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December 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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The Speaker: 12/31/18

The Speaker

The Speaker by Traci Chee is the second of the Sea of Ink and Gold series. Sefia and Archer have teamed up at after escaping the Guards. The two have separate goals: the investigation of the mysterious Book and the rescuing of boys to save them from being child soldiers.

The things that I loved about the first book, The Reader, are the same things that I hated about this one. In the first volume, the Book's power and its metafiction dialogue with the reader (me, you) was one of mystery.

Now though the Book's power over Sefia's world and its relationship both to you and me as well as her as a diegetic reader, is established. It's a bit like the last third of The Neverending Story, but spread out across a separate book.

The other problem, is that clearly the metafiction pieces of The Reader were fun to write and popular with readers (you, me). So there was pressure or what have you to do more of that this time. The thing that made the first book magical now becomes gimmicky. It hinders the telling of Sefia and Archer's adventures.

The final book published earlier this year is The Storyteller.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 31): 12/31/18

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

My in-laws are visiting for the new year. I'm taking the last day to play games, work on my photographs, and put together a puzzle. I'll start reading again on Wednesday.

What I read:

  • Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Illustrator)
  • My Life as a Diamond by Jenny Manzer; publisher copy
  • Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • Ivy Aberdeen's letter to the world by Ashley Herring Blake; library book
  • Merci Surez changes gears by Meg Medina; library book
  • Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • The Red Slippers by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • P.S. I miss you by Jen Petro-Roy; personal collection
  • Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian; personal collection
  • The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • SOS at Night by M.A. Wilson
  • The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer
  • Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster; personal collection
  • The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (26)

Flotsametrics and the Floating World: 12/30/18

Flotsametrics and the Floating World

Flotsametrics and the Floating World by Curtis Ebbesmeyer promises to be about how the washing ashore of Nike shoes inspired an oceanographer to study the oceans' currents. Maybe at some point he gets around to describing the science behind currents, but not in the two thirds of a book that I slogged through.

Rather than being an oceanography book for laypeople, Flotsametrics is a disjointed memoir and a laundry list of dropped names. This book reads like an awkward conversation on a slow commuter train. You know the type — where someone sits next to you and without being asked beings to tell you their entire life story, with all the tangents. You're stuck in your seat in a crowded train and maybe there's equipment problem and you can't escape so you're forced to listen to an hour long monolog.

All I wanted was chapters about different aspects of currents. Maybe different stories of cargo ships losing their containers and things washing up in different places. Instead we get dry chapters about his childhood, his college career and different people he studied under or worked with. Weirdest thing is that he refers to himself in the third person throughout the book.

One star

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Five star books reviewed in 2018: 12/29/18

Favorite books for January through June

The year is wrapping up and I've posted my last five star review. Here is a look back at all of the five stars. I've divided them into two groups: books published this year and backlist books. Looking at all the five stars together, 35% of the years' reviews earned top marks.

Published in 2018

I reviewed 112 books published this year. Of them, 66 books earned five stars. That accounts for almost 60% of the 2018 books I read.

  1. The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  2. American Panda by Gloria Chao
  3. Bad Neighbors by Maia Chance
  4. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
  5. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
  6. Black Hammer Volume 2: The Event by Jeff Lemire
  7. Bob by Wendy Mass
  8. Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova
  9. Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman
  10. Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane
  11. The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas
  12. A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
  13. Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce
  14. Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien
  15. The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks
  16. The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz
  17. Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and, Emily Jenkins
  18. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan
  19. Foe by Iain Reid
  20. Flo by Kyo Maclear
  21. A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox (Kirsten Hubbard) and M. Shelley Coats (Michelle Schusterman)
  22. Ghostbusters 101: Everyone Answers the Call by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening
  23. Ghostbusters: Answer the Call by Kelly Thompson
  24. Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  25. Giant Days, Volume 7 by John Allison
  26. Giant Days Volume 8 by John Allison
  27. The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case by Elizabeth Eulberg
  28. Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall
  29. Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
  30. The Ice Witch by Joel Ross
  31. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
  32. The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage
  33. The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh
  34. Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  35. Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon
  36. The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas
  37. The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue
  38. Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
  39. Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  40. Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin and illustrated by Lucy Knisley
  41. Lowriders Blast from the Past by Cathy Camper and Raúl III
  42. Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
  43. The Million by Karl Schroeder
  44. Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
  45. The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel
  46. The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet
  47. Paper Girls, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan
  48. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  49. Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett
  50. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
  51. Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters by Gene Luen Yang
  52. A Side of Sabotage by C.M. Surrisi
  53. Soof by Sarah Weeks
  54. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
  55. The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates
  56. Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla
  57. Sunny by Jason Reynolds
  58. Supernova by Kazu Kibuishi
  59. Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
  60. The Terrible Two Go Wild by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell
  61. Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
  62. Weather or Not by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
  63. Whiskerella by Ursula Vernon
  64. The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
  65. The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher
  66. Young Frances by Hartley Lin

Five star backlist books reviewed in 2018

I reviewed 253 backlist books. Of them, 64 books earned top marks. That's one fourth of the backlist books reviewed.

  1. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
  2. Adventure on Whalebone Island by M.A. Wilson
  3. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  4. Bluecrowne by Kate Milford
  5. Bluff and Bran and the Snowdrift by Meg Rutherford
  6. The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas
  7. Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)
  8. Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber
  9. The Dark Lady (or Il Trio della Dama Nera) by Irene Adler
  10. The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant
  11. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
  12. Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre
  13. The Enchanted Egg by Kallie George
  14. Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle
  15. French Pressed by Cleo Coyle
  16. Giant Days, Volume 6 by John Allison
  17. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  18. Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle
  19. The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber
  20. I'll Save You Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
  21. The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford
  22. Lemons by Melissa Savage
  23. The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford
  24. Koko Be Good by Jen Wang
  25. Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins
  26. March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
  27. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan
  28. Miss Pickerell Harvests the Sea by Ellen MacGregor and Dora Pantell
  29. Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson and Michael Robertson (illustrations)
  30. Murder Most Frothy by Cleo Coyle
  31. The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson
  32. The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
  33. The Night Garden by Polly Horvath
  34. Noragami: Stray God Volume 4 by Adachitoka
  35. Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf
  36. Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
  37. Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle
  38. Oscar Lives Next Door by Bonnie Farmer and illustrated by Marie Lafrance
  39. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  40. Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower
  41. Peeny Butter Fudge by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison
  42. Questions Asked by Jostein Gaarder, Akin Duezakin (illustration), and Don Bartlett (translation)
  43. Rhymoceros by Janik Coat
  44. Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock
  45. Secret at Mystic Lake by Carolyn Keene
  46. Secrets & Sequences by Gene Luen Yang
  47. The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
  48. The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
  49. Speedy in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson
  50. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
  51. Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami
  52. Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking
  53. This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek
  54. Thornhill by Pam Smy
  55. Title Wave by Lorna Barrett
  56. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  57. 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling
  58. The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
  59. The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh
  60. Welcome to the Real World by Angela Melick
  61. Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse
  62. When the Silliest Cat Was Small by Gilles Bachelet
  63. The Witch's Glass by Holly Grant
  64. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Comments  (2)

Soof: 12/29/18


Soof by Sarah Weeks is the follow up to So B. It (2004). It's written from the perspective of the girl who was conceived near the end of the book. She is now the age Heidi was when she made her cross country journey to learn about her mother.

I must admit that I didn't even realize it was a companion piece when I bought it. It's been fourteen years between books and nearly a decade since I read So B. It. The novel though does include enough explanation in the narrative to fill in the blanks for other either forgetful readers or readers who haven't read the first book.

Aurora has grown up hearing the stories of Heidi and her luck and how she gave her luck up. The story goes that Aurora came to be when luck cured her parents of their infertility. That said, Aurora doesn't believe her parents' stories. Nor does she believe in luck.

This novel involves the visit of Heidi in the weeks before she gives birth to her child. It's a chance for Heidi and Aurora to connect. It's a chance for Aurora to believe a little in the unexpected and unexplained.

Five stars

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Hello, Universe: 12/28/18

Hello, Universe

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is a middle grade novel about a group of kids who live on the edge of a forest. Virgil Salinas is shy and embarrassed by his loud family. Valencia Somerset is deaf and loves to explore and sketch nature, and Kaori Tanaka is psychic. Then there's Chet Bullens who is the bully of the area — a monster in the middle.

