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January 2019

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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Tintin in Tibet: 01/31/19

Tintin in Tibet

Tintin in Tibet by Hergé is the twentieth in the series. I've reviewed a few others about a decade ago. This review doesn't signal a plan to do more reviews from this series. Consider this a one off.

My husband and I have been watching the old Avengers television series. In the last series before Emma Peel's introduction, there's an episode where Steed is shown reading Tintin in Tibet. I was honestly just curious to see if my local library had a copy; they did.

Tintin gets the news that his Chinese friend has died in a plane crash in the Himalayas. Convinced that this isn't true, Tintin decides to head there to mount a rescue.

What follows is Tintin stubbornly heading into the most dangerous passes and losing most of his hired help for basically being an ass. The Tibetans are stereotyped as superstitious and simple minded. Of course then they end up being right (sort of) because there is in fact a yeti.

But Tintin is also shown to be right (sort of) because Chang is alive. He's been rescued (sort of) and is now in the care (kidnapped by) the yeti.

Reading it for the context with the 1965 Avengers was interesting. It's by no means a great comic. It's not something I would have read by itself.

Three stars

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Snake Bite: 01/30/19

Snake Bite

Snake Bite by Andrew Lane is the fifth Young Sherlock Holmes book. I originally read this before Fire Storm and spent most of the book baffled as to how exactly he ended up aboard a ship headed for China.

So that's how it opens. Sherlock realizes he's been kidnapped and sold to a dubious ship's captain. Since he's en route to China and tons of time to kill, he takes it upon himself to learn Chinese.

Cough cough. Sputter.

I'm not saying Sherlock couldn't learn a dialect and couldn't learn how to read the characters but what the book fails to drive home is that Chinese isn't a phonetic language. Chinese, the written form, is a picture based language that in Sherlock's time, would have been what the Taiwanese call "Traditional Chinese." It's made up of thousands of characters. In traditional form, some characters can have a dozen strokes.

If you know a bunch of written words, you can read anything written in any dialect because it's not phonetic. But, that still leaves learning how to speak the words in at least one dialect. Nowadays because Taiwan and Beijing both speak Mandarin, that's the dialect most often taught to foreign learners. But if you grow up a native speaker, if you're in the PRC, that'll be Mandarin and whatever your local dialect is. If you're growing up in a well established American Chinatown, it's you probably speak Cantonese. But those are just two of the five main dialects. All together there are about two hundred dialects. In Sherlock's time, pre-Cultural Revolution, he would have hit a bunch of them in his travels through this book.

I'm spending all this time talking about the challenge of learning Chinese because Sherlock does it in about what, twenty to fifty pages. (My daughter has been learning it her entire school career, seven years so far and she's "fluent" at the level of about a ten year old native speaker.

So once Sherlock has landed and has somehow made friends with the right people (English speaking people living in China), he ends up at the right place at the right time to solve an unsolvable murder.

The mystery involves a sociopath con-man and his daughter. He happens to have blue skin from a life time of drinking Colloidal silver. There are clues that hint at death by snake (ooo is that a lame reference to the Speckled Band?). And of course, everything is set against the Opium Wars.

The sixth book is Knife Edge (2013).

Two stars

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FF33CC and FF3399: rural orphans in the maze and labyrinth: 01/30/19

FF33CC and FF3399: rural orphans in the maze and labyrinth

Last November I wrote an essay comparing the maze and the labyrinth in terms of the orphan's journey to or through the wildlands. Now I will endeavor to do the same in terms of the rural landscape. As I've yet to find a narrative that fits into either category, this essay will be descriptive and hypothetical.

Starting with the traveler, in these two scenarios, the traveler is an orphan. An orphan is a solo traveler. They can be a literal orphan. But often they are a metaphorical one. They are separated from their friends or family and are traveling alone. It could be by choice but often it's a forced separation.

The destination in these two cases is a real world, sparsely populated area. The rural landscape is small town, on the edge of the wilderness and the edge of farmland. The rural destination could be a single farm or a small town — a place with a few roads but access to at least a Blue Highway.

