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Bo at Ballard Creek: 01/21/19
A couple years ago I read Bo at Iditarod Creek for the CYBILs. Recently I tracked down the first book in this duology, Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill.
This book is episodic like its sequel. It begins with how Bo came to be adopted daughter of two Alaskan prospectors. Her early childhood happens as the gold mines dry up and the boom towns start to go bust. Her fathers, though, like living in the territory and have other skills they can make use of.
The book ends with the two men adopting a second child, Oscar, a Native boy who might have a Russian father. He is in the second book as Bo's younger brother.
My one complaint with this book is how careless she is in describing Oscar's heritage. She takes the time to come up with countries of origin and backstories for all the settlers but just uses "Eskimo" for Oscar and the other Natives who live town. As Hill is so precise in describing where the town is, it took all of five minutes to track down the Native group who lives in the area — the Koyukon.
LeUyen Pham's illustrations bring the characters to life. I mostly think of her as the illustrator of Shannon Hale's Princess in Black books.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 21): 01/21/19
The Ghost Road took most of my reading time this week. It's a great but dense read. Also a lot of my reading time was taken up with art.
I've now started on my last landscape for this trio. This one is of a sunflower farm near UC Davis along I8 heading towards Sacramento. The big feature though is the cloud which will be taking most of my time and effort on this piece.
Also I spent the week planning out my 32 pages for a sketchbook I'm filling for Project Sketchbook. It will be digitized once it's sent back to Brooklyn and I'll share the link. The book is due by the end of March. Below is my title page.
Finally, the Blood Wolf Moon was tonight and I have about 200 photos. I'll share some next week.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Horse in Harry's Room: 01/20/19
I like Syd Hoff's books because they're written with such a matter of factness. He would take a situation and see it through and make it as if it were a completely normal, plausible thing.
The Horse in Harry's Room by Syd Hoff is level one reader about a boy and his invisible horse. He lives in a city apartment, far from where he'd ever get a chance to see a regular horse. So he has an invisible one. He can ride it through his room, jump on furniture and number of other horsey things.
But when the adults look in, they just see Harold sitting on the floor, playing or drawing. It's implied that the horse is a figment of Harry's imagination.
Harry's parents know of course that he loves horses. They decide to take him out to the countryside to see a real horse and get some fresh air. Maybe they can cure him of his imaginary equine friend.
Harry has a great time, naturally, but what about the horse at home? Hoff leaves that somewhat open ended. The horse is still there — but is that because Harry still imagines him or because he's more than imaginary?
The Extremely High Tide!: 01/19/19
The Extremely High Tide! by Kir Fox and and M. Shelley Coats is the second book in the Secrets of Topsea series. Like the first one, A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean!, this book reads like a Welcome to Night Vale plot that's set in a seaside town (possibly an island) and written for middle graders.
Davy and his school mates discover that Topsea is due to get hit by an "extremely high tide" but the town's agency that's in charge of putting out that sort of warning denies that there is an impending doom until literally the day of the event. Meanwhile, the lighthouse keeper who has been missing is suddenly back and is using the lighthouse to send possible warnings that no one can decipher.
This book reminds me most of the Old Oak Doors plot in Night Vale. Except here, instead of doors that lead to places outside the reality of Night Vale, there are messages in bottles with drawings of different types of boats. Talise, who loves to go diving, takes these drawings as a sign that she needs to build a boat— and not just any type of boat, but an amalgam of the pictures she finds.
Although no one actually leaves Topsea, the road and more broadly, travel is highlighted through the wordplay of the text. The book places higher in the spectrum than the first, coming in at a 66FF66 (marginalized utopia offroad)
As the majority of travel is done collectively by the children of Topsea, the traveler for this novel is marginalized. Marginalized travelers due to the added potential danger or the added number of obstacles in their way have more at stake. They have to take more chances and those changes can have a greater pay-off.
The destination and the route are the same as the first book, namely, utopia and offroad. Utopia because Topsea is an unreal place with unreal rules. Or rules that only make sense in the wordplay logic. The methods of travel in this book involve by sea and overland, thus offroad.
As of posting this review, I don't know if a third book is planned. I hope there is one or more in the works. If this series continues, I predict that in a future volume, Davy Jones will be so used to living at Topsea that he'll be able to rise the role of orphan traveler to save Topsea from a future event. However in a third volume, it would make sense for a scarecrow or minotaur to feature — possible a person made by one of the children?
The Uncertain Places: 01/18/19
The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein is an urban fantasy set in the 1970s in Berkeley and Napa. Imagine if you will that the Grimm's fairytales were true, though heavily altered, and the most dangerous one has been kept out of the public eye. Except that there's one family who is living under the curse described in the fairytale. Now our protagonist is caught up in the middle of it.