Over the course of a day, all these lives will intersect. Virgil is Kaori's client. Valencia is Chet's victim. Kaori's rituals and understanding of people and the forest will help Virgil rescue Valencia.

Like this year's novel, You Go First, it's difficult to describe the book without either doing a plot summary or revealing spoilers.

Although this book is set entirely in and around a forest, it fits into the road narrative spectrum. I didn't read this book for the project but recognized aspects of spectrum while reading it. Looking at the spectrum, then, this book comes in as a 9999CC — minotaur, wildlands, maze.

It is Chet's role as the bully of the forrest, that puts the traveler aspect of this novel into the minotaur range. The forest here is the wildlands. It is the place of their adventure and for some, the place of their destination. The method of travel, though, is a maze because of the abandoned well that features so prominently as both a blind alley and a trap.

Five stars

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Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever: 12/27/18

Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever

Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell collects issues 7-12. The Runways have set up home in a hostel / underground bunker and are trying to get back to normal. Molly especially, wants to get on with her life.

The title for this sequence is double edged. First there is Molly trying to be normal in middle school. She has a friend. She has classmates. She has clubs. She can for now forget about being a "D list Avenger."

But it's also a warning. It's the threat of immortality. It's being forever 13. When a gift that's meant for Molly gets into the wrong hands, the truth behind the offer is revealed.

There are other side plots too but it was Molly's arc that kept me reading. The next collection is That Was Yesterday and comes out in April.

Four stars

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FF6699: orphans at home in the labyrinth: 12/27/18

FF6699: orphans at home in the labyrinth

Next in the road narrative spectrum is the orphan at home in the labyrinth. As I haven't yet read or watched a narrative that fits this category, my post will be speculative based on the narrative elements.

Let's suppose that Sarah didn't go after Toby once he was kidnapped by the Goblin King. Let's suppose instead that Labyrinth was told either from Toby's perspective.

Toby, were he completely removed from his family would be an orphan and a sole traveler. Were Toby to grow up in the heart of the Labyrinth he would become a more powerful person than Gareth because he would be able to harness his orphan magic.

The labyrinth of Labyrinth looks maze shaped. It even has apparent blind alleys and traps. But even with the labyrinth constantly reconfiguring itself and even with the trap doors, and the bog and the city, all roads lead Sarah to Toby. The labyrinth is disguised as a maze to give it a sense of danger; call it protective camouflage.

An orphan who lives in a labyrinth would be easy to get to compared to one living in a maze. Protection from discovery would have to be through disguise, subterfuge, or magic.

An orphan who has to travel through a labyrinth to get home would be one tied to a longer path, a path of contemplation or ritual, than one who could go directly home. Corwin and his family from the Amber series by Roger Zelazny travel the pattern (essentially a magical only to them labyrinth) that helps them recharge, travel between dimensions, and do other magic things.

Finally there could the be house that is itself a labyrinth. It could be a literal spiral. It could be built that way for old arcane reasons. The orphan could be the last of their kind, the last one who can get to the center of the house.

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Favorites of the second half of 2018: 12/26/18

Favorite books for January through June

The year is wrapping up. Since I posted my list first favorites from the first half, I've read another 164 books and I've reviewed another 180 books. Here are my favorite twelve for the last six months. The first six are books published this year. The second six are backlist book.

Click to see the favorites from January through June

Favorites published in 2018 for July through December

Favorites backlist books read and reviewed in 2018 for July through December

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Small Favor: 12/26/18

Small Favor

Small Favor by Jim Butcher is the tenth book in the Dresden Files. I listened to it performed by James Marsters. Despite his lovely voice and ability to bring the characters to life, I found myself skipping ahead at many points.

Queen Mab is calling in a favor. It involves the disappearance of Marcone the mob boss with paranormal connections. Meanwhile, the Denarians (fallen angels) and the brothers Gruff (as in were-goats) are after Harry and company.

The thing is, the who behind Marcone's disappearance is obvious. If he has a safe house — a secret, off the books hideaway — it should be difficult to predict when he's there or even where there is. Yet, the instant he walks in the attack begins. That means, it has to be an inside job.

Knowing who the insider is, does require reading previous books in the series and having a good working memory of their plots.

Given the obviousness of the plot, this book should have been a short, tightly written, character driven volume. Instead it's bloated with the same oft-repeated information about Harry's life: the blue beetle being old and beat up, his terrible childhood, his effeminate vampire half brother, his big ass dog named Mouse, etc.

Book eleven is Turn Coat (2009).

Three stars

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Inkling: 12/25/18


Inkling by Kenneth Oppel is a story of grief and the long hard recovery personified. The book opens with a spot of ink in a graphic novelist's sketchpad coming to life from all the recently rejected drawings and ideas.

Ethan, the son of the graphic novelist, has a group assignment at school that he can't escape. It's a comic book and he's been stuck with doing the initial storyboards and panels. The problem is, he can't draw.

So it's Ethan who at first to discover the living blob of ink. He's the one to name it. He's the one who feeds it the ink of the printed word and illustrations. It's Ethan who first exploits Inkling, getting it to help him on his homework.

Then there is Sarah, Ethan's sister. She was born with Down Syndrome. She speaks of herself in the third person. What she wants more than anything is a dog, even though she likes to scold animals. Inkling for the time being can fill that need, taking on a new name, Lucy.

The father, though, wallowing in his grief for his recently deceased wife, hasn't managed to write a new book or comic in months. He's weeks overdue on his assignment. He wants to use Inkling to write his new book because he's too scared — too depressed — to face his grief and to push through his creative block.

Beyond the story of avoiding grief through the exploitation of a magical creature, there is the horror side to the story. What happens if Inkling is fed too much? What happens if he is given nothing but violence and horror to read/consume? What happens if artists are no longer needed?

My one complaint with Inkling is in the characterization of the the publisher's daughter. She happens to be the same age as Ethan and happens to go to the same school. She even happens to be in the same class. She's also apparently spent her entire short life so far bullying Ethan. She has decided from the get-go that both Ethan and his father can't draw. Now that suddenly he appears to be able to, she has made up her mind to discover the reason for his sudden "skill."

I understand the need for a plot device to bring the father out of his funk and to get him and Ethan on the same side. But in a book with so few females, why do they all have to be the other? There is the dead mother. There is the sister with Down Syndrome. And there is the bully/antagonist.

Four stars

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Twelve favorite diverse books read in 2018: 12/25/18

One of my on-going reading goals is to diversify my reading and blogging. Not just more books featuring characters who aren't like me, but are also written by people who aren't like me. By life me I mean, white, middle class, American, and from California. More broadly speaking, I want to be able to recommend books that are beyond the usual white, male, cisgendered author list.

I live in a community that is evenly dived between Black, Asian, Latinx, and White. The majority of the books I purchase and read I end up donating to the local schools or other local organizations. It makes good civic sense to give books that relavent to the community.

As of today I've posted 359 reviews. 203 of them count towards the diverse/inclusive goal. That's 57% of the total reviews, just above my 51% goal. Likewise, I've read 334 books and 193 books count towards the goal. That represents 58% of my reading. With that in mind, it was delightfully hard to select twelve favorites (one from each month).

Click on a title to read the post.

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Harbor Me: 12/23/18

Harbor Me

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is a freeform, almost stream of consciousness tale of a group of teens talking together. They have a room at school that is unsupervised where they can just shoot the breeze. Through their monologues we learn about each of the students and their troubles at home and at school.

I'm going to hazard a guess that this book would work better for me as an audiobook. The problem is the mixture of free form text and the lack of quotation marks for the recorded dialog. My inner voice just doesn't render this type of book well.

Most readers, though, seem to love the book. If you're looking for a character driven, monolog style of prose, this will work for you.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 24): 12/24/18

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

Here it is Christmas eve. We're having a quiet time at home, just the four of us and our cats. My daughter and I are making lasagna Napoli for dinner. Dessert will be mint ice cream and sprinkles.

I didn't do any painting this past week. With it being the last week of school I was busy running last minute errands before the holidays. Plus my kids' schedules were more erratic which meant less time for painting.

