Then a wealthy land developer ends up murdered and no one seems surprised or all that bothered beyond the man's widow. His death seems to implicate people in China's wedding party and McQuaid is still struggling to be back on the job so China decides to solve the murder herself.
The twee wedding and the sudden evil land developer read like a murder mystery set in the middle of The Good Witch. It also reads like inspiration for Chopping Spree by Diane Mott Davidson, which came three years later.
The ninth book in the series is Mistletoe Man.
Sodom Road Exit: 11/13/18
Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn is a Canadian road narrative about a young woman forced to move home when her financial options run out in Toronto. Starla Mia Martin's credit cards have been frozen, she's been evicted from her apartment, and she's been kicked out of university. There's nowhere to go back to border town she grew up in.
It's the summer of 1990 and Crystal Beach is a shadow of its former self. Once upon a time it was a thriving tourist destination but the amusement park has long since closed and all that's left is a bar and a dubiously run campsite.
While riding the one bus that loops through the area, Starla hears that a young man is heading out to the campground to apply for a job. More on a dare than on actually wanting it, Starla races him to the campsite and nails the job. See, she's nearly as burned out as the woman who runs the camp, so they're simpatico.
In the background of all of this is a ghost who has taken a liking to Starla and has ties to both the campground and the closed amusement park.
I have to admit, even though the ghost makes an early appearance, much in the way that Iain Reid drops hints in I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2017), I wasn't sure what to make of their appearance. Part of the problem for me is that Sodom Road Exit is roughly three times the length either of Iain Reid's books. So there's a lot of room to hide and obfuscate.
In terms of the road narrative project, once the ghost is taken into account, the book falls into the scarecrow/minotaur uhoria cornfield (99CCFF). Starla and the ghost alternate between protectors of the area (scarecrows) and feeling trapped by the area (minotaurs). The location of Crystal Beach right on the water, combined with the description of trees at the water in the campground signal a cornfield/tkaronto. Finally, the haunting and Starla's obsession with Crystal Beach's make this narrative a uhoric one.
Cybils Update (November 13): 11/13/18
The first two publishers copies arrived today. I'm not in full eat-sleep-breath Cybils mode.
What I read last week:
What's on hand:
The Reader: 11/12/18
The Reader by Traci Chee is the start of the Sea of Ink and Gold series. It opens with Sefia on the run looking for her Aunt Nin. Her parents have been killed and she's holding onto something that everyone seems to want — a book. This is a world where books are dangerous and most people don't read.
This book is the darker, edgier YA cousin of die undliche Geschichte by Michael Ende. It does similar tricks to draw attention to itself to it's function as a book, about being a book about a world where reading is dangerous and there is one book in particular that can change the very nature of the world.
But here's the thing, the marginalia. The book design. The hidden messages. All these things compete for attention and ultimately drew me away from Sefia's story. What die undliche Geschichte does in its untranslated version is use red and green ink to tell you whose story you're reading — whether it's Atréju's or if it's Bastian's. This book, though, is all black and white, though there are artistically added ink splotches, and other errata and marginalia but in to make it look like multiple books bound together.
Besides Sefia's story, there are cutaways to other characters, including librarians who are in search of THE BOOK. Of course it is the thing that Sefia has and the thing that she is gaining her power from, or is using her power to manipulate, depending on how you look at things. There's also a quest or sorts, a let's travel all over this intricate drawn map.
The second book in the series is The Speaker.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 12): 11/12/18
I'm now well and truly swamped in Cybils. The floor of my living room is covered in piles of books I'm reading for the first round.
As so much of my reading time is going into the Cybils, my fun reading is being pushed to the back burner. On a normal week I would have finished Sweep but I'm only fifty pages into it.
In other news, the staircase from the backyard to the back hill has finally been built. The contractors will come back sometime soon to also build a matching fence/railing at the top of the wall.
I finished the macaw painting. Then I took a vote on Twitter and Facebook to help me decide the next painting. I had two canvases left for this first set of paintings. The bird that got the most votes was the rosy cockatoo I photographed a couple years ago in Vancouver at the Bloedel Conservatory during their holiday lights display.