The gist of the curse is that a child of the family is put into a seven year sleep so that their spirit can fight on behalf of the fae side that has recruited them. The child is usually female but not always — not always a child and not always female. The cursed family in payment receives an unusual amount of good luck but they can't talk about the curse to anyone.
Will Taylor who ends up in the middle of all of this, being in love with one of the cursed, and later, the father of another, decides enough is enough. Uncertain Places is how a curse is discovered and understood in modern times and how it is undone.
It's not the first "fairytales are real" book I've read but it's the one I've enjoyed the most. For me it was the setting that sold the book. Berkeley and Napa both have their oddballs and both were popular places with the hippie culture of the late 1960s, early 1970s. Some of that hippie culture lingers on. What better place could the fae, the otherworldly, the immortal have to blend in?
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, this one sits with Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire. It is another family to utopia by way of a cornfield. Here the cornfield is the woods and garden outside the family's house in Napa. The utopia is the fae lands where the sleeping maiden fights. The travelers, though, are her family and her boyfriend, all of whom are ready for this curse to end. Essentially by denying her seven year stint with orphan magic, they are dragging her and their family back to the real world where magic can't reach.
My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #8: Princess Celestia: 01/03/19
My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #8: Princess Celestia by Georgia Ball is set in Canterlot at the magic school Twilight graduated from at the start of the television series. An elderly unicorn teacher isn't teaching at the level that she used to and the current student-body is starting to complain.
Celestia has a dilemma on her hooves. Should she force her mentor and friend to retire or keep her on but do a disservice to current and future students? Or possible she can find a middle ground?
Of course the answer is find a middle ground. That's the usual answer in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic stories. It's a gentle lesson in respecting the older generations while making room for the younger ones.
This book was an intense and quick read once the initial set up was finished. The book is rather like The Haunting of Hill House where the bad vibes of the house are amplified by the people. Just as there are no explicitly define ghosts in Jackson's novel, Ford's book has a few moments where it could be memory or emotion behind the ghostly phenomenon.
Volume nine features Spike the dragon.
FF6600: Orphans looking for home on the Interstate: 01/17/19
Last week I wrote about Louisiana's Way Home is an exemplar for the orphans going home along the blue highway. This week we look at the last orphan home journey, the one that goes by way of the interstate or railroad. In my reading to date, there is one book that fits this category: Demon Volume 1 by Jason Shiga (2016).
Jimmy is an adult, unusual but not impossible for an orphan or lone traveler. Orphan is from the Greek orphanos, meaning bereaved. As a widower who has lost his wife and daughter to a car crash, Jimmy qualifies. His state of grief is further illustrated by his numerous suicide attempts in the first few pages.
In Jimmy's case, he's not actually looking for home. It's more that he's trying to escape the memory of the home he no longer has. He does however, through his multiple suicides, learns that he's a demon. While he could take on a new home life through one of the lives he has possessed, he choses instead to look for his own home. There's a good chance his daughter is actually also still alive (and a demon). His method of travel throughout this comic book is along recognizable interstate highways.
Beyond the Demon example, one can imagine an orphan walking the railroad tracks or even riding a train to either escape home or get back from home. An orphan could also hitchhike along the highway or if the orphan were old enough, drive.
While this type of narrative is in the fantasy end of the spectrum, Demon shows how it isn't automatically a fantasy. Demon is clearly a horror (albeit a grotesque comedic one). An orphan child going to a new home on the interstate, or on a train if it's historic fiction, could be realistic fiction. It could even be a memoir.
The Poisoned House: 01/16/19
The Poisoned House by Michael Ford is set in Victorian London, primarily in an old house. Abi works as a servant for an ailing lord and his uptight housekeeper.
Abi believes the housekeeper killed her mother and the recent appearance of a self described psychic has brought old memories to the surface. Abi too seems now to be haunted by her mother's ghost.
Then the lord's son comes home from war, severely wounded and possibly mad from his injuries. Abi and he used to be like brother and sister. Can she still trust him?
This book was an intense and quick read once the initial set up was finished. The book is rather like The Haunting of Hill House where the bad vibes of the house are amplified by the people. Just as there are no explicitly define ghosts in Jackson's novel, Ford's book has a few moments where it could be memory or emotion behind the ghostly phenomenon.
Unlike Hill House, there's a happy ending, at least for Abi.
Dragons in a Bag: 01/15/19
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott is the first in a new series of middle grade urban fantasy books. When his mother is in a bind with her schedule, he's taken to "Ma's" house. She's a mean old lady who has nothing fun in her house and doesn't want him there. And then a strange package arrives at her house and Jaxon's life is changed forever.