What I read:

  • The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm; personal collection
  • Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames; library book
  • Inkling by Kenneth Oppel and Sydney Smith (illustrations); personal collection
  • Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Illustrator)
  • My Life as a Diamond by Jenny Manzer; publisher copy
  • Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • P.S. I miss you by Jen Petro-Roy; personal collection
  • Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian; personal collection
  • The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis; personal collection
  • Ivy Aberdeen's letter to the world by Ashley Herring Blake; library book


Reviews Posted

Comments  (12)

Blowing Clear: 12/23/18

Blowing Clear

For nearly twenty years, I've been working through (in no particular order) the novels of Joseph C. Lincoln. My first foray into his fictional Cape Cod, was Partners of the Tide about a pair of salvage men and a pair of women who run a boarding house.

I have been a happy visitor, living in different eras, having different adventures. Blowing Clear by Joseph C. Lincoln, is the first one in ten novels that I truly haven't enjoyed. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what was going on.

This one opened with a family of vacationers adrift at sea. The husband leaves his wife and child to get help, which he eventually finds, with Hi and Lo.

Then it changes to sort of the origin story of Hi and Lo. Hi discovers that he has a son, whose mother has recently died. Although he's never met the boy, he brings the boy to live with him and Lo but tells the boy (and everyone else) that he's his uncle, not his father.

For whatever reason, I had no luck following this plot, or being invested in the characters. Stuff happened. I read words. Nothing really stuck and the whole thing ended up being a huge chore to finish.

Two stars

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Little Red Rodent Hood: 12/22/18

Little Red Rodent Hood

Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon is the sixth in the Harriet Hamsterbone series. Harriet and Wilbur are recruited to save a young hamster and her grandmother from weaslewolves. Meanwhile word in the forest is that something terrible is happening to the weaslewolves.

There's a traditional doll that tells Little Red Riding Hood tale with the flip of some cloth. Red becomes the grandmother who becomes the wolf. That doll was in the back of my mind throughout reading book six.

Red is a metaphorical monster and her grandmother is a literal one. Her grandmother, who in other stories is inside the wolf who is now cosplaying as her, is in fact, a wereweaselwolf. She is ashamed of her affliction and has decided to rid the forest of the monsters who made her so.

The weaselwolves have their own agenda too. Their leader has his own secret. And it's tied to Harriet. So there's Harriet who is now the rope in a tug of war because of an impulsive move she made in the first book.

Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon has a messy situation that is as complex a moral dilemma as is present in The Wonder Engine, just toned down for a middle grade audience.

This adventure also happens fit into the road narrative spectrum.

By now it's been established that Harriet and Wilbur are destined to be a couple in the romantic sense. For the time being they are best friends but now do most of their adventuring together. For the sake of this book, they are therefore traveling as a couple (33). It means together they are relatively safe — though not as safe as when Harriet travels by herself.

The destination is the woods, both for Red and her grandmother's home, as well as the weaselwolves. The woods here are dangerous, not well mapped, and certainly not tamed. That means it's not as magical as a cornfield but still has the potential for surprise. The woods as a wildlands is 99.

Finally, there is the road. It's drawn like it's a dirt road, but well-traveled. Since the original blue highways were often nothing more than pounded down dirt, this road qualifies as a blue highway (33).

Put all together, Little Red Rodenthood comes in as a 339933.

As of writing this review I don't see an announcement of a seventh book. I hope there is one. If there is, I will definitely be reading it. In the meantime, I plan to read through her Dragonbreath series.

Five stars

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Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™: 12/21/18

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative short story that fits beautifully into the road narrative project. If you haven't read or listened to the story via Levar Burton's podcast, stop reading this review. While analyzing this story I will be revealing spoilers.

This story is told in second person present tense. That means, you the reader are being immersed in into the protagonist's experience. You are, in fact, getting the "authentic Indian experience."

At first glance, this story is about cultural appropriation. A Pueblo man is supporting his wife through these virtual tours. He has to act "more authentic" than he really is, meaning he has to show up in the Hollywood and Zane Grey version of the Indian experience. It means having to put up with white people who claim to be related to an "Indian Princess" but can't accept that Native people might be living in the city and consuming the same pop culture they are.

If you're familiar with how second person present tense stories you'll know where Roanhorse's story is headed. You will see a clear map or at least a limited number of probably outcomes.

If you're not, then eighty or ninety percent of the story will seem like the story should be classified with Summerlost by Ally Condie (666633: marginalized, home, Blue Highway). At this level it seems like a marginalized character whose story is centered around home and the blue highway that takes them to and from work.

But here's the thing. The big thing. "Marginalized" writers — the catch all phrase for the majority of the world that isn't white — don't cast themselves as "marginalized" characters. I'm not saying that they whitewash themselves (no that's again white people adapting stories for white consumption). No. They create characters who are people first — just people who are part of their culture. And then they make them heroes or monsters or rock stars or whatever else type of protagonist they want.

The fact that white writers are most often the ones writing stories about how dangerous it is to not be white is why I put the "marginalized" protagonist so near the bottom of the character spectrum.

So if the protagonist isn't just a Pueblo tour guide in virtual reality, what is he? Or rather, who are you? What happens when your most annoying client takes over your life. What happens when your home life seems to be devolving into the start of Mildred Pierce but from the husband's point of view?

It's the point where you, the reader, takes a step back from being you the tour guide, and you realize that it's not playing tour guide that's the authentic experience, it's the obliteration of self through cultural appropriation that is the authentic experience.

For the "twist" at the end, the short story reveals itself to actually be a 9966CC or a minotaur at home in the maze. By minotaur, I mean someone who is trapped in their existence. The home is the home life that becomes the final battle ground for the protagonist. The maze is the virtual reality simulation.

See also:

Five stars

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FF66CC: Orphans at home in the maze: 12/21/18

FF66CC: Orphans at home in the maze

In the middle of the orphan as traveler neighborhood is the orphan at home in the maze. I'm stating it this way, rather than an orphan finding their way home through the maze because my primary example is Greenglass House, also known as Lansdegown, or 蓝冠, the home featured in three middle grade fantasies by Kate Milford: Greenglass House, Ghosts of Greenglass House, and (though in a different category on the spectrum), Bluecrowne. Greenglass House, like it's nearby home town of Nagspeake, is an unmappable space.

The orphan who lives in the present day Greenglass House is Milo Pines. He is a literal orphan, adopted by the present owners. In two different Christmastime events, while homebound, Milo goes on a metaphorical road trip through role playing with a ghost. Reality is often blurred through Milo's playtime. Also, though, is time and space.

Some of the inconsistencies in the spaces that are described can be attributed to Milo's imagination, but some of it is the house and the nearby town. It is through the roleplaying that the reader learns about the history and magic behind Nagspeake. As Nagspeake's unusual history and features (the changeable streets and canals) are corroborated by adults not partaking in Milo's gaming, the other facts learned in the gaming can be assumed to be true too.

The gaming sessions brings to light a road narrative story that is broken apart into three components — and I must admit, part of the inspiration for how I built the categories for my own road narrative spectrum. First, there is a sole traveler who through magic shoes can turn any path into a well made road. Next is a lantern that can help a person find their way no matter how confusing or changeable the path is (good in Nagspeake where the streets, canals, and even the buildings themselves, rearrange themselves at whim). Finally, there is a building that can't be blueprinted in or near a town that can't be mapped. It doesn't take much to conclude the house being described is Milo's home.

Milo then, as a literal (but now adopted) orphan living in a home that is changeable, is the extreme example.

Other versions of this narrative could be a literal orphan having to get through a maze to get home. If it were dystopian, the maze could be a ritual of survival, or a survival of the fittest. A metaphorical orphan — a lone traveler — could find themselves in a maze and need to escape. The maze could also be metaphorical, a place with blind alleys or other traps. It could be manmade or nature made — a cave for instance. It could be a story of being marooned. Finally there is the home. Home is a safe place. In the American road narrative, it's a goal, an ending.

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The Divided Earth: 12/20/18

The Divided Earth

The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks is the third book and final book in the Nameless City graphic novel series. The city is now held by rogue Dao prince Ezri. Meanwhile an army of Dao and Yisun is marching on the city.