Now there are the routes, the maze and the labyrinth. The maze is a path full of blind alleys and danger. The path isn't a guaranteed one. The labyrinth, meanwhile, is a twisting path but a relatively safe one.

In the maze scenario, the orphan traveler is either escaping life in a rural town via a dangerous or unpredictable path, or they are trying to find their way back to the rural town. If this narrative is fantasy or horror it's possible that the maze could be a means of entrapping the orphan or even isolating the rural town from the rest of the world.

In the case of the labyrinth, the journey either to or from the rural landscape will be more of a transformative one. It could be a magical route from another world or a shortcut from one mundane location to another. It could also in the case of realistic fiction be a means of self discovery.

As always, if you can think of examples for either type of narrative, please let me know in the comments.

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SOS at Night: 01/29/19

SOS at Night

SOS at Night by M.A. Wilson is the third in the Maple Harbour mystery series. The cousins are back to Maple Harbour unexpectedly when their parents have to travel.

On their first jaunt on the water the cousins hit a fog bank. The winds die down and they end up having to row. They end up seeking refuge on Opera Island, the site of an old lighthouse that was recently converted to an automatic station. They also notice a for sale sign.

The mystery here is primarily why this bird sanctuary and former manned lighthouse is for sale and who could possibly be bidding on it. There's also the obvious red flag that lighthouse stations are government owned.

The secondary plot involves the town coming together to fund a counter offer to buy the island, thus giving the cousins a chance to discover the truth behind Opera Island.

While this book was shorter than the previous two, it was still a delightful read.

Four stars

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Binti: 01/28/19


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor won the Hugo for best novella in 2016. It's primarily set on a spaceship as Binti, the only Himba to be offered a spot at Oomza University.

The Himba as Binti describes them through her inner monolog are a people tied to the Earth. They show it through otjize paste made from local ochre colored mud they coat their hair in the in part. But Binti has a head for numbers and a desire to expand her horizons.

I expected this story to be about Binti being singled out for her otherness on the journey to university. I expected her to struggle to find her place at school. I did not expect the second act slaughtering of everyone on the ship but Binti and the pilot.

Binti survives because she's different. She survives because she is protected by tradition. She survives because she can think and communicate in complex math. She survives because she is a unique combination of aspects.

In terms of the road narrative project, Binti is an FFFF00: orphan utopia interstate. Binti is an orphan first because she is the first of her kind to travel to this university. She is also an orphan because she is a survivor. The university is a utopia in both senses of the word: a no-place (being made up and not reachable by conventional means) and a better place (a place where Binti can learn everything she wants to learn). Finally, this particular spaceship serves as a railway train in that it is on a fixed course that cannot be altered even with the massacre happening on board. Even if Binti were to have died, she still would have arrived at Oozma.

The second book is Home (2017).

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 28): 01/28/19

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

Last week was the Blood Wolf Moon. It was also raining. But the rain stopped long enough to get a few shots close to totality.

Blood Wolf Moon

This week I was busy working on my sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project. I'm about a third of the way finished with the book. I have to get it back to Brooklyn by March 30th.

Pages 8 and 9

Page 8 shows a sketch of King Tut the cockatoo who used to be a greeter at the San Diego Zoo. Page 9 shows some of my other favorite birds at that zoo: the jungle fowl, the flamingo, the shoe bill, and the secretary bird.

What I read:

  • Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and and Audrey Vernick; library book
  • In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire; personal collection / research
  • Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco; personal collection
  • The Sign in the Smoke by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson; personal collection / research

What I'm reading:

  • Black Hammer, Vol. 3: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire; personal collection
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson; personal collection
  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig; personal collection
  • Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1 by Hinowa Kouzuki; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 2 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien; personal collection
  • Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs; library book
  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart; personal collection / research


Reviews Posted

Comments  (34)

The Ropemaker: 01/28/19

The Ropemaker

The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson is the story of an isolated valley protected by a curse. After twenty generations or so, the magic begins to weaken and those in charge of keeping the curse healthy must leave the valley to find a solution.

Tilja and her grandmother have the job of singing to the trees to keep the curse healthy. Like the protagonist in Paint Your Wagon, the trees don't listen to her. That's the problem. Worse yet, the others in the village no longer believe that the singing is what keeps them safe.