In the box are some dragon eggs and they need to be delivered somewhere safe. Safe isn't Brooklyn. Safe is somewhere wild and somewhere with magic. Jaxon ends up spending his time helping Ma with her delivery and later, in rescuing her when they are separated.
Elliott has created a fascinating urban landscape that blends the ordinary of city life with the extraordinary of magic and alternate worlds. Just as Doctor Who has turned the now obsolete Police Boxes into a space ship and time machine, Jaxon's Brooklyn has ways into other worlds and times.
As the book is only 160 pages with illustrations, it would make a great book to read aloud in a classroom setting or as a bed time story over the course of about a week.
Because Jaxon learns about his family and ends up collaborating first with an honorary grandmother and later with his actual father, the travelers for this book are a family (33). Ma is looking for a safe place, alternate dimension, for the dragons. That puts the destination in the utopia category (FF). Finally, the method Jaxon et al use to travel is a magical one, not a road based one. It is a decidedly offroad route (66). Put all together it's 33FF66.
If you look at the placement image, it appears that Dragons in a Bag should be horror. The genre placement on the spectrum is primarily based on White cisgendered male literature and narrative analysis. As I am actively trying to fill in the blanks by reading works by authors who don't fit into that category, I am finding that diverse writers don't find horror in the same situations.
In a White novel, family is supposed to be safe, ordinary, mundane even. Families are in domestic stories. Anything that threatens to disrupt normalcy instantly puts the narrative into the horror category.
This isn't the case with the books I've read by non-White authors. Family is strength. Families can rise up together to face the unknown. Families can travel to alternate worlds. Families can fight monsters and survive intact.
The second book is The Dragon Thief and it comes out later this year.
Does My Head Look Big in This?: 01/14/19
In the fall of 2017 I borrowed a copy of the Scholastic edition of Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. I got about ninety pages into the book and had to return it because Scholastic had made an absolute dog's breakfast of the imported edition. Scholastic seems to forget that Americans speak a form of English. So do Australians.
Children and teenagers who read imported books in the same language as their own, but with (gasp) a different dialect can still understand what they read. The worst thing that would happen is they might have to look up some words in the dictionary.
Scholastic on the other hand would like to dupe their readers in believing the whole damn world speaks the same brand of English as their American style sheet. That means that in Melbourne, when someone makes a joke about needing to call the emergency number, they call it "911" instead of "triple zero."
By Americanizing everything that Amal Abdel-Hakim narrates throws her cadence off. Her story is about her decision to wear a hijab at her school in a post September Eleventh world. It's about having to get permission from the school because of the strict uniform. It's about the intrusive questions she's asked. It's about the tug of war between her religious and secular relatives.
But all of this is written in an authentic teenage girl living in Melbourne. That is unless you read the Scholastic edition. Then she sounds like an American doing a terrible Australian accent.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 14): 01/14/19
With the kids back in school, I'm painting again. I finished my seascape, based on a photograph I took at Rockaway Beach a fear years ago.
Now I am working on the salt flats that parallel I80 in western Utah. This painting is based on a photo I took either in 2016 or 2017 during a road trip.
I'm also taking part in the sketchbook project at the Brooklyn Art Library. I just got my blank book and it's due back at the end of March. I'm calling my book "A turkey is like a T-Rex." I'll post updates as I have them. Right now I'm storyboarding my pages.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Under the Jolly Roger: 01/13/19
Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer is the third of the Bloody Jack books and I think the last one I'm going to read. Jackie is back in London after her sojourn in the United States. She's trying to track down her boyfriend but ends up back on another ship and eventually becomes captain of it.
Throughout this series I've had problems with the authenticity of Jackie's voice. She's a pendulum swinging between total ignorance and total expertise in whatever she's currently engaged in. There is no rhyme or reason to what she knows, when she knows it. Instead her knowledge is driven by plot convenience — what will drive the melodrama.
This volume though brought up another oddity of the series — namely the referencing of every single real or literary nautical story. Under the Jolly Roger opens with Jackie sailing in on the Pequod. I should be excited to see a crossover with one of my favorite delinquent crews but Meyer in trying to prove he knows better than Melville how whaling worked, he's changed everything around. Captain Ahab is married and his wife and children are onboard. The wife even gives birth (with Jackie helping — of course). Repeat after me: Moby Dick isn't supposed to be a realistic or serious literary account of whaling — it's a homoerotic farce about men's obsessions.
The book goes downhill from there, becoming de facto Perils of Pauline on the high seas. First there's the evil new girl friend. Then there's the brief stint as a jockey. Then there's being kidnapped and put onboard ship again. Then there's the almost rape scene. Then bam — she's a captain and decides to turn pirate all in the King's name.
No. Just no. Stop. Let me off this ship. I'll just swim to shore.