Kaidu and Rat are working together to return the book to the Named so that it can no longer be used to make weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, Kaidu's father has left the city to find help. He discovers it in an unlikely source — his wife.

There are those who want to destroy the city. There are those who want to occupy it. There are others who accept that the city will never be what it once was. There are others who have lived in the city all their lives and know no different, no matter what their ties to other places may be.

Basically, it's a mess. It's a powder keg. It's a war waiting to happen.

Each of these three books have places in the road narrative spectrum, even though the majority of the action takes place within the walls of the city and on its rooftops.

A diagram of where the three books sit on the road narrative spectrum

Volume 3 expands the coupling (through friendship) of Kaidu and Rat to family (both through Kaidu's parents, as well as Rat's extended adopted family) (33). They are all focused on saving the Nameless City (00). They all travel various off road routes to attain that goal (66).

The previous two volumes are also fairly realistic fiction. They are snuggly placed with the earliest examples of road narratives: the romantic ones where love was found on the open road while traveling in the newly built automobile.

Volume one, The Nameless City is a 336666. It's a couple (Kaidu and Rat as new friends), home (Kaidu learning how to make the Nameless City a home from Rat), and most of their exploration is done off road (mostly on the rooftops).

Volume two, The Stone Heart is a 3300FF. The pair of friends (33) are still exploring the city (00) by way of the cornfield (FF). The cornfield, here is a literal one, one that is tended to by the Named. It serves as a visual metaphor for the barriers between Kaidu and Rat. It's only after those differences are worked through, that Kaidu fully understands that the Kaidu doesn't need the Dao to be free.

Five stars

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The Law of Finders Keepers: 12/19/18

The Law of Finders Keepers

The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage is the fourth of the Mo & Dale mysteries. Tupelo Falls is abuzz over the news of pirate treasure. Meanwhile, the Colonel and Miss Lana have given Mo a pair of vital clues regarding the identity of her upstream mother now that she is old enough to handle the information.

I'm going to admit that I've never read this series for the upstream mother side plot. That Mo is a foundling is neither her nor there. Lots of kids are raised under unusual circumstances. She is loved and well cared for. I also never expected there to be a solution to this on-going mystery, but there is.

The fun part of this book is the pirate treasure mystery. It involves old attics, buried treasure, mirror writing, multiple maps, and numerous people racing to find the treasure. It reminds me of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World (1963). The differences are: it's a middle grade mystery, the caper is set within the bounds of a single city, the treasure is historical rather than contemporary.

This is the conclusion to the series, ending with the truth behind Mo's birth and appearance in Tupelo Falls. There's nothing about Mo and Dale's friendship or their underage detective agency that couldn't continue to solve mysteries in the town. Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if a few years down the line a new adventure or two are written.

Five stars

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Twelve favorite Road Narrative Spectrum books read in 2018: 12/19/18

Fridays I post a review of a book that qualifies for my road narrative spectrum project. This is a research / narrative analysis project I'm doing for fun. It stems from a thesis I had planned in 1997 when I thought I would be continuing on to a PhD program. When that didn't happen, I shelved the project for 18 years.

I restarted the project in 2015. I started by re-reading things I remembered reading at the first go. Initially my project was going to be film and television based. Since then my interests have gone more literary. I run a book blog. So this time around, my projecti s primarily book based and fiction based.

In 2018 I had a breakthrough in how my project is organized and how it is focused. Midway through I realized I could quantify and catalog the books I've been reading in terms of web-safe colors. I could have done anything, but more than twenty years of also working as a web designer and a painter has made me a person who things in color and can think in hexadecimal colors.

The following twelve books are ones that helped me make progress with my project. Click on the titles to read the reviews.

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The Lotterys More or Less: 12/18/18

The Lotterys More or Less

The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue is the sequel to Lotterys Plus One. It's set during last year's ice storm between Hanukkah and Christmas.

Sumac loves the winter holidays in Toronto. She's put together a huge family calendar of everything her family has done in the past and what they plan to do this year. But now it looks like nothing is going right.

One of her dads and her oldest brother are in India. With the weather, they won't make it home in time. Then there is Luiz, their Brazilian couch surfer. He should be on his way before the holidays but he's also stranded by the weather and by an injury.

Tucked into this book of weather driven chaos is some commentary on Brian. In the first book Brian is introduced as girl who has decided she's a boy, but Sumac refers to Brian with feminine pronouns. This time around there's a flashback showing Brian learning about other transgender people and the use of the single they. When asked if she wants to be a he or a they, Brian refuses to answer. So for now, Brian is a boy with feminine pronouns not for familial pressure as implied in the first book, but for personal choice.

My favorite scene involves a phone call with the family members stuck in India regarding storm preparations. The dad who had gotten the house ready for the ice storm had forgotten (or just assumed) the the other three parents knew what he had done. None of them did and so the remaining family had been suffering needlessly.

It's a story of a family adjusting to the unexpected. It covers the ups and downs. It's not one tragedy after another. There are some fun times too, like the Polar Bear Plunge.

Five stars

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Twelve Favorite graphic novels read in 2018: 12/17/18

On Thursdays I feature a review of a graphic novel, comic book, or heavily illustrated book. Here are my favorite books read and reviewed this year. Some of these are from series and are later ones in their respective series. Some of them are middle grade mysteries. Most of them were published this year.

Click on the titles to read the reviews.

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The Parker Inheritance: 12/17/18

The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson is a standalone middle grade mystery that spans three generations of a primarily black neighborhood in Lambert, South Carolina.

The book opens with Candice Miller and her recently divorced mother arriving at her grandmother's home. The grandmother, has recently died and they are here to clean out the house, fix it up, and sell it. It's a chance to get away from the pain of the divorce — a time for Mom to clear her head.

Then there's Brandon Jones, a young gay boy who adores reading but would prefer Candice check out books for him to avoid further teasing. He tends to like "girl" books and that just adds to the brutal teasing and bullying he faces on a daily basis, especially now that school is out for summer.

Together they discover a letter written to Candice's grandmother that is one part a tale of revenge against a once powerful local white business mogul and one part promise of a huge fortune to whomever can solve the riddle. The treasure is the source of the book's title and the riddle as well as the overall plot of the book draws inspiration from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978).

Finally, I need to mention the book's design. Like Bull by David Elliott (2017), the book uses the paper and ink color to inform you of the timeline in the narrative. There are traditionally typeset pages, pages done on varying shades of gray paper, and finally inverse, where the page is black and the text is white.

I'm going to admit right here that my first attempt at reading Johnson's latest book was a complete and utter failure. The Parker Inheritance requires concentration and focus on details. It cannot be skimmed. It cannot be read while distracted. I am so glad I went back and tried a second time.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 17): 12/17/18

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

I'm officially done with the Cybils this year. Stop by the Cybils website on January 1st to see what the short lsits are.

Sad Hei Hei

With everything back to normal, I was able to finish my silly "Sad Hei Hei" painting for my daughter.

Rockaway Beach, Pacifica, seascape, a WIP

Now I'm well into my first of three landscape paintings I have planned. The one I'm working on now is based on a photograph of Rockaway Beach I took a few years back. It's been about twenty-five years since I last painted a seascape. They aren't my usual subject.

Bruce the Spruce

Sunday my husband and daughter picked out a Christmas tree for our home. We always get a living, in a pot, tree. This year we have Bruce the Spruce. After the holidays we'll transplant him to a larger pot. He'll eventually get up to eight feet tall. He'll be good for another four Christmases, give or take, and then we'll transplant him on our hill.

For the remainder of this month (and year!) I plan to focus on the 2018 published books I purchased but haven't read yet. Whatever ones I don't finish I'll keep reading in January.

What I read:

  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson; library book
  • Eggs in Purgatory by Laura Childs; library book
  • The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue; personal collection
  • The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection by Faith Erin Hicks

What I'm reading:

  • The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm; personal collection
  • Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott; personal collection
  • Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames; library book
  • Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Illustrator)

Up Soon:

  • My Life as a Diamond by Jenny Manzer; publisher copy
  • Inkling by Kenneth Oppel and Sydney Smith (illustrations); personal collection
  • Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; library book
  • Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (18)

Promise the Night: 12/16/18

Promise the Night

Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl is a fictionalization of the tweenage years of Beryl Markham, best known for her career as a pilot. She raised in what's now Kenya, the daughter of a man who raised horses. She wrote about her time growing up along side the boys of the nearby village.

