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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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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 (33) 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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