The Similars: 01/12/19
The Similars by Rebecca Hanover is the start of a new YA science fiction series that focuses on cloning and immigration and more broadly, human rights. The narrative is told from the point of view of Emma, a student at Darkwood Academy, an east coast boarding school that has agreed to bring on six clones or "similars" as they call themselves as transfer students at a time when the United States is actively pushing to ban clones from crossing the boarder.
The book opens with Emma approaching the school in a self driven car with only her personal assistant as her companion. Think of Siri or Alexa if you couldn't shut them up. She, though, is reeling from the death of her best friend, Oliver, who had also been a student at Darkwood.
As it so happens, all of the Similars have originals attending the school. Now these aren't clones that were grown from stem cells to teenagers in the course of a year or two; these clones were cloned shortly after the births of the originals. Hanover goes into the timeline of their cloning as part of the overall mystery.
Now imagine Emma's further shock at realizing one of the clones is of Oliver. He looks enough like him to be uncanny. He has some of his mannerisms but nothing of the personality that she loved.
There are some big plot twists that I expected from the very first chapter. And yes, they were all there. And that is a very good thing. The author has written for soap operas and it shows. Frankly, The Similars would work well serialized on Netflix.
This first volume also fits on the road narrative spectrum at a 99FFCC (scarecrow, utopia, maze) . For reasons I'm not going to spoil here, Emma qualifies as a scarecrow (99). She isn't trapped by her circumstances as a Minotaur would be, but she is in the same position of being a guard of her surroundings. Her ultimate destination in volume one is the home of the Similars which is described as a man made island in the Atlantic. As it is man-made and hard to track, I'm counting it as a utopia (FF). Finally, given all the cloak and dagger machinations of the adults in Emma's life, as well as the tasks the different Similars have been given, the path towards knowing the truth is full of traps and blind alleys, thus making her route a maze (CC).
The second book is scheduled for release in 2020. As of writing this review it doesn't have a title or a specific release date beyond the year. Regardless, I am planning to purchase and read it when it's released.
Road Narrative Update for December 2018: 01/12/18
I'm posting it later than I had planned because other new year related things took my attention.
I read three books in December, down by eight books from the previous month:
Most of these books are middle grade either fiction or fantasy. Beneath the Sugar Sky is YA.
Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
I reviewed or analyzed eight books:
Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum
Finally I wrote these essays:
December was divided between reading for Cybils and reading my 2018 purchases that I hadn't gotten to. Reading for the project was simply an afterthought but I have a sizable backlog of writing I need to do from books already read and films or TV shows watched.
FF6633: orphans going home along the Blue Highway: 01/11/19
Next in the orphan as traveler neighborhood of the road narrative spectrum is the orphan who goes home (or leaves home) via a Blue Highway. At the moment only one book I've read fits this category but I shall endeavor to extrapolate other possible narratives. The book in question is Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (2018).
In Louisiana's case, she is unexpectedly leaving home when her grandmother begins a middle of the night drive from Florida to Georgia. The remainder of the novel is the story of how she finds a new home and a new family when the woman she believes is her grandmother abandons her.
Her situation is firmly grounded in realism. It's historical fiction set in the mid 1970s and in a real state. Louisiana's "orphan magic" isn't as extraordinary as some orphans I've discussed so far. Hers lies in the realm of persuasion, something she learned from her "grandmother."
But the narrative could lead to a more fantastic destination. For example, Dorothy in the Road to Oz could be in this category if she were walking back to Kansas along the same road she took to the Emerald City, and if she didn't take any short cuts through cornfields.
More broadly speaking, this category can be about an orphan either trying to return home or trying to find a new home. As in Louisiana's case, she's doing both. A return to home could be from any location, from an alternate world, to a house down the street. There just needs to be a barrier to that return: an antagonist, a literal barrier (being kidnapped, trapped, lost), or one of distance (being far from home, being in an alternate dimension, etc). The way home, no matter how fantastic the starting point is, must be reachable by a Blue Highway — a well defined road that isn't as straightforward as either an Intestate or a railroad.
Beneath the Sugar Sky: 01/11/19
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire is the third in the Wayward Children series. This particular volume reminds me of Catherynne M. Valente's fairyland series, in particular September's uhoric relationship to Saturday.
The story opens back at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward children, shortly after the death of Sumi, meaning it is chronologically next to Every Heart a Doorway.
Out in the fields, a naked young woman crashes to earth. She says her name is Rini and she claims to be Sumi's daughter. But her mother died before she could even be conceived, so she has come to bring her mother back to life.
Rini's story is also very similar to that of the Winchesters in Supernatural. She has a family member, her mother, who shouldn't be dead yet, and she is going to journey across worlds to bring her back. In the process, she's going to fix her homeland — a cake based world called Confection that might as well be the Bubblegum kingdom, except that is on a planetary scale.