This book chronicles the arrival of the mistress of Beryl's father. She sets out to civilize Beryl, who would rather hang out with the village boys and learn how to be a warrior.

The story didn't gel for me. To show young Beryl and the headstrong, adventurer that she grew up to be, every scene is crafted to show her going against authority or being as masculine as possible. Instead, we're given a handbook of white privilege and colonialism.

The local boys and the man who train to be warriors are written in that annoying exotic styled English to show how different they are, even though at their first meeting with Beryl, it's stated plainly that she is bilingual. Somehow though, her sentences come across as proper English, while theirs do not. There is no reason beyond racism to write it this way.

The best parts of the book are the interstitial snippets of articles and interviews with adult Beryl regarding her aviation. While they are probably meant to parallel her childhood adventures, they instead serve to frustrate the reader by giving glimpses of a much more compelling story, and one that doesn't rely on cultural appropriation.

Two stars

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The Rhino in Right Field: 12/15/18

The Rhino in Right Field

The Rhino in Right Field by Stacy DeKeyser is set in 1948 Milwaukee, Wisconsin, near the Washington Park Zoo. Nick and his best friend Ace love baseball and play in park that abuts the zoo. When the ball goes over the fence, it lands in the rhino enclosure. It's just part of the game.

When the local baseball team holds a contest for local kids to be bat boys, Nick and Ace want nothing more than to win. There are just two problems: Nick's Greek parents want him to work in their store on Saturdays, and the contest is only open to boys. Ace is a girl.

It was refreshing to see a group of boys be supportive of the girl in their group, on their team. In this case, the people against Ace being a bat boy were the adults (primarily the male ones).

The setting made me smile, bringing to mind the relationship between San Diego High School and the San Diego Zoo. The two grew up together as well, with the elephant enclosure being near the baseball field. I don't know if any balls made it to the elephants but I can imagine it happening.

Four stars

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Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity: 12/14/18

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark is a roadtrip to a wedding. Jess's father is getting remarried and it's the first time he'll being seeing his daughter now that she's started to transition. Christophe — who Jess rudely calls Chunk for most of the book — is a long time friend and is doing her a huge favor.

Along the way Jess and Christophe run into a girl who is in the middle of breaking up with her boyfriend. For reasons that will take too long to explain here, they end up at her house where things go to hell in a hand-basket, as my grandmother would say.

As a transgender story, the book is lacking. The main problem is that the author is writing it from the perspective of a parent of a transgender child. She has essentially written this book to work through her fears for her child. That's fine but it makes Jess's voice sound less genuine and the boogeymen on the road more threatening.

Initially I thought this book settled higher up on the road narrative spectrum at a 660000 (marginalized city interstate), which is where For Today I am a Boy by Kim Fu sits. It certainly starts there but later with pacing similar to The Graduate by Charles Webb, Christophe manages to blurt out his love for Jess and she reciprocates, thus lowering the book's placement to 330000 (couple city interstate).

The coupling at the end while awkwardly romantic, also feels a bit like a cop-out. The couple as road narrative protagonist are safe (or rather, the woman is safe) because of the privileged man. If they are a fat kid and a trans-woman traveling together as friends, they are narrationally less safe than if they are a couple.

Four stars

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FF66FF: orphan home cornfield: or who lives alone in a cornfield?: 12/14/18

FF66FF: orphan home cornfield: or who lives alone in a cornfield?

Midway through the orphan as traveler section of the road narrative spectrum is the home destination. When combined with the most dangerous or fantastical route, namely, the cornfield, weird things can happen.

The orphan as I've shown before is the most magical of travelers. They are the most protected from the dangers of the road, and if the trope is turned on its head, are the most dangerous of travelers to the road.

Home is in the middle of the road narrative destinations because it's so often in opposition to the road narrative. Travelers either leave home to go somewhere or are somewhere and want to get home. At the most extreme, they go somewhere impossible — a utopia — and need to get home. At the most banal, they leave home for the big city.

Home comes into play as the destination either for nostalgia — someone returning home after years away because they haven't found what they need or they have, and wish to make amends for previous trespasses against kith and kin at home. The prodigal son story is a classic example of the latter kind.

Or home can be used as a horror setting. Home should be safe from the road. If you're not putting yourself out there, danger should stay at bay. But sometimes horror comes home.

When home is placed in relationship to a path through the cornfield, it is either the start of a fantasy story or a horror story. What lies beyond the cornfield? Is it a path to the impossible — say a trip to Oz either by cyclone or by road?

An orphan at home in a cornfield could leave the safe and mundane, the safe space, for something unknown, potentially dangerous, and fantastical by crossing the cornfield. An orphan who choses to stay at home in a horror story will be visited by the fantastical and the dangerous that chose to cross the cornfield for a visit.

And then there's the twist of the dangerous orphan who calls the cornfield home. That's the premise of Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant (2017). The picture book with a rather Dadaist poetic text follows a girl who lives by herself in the wilderness where she has numerous adventures: riding bears, climbing trees, escaping wolves, communing with owls, swimming in bogs, and so forth. But the innocent magic of that is called into question when she is drawn to a regular looking home where the very book you're reading is being read. On hearing her story, she makes a bed for herself in the yard of family and disappears, implying that she'll be heading to your yard soon to hear the story again.

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Giant Days Volume 8: 12/13/18

Giant Days Volume 8

Giant Days Volume 8 by John Allison comes at the end of the second year at university. This one is all about rivalries, tested friendships, and bad boyfriends and girlfriends.

In previous volumes I've fan-girled most heavily over Daisy but volume, especially the first chapter (issue) featuring Esther finding her groove and then being thwarted by a devious bohemian had me in stitches. I'm frankly shocked that I didn't live blog all my favorite panels.

Susan's adorable but difficult to live with girlfriend is driving force for the middle section of this volume. She doesn't do cold. She steals food. She doesn't wash up. She leaves spoons in bedrooms, and so forth. There's a hilarious point where Daisy tries to move into her girlfriend's dorm to sleep on a shelf out of the way. It doesn't go well.

Volume 9 which collects issues 33-36 comes out in February, 2019.

Five stars

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Twelve favorite mysteries read in 2018: 12/13/18

On Wednesdays I feature a review of a mystery or thriller. Here are my favorite books read and reviewed this year. Some of these are from series and are later ones in their respective series. Some of them are middle grade mysteries. Most of them were published this year.

Click on the titles to read the reviews.

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Charlie & Frog: 12/12/18

Charlie & Frog

Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane is the first book in the Castle-on-the-Hudson middle grade mystery series. Charlie has been sent to Upstate New York to stay with his TV loving grandparents while his parents work to save giant golden moles.

Charlie has learned how to finger spell as a family way to communicate. It comes in unexpectedly handy when he meets a Deaf woman at the library who appears to be in trouble. When she disappears before he can actually help, the librarian points him in the direction of the Flying Hands Cafe, which is at the top of a hill and is part of the Castle, a school for the Deaf.

(I'm picturing this place as somewhere in the vicinity of two real world on-Hudson towns)

It's at the cafe that Charlie meets Francine, aka Frog. They're the same age and she's desperate for anything to do beyond working in the cafe. He has a mystery and she loves solving them. It's a win-win.

Frog, it turns out is Deaf. She has a hearing sister who is more or less willing to help Charlie learn the basics of ASL beyond finger spelling. Mostly though it's Charlie's own interest and enthusiasm that helps him learn so quickly.

The book has two mysteries. The first is the present day one. Who is the woman and why does she need help? And when she goes missing, where is she? Then there's an older mystery involving an alumna of the school.

Each chapter title is rendered either in finger spelling or as an illustration showing the sign being used. As Charlie's understanding of the language improves the chapter titles become more complex. Likewise, as his skills improve, more and more of the grammar of ASL bleeds into the text. It's a subtle but effective way to convey the differences in the language and to teach a little bit of it with out interrupting the narrative flow.

The book also fits into the road narrative spectrum. I place it at 336666 which puts it snugly in realistic fiction.