On Saturday night my son and I went to see a local production of Blood Wedding put on by the theater arts department at Cal State East Bay. It was very well done.
And while I'm watching TV at night I'm doing Nanowrimo.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Bluff and Bran and the Snowdrift: 11/11/18
Bluff and Bran and the Snowdrift by Meg Rutherford caught my attention because it features a cat seeing snow for the first time. I came across it at the library while volunteering to sort through discards that might be good to sell at the Friends of the Library bookstore.
Bluff is a fluffy spotted feline and Bran is her teddy bear. Cats are often cast as aloof characters but a lifetime of living with cats has taught me that they like toys and will grow sentimentally attached to a favorite one.
Bluff is also the pet of a young girl. Bran was probably her bear as much as it now is Bluff's. The snow and countryside is new to her and is enough of a distraction that she's not thinking about what might happen to her cat.
Like Curious George in "Curious George Goes Up the River," Bluff and Bran end up floating down the river. Fortunately for everyone involved, it's a happy ending including a rescue and a reunion.
Echo's Sister: 11/10/18
It seems to be an unwritten rule that every year there must be at least two middle grade juvenile cancer books. Echo's Sister by Paul Mosier is one of this year's crop.
Twelve year old Laughter, aka "El" had her year planned. It involved the art school her parents went to and tennis lessons. On the first day of school her six year old sister goes in for orthodontia for buck teeth and ends up in the hospital for cancer of the mouth.
Health insurance being pure crap in the United States for most everyone, cuts need to be made from the family budget and that means no more tennis for El. It also means that her entire life now revolves around her sister's treatment.
Resentment ensues. Her school work suffers. Her friendships suffer.
But there's Octavius. He sticks by her side and she doesn't know why. Of course all is revealed and it involves a shared experience.
The book most reminds me of From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle (2017)
Bluecrowne by Kate Milford was originally kickstarted in 2014, right around the same time as Greenglass House. It was written as an Easter egg for fans willing to let her experiment with her world. The success of Greenglass House and Ghosts of Greenglass House created a need for the publisher of those books to reissue her Kickstarter.
Milford says in the afterword that Bluecrowne serves to explain why the original family chose not to live in their beautiful house. In this regard, I am reminded of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (and the recent ten episode adaptation for Netflix). Lansdegown is like Hill House, except that it is happy. Both are impossible to navigate places. Both are haunted. Both are ever vigilant. Both are self aware. I will write more on these two houses at a later date, once I have finished re-reading Jackson's novel.
For the road narrative project, I debated with myself over how to best describe the protagonist. For the majority of the book, there are two: Melusine, aka Lucy, and her half brother Liao. While they do the majority of the heavy lifting in this novel, their ultimate success wouldn't be possible without Xiaoming Bluecrown. In this regard, like Bruja Born (2018) by Zoraida Córdova, strength is found in family.
With family being key, this novel falls into the 33CCFF category: family, uhoria, cornfield. The Greenglass House books both fall into the home and maze categories but this novel takes place more in Nagespeake and the land and water between the town and the house. Napspeake as it sits on the water and bleeds into the woodlands on shore, counts as a a cornfield (in the Canadian, tkaronto, sense). The uhoria aspect comes from the Kairos Mechanism. Namely, Nagspeake and the people who live there have ties to other places and times that are nonlinear (or if you will, Ozma time instead of Oz time).
From 00CC33 to 33CCCC: a road narrative analysis of Haunting of Hill House, book and Netflix television series: 11/09/18
Before the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House my memory of the book was a single sentence, which I think comes from the 1999 film adaptation; namely "It's the house!"
In Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, there are literally no ghosts. Instead there is a house that has sat empty for many years and is in an ongoing legal dispute between the surviving heirs but will someday most likely go to Luke by the virtue of him being the youngest of the surviving heirs.
In Netflix's version there are seven ghosts, a personal ghost for each of the Crains. That's the other big difference: an inversion on who built the house and who is most affected by it. In Jackson's book, it was built by Hugh Crain and it was intentionally built wrong as a bigger part of some life time obsession with piousness.