So while Rini could be argued to be an orphan, as she hasn't even been born yet in this timeline, I'm counting her and her "mostly-dead" mother as a family for the sake of defining the traveler in this road narrative spectrum story.
Although Rini's timeline isn't chronological, or rather, she's working on personal time that doesn't match with the Wayward School students', the ultimate destination is a utopia. Specifically, it's Confection, her home. Per her version of things, Sumi saved Confection from the current person ruling over it. But with her mother dead, Confection is slipping into a dystopian state.
Keep in mind, though, that Rini's desire to safe Confection and return it to it's freer condition, isn't what makes it a utopic destination. It is the fact that it is a fantasy world that is reachable through a certain door and that it runs on its own rules (namely baking metaphors). Utopia is a "no-place" not an especially good place.
Finally, there is the road taken to get to Confection. Though the path is varied, it is through the cornfield. Rini's landing is in the fields or gardens of the school. The first leg of the journey involves a trip to the land of the dead, which as we've seen through Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is the association of corn, cornfields, and corn mazes with the underworld. Then there is Confection itself, which is a bakery based world and ecosystem. That means, wheat, sugarcane, corn, among other farmed ingredients, albeit rendered into their foodstuff forms.
Looking at the progression of the series across the spectrum, the book three has slipped into horror. It does this through the travelers being a family. The horror element is a family ripped apart before it has even had time to be formed. When the series started it was pure fantasy that used road narrative tropes. For the second book, which is a backstory, it stayed in the fantasy end, but moved into the same neighborhood as the Supernatural series: namely that of siblings traveling across worlds.
The next book in the series is In an Absent Dream (2019). I have a copy ordered and will read it as soon as it arrives.
I Date Dead People: 01/10/19
I Date Dead People by Ann Kerns and Janina Görrissen is the fifth in the My Boyfriend is a Monster series. Nora Reilly and her family have recently moved into an old farm house. Nora is delighted with the old place as it's the perfect atmosphere for all the old books she loves to read.
Nora and her love of all things old has a connection to the house and to one of its oldest residents, a ghost boy named Tom Barnes. She and he fall in an awkward love.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family is being plagued by other "residents." Between Tom's death and Nora's family moving in, the house had a dark history.
Of the five books I've read so far in this eight book series, this one is the weirdest. It's morbid. Nora comes across as depressed and possibly suicidal, so much so that Tom even mentions her weird obsession with death — and he's the ghost.
Then there's this side plot about evil ghosts or demons hiding in the extra-scary end of the house. The previous books haven't been quite so split brained plotwise. Usually the protagonist's family isn't a big part of the narrative, with the focus being on unconventional, fleeting paranormal romances.
The sixth book is Wrapped Up in You by Dan Jolly (2012).
Fire Storm: 01/09/19
Fire Storm by Andy Lane is the fourth of the Young Sherlock Holmes series. I accidentally skipped it when I read Snake Bite Book five opens in an unexpected location and I hoped going back to read book four would help me like book five better. It didn't.
Instead, I've come to realize that I'm done with this series. Although I'm a huge Holmsean pastiche fangirl, this series is not for me.
Lane is trying to show how Sherlock learned all the stuff that would later wow the pants off Watson. The thing is, Doyle already did that by building in the clues and method of solution into all of his stories. It's not that Sherlock doesn't have experts, he does. But they are experts who are colleagues, not teachers.
The first third of Fire Storm reads like a classic Doyle written story. Sherlock is made aware of a blackmail ring. He and Matty work together to follow the clues back to the source. They destroy the blackmailing business and the ringleader is arrested.
And then the story spirals out of control into a revenge fantasy plot. Sherlock's tutor and his daughter are missing. I don't like it when NCIS uses this plot. I don't like it here either.
The Hollow under the Tree: 01/08/19
The Hollow under the Tree by Cary Fagan is set in Toronto in 1925. It begins with a poorly maintained circus train, a tight schedule, and the inevitable derailment.
From there it moves to Sadie, a girl living in Toronto who is the daughter of a pie maker. She happens upon Sunny the lion, now hiding in High Park. The rest is her story of how she attempts to care for the lion and ultimately finds people who can rescue it from the park before too many dogs are eaten or anyone is hurt.
The author includes a chapter where he recounts hearing the source of the book as a story told to him by his grandfather. Whether the story is true or not is left up to the reader.
For a middle grade fiction, it's a short book. It's really more of a novella than a full on novel. It's 128 pages and the book's dimensions are tiny. There are no wasted words on excess description, filler, or even adverbs. It's the sort of book that could be read aloud by a teacher to a class in a couple after recess sessions. Although short, it is entertaining and memorable.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground: 01/07/19
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia is the story of a boy who loves the blues and wants to follow in his grandfather's footsteps. Unfortunately when the grandfather dies suddenly, it looks like Clayton's plans will be put on hold permanently.