As Frog and Charlie work together, I'm tagging them as a couple, as in two travelers (33). As it's a middle grade fiction, they aren't a romantic couple but they are very clearly partners and equals.

The majority of the narrative centers on the idea of home as well as a literal home (66). Charlie once he befriends Frog realizes that Castle-on-Hudson could be the home he doesn't currently have with his parents traveling and it would be better than being shipped off to a boarding school he's never even heard of. Meanwhile, much of the investigating takes place at the school which is Frog's home.

The primary road, with the school-as-home being the destination, is the gondola which takes students to and from the school. That means of transportation I'm counting as off-road (66) but given it's fixed path, it could serve as a railroad. However, the gondola's path is more dangerous / less consistent than either an Interstate or a railroad, so I'm not putting it in the most safe category.

This book is a great start to a promising middle grade mystery series. The second book is The Boney Hand and it comes out May 14th, 2019.

Five stars

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Thirteen favourite Canadian reads of 2018: 12/12/18

As the year is wrapping up, it's time to talk about favourite reads. I'm going to do things differently this year and talk about the types of books I feature. Tuesdays, for instance, I review a book by a Canadian author, or set in Canada, or somehow about Canada. I have family in Canada so it's my way of staying connected with them.

Typically when I post my lists, I go for an even dozen because I pick a favourite book from each month. Canada, though, gets a baker's dozen since it has thirteen provinces/territories. My reading, though, isn't one from each. My reading is primarily west coast (British Columbia) focused with Quebec coming in second. Two of the books are set in the Bay Area of California — near where I live — but the authors are Canadian.

Click on the titles to read the posted reviews. While most of the books were released this year, not all of them were. The oldest Canadian book I read this year, was actually published in 1851 (but it didn't make my list of favourites.

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Very Rich: 12/11/18

Very Rich

Very Rich by Polly Horvath is set in Ohio in the present, but in that odd uhoric timelessness of the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall. Rupert Brown is one of many siblings, growing up extremely poor in Steelville.

At the other extreme is the River family, the owners of the big factor in Steelville. They all live together in a mansion and don't worry about things like budgets or clothing or food or any of things that Rupert can only dream of having.

On Christmas, Rupert, cold and tired and starving stumbles to school is surprised to see it closed and tries to head home. On the way, he ends up trapped in the security gate of the River mansion. When he ends up on the grounds, he's invited to Christmas dinner.

The extremes of the Christmas meal as well as the farcical behaviour of the different River family members goes to the extremes of Roald Dahl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Things end badly for Rupert, thus setting off the remaining two thirds of the book. Each of the member River family wants to apologize for how Rupert was treated during Christmas. Each of these adventures involves some level of fantasy, again in a Roald Dahl fashion.

Despite being a rather episodic and nonsensical book, it fits snuggly in what's typically the horror section of the road narrative spectrum. With a marginalized boy (for his poverty and the way he's ignored by his parents) traveling through time (and for the rather timeless nature of the setting) along a blue highway (to small towns and cities in an otherwise ordinary Ohio), it's a 66CC33. While what Rupert's home life is horrific it's played for comedy just as Charlie Bucket's situation is.

While I enjoyed bits and pieces of the book and found it an interesting execution given the narrative building blocks, I didn't find the overall story satisfying. There was no satisfying conclusion. The book ends with Rupert having had some bizarre adventures but otherwise in the same spot he was at the start of book.

It's not that I expected a happy ending but her other books typically end at a higher place than where they start. Even when the narrative has an open-ended conclusion, the protagonists usually end up in a better place. But this time she's not so subtly commenting on the growing divide between the very poor and the very rich.

Three stars

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If Someone Says 'You Complete Me,' RUN!: 12/10/18

If Someone Says 'You Complete Me,' RUN!

If Someone Says “You Complete Me," RUN! by Whoopi Goldberg is part memoir and part self help book. Goldberg uses the outline of her adult life to give relationship and self esteem advice.

I admit that I came for the memorable title but I stayed for the straight up, oft-times brutal advice. Basically, the take away is, don't get in a relationship with someone who wants you to be their better or missing half.

Now, of course, that advice doesn't take into account people with mental health issues — depression, OCD, anxiety, etc. All those things can make it hard to love oneself and to feel like one is giving an equal amount to a relationship. Her advice isn't saying don't fall in love if you're not 100% happy or self confident or don't fall in love with someone who isn't either of those things.

Instead, the advice is to avoid those toxic people who gaslight or abuse the power dynamic. Avoid those who talk a good talk and know how to push all the right buttons, because they probably know how to push all the wrong ones too and will eventually.

The final take away, is that it is okay to be single. A person doesn't need a relationship or a marriage to be a "complete person."

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 10): 12/10/18

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

I finished the painting of the hen, completing my ten painting series of birds. My next big project will be three landscape paintings. I'm thinking two local views and one from a road trip. Although I might two one local, one from the Sierra Nevadas and one from Wyoming. If I get on a roll, I might do more. Hen painting in shades of orange and purple

Before I get started with the landscapes, I owe my daughter a painting of "Sad Hei Hei." When she was in 5th grade I took a quiz on her favorite things as part of back to school night. I forgot at the time that her favorite film of the moment was Moana. So when I was "correcting" my work, I drew a quick doodle of Hei Hei with a tear down his face. I promised to turn it into a painting and then the move happened. Anyway, I'm nearly finished with it. Sad Hei Hei WIP

The rest of the week was trying. I'm not going to say awful because it could have been so much worse. The shot version is we had a family emergency. My husband ended up in the hopsital over night on Monday. He's basically fine but is still recovering. We have to make changes. Again, not a big deal — just an adjustment.

His illness came when our daughter was recovering from the flu. Then while he was recovering, he too came down with the flu. And now I have it. I am exhausted. The flu could have also been worse. We did all have flu shots so what we have is fairly mild.

What I read:

  • The Bigfoot Files by Linday Eager; personal collection
  • Breakout by Kate Messner; library book
  • Fire Storm by Andy Lane; library book
  • Very Rich by Polly Horvath; personal collection
  • Secret sisters of the salty sea by Lynne Rae Perkins; library book
  • Awkward> by Svetlana Chmakova; personal collection
  • The Hollow Under the Tree by Cary Fagan; library book
  • Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson; library book
  • The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm; personal collection
  • The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue; personal collection
  • The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection by Faith Erin Hicks

Up Soon:

  • Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott; personal collection
  • Eggs in Purgatory by Laura Childs; library book
  • Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames; library book
  • Runaways, Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Illustrator)


Reviews Posted

Comments  (12)

Seldom Disappointed: 12/09/18

Seldom Disappointed

Seldom Disappointed by Tony Hillerman is a memoir by the creator the Navajo Mystery series, published seven years before his death. A slim volume, it still manages to cover childhood, WWII, early career as a newspaper reporter, being a parent, and settling into a career as an author.

Oddly, I find memoirs by people whose work I'm interested in the most difficult to read. For whatever reason, their books never seem to spend enough time on the bits I'm most curious about. That's certainly the case here.

Much of the book — a good third at least — is spent on Hillerman's experience in WWII. Of course he was part of the generation that fought in the war. He was one of ones who signed up, rather than being drafted. But his youthful enthusiasm and patriotism — all the reasons that went into him making the decision to enlist don't translate well to book form.

In fact much of the book is rather dry and tedious to read.

The most interesting bits of book are how he got into being a journalist, his decision to adopt, a story about the time that his son and friend got separated from him during a fishing trip, and finally the mystery series he's most known for.

It was most fascinating to learn how Jim Chee came into being — as a way to get some control over the series after Hillerman sold the rights to his earliest books to Hollywood for a movie and then a television series — described in the planning stages as Hawaii 5-0 but with Indians. It was also a chance to do a better job at character creation after all the goofs he made with Joe Leaphorn.

That said, it was frankly a relief to finish the book.

Three stars

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Just Like Jackie: 12/08/18

Just Like Jackie

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard is about Robinson Hart who lives with her grandfather. She loves baseball and she loves being named for Jackie Robinson. She hates being called Robin and she punches bullies. Her grandfather has Alzheimer's and it's taking its toll on him and his ability to care for her.

Jackie meanwhile is in trouble at school for punching a white spoiled brat of a bully. His parents encourage his behavior and the school wants to put the two kids together in mandatory counseling.