Both versions are complex and inspire deeper readings. This essay will be a brief introduction to the two versions (of many that exist) and will focus on the three road narrative axes they are built. Later I plan to do an essay on Eleanor and then possibly a third on the use of space to define character.
For right now, though, let's look at how both versions, the 1959 novel and the 2018 Netflix television series are road narratives. One might expect an adaptation to be faithful enough to the source material to not change where the new version sits on the road narrative spectrum. The Netflix one is faithful (in its use of visual motifs) while attempting to invert the dynamic of the characters and the road taken, all while pivoting on the same destination.
Since the destination remains the same across both book and Netflix, let's start there. While the title of both versions remains The Haunting of Hill House, one might think that the destination is the house or as I usually put it, home. It's not. Yes, Hill House is the structural containment of this narrative but it isn't the destination. Rather, the destination is uhoria — or no time.
In Jackson's novel, the uhoria is achieved through Dr. Montague's investigation into the history of Hill House. It's also done through Luke's stories of the place and Eleanor and Theo's pondering over what life must have been like for the original sisters. For the Netflix version, it's uhoria at it's most basic for the hauntings. One a second level it's uhoria for how the past and present are decoupaged into a single narrative that from our outside reference point makes literal sense but is completely out of order for the Crain family experiencing it on their own timelines. Finally, it's uhoria for Eleanor's (Nell's) piece in this ten episode narrative. Uhoria puts both versions at CC for the second axis.
The most obvious difference in the novel and the Netflix series is in the protagonists, or as I call them for the road narrative spectrum, the travelers. Jackson's novel has six: Eleanor Vance, Theodora, Luke Sanderson, Dr. Montague, Mrs. Montague and Arthur. Netflix has seven: Shirley Crain, Hugh Crain, Steven Crain, Olivia, Theodora, Luke, and Eleanor.
The other key difference is that in the novel, the six characters are all adults and all privileged — meaning that they individually all have enough means and agency to get themselves to Hill House without needing to rely on anyone else. In the Netflix version, the now seven main characters, are set up as a family: father, mother, oldest brother, two sisters, and the youngest being fraternal twins Luke and Eleanor. The tug of war that Luke and Eleanor partake in over the house takes on an entirely different tone since they begin this tug of war as children and are effectively on the same side, rather than opponents because of "the twin thing."
In terms of the traveler placement on the spectrum, Shirley Jackson crafted her book to give her protagonists all the apparent power possible. They are adults. They have cars. They chose to come. They can chose to leave. The fact that they stay and that one of them dies when they finally chose to leave is what gives the final punch to the horror. In Jackson's version, the protagonists are 00: meaning they shouldn't be at any risk on the road; it's a fairly common starting point for the horror genre and one I will highlight more as I get through the privileged traveler.
Finally there is the road traveled, which over and over I have sown can and often is a metaphorical rode. For Shirley Jackson, it is a very literal road and for Eleanor's journey to Hill House she gives a very detailed description of the day it takes her to drive there. As the roads take Eleanor through small towns and because of the novel's publication coming before the construction of most of our modern interstates, this final piece comes in at a 33 (Blue Highway). At the time, though, these roads were probably written to be modern descriptions of a short American road trip, and could have clocked in at a 00 (Interstate / rail road). Regardless, the road is set up to be a sure thing for Eleanor and the others. That reliability of the road is another piece of what makes Eleanor's ultimate death at the "hands" of Hill House so shocking.
The Netflix version, however, by choosing to use decoupage (a slicing together of disparate scenes to show one continuous story across time and/or place) decides to show their cards early in the opening credits. After showing all major actors as well as the crumbling statuary, the camera pulls up and back to reveal a maze which is then slammed shut behind what we quickly come to learn as "The Red Room" because of it's perpetually locked red door. Right there we are given two major clues for how this adaption will work: it will be a maze, done through cross time editing (which we have seen already through a juxtaposition of flashback and a present days scene), and the "monster in the middle" to use Kat Yoh's term, will be whoever is in the Red Room. Of course, this being Hill House, one can assume that it is the room itself that is both the blind alley and the monster.