The heart of the conflict between Clayton's love of the blues and his sudden inability to play it is an intergenerational one. Clayton and his grandfather were close. The blues, though, got in the way of Papa Byrd's family time, making him a very distant father. His daughter, Claytons' mother, still resents that time away and can't fathom the closeness he and her son felt through their joint love of music.
Although Cool Papa Byrd wanted Clayton to have his things, Clayton's mother is eager to remove all the reminders of her father from the house. It's her way of grieving — for the loss of a father, and the loss of the childhood she had wanted, and the loss of her personal space when he had come to live with her as an old man.
Clayton's way of grieving is to seek out the music he so loved, and to seek out the people Cool Papa Byrd played with. When he can't find them, he ends up with a rough crowd. It's just a day but it could be one that forever changes Clayton's path.
The time period for this novel isn't stated but from the clash of blues and hiphop at the New York subway, I mentally put it in the mid 1970s. There's no mention of smart phones or anything else that would put the book in a more recent era.
Regardless, Clayton is a relatable character. I would like to see him grow as a person and a musician over more books.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 07): 01/07/19
The decorations are down. Bruce the Spruce is now transplanted into a larger pot. He's now in our backyard. This weekend a huge storm rolled in with lots of wind and rain. The rain we need. The wind brought some power outages. We lost our power today for about two hours.
School starts tomorrow for my kids. That means I can get back to painting. And that means posting updates on future Mondays.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
Edible Colors: 01/06/19
After stumbling upon a copy of Edible Numbers, I decided wanted to read the companion piece, Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass.
Children's books about colorful fruits and vegetables are pretty common; do a search for "eat a rainbow" at any online book catalog and you'll see about a dozen different options. What made me want to read this particular book was the beautiful photography and careful labeling off all the varieties.
The photography is just as lovely as it is in Edible Colors. The labeling and choice of fruit and vegetable is just as interesting. But the choice to start with a typical orange carrot to lead off on all the different, unexpected colors fruit and vegetables leave a natural hole in the edible rainbow.
The book goes from a vegetable can be this color but it can also be this unexpected color. It's a natural progression from color to veg to color. But it doesn't, and should frankly, swing back to orange.
Fearless Mary: 01/05/19
Fearless Mary by Tami Charles and Claire Almon is a picture book biography of Mary Fields, a former slave who in her sixties, began a career mail carrier on the star route.
The book is set in Cascade, Montana in 1895.
The picture book puts the emphasis on the skills needed for the job: handling horses, navigating dangerous trails, avoiding robberies, and protecting the cargo. The second page briefly mentions the mail aspect of the job: "The best way to deliver the mail there is by stagecoach."
Mostly though the book is about her fight to test for the job in a town that was decidedly anti-Black. Her skills with horses, with a gun, and her toughness are put front and center.
This book is big on show, not tell, with Almon's energetic illustrations showing Mary hitching the horses to the stagecoach and then driving them through the course up and down the steep hill. What the text doesn't say directly (though it does hint at it) is that she was the fastest applicant to get the horses hitched.
The second third of the book follows one particularly dangerous run and how Mary handled the situation. It's here under pressure, in danger, with her horses frightened, and wolves on the prowl that her true skills are shown.
The book ends with a brief summary of her career and what how being a mail carrier has evolved since then. Each of the carriers in the illustration are women: the pilot, the cyclist, the motorcyclist, and the van driver. On the final page there is a woman driving an eighteen wheeler for the U.S. post office.
Finally there's an authors note explaining the process of researching Mary Fields as well as some liberties taken in writing the book. Namely, the wolf scene was from a job prior to her working as a mail carrier. But it's still possible to imagine those weren't the only wolves she might have encountered.
All in all, a fun and educational book.
Welcome to Night Vale: 01/04/19
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink is a novel inspired by the long running podcast of the same name. I've been holding off on writing a review of this book because I happened to finish it right as I was re-contextualizing my road narrative project in terms of what I now call the road narrative spectrum.
What I've been struggling to realize over these many months (five between finishing the book and attempting to write a review) is that both the podcast (as a single body of work, though individual episodes do stray) and the novel both sit in the 33CC33 category (couple, uhoria, Blue Highway) but for very different reasons and with completely different travelers.
The novel exists outside of the radio station. It's not Night Vale from Cecil's point of view via his radio show. Instead, it's an ensemble decoupage that finally settles on Jackie Fierro (the pawn shop owner) and Diane Crayton (mother of a moody shapeshifter). Where Cecil and Carlos would put the traveler aspect of the narrative into 33 (a couple), Diane, Jackie and Josh fit into the same category more as a family.