So Tilja and her grandmother recruit a couple others to help find a wizard or someone else who can reset the curse. Here is a story that starts with a village like Brigadoon that has a chance to end its curse and choses to keep it going.

The story is very straightforward. It's like a watered down version of the Hobbit with an entirely human cast. It did however help me realize the biggest difference between American road narratives and British ones. Bilbo's journey is on that is "there and back again" where the goal is always to get home and to get home as soon as possible.

The American road narrative instead, focuses on the journey, and if it's a return journey, only the trip out. Getting across the country by whatever agreed upon route and rules, is the point. Pushing the limits of the vehicle, the driver, and the passengers (if any) is the point. A lot of times, the journey is one way, a way to start over, a way to get lost, a way to avoid other pressing issues.

Two stars

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Black Enough: 01/26/19

Black Enough

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi is a collection of seventeen short stories by contemporary Black authors featuring a delightful cross-section of life in America from a Black teen / young adult perspective. It is, hands down, the best short story anthology I've read in the last decade.

    The stories included are:
  • Half a Moon by Renée Watson
  • Black Enough by Varian Johnson
  • Warning: Color May Fade by Leah Henderson
  • Black. Nerd. Problems by Lamar Giles
  • Out of the Silence by Kekla Magoon
  • The Ingredients by Jason Reynolds
  • Oreo by Brandy Colbert
  • Samson and the Delilahs by Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Stop Playing by Liara Tamani
  • Wild Horses, Wild Hearts by Jay Coles
  • Whoa! by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Gravity by Tracey Baptiste
  • The Trouble with Drowning by Dhonielle Clayton
  • Kissing Sarah Smart by Justina Ireland
  • Hackathon Summers by Coe Booth
  • Into the Starlight by Nic Stone
  • The (R)evolution of Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi

My favorites are "Half a Moon" by Renée Watson, "The Ingredients" by Jason Reynolds", "Wild Horses, Wild Hearts" by Jay Coles, and, "Whoa!" by Rita Williams-Garcia.

"Half a Moon" is told from the older half sister working as a camp counselor where her half sister (from an affair her father had) is attending. Although she's still mad at her father, she and her sister bond over the course of the camp.

"The Ingredients" is a long conversation on the best things to put in sandwiches. Reynolds is so skilled at creating unique voices for all his characters. This one with its minimal plot and heavy dialogue would work well as a one act play.

"Wild Horses, Wild Hearts" by Jay Coles is about love on the race track between rival riders.

Finally, "Whoa!" is about a modern day model trying to get ready for a photoshop only to be interrupted and ridiculed by an ancestor who is a slave. It's contemporary fiction with a time travel twist.

Five stars

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In an Absent Dream: 01/25/19

In an Absent Dream

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire is the fourth in the Wayward Children series. Like the second book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones it serves as a backstory of one of the students. This book covers the adventures of Katherine Lundy in the Goblin Market over the course of ten years.

Katherine Lundy is presented at the start of the novella as the middle child with an older brother and a baby sister. She doesn't want to be a Kate or a Kitty or anything but Katherine. She likes rules. She likes knowing the plan. She prefers to read and it is reading that sends her in the direction of the Goblin Market.

The Goblin Market works on the concept of fair exchange. Given that the path too this world is through an ornately carved door sent in the trunk of an impossible tree, I can't help but think of the tree of knowledge and the concept of equivalent exchange in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Here, though, rather than losing part of yourself (or all of yourself in Al's case), people who don't give fair value for exchanges incur debt. Debt is paid in loss of humanity and transformation into some kind of bird. What kind depends on the person.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, book four sits in the fantasy end of things, but is approaching horror. This one I'm placing at a 99FF99 because of the threat of transformation because of debt and the ticking clock of curfew (one's eighteenth birthday).

Lundy, as she is known in the Goblin Market, like her friend Moon, does spent some of her time as a bird. I read her transformation, physical, emotional, and psychological as if she is becoming a minotaur (99) — someone trapped within the world by its rules and by her transformation. Had Lundy not been so affected, I would have rated this farther down, at a 33 for the fact that she and her father have both traveled to the Goblin Market.