By making the six strangers into seven family members, the traveler dynamic is given less individual agency but more power in the realm of the fantastic. Then by replacing a literal road with a metaphorical road as the agent for the uhoric destination, the supernatural possibilities of the narrative are expanded. Put another way, to guarantee ghosts, one needs a family and a maze.
Lowriders Blast from the Past: 11/08/18
Lowriders Blast from the Past by Cathy Camper and Raúl III is the third of the Lowriders graphic novels. Given that we've had a trip to outer space and a trip to the underworld, I expected this one to be a time travel story. If Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can be a time machine, so can a lowrider!
But it's not.
Instead, it's an origin story. It's how Lupe, Flapjack, and Elirio first met and got into fixing up lowriders. Elirio loves making graffiti from indigenous words his traveling salesman father teaches him. Flapjack has a new bike and loves to keep it clean. Lupe is proud of her two mothers and their beautiful lowrider.
But there's a gang the Matamoscas, messing everything up. They graffiti over Elirio's words. They wreck Flapjack's bike. And they won't let las madres enter the lowrider show unless they can pass a bunch of impossible sounding tasks.
Come on, though, with Lupe, Flapjack and Elirio, we know anything is possible. These tasks are how they become the awesome lowrider builders that we know and love.
In terms of the road narrative project, this one comes in at a 663333: marginalized rural blue highway. The trio of heroes are marginalized because they are young and because they are being bullied by the gang. The goal of the book is the car rally which is held in a rural location. The route there is via a blue highway, since they will be driving their creations low and slow.
Hold The Cream Cheese, Kill The Lox: 11/07/18
Hold The Cream Cheese, Kill The Lox by Sharon Kahn is the fourth Ruby, the Rabbi's Wife series, which really should be called the Rabbi's Widow series as her husband is dead and has been dead for all of these books. She's certainly not married to Rabbi Kevin who is too young and too progressive for her tastes.
Ruby is now working at the bagel place that features so prominently in this series. When prices on the lox they purchase go up, Ruby goes to investigate, only to find the person who was causing all the trouble, dead!
The dead man is only a recent resident in Paradise, Texas, with ties to New Jersey and New York. Now in the typical mystery, the first thing that would happen is that the dead man's history both locally and remotely would be looked into through whatever means the main character has at their disposal. These murders, especially the cozies are usually extremely personal.
But this series has always been a little off. Sometimes it works but this time I was left scratching my head (and yelling at the book). Ruby for whatever reason decides that the death isn't related to the man's history, it must be a supply line problem. So rather than go East to the obvious source of useful information, she goes North West to Ketchikan, Alaska, in November of all times.
Really — Alaska in November to investigate the death of a lox distributor? The entire middle third of this book is bloated with this red herring of a trip. No detail is glossed over from how many bags she takes, to what airlines she takes, to her stopover in Seattle, to taking public transit, to staying in a nearly abandoned (because it's NOVEMBER!!!!) hotel, to being snowed in. And then when it's all done and she's nearly frozen to death and discovered nothing because the fishery is CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, she goes home.
Then it was as if common sense came and hit the author upside the head. In the last maybe seventy-five pages, Ruby realizes her mistake and goes to New Jersey where she quickly confronts the killer, has a brief adventure, and solves the case.
I know I've spoiled a lot but this book is just so damn nonsensical.
The next book in the series is Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver?
Goodreads counts Foe by Iain Reid as a horror novel. I count it as science fiction and a Canadian road narrative. Junior and Henrietta (Hen) live together in an old farm house on the edge of a giant corporate canola farm. They have a quiet life of routine until Terrance arrives with news of a space lottery.
Although this is Canadian fiction, the immense canola fields are more in keeping with the American cornfield motif. A cornfield brings to mind scarecrows and Foe certainly has one. But it also has a minotaur, which is unusual for the road narrative (but not impossible).
The entire novel hinges on Terrance's story that Junior has been picked via a lottery to go into space for a period of time. Hen, who is to stay behind, will be kept company by a company provided stand-in, made to look, sound, and act like Junior.
But here's the thing. Reid knows how to use language to its full advantage. While his narrators are delightfully unreliable, the punctuation helps the reader see what the narrator isn't telling.