A man named Troy (possibly) carrying a suitcase and wearing a jacket has given Jackie a paper that says King City. There is nothing she can do to rid herself of it. It remains permanently in her hand. In trying to figure out what to do with it, she realizes that her life isn't normal. She's been nineteen for far too long.
It's already been well established by the podcast that Night Vale exists out of time, or rather in its own time. It's physical location is roughly where real world Pioneer Town sits. But it exists in its own pocket universe where time collectively flows at its own weird pace and individually at different paces too.
The novel examines more about the interplay of personal time and town time against world time, if you will. The examination of time is very similar to Paradox in Oz by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower (1999) but is presented as horror rather than fantasy (see my chart for why).
In the podcast, no one really ever leaves Night Vale except either to go Red Bluffs or to end up in the desert via the old oak doors (a rather Seanan McGuire approach to travel). The King City paper is a clue that the Night Vale temporal oddities are spreading and are somehow tied to King City.
For Californian fans and readers, Night Vale is in California. We know this for the Ralphs and the way that the mountains (which aren't real) are described. We know it's in a rural Southern California location near or in a desert. We can place it on a map (as I have) even though Night Vale refuses to be so categorized).
Night Vale for all of its horrors and small town charm, is very much like Oz. Except, unlike Oz which is canonically not in the same world as Kansas, though reachable by many mundane and fantastical ways from there (and the rest of the world at certain spots), Night Vale is in California but in its own weird time bubble). In this regard, the Night Vale novel and podcast come in one below the Oz books, in that they are uhorias (CC).
Finally there is the road taken. Night Vale has a certain pre-Interstate charm to it. It's one of those out of the way small towns that were bypassed by the Interstate system. In Night Vale's case, I think the town wanted it (not the people per se, but the town itself, in the same way that one can argue that Hill House has a will of its own). Night Vale, as I've shown on Google Maps, could be off Rte 62, Rte 247, and near US 58. One can drive from Pioneer Town (aka our stand in for Night Vale) to King City via nothing but Blue Highways, and I see it as no mistake that the author chose King City as the goal for the novel in that King City has a similar pre-Interstate small town charm but is actually a real town. In this regard, the Night Vale novel and podcast both have a 33.
Put all together, both podcast and novel sit at 33CC33 (family or couple, uhoria, Blue Highway).
FF6666: orphan going offroad towards home: 01/04/19
Next in the orphan neighborhood of the road narrative spectrum is the off road path home. Or it's the home in such a remote place as to not have a clear path to it.
Books I've reviewed that fit this category are: The Care and Feeding a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas; Instructions by Neil Gaiman; Rust 01: Visitor in the Field, Rust 02: Secrets of the Cell, Rust 03: Death of Rocket Boy, all by Royden Lepp; and The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige.
These six books are either science fiction or fantasy. They all begin with a lone traveler who is set apart from everyone though circumstance or personal determination. In The Care and Feeding... Stella Rodriguez though part of a family ends up orphaning herself (albeit temporarily) through her grief and her out of control "feeding" of a black hole. In the first three Rust books, the focus is on the Rocket Boy who is perhaps the last of his kind, a child soldier cyborg or android. He is a literal orphan trying to make a home and a purpose for himself with this family on a failing farm in the middle of nowhere. The protagonist in Instructions is unnamed but walks alone. Amy in The Wicked Will Rise is separated from her mother while trying to free Oz from a magical dictatorship.
In the road narrative, the destination can also be a starting point or even a fixed location — a place the protagonist wants to leave but can't — or a place of apparent safety, where travel might be in response to a tragedy.
For Stella, home is no longer home after the death of her father. But she still lives there, even if he does not. As she pours her grief into the black hole, though, home becomes less and less like home until she is forced to accept his death to save all the other things and people she holds dear. In the first three Rust books, home is this dusty farm house and barn in the middle of a landscape that bears resemblance to the 1930s dust bowl, but through flashbacks, the damage to the landscape is implied to be a result of the war.
In Instructions, home is both the starting and end point, being a very British tale. But since he was already living in the United States when he wrote this, I'm counting it.
Finally there is Amy who finds herself (and much of Oz) suddenly home in Kansas after a major battle goes poorly. It's an unexpected and unwelcome return home.
Finally there is the path taken. When there is no discernible road or path, nor obvious obstruction (as the cornfield provides), then the journey is an offroad one. I take this designation from the delightful graphic novel Off Road by Sean Gordon Murphy
Stella's journey is completely offroad, will primarily staying at home. Her journey is a reality altering one as the black hole eats all the things she hates. Soon there is not much left of the universe beyond Stella and the home.