The Goblin Market, reachable any time a child is in the right frame of mind, is a utopia (FF). It is a magical, other worldly place — even if it is a magical world that follows a rigid logic.

The tree with its door can show up anywhere that it senses a child is "sure." It meets Lundy in the berry patch, in her elementary school, at the boarding school, and at home. Yet each time the door opens, the path is the same winding, impossible but one way path through the tree. In this regard, it is like a labyrinth (99)

The narrative spectrum progression of the four books
Book 1: Every Heart a Doorway: FFFF33 - orphan utopia blue highway
Book 2: Down Among the Sticks and Bones: CCFF99 - Siblings Utopia Labyrinth
Book 3: Beneath the Sugar Sky: 33FFFF - Family utopia cornfield
Book 4: In an Absent Dream: 99FF99 - S/M Utopia labyrinth

Looking at book four in comparison to the other three, it is in the top row of the fantasy neighborhoods, but the one with a traveler with the least magical agency. Lundy is affected by magic but she has no control over it beyond the strict ideal of fair value. Only Beneath the Sugar Sky falls lower into the horror section of the spectrum because the story centers on a family cleaved by for its time.

Book Five, Come Tumbling Down is scheduled for release early next year.

Five stars

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Rust: Soul in the Machine: 01/24/19

Rust: Soul in the Machine

Rust: Soul in the Machine by Royden Lepp is the conclusion to the Rust series. The giant war machines awakened at the conclusion of Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy have arrived at the farm where the Rocket Boy has been hiding out.

Throughout the series, the head of the farm has been trying to repurpose war machines to serve as farm hands and farm equipment. He hasn't had much luck and what little he has accomplished is now coming back to haunt him.

Although this is a far future, post apocalyptic series, it's a post war series. When the wars are over, the unexploded ordinance ends up in civilian lands. Things get forgotten only to be rediscovered later. Sometimes they're safely removed. Sometimes they explode. Or they rust or they leak or they contaminate the environment.

Then there is the war surplus. There are tanks, planes, munition, weapons, etc that are no longer needed in such quantities. They are sold off to police. Or on the blackmarket or to oppressive governments.

In Rust, it's the old tech being activated, working on years old code that may well be obsolete but there is enough of the old infrastructure hanging on to get Rocket Boy's location to machines designed to destroy him. It doesn't matter that the war is over. It doesn't matter that there are civilians in the way; they are collateral damage.

In the previous books, the protagonist was the Rocket Boy. Now, though, it's time to pull back and see how his presence affects the people and environment. The protagonist, or for the road narrative spectrum, the travelers are the family (33). With the threat of the war machines bearing down on the farm, and the old code overwriting the changes done to the repurposed bots, the farm is no longer safe. That means the goal for the family is to escape the old home and find a new, safer home (66). The means of the attack on their safety comes offroad, across the dirt that was once fields (66). Put all together, this final rust is a 336666 (family home offroad).

Five stars

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FF33FF: orphans in rural places surrounded by cornfields: 01/24/19

FF33FF: orphans in rural places surrounded by cornfields

Now that orphans have gone home or left home in all the ways possible, we move onto orphans in rural place. The first method of travel is via the cornfield.

I have one exemplar for this category: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel. The setting for this book is set in Slow Run, Kansas — a former farming area, now falling into ruin due to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Callie lives there with her mother and they run a hotel that is seeing fewer and fewer guests able to pay.

When Callie's mother disappears, she gains the status of orphan and the abilities of orphan magic. In her case, the magic is real as she learns of her heritage as a half fae princess. She also realizes that her visitors are unearthly. They have come in on the winds the bring the dust, across the former fields.

In this situation, the cornfields were until the failure of the topsoil, serving as protection. Callie's existence needed to be kept secret and now that's no longer possible.

In most of the orphan stories I've analyzed the cornfield has served as a road away from the mundane to somewhere fantastic. As we move away from fantasy, the cornfield begins to transform into its secondary purpose, namely as a barrier or prison. This book is our first example of the cornfield as barrier.