Let's look first at the title. Goodreads lists it as Foe, meaning "an enemy or opponent" (Apple dictionary). But look at the cover art. It says FOE. It's an acronym for "family on Earth."
To the observant reader, it is obvious from page one that the switch has already been made. Junior, our Junior, isn't who he thinks he is. Junior is already in space and Terrance is there to make sure he's running to specs.
Junior who works for the canola farm and is there to keep Hen sane is a literal and figurative scarecrow. He is from page one.
So that turns the story to Hen. It becomes clear over time that she feels trapped by her situation. The farm and the need to pretend that scarecrow Junior is actual Junior has left her feeling trapped. The safe routine she used to love is now her prison; Hen is a metaphorical minotaur.
Put all together, Foe in the road narrative spectrum is a scarecrow / minotaur - rural - labyrinth. Why a labyrinth instead of a cornfield? For the same reason as first season of Westworld, namely, the artificial mind as labyrinth. Junior, until he is told, is unaware that he is the replacement / stand-in. He is not self aware enough to think himself out of his programming.
Cybils Update (November 06): 11/06/18
The nomination period is over. Now comes the "read all the things!" phase. I'm currently reading a book a day but I need to up that to two or three a day. I'm about halfway through the process of acquiring the books to read/ reading said books.
What I read last week:
What's on hand:
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda: 11/05/18
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, probably better known now by it's film title, Love, Simon is the first of the Creekwood series. Simon is in high school and he's gay. Only a few friends know he's gay, and of, course, his penpal who signs his letters, Blue.
Blue it turns out also goes to the same high school. The crux of this story revolves around Simon being too damn clueless to figure out who Blue is. The set up is cute and then becomes cheesy and then goes back to cute — in the same way that Marinette and Adrien can't for the life of themselves figure out each other's superhero identity even though they go to the same school and save Paris regularly.
It also didn't help that the not-so-secret (unless you're Simon) boyfriend goes by Blue. Anyone else get the Blue Skidoo song from Blue's Clues stuck in their head while reading this book?
All my grousing aside, I did still enjoy it. It's a high school romcom and it has a happy ending. There need to be more books like this. Or I haven't read enough of them and I need to.
One last note, I have seen the film. I like it better than the book, even though it has a certain After School Special vibe to it.
The next book is Leah on the Offbeat
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 05): 11/05/18
Cybils are definitely in full swing. Seven of the eleven books I finished last week were for Cybils.
I also spent a full day working at the local art gallery helping a woman teach two different classes of high school students who were visiting on field trips. As it was the Day of the Dead we did an appropriately themed lesson.
I also managed to squeeze in some painting time. I still need to add in the details to the feathers.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Personal Demons: 11/04/18
Personal Demons by Nimue Brown is a graphic novel mood piece. Hopeless, Maine is an island of orphans, the adults are either missing or turned into demons. It also seems to be perpetually night time.
As there is very little in the way of back story, nor any sort of larger context, it's hard to see beyond the events immediately presented on the page. It's a short, dark (literally and figuratively), piece with a lot of running and a lot of hiding and some fighting.
Many reviewers praise this graphic novel, giving it full stars on GoodReads. For me, though, there's not enough here to grasp. It's not going to be a story that sticks with me beyond perhaps little snatches — a panel here, a panel there, perhaps.
Louisiana's Way Home: 11/03/18
Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo is a follow up to Raymie Nightingale taken from the point of view of the cursed daughter of trapeze artists. In the previous book she was living with her Granny in a rundown house. This book opens in the middle of the night in Granny's car just past the Georgia border.
By morning Louisiana's life as she has known it is over. She finds herself stranded in Georgia. She has learned that her entire life has been a lie. And now the woman she has known as her only family has left her behind.
Being left like that, a literal and metaphorical orphan, puts Louisiana at the top of the road narrative protagonists. She also in imbued with the art of persuasion that she has learned from Granny Elefante.
This short middle grade novel, then, is about how Louisiana Elefante finds a new home and a way to connect with the friends and pets she was forced to leave behind in Florida.