Then to drive home the fact that Jackie has very little in the way of home support, her teacher assigns a family tree as a class project. This is the second middle grade book I've read this year where a family tree is used as this type of plot device. The other book was Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin. In my own experience as a student and a parent, I've never seen a family tree assigned as classwork — beyond an art class I took and there it was a creative thinking project, rather than a report / chart of who are related to.

Like Penelope, Robinson has to press her grandfather for the story of her history. We learn how he, a black man, had a romantic relationship with a white woman. We learn how they didn't marry but how he got to learn about their daughter and how she came to leave Robinson in his care (and why he ended up naming her).

But that family drama is buried under the counseling plot and the Alzheimer's plot. I know they're all supposed to be part of something bigger but it just didn't gel for me in the same way that all of Penelope's plots came together in the service of building her family tree.

Three stars

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: 12/07/18

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier is the story of an orphan in Victorian London, forced by circumstances to be a chimney sweep. She has memories of stories told to her by the Sweep which keep her going. But when she nearly burns to death she sees near tragedy as an opportunity to live her own life.

Nan Sparrow finds at her side an animated soot creature, like a soot sprite but bigger, growing, and more intelligent. She names her magical companion, Charlie.

Nan sets up a new home in an abandoned house. It's a multilevel affair with so many chimneys that whoever lived there couldn't afford the taxes. She and Charlie live there together. She teaches him and he helps her organize the place.

But this being set in Victorian London, there's no real escape for Nan from her previous life. The man she used to work for wants her to stay dead.

Although this book is set in London, it has elements of a road narrative. IF this book were told from Charlie's point of view, it would have been a 9900CC or scarecrow, city, maze. But as it's told from the orphan's point of view, it comes in higher up on the spectrum, as a FF00CC.

The 00 is for London. It is a city and all of the action takes place within the confines of it. The CC is for the maze which is in multiple forms: the chimneys she sweeps (and their dangers), the old house she is hiding in with all it's crumbling weird rooms, and finally for London itself with all of its layer of architecture, blind alleys and other dangers.

Three stars

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FF9933 Orphan Wildlands Blue Highway: 12/07/18

FF9933 Orphan Wildlands Blue Highway

Midway down the orphan piece of the spectrum, going from the most fantastic towards the horror genre, is the orphan in or through the wildlands by way of the interstate or railroad.

The protagonist traveler is either a solo traveler or is a literal orphan. As a solo traveler, the "orphan" has nothing else to lose and must do what ever they can to survive the journey. The literal orphan, though, is protected by their very status of being the sole survivor.

The wildlands are the negative spaces between roads and their mapped destination. These unmapped, forgotten places, can serve as destinations. The can be a time for traveler to find themselves through survival in an untamed area. They can be a place to escape from, if for instance the protagonist has been kidnapped or carwrecked. Or in the case of Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked (but I would stick him down at the bottom, as a privileged traveler).

And then there is the road, the interstate or rail road. This is a direct path, what should be a safe path. It bypasses the wildlands, going over them, around them, or even through them via tunnels sometimes. The wildlands are walled off, fenced off, and otherwise made as inaccessible as possible through roadway architecture.

One example of this narrative is Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci. It follows a teenage girl who dresses as a boy and joins a band of hobos during the Great Depression. Her journey along the railroad lines is a mixture of coming of age and self discovery.

Other Possible plots:

  • Literal orphan emerges from the wildlands and is picked up alongside an interstate rest stop. Orphan is magical and brings a change of luck to the family or town that adopts them.
  • Loan traveler wakes up in a wooded area in a wrecked car and has find their way out because no one is coming to the rescue.
  • Modern day hobo, aka hitchhiker travels the interstate from campsite to campsite on a journey of self discovery.
  • War veteran tries a conventional road trip to acclimatize after returning stateside and ends up finding solace in the wildlands.

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Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters: 12/06/18

Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters by Gene Luen Yang and Matthew Holmes is the fifth graphic novel in the Secret Coders series. Now that Hopper has found her father, it's time to learn how to save the world from Professor One-Zero.

The tool that will defeat One-Zero is the Turtle of Light. But it exists in another dimension. That's the lead up to the sneakiest and most interesting short form summary a fundamental piece of mathematics literature combined with the history of the language these books have been teaching children to program in.

Imagine if you will that Professor Bee is a refugee from Flatland. Imagine further that he was taken in by the creators of Logo: Wally Feurzeig, Cynthia Solomon, and Seymour Papert.

The sixth book is Monsters & Modules (2018)

Five stars

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File M for Murder: 12/05/18

File M for Murder

File M for Murder by Miranda James is the third of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series. Librarian Charlie Harris now has both of his adult children living with him in the boarding house.

His daughter is teaching drama at the local college but her relationship with the visiting playwright is tense. When he ends up dead, Charlie and his children set out to discover who murdered him and why.

As this mystery is centered on acting and writing plays, the clues are hidden primarily in the dead playwright's work. Normally I tend to skip over the fictional inserts unless they are clearly part of the outside plot. This is a time when the play needs to read.

The next book in the series is Out of Circulation (2012)

Four stars

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The Mystery of the Missing Mask: 12/04/18

The Mystery of the Missing Mask

The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson is the second book in the Maple Harbour Adventures, a middle grade mystery series. It opens at a new exhibit at the natural history museum of some recently acquired First Nations items, in particular, a mask.

While the museum is set in fictional Maple Harbour, on a fictional island near Vancouver Island, I couldn't help but picture the Royal BC Museum in Victoria — just on a smaller scale.

The cousins in between the fun of building a treehouse and sailing around the bay stumble upon just the right clues to solve the mystery. As an adult fan, it's not a particularly complex mystery but it's still a fun one. It's in the same vein as the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series. The clues are there waiting to be put together.

But it's also about cousins having fun. It's about sailing. It's about the woods and the water and having adventures. That it's set in a fictional corner of an otherwise very real place makes this series all the more fun.

The third book is SOS at Night which came out in November.

Five stars

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Cybils Update (December 04): 12/04/18

Cybils update

My group is planning to meet in twelve days. Thankfully my remaining pile of things to look over is small enough to get through by then!

The Numbers:

  • Nominations: 132
  • Read: 76
  • On hand: 26
  • Samples on iPhone: 32

What I read last week:

  • Betty before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Rene Watson; library book
  • Revenge of the Teacher's Pets by Jennifer Ziegler; library book
  • The Sky at our feet by Nadia Hashimi; ebook
  • Summer Camp is Cancelled by Darlene P. Campos; publisher copy
  • Annie B. Made for TV by Amy Dixon; ebook
  • Zora and Me: the Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon; ebook
  • The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio; library book
  • The Journey of Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher; ebook
  • Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno; library book
  • The War Below by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch; ebook
  • Breakout by Kate Messner; library book
  • One true way by Shannon Hitchcock; library book
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic by Susan Tan and Dana Wulfekotte; library book
  • The Girl with More Than One Heart by Laura Geringer Bass; publisher copy
  • My Life as a Diamond by Jenny Manzer; publisher copy
  • The Hollow Under the Tree by Cary Fagan; library book

What's on hand:

  1. Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz; personal collection
  2. P.S. I miss you by Jen Petro-Roy; personal collection
  3. The science of breakable things by Tae Keller; library book
  4. The season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon; library book
  5. Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes; publisher copy
  6. Im Your Shoes by Donna Gephart; publisher copy
  7. Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil; library book
  8. Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen; library book / publisher copy
  9. Grenade by Alan Gratz; library book / publisher copy
  10. Me, Frida, and the secret of the peacock ring by Angela Cervantes; library book
  11. My year in the middle by Lila Quintero Weaver; library book
  12. Samantha Spinner and the super-secret plans Russell Ginns and Barbara Fisinger; library book
  13. Squirm by Carl Hiaasen; library book
  14. My Deal with the Universe by Deborah Kerbel; publisher copy
  15. Once Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak; publisher copy
  16. Return to Mystery Mesa by George Goldthwaite; publisher copy
  17. The Lake of Fire by Donald Willerton; publisher copy
  18. The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop and Poly Bernatene; publisher copy
  19. Daphne Definitely Doesn't Do Drama by Tami Charles; publisher copy
  20. Copyboy by Vince Vawter; publisher copy
  21. The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson; publisher copy
  22. Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz; publisher copy
  23. From You to Me by K. A. Holt; publisher copy
  24. Cruise Bully by Lawrence W. Baxter; publisher copy
  25. Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII by Sally Deng; publisher copy
  26. Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr; publisher copy

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Road Narrative Update for November 2018: 12/03/18

Road Narrative Update for November 2018

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 eight books in November, down by eight books from the previous month:

  1. Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl (FFCC99)
  2. Wild Blues by Beth Kephart (FF99CC)
  3. House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (66CCCC)
  4. Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh (666600)
  5. Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (663366)
  6. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (33FFFF)
  7. Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane (336666)
  8. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (333333)

Most of these books are middle grade either fiction or fantasy. Beneath the Sugar Sky is YA.

Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
FFCC99FF99CC 66CCCC666600
663366993399 6633CC663333
663333336666 33CCFF336666

I reviewed or analyzed thirteen books:

  1. Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (FF6633)
  2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (CCFF99)
  3. Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn (99CCFF)
  4. Supernova by Kazu Kibuishi (99CCCC)
  5. Foe by Iain Reid (993399)
  6. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (666633)
  7. No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (666633)
  8. 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling (6633CC)
  9. The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz (663333)
  10. Lowriders Blast from the Past by Cathy Camper and Raúl III (663333)
  11. Bluecrowne by Kate Milford (33CCFF)
  12. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbit, and Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (33CC33)
  13. The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (3300CC)

Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum

Finally I wrote these essays:

  1. FF99CC and FF9999: orphans in the wildlands by maze and labyrinth
  2. FF9933: orphan wildlands blue highway
  3. From 00CC33 to 33CCCC: a road narrative analysis of Haunting of Hill House, book and Netflix television series
  4. A Map to the Road Narrative Spectrum
  5. The three faces of Eleanor

December is basically the end of the Cybils for me. I have ten more days of reading, a night of discussion. Then I can return to working on the road narrative project with better concentration.

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Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe: 12/03/18

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan is the tale of a woman who leaves the hustle and bustle of office work to start a cupcake bakery in the tradition of her grandfather's old bakery.

Issy Randall loves to bake. She's in a relationship with her boss but he has tricked her into believing it should be kept a secret. Except it turns out (of course) that everyone else knows about it.

When she's made redundant in the most humiliating way possible, she decides to take her severance package to lease the retail spot at the end of a courtyard. It's the spot that has been open for months and never seems to keep a business. But everyone likes cupcakes, right?

Everything comes together in a way reminiscent of the Shopaholic books. Though Issy and her roommate are both quite bubbly, they aren't as over the top as Becky and Suze.

I listened to the audio as performed by Michelle Ford. She brings a brightness to the text that gives life to the characters.

There's a sequel, Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 03): 12/03/18

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

Save for reading a few books with closer scrutiny, I'm basically done with the Cybils. The group I'm in will be meeting online in a couple of weeks. All of the short lists will be announced on January 1st. The other Cybils news is that it's now officially a nonprofit organization!

Most of this week's reads were ones for fun. There were some that had run out of renewals at the library.

I finished the cockatoo painting. Now I'm about 2/3 through the last of my avian portraits for 2018: a hen that lives at Ardenwood Farm.

Completed cockatoo painting.

Hen painting, WIP.

What I read:

  • The Misfits Club by Kieran Mark Crowley
  • Fusion for Beginners and Experts by Rebecca Sugar
  • The Game Masters of Garden Place by Denis Markell
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
  • The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection
  • Potions & Parameters by Gene Luen Yang

What I'm reading:

  • The Bigfoot Files by Linday Eager; personal collection
  • Very Rich by Polly Horvath
  • Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz; personal collection
  • Awkward> by Svetlana Chmakova

Up Soon:

  • The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm; personal collection
  • The Lotterys More or Less by Emma Donoghue; personal collection
  • Fire Storm by Andy Lane; library book
  • Secret sisters of the salty sea by Lynne Rae Perkins; library book


  • Cybils Update (November 27)
  • November 2018 Sources
  • November 2018 Summary
  • The three faces of Eleanor

    Reviews Posted

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  • Show Me a Story!: 12/02/18

    Show Me a Story!

    Show Me a Story! by Leonard S. Marcus is a collection of twenty-one "interviews" with children's book illustrators. The blurb promises exciting behind the scenes views of where the artists get their inspiration, how they work, and so forth.

    Oh how I wish that were true. You'd think that a book called Show Me a story would be more show than tell. You'd think there would be numerous spreads with sketches, final illustrations, diagrams, and captions. Nope.

    I managed to read five of the interviews. Interviews, though, isn't really the right world. Transcripts might be better. The author apparently sat the illustrators down and told them to just talk and then wrote everything down. Without much in the way of direction, these transcripts are rambling and dull.

    Remember, these are visual people. They create art for a living. It might have made more sense to both the illustrator and the reader if they had been given a chance to actually show their thought process.

    One star

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    November 2018 Sources: 12/02/18

    October book sources

    November is the month where most of the Cybils reading happens. This year I chose not to include all the Cybils books I've read. I'm only including the ones I read cover to cover

    This Cybils season many of nominations were ones I had either purchased or happened to fit into my road narrative project. That means a more even distribution of books than I ahd expected.

    ROOB Score for the last three years

    November's reading numbers were down slightly from October but still up from the summer months. I read thirty-two. None of the books I read were released in November. It was my second best November since I started tracking my reading this way. It was however my best month for this year at -3.13

    The October reading stats are lower that the trend line, and it continues to dip downwards after nearly a year of flattening out.

    ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

    Looking at all previous years, November 2018 is the second lowest (best) one I've had.

    ROOB monthly averages

    My average for October dropped from -2.13 to -2.24

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    Captain Superlative: 12/01/18

    Captain Superlative

    Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller is about a student taking a unique way of tackling rampant school bullying. Janey attends Deerwood Park Middle School, a place that the teachers and administrators seem to have no control over. Instead, the popular girl has taken charge and everyone shows their fealty to her by dressing per her standards.

    And then one day at the start of a new year, Captain Superlative bursts onto the scene with blue hair and red cape. Janey, so taken in by a girl who is ridiculously upbeat and completely defiant of the popular girl decides to find out everything she can about the girl.

    Janey learns the Captain's secret identity and the truth behind her upbeat attitude. It's her last hurrah as she is losing the battle to cancer. It's a hard hitting emotional second half of the book.

    Besides being about cancer, it's a treatise against bullying and cliques, especially the ones that try to force homogeneity on students to control them. Reading this as an adult and a parent of a child in middle school, I see Janey's middle school really being more like the type of junior high I went to, rather than a recognizably contemporary middle school.

    Three stars

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    November 2018 Summary: 12/01/18

    Reading report

    In two weeks my group will be meeting to discuss the middle grade short list for Cybils. As you can imagine, most of my reading for November was Cybils focused. December's reading will be split into two parts: final Cybils reading and then reading as many 2018 published books on hand that I've purchased but not read yet.

    November's reading appears to be lower than October, though still higher than the summer months. What the number doesn't reflect is how many partial books I read for the Cybils. Some of these I will finish post Cybils and their numbers will be reflected in December or January.

    With the second month of Cybils over, I have thirty-five books out from the library. Of that, twenty-seven of them are specifically for the Cybils.

    November's reading was six less than September's. I missed my 50%+1 inclusive goal by five books. Most of my reading was dictated by the Cybils and by which ones the library got to the hold shelf for me to pick up first. There are a large number of diverse books in the nominations but they are the most popular ones at the library and were harder to get. Again, you'll see them reflected in December's reading. Thrice as many reviews were diverse as not.

    I had hoped to end 2018 with no more 2016 reviews to post. I'm going to fall short of that goal and they will roll into January. My 2017 reviews though are at similarly small numbers as the remaining 2016.

    With the year wrapping up, most of the review slots will be going to newly published books. My gap numbers will grow in December and December and by January I may very well still have some stragglers from 2016. At the moment I have twenty-one reviews leftover from 2016 and twenty-one from last year. From 2018 I have ninety-seven, again a reflection of reading for the Cybils.

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