That said, there are still other ways this trio could be constructed into a road narrative. For instance, if Dust Girl had been written from a fae's point of view, then the cornfield would have been a passage way, albeit one fraught with danger and uncertainty. If this were a post apocalyptic tale, the orphan could have been escaping from their regimented living via a cornfield or a tkaronto to arrive somewhere rural and forgotten. Another possibility is a rural town where people are disappearing through the cornfields never to return, until at least there is just one person left.

If you can think of other examples that fit this category, let me know in the comments.

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The Misfits Club: 01/23/19

The Misfits Club

The Misfits Club by Kieran Mark Crowley is set in a small middle of nowhere Irish town. It opens with Amelia doing the initiation to join the Misfits Club while the other members, Brian, Hannah, Chris and Sam have decided this will be their last summer together since they've completely failed to solve any mysteries.

The book is told from multiple points of view from straight forward prose to journal entries, diagrams, and newspaper articles. This approach to narrative doesn't always work for me, but in this case with engaging characters and a lighthearted tone it works.

Stemming from part of the initiation, where Amelia is told to take a selfie in a known haunted house, the mystery unfolds quickly. There are a series of observed events that at first glance would seem unrelated. When taken as presented through these different source materials, a larger crime come into focus.

Although this book is written for middle schoolers, it has all the hallmarks of an adult cozy. It is character and situation driven. It's set in a small town. The sleuths are amateurs with a unique and useful skillset. There are fun supporting characters who can help or hinder.

Five stars

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My Life as a Diamond: 01/22/19

My Life as a Diamond

My Life as a Diamond by Jenny Manzer is about a move out of the country and baseball. Caspar "Caz" Cadman and his family are originally from Toronto but now they're living in Seattle.

Before the move, Caspar cut his hair and changed his name. A new town is the perfect opportunity to be the boy he's always wanted to be. Fortunately for him, his parents are on board, but the grandparents, not as much.

While Caz is transgender, the book is primarily about baseball. Most of the chapters are named for innings. The novel covers Caz's first season with the Ravens and how they go against the other local little league teams.

In an afterword, the author notes that she is cisgendered. This is a what if or a thought experiment that is otherwise a good story about being the newbie on a baseball team.

Four stars

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Bo at Ballard Creek: 01/21/19

Bo at Ballard Creek

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.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 21): 01/21/19

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

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.

Finished painting of the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah

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.

Started painting of a storm cloud over a sunflower farm near UC Davis.

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.

Title page for B528255, aka a turkey is like a T-Rex.

Finally, the Blood Wolf Moon was tonight and I have about 200 photos. I'll share some next week.

What I read:

  • The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter; personal collection
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic by Susan Tan and Dana Wulfekotte; library book
  • This Is New York by Miroslav Sasek; library book
  • Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi et al.; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson; personal collection
  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and and Audrey Vernick; library book
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig; personal collection
  • Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1 by Hinowa Kouzuki; personal collection
  • Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 2 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • Black Hammer, Vol. 3: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (30)

The Horse in Harry's Room: 01/20/19

The Horse in Harry's Room

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?

Five stars

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The Extremely High Tide!: 01/19/19

The Extremely High Tide!

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)

placement of the two books on the spectrum

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?

Five stars

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The Uncertain Places: 01/18/19

The Uncertain Places

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.

Four stars

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My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #8: Princess Celestia: 01/03/19

My Little Pony: Micro-Series: #8: Princess Celestia

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.

Four stars

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FF6600: Orphans looking for home on the Interstate: 01/17/19

FF6600: Orphans looking for home on the Interstate

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.

placement on the spectrum

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.

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The Poisoned House: 01/16/19

The Poisoned House

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.

Five stars

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Dragons in a Bag: 01/15/19

Dragons in a Bag

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.

Placement of the book on the road narrative spectrum

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.

Five stars

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Does My Head Look Big in This?: 01/14/19

Does My Head Look Big in This?

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.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 14): 01/14/19

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

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.

Acrylic painting of Rockaway Beach, Pacifica, California.

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.