Except for her orphan status, the rest of the narrative is straightforward in terms of the spectrum. Louisiana, having traveled along a blue highway and stranded in a town served by one, is now left to find a new home. That makes the narrative an FF6633: orphan home blue highway.
Road Narrative Update for October 2018: 11/03/18
This is my second month of posting an update on the road narrative project. This monthly update is still a work in progress.
I read sixteen books (up from four the previous month):
Because it's Cybils reading season for us round one judges, this selection has a large number of middle grade fiction books. Interestingly the nominees mostly clump around 663333. Basically, that means marginalized characters (primarily because of age, in rural settings accessible by blue highways)
Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
I reviewed or analyzed eight books:
Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum
Finally I wrote these essays:
November will be even more Cybils centric but I will continue to write essays and post road narrative reviews.
The Doughnut Fix: 11/02/18
The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz opens with Tristan lamenting the fact that his parents have decided to uproot the family and move them to an old house in middle of nowhere Petersville. What Tristan misses most in his new town are the doughnuts.
On his first day into town Tristian discovers a place that once sold chocolate creme doughnuts but has stopped because they were too popular. He decides to buy the recipe and learn how to make them.
Most of the book is about Tristian learns how to make the doughnuts and how he builds his business plan. Along with learning how to bake them, he learns how to make the recipe his own.
In tone the book reminds me of All Four Stars by Tara Dairman. It's about a kid taking on an adult task and succeeding through trial and error and some guidance from the adults in their life.
In terms of the road narrative project, Tristian's work can be summarized as a 663333, or a marginalized protagonist in a rural setting and a blue highway. As Petersville is out of the way but still accessible via a car, one can assume it's a blue highway or a road that is established enough to serve a small town but isn't an interstate.
Tristian as a child, albeit a teenager, isn't expected to be able to start his own business. It is the lack of expectation by the woman who owns the doughnut recipe that primarily marginalizes Tristian. But his perseverance (and later the support of his family) results in his success and benefits the town.
October 2018 Sources: 11/02/18
I had this post mostly written when my computer froze up and deleted everything. This second attempt will unfortunately be shorter and testier.
October is the start of first round Cybils reading. That means more library books. Some of the Cybils books I had already purchased for my own fun reading. Many of the Cybils books also qualified for my research project. Those that count for the project I've put into the research category.
October's reading numbers were up from the previous months. I read thirty-seven (originally miscounted as thirty-eight). I read two brand-new books which brought my numbers down. It was one of my best Octobers but only middle of the road for this year at -2.37.
The October reading stats are nearly identical to the trend line. This past October is slightly higher than the trend line.
Looking at all previous years, October 2018 is the second lowest (best) one I've had.
Even with the two new books purchased and read in October, my average for October dropped from -1.72 to -1.79.
Amulet 8: Supernova: 11/01/18
Supernova by Kazu Kibuishi is the eighth (and penultimate) book in the Amulet series. Emily is trapped within the power of the stone she wears. Her mother and brother and friends are trying to stop the invasion of the Shadow Forces, who are in league with the Voice (the corrupting force behind / inside the stones).
It's been a thrilling ride watching the story, characters, and artwork evolve over the last ten years. What started as a simplistic seeming journey to another world by a pair of siblings has grown into an entire world with multiple compelling plots and now, with Supernova, an entire galaxy / dimension. Kibuishi has expanded his fictional world to the point that there is plenty of room for other authors / artists to explore and build new stories. That is, if he decides to go in that direction after the ninth book.
Emily and her family and the friends she's picked up along the way have had time now to learn and earn their place. Now it is time for them to work separately for a common goal. For Emily it means learning first hand about the stone's power she uses. It means exploring the Void and finding her way out.
For Navin it means traveling into space and being the pilot of a mecha. Now I must admit, I wasn't expecting a space mecha force, even though wooden house mecha have been part of the story since the very beginning. Seeing a modern, animé/manga version of the house was surprising but delightful.
As it happens, Supernova fits into the road narrative project. Frankly, the rest of the books do to but I wasn't working on the project when I started reading this series. My Amulet books are currently in storage. I will prioritize bringing them home and re-reading them.