The traveler in Instructions is shown through Charles Vess's illustrations going through a variety of paths, some on and some off road, with the journey becoming more fantastic until it is finally time to turn around and head home. Gaiman's text as well suggests the journey is as much metaphorical as it is literal, thus fitting into the offroad category.
The Rocket Boy in the Rust series can fly and often does. His arrival was by air. There is a road leading away from the house and barn but it is rarely shown as being used. When in volume 4 danger strikes, it comes overland across fields and hills just as the Rocket Boy had done earlier.
Finally Amy's travel to and from Oz has been an offroad one. In Dorothy Must Die she arrives via tornado (cyclone) as Dorothy had previously. Her return trip is a more magical one where one minute she was in Oz, losing a battle, and the next she and the battlefield are now back home in Kansas.
As the books I discussed show, this category is still firmly established in the fantasy and science fiction genres, but the categories are moving towards horror which forms a gap between the fantastic and realistic.
My Little Pony Micro-Series: #7 Cutie Mark Crusaders: 01/03/19
My Little Pony Micro-Series: #7 Cutie Mark Crusaders by Ted Anderson is a standalone adventure with the three cutie mark crusaders in the days before they earned their cutie marks.
While out looking for something they're good at (good enough to earn their marks) they come across a giant gem. The gem ends up not being a gem. Instead it's a creature that can mimic other shapes.
The comic ends up being hard earned lessons for both the fillies and for the creature. For the girls it's learning that one shouldn't abuse a friend's talent for one's own amusement. For the creature (and my extension, artists / other creatives) the lesson is to learn when to say no.
In terms of plot, it's pretty thin, but the lesson is still an important one. And it's presented in an entertaining fashion.
The next issue is Princess Celestia by Georgia Ball (2013)
A Script for Danger: 01/02/19
A Script for Danger by Carolyn Keene is the tenth of the Nancy Drew Diaries. A movie production has come to River Heights and Nancy is friends with the person heading the production.
Right away things seem off from the production. There are accidents and other screw ups. Then things start to escalate. Someone is sabotaging the filming!
For the most part, I've enjoyed this revamping of Nancy Drew. Nancy in this version is at her best in rural places. She and her friends work best when they are in a new location, away from the known.
The River Heights stories have always been the weak links in this story. This time around, the story felt like it was written by someone with only passing knowledge of how films are made. Likewise, the accidents and sabotage as well as the person's reason for it are both obvious and nonsensical when taken with a better understanding of how films are made.
The eleventh book is The Red Slippers
December 2018 Sources: 01/02/19
By the middle of December I was done with reading for the Cybils. THe back half of the month I primarily read library books that were due and my own collection of 2018 published books that I hadn't yet got to.
The distribution is primarily purchased books (though not purchased in December) and library books. I will jump back into reading road narrative spectrum books in late January.
The tend line continued to correct downwards and I suspect it will again at the end of January.
Looking at all previous years, December 2018 is the lowest (best) one I've had.
My average for December dropped from -2.44 to -2.56
December 2018 Summary: 01/01/19
The Cybils ended for me in the middle of December. If you want to see our short list, go to the Middle Grade Fiction short list announcement. The second half of the month I spent primarily reading my own books, 2018 published books that I had purchased but hadn't gotten to.
December's reading was lower than recent months and on a par with the middle of summer. I had hoped to read more but December wiped me out emotionally with the month starting out with my husband in the hospital. He's fine and things are back to normal. Hopefully that will mean normal levels of reading for me.
I read 24 books in December, down from November's 35. I surpassed my 51% goal for diverse reading, with about 2/3 of all the books I read qualifying. Almost half the books were from my own collection, or were library books for the Cybils. January's reading will be devoted to the 2018 books I didn't get to in December and it is a very diverse selection.
I had hoped to end 2018 with no more 2016 reviews to post but I still have about twenty books. My 2017 reviews though are at similarly small numbers as the remaining 2016. 2018's reviews aren't as out of control as 2017's were a year ago. That's primarily from me being better about reviewing books in the same year that I read them.
I have eighteen reviews leftover from 2016 and twenty-one from 2017. From 2018 I have ninety-six, again a reflection of reading for the Cybils.
The Missing Magic: 01/01/19
The Missing Magic by Kallie George is the final book in the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. Clover is annoyed that an expert who appears only slightly older than she is has arrived to be Mr. Jams's assistant.
As always seems to happen, Mr. Jams is called away on an important business trip. While he's gone, the magical animals start becoming ordinary. Picnic the dog becomes visible. Dipity goes from being a green cat to a white one. The miniature horses become full-sized. And so forth.
Clover begrudgingly agrees to work with Oliver to solve the problem of the missing magic. Unfortunately the there was so much emphasis placed on Clover's bad feeling towards Oliver that the mystery of the disappearing magic wasn't given the focus of the previous two mysteries.