Acrylic painting of the salt flats of western Utah (WIP)

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:

  • Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver? by Sharon Kahn; library book
  • SOS at Night by M.A. Wilson; personal collection
  • The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis; personal collection
  • The Extremely High Tide! by Kir Fox; personal collection / research
  • The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer; personal collection
  • Rainbow Brite #2 by Jeremy Whitley and Brittney Williams (Illustrator); personal collection
  • Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter; personal collection
  • Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson; personal collection
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic by Susan Tan and Dana Wulfekotte; library book

Up Soon:

  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and and Audrey Vernick; library book
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson; personal collection
  • Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi et al.; personal collection
  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig; personal collection


Reviews Posted

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Under the Jolly Roger: 01/13/19

Under the Jolly Roger

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.

Two stars

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The Similars: 01/12/19

The Similars

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.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for December 2018: 01/12/18

Road Narrative Update for November 2018

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:

  1. Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (CC3333)
  2. Very Rich by Polly Horvath (66CC33)
  3. The Bigfoot Files by Lindsay Eagar (339966)

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

Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
CC333366CC33 339966

I reviewed or analyzed eight books:

  1. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (FF00CC: orphan city maze)
  2. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (9999CC: minotaur wildlands maze)
  3. Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse (9966CC: minotaur home maze)
  4. Very Rich by Polly Horvath (66CC33: marginalized uhoric blue highway)
  5. Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon (339933: couple wildlands blue highway)
  6. Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane (336666: couple home offroad)
  7. The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks (330066 - family city offroad)
  8. Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (330000: couple city interstate)

Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum
FF00CC 9999CC 9966CC 66CC33
339933 336666 330066 330000

Finally I wrote these essays:

  1. FF9933 Orphan Wildlands Blue Highway
  2. FF66FF: orphan home cornfield: or who lives alone in a cornfield?
  3. FF66CC: Orphans at home in the maze
  4. FF6699: orphans at home in the labyrinth
  5. Twelve favorite Road Narrative Spectrum books read in 2018

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.

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FF6633: orphans going home along the Blue Highway: 01/11/19

FF6633: orphans going home along the Blue Highway

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.

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Beneath the Sugar Sky: 01/11/19

Beneath the Sugar Sky

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.

Placement of the three novels on the road narrative spectrum

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.

Five stars

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I Date Dead People: 01/10/19

I Date Dead People

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).

Three stars

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Fire Storm: 01/09/19

Fire Storm

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.

Two stars

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The Hollow under the Tree: 01/08/19

The Hollow under the Tree

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.

Four stars

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Clayton Byrd Goes Underground: 01/07/19

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

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.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 07): 01/07/19

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

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:

  • Fearless Mary: The True Adventures of Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver by Tami Charles; personal collection
  • The Red Slippers by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • Lions & liars by Kate Beasley and Dan Santat (illustrations); library book / research
  • P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy; personal collection
  • Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian; personal collection
  • Devils in Daylight (白昼鬼語) by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki; library book
  • Magical Dance Volume 1 by Nao Kodaka; personal collection
  • The Similars by Rebecca Hanover; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver? by Sharon Kahn; library book
  • The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis; personal collection
  • SOS at Night by M.A. Wilson; personal collection
  • The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster; personal collection
  • The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter; personal collection
  • Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (26)

Edible Colors: 01/06/19

Edible Colors

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.

Four stars

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Fearless Mary: 01/05/19

Fearless Mary

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.

Image shows the stagecoach and horses racing across and down a hill with Mary in the driver's seat

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.

Five stars

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Welcome to Night Vale: 01/04/19

Welcome to Night Vale

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).

Five stars

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FF6666: orphan going offroad towards home: 01/04/19

FF6666: orphan going offroad towards home

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.

Works Cited


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My Little Pony Micro-Series: #7 Cutie Mark Crusaders: 01/03/19

My Little Pony Micro-Series: #7 Cutie Mark Crusaders

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)

Five stars

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A Script for Danger: 01/02/19

A Script for Danger

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

Two stars

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December 2018 Sources: 01/02/19

October book sources

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.

ROOB Score for the last three years The tend line continued to correct downwards and I suspect it will again at the end of January.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

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

ROOB monthly averages

My average for December dropped from -2.44 to -2.56

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December 2018 Summary: 01/01/19

Reading report

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.

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The Missing Magic: 01/01/19

The Missing Magic

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.

Two stars

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