For this one, though, it fits into the 99CCCC category. That means it is scarecrow / minotaur, uhoria, maze. I'm counting Emily's piece as the defining aspect of this book (as well as for the tales of other Stonekeepers she learns of through her journey in the Void).
Interestingly too, Supernova has both a scarecrow (the Voice / Elf King) and a minotaur (Emily / other stonekeepers). What remains of the Elf King is but a shell, a placeholder for the original person, animated by the power of the amulet and the Voice. He is beyond having any control over the stone. He has lost completely to it and is a scarecrow in the horror story sense. Emily and Trellis, though, still have enough agency to make decisions, but they are still forever tied to their stones. The stones around their necks are personal prisons, meaning they are the minotaurs in this tale.
The uhoria of this story is the Void itself. One can be stuck in there forever. One can meet oneself in there. One can be helped by one's yet to be born children in there.
As the Void can (and often is) a trap for stonekeepers, it serves as a maze. It takes great fortitude to navigate through the different rooms and find ones way out.
FF99CC and FF9999: orphans in the wildlands by maze and labyrinth: 11/01/18
Today's essay will be a hypothetical discussion of two adjacent narratives in the road narrative spectrum. Both involve an orphan or lone traveler in the wildlands, or en route to the wildlands, via a maze or a labyrinth. While maze and labyrinth can be used to mean the same thing, Kat Yeh in The Way to Bea made a compelling argument as to why they shouldn't, especially in the context of the road narrative.
I place the maze higher than the labyrinth on the "road" axis because it is more dangerous. If not dangerous, it is trickier. It has blind alleys, traps, places unknown, meant to slow down the traveler. The labyrinth is a path in and the same path out. There may be obstacles but they are on the path and are there to better the traveler through self reflection.
The labyrinth is often drawn as a symbolic brain. Looking at the character progression of Dolores Abernathy in season one of Westworld, we see the brain as labyrinth. Now in her case, it's also programming as labyrinth, in that she is made made. The "maze" that is referred to throughout the season is shown to be a drawing of a simplified brain. At the end of the season it's revealed that Dolores has managed to transcend her programming so that she can listen to her own voice in her head — ie, true sentience. Looking just at Dolores's arc, then, would count as the secondary type: FF9999 or orphan, wildlands and labyrinth.
Replace the labyrinth with a maze and you get a lone traveler who needs to either get to the wildlands or escape the wildlands by way of a tricky, trap filled route filled with blind alleys. The maze could be part of the landscape: say a series of caverns, a complex canyon, or a literal maze. One possible story could involve a character waking up inside a maze and not knowing how they got there. The process of navigating the maze brings them to the realization that they last remember crashing their car out in the middle of nowhere and now perhaps they are in a coma or even dead. If they can escape the maze they can wake up or escape death. They could also be a prisoner kept in a complex prison in the middle of nowhere. No one has managed to escape, as far as they know, but they're going to be different and pull it off.
The point is, the labyrinth in the wilderness is a more straightforward path than the maze is. That's not to say that the labyrinth is easy; it may still require dozens of attempts. The maze though, comes with larger consequences: permanent loss, death, entrapment, and so forth.
If you have any novels or movies that fit either of these narratives, let me know what they are in the comments.
October 2018 Summary: 11/01/18
Nominations for Cybils come in two parts in October. The first through the fifteenth are for the public to nominate. Then comes a ten day period ending on the twenty-fifth where publishers and authors can self nominate. Once the nominations begin rolling in and are approved, the reading begins.
Because of Cybils, my October numbers are up from August and September. I read a total of thirty-eight books, up thirteen from the previous month.
With the first month of Cybils over, I have thirty-seven books out from the library. Of that, twenty-one of them are specifically for the Cybils.
October's reading was thirteen higher than September's. Twice as many books that I read were by Writers of Color, Native, or from other countries. Nearly twice as many reviews were equally diverse.
With the year wrapping up, most of the review slots will be going to newly published books. My gap numbers will grow in November and December and by January I may very well still have some stragglers from 2016. At the moment I have twenty-three reviews leftover from 2016 and twenty-four from last year. From 2018 I have ninety-two, again a reflection of reading for the Cybils.