Twitter Tumblr FlickrFacebookContact me
Now 2019 Previous Articles Road Essays Road Reviews Author Title Source Age Genre Series Format Inclusivity LGBTA Portfolio

February 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

Reading Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge: 2018-2019

Beat the Backlist 2019

Privacy policy

This blog does not collect personal data. It doesn't set cookies. Email addresses are used to respond to comments or "contact us" messages and then deleted.

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels: 02/18/19

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami and translated by Ted Goossen is a single volume containing the first two Rat novellas: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. I read these two in quick succession after having seen The Night is Short, Walk on Girl which has nothing to do directly with Murakami besides being surreal and Japanese.

There's also a thematic connection. The Rat novellas are about a man, his best friend, and a former roommate known as the Rat remind a great deal of the trio of characters that show up in Tomihiko Morimi's stories (and anime / film adaptations).

In Hear the Wind Sing we have the unnamed protagonist hanging out at a bar and dating a nine fingered woman. This short novel is spent mostly thinking about stuff or talking hypothetical stuff while at J's Bar. While the stakes are lower here, the setting, character relationships, and general banter remind me of Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.

In Pinball, 1973, we get more of a sense of the Murakami to come, and perhaps a sense of his inspiration for Tomihiko Morimi. The still nameless protagonist is now a student. He comes home to find twins whom he names 208 and 209 from the numbers on their jerseys. This sentiment is later played out to hilarious extremes in Shirakuma Café when Penguin-san can't tell the five Penguin sisters apart which they prove by changing the jewelry they're wearing.

Both novels also bring in Murakami's love of music and pop culture, though these novellas are focused more on rock and roll, where later ones are more classically inclined.

The third Rat book is A Wild Sheep Chase.

Five stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 18): 02/18/19

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

I had plans to go hiking to try out my new lens in the wild. The most I accomplished photographically was pictures in my yard and from my car. There were two reasons for this: torrential rain for the entire week, and my son home from the school for Tuesday through Thursday. With my husband traveling for business I didn't have much opportunity to get away for photography.

A shot of the moon during a brief break in the storm
A shot of the moon during a brief break in the storm

Dark eyed junco in my plum tree
A dark eyed junco enjoying a break from the rain

I did manage to make progress with my sketchbook. I have exactly one page left, plus the cover, should I decide to decorate it.

Great egret sketch in acrylic
Great egret from the sketchbook, done with acrylic paint.

Until Friday, my reading was pretty slow. More than half the books I finished this weekend. This week should be good for reading unless I end up down with the flu.

What I read:

  • Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley; personal collection
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon; library book
  • Final Girl by Michelle Schusterman
  • Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 3: Absolution by Mitch Iverson; personal collection
  • The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley; personal collection
  • Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle; personal collection
  • The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas; library book
  • The 5 Misfits by Beatrice Alemagna; library book

What I'm reading:

  • Frazzled: Minor Incidents and Absolute Uncertainties by Booki Vivat; personal collection
  • Brave by Svetlana Chmakova; personal collection
  • Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg; library book
  • Ghostbusters: Crossing Over by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening (Illustrations); personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen; personal collection
  • The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson; personal collection
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan; library book

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (0)

Each Peach Pear Plum: 02/17/19

Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet Ahlberg and illustrated by Allan Ahlberg is another picture book from my childhood but one I don't remember hearing as a child. Like Zinnia: How Corn was Saved [link], Each Peach Pear Plum is a building story. This one, though, builds through the carrying over of visual elements from one leaf to the next.

The book is also an "I Spy" as one is asked to spot the character who is hidden. It is in this spying game that the characters are carried over between scenes. These are all characters from tradition English language nursery rhymes. Children who are into Mother Goose, will get the most out of this book.

For me it was just a so-so book. It's very much a product of its time and place — late 1970s United Kingdom. This book has its fans who are as passionate about it as fans of Goodnight Moon.

Have you read it? Was it part of your bed time routine either as a child or a parent?

Three stars

Comments (0)

On Note Taking: 02/17/19

On Note Taking

A friend of mine asked if I used "any sort of note taking system" for my Road Narrative Project. The short version is yes, I take notes. Is it a system, not exactly.

Let me back up about thirty years. When I was in college in the days before I owned a laptop (or my first year, a computer), I wrote my notes on notecards. That way I could sort them into topics when it was time to either study or write the term paper. By the end of my undergrad, I had about a dozen boxes of notecards. Talk about clutter!

For this project, I have two portable computers near me most of the time. First is my laptop. Second is my phone. What I don't have is a desk. I'm not a student any longer and the few times I need to write letters by hand, I can write at the kitchen table or on the fold table I use for painting and drawing.

At this point in the Road Narrative Spectrum project, I am primarily reading fiction to find at least one exemplar for each of the 216 categories I've described. I am also writing essays describing each of these categories, either as narrative analysis of works read or just as hypothetical descriptions based on the three elements making up that category.

The 216 category list is my road map to the project, if you will. I see it bit like the grid on the placemats at Pea Soup Andersons that show the distances between major cities in California. Mine is more like the major distances, represented by colors, between different kinds of narratives. The version I use most is a spreadsheet where I list books I've read, am reading, or think I qualify and therefore should read.

The spreadsheet has at this time 444 entries, though not all of the categories are filled with titles. Some categories have duplicates. I should probably do a scatter plot to see which are my most popular ones.

To see how these stories relate to each other, I also have a diagram of the six types of traveler. That is available online and clickable from any page from the left navigation.

So for the fiction I'm reading, I read them in three forms: print, ebook, and sometimes audio. For the print books if I need to take down a note of an important passage or jot down my initial reading of a particular scene, I maintain a Pages file for each title. I note down the page number, transcribe the quote, and then if needed, make my notes about the context of the scene or my analysis of it.

Sometimes though I don't have access to Pages. When that happens, I resort to making my notes as cryptic status updates on GoodReads.

If I feel a particular book has enough to offer that it needs a closer, deeper reading, I will then transcribe my notes, one entry at a time into my Tumblr. Then below the transcription I will annotate with my thoughts or analysis or add a relevant photograph or illustration. Older ones, pre-spectrum, are tagged as "roadtrip" and more recent ones are tagged as "road narrative spectrum" as well as the book's spectrum color.

Everything else, the reviews and the essays, go onto my book blog. The essays are indexed under "Road Essays." The reviewed books are indexed under "Road Reviews.

In the future when more of the essays are written and most of the categories have at least one exemplar, I plan to organize things into bigger sections, namely chapters. These will probably have to be offered as PDFs and epubs to keep page formatting better as they will be too unwieldy for blog posts. That step will be in the next five years at the rate I'm going.

Comments  (2)

Dragon Pearl: 02/16/19

Dragon Pearl

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is a middle grade science fiction fantasy space opera romp that is infused with Korean lore. Min lives with her mother and her aunties on a frontier planet, Jinju. They are all fox spirits but per her mother's wishes, she doesn't use her shapeshifting abilities or her ability to Charm except when absolutely necessary. Now the family has gotten word that eldest son Jun has deserted his post a space cruiser.

A letter from Jun to Min gives her the clues she needs to know he wasn't a deserter. He was on a mission to find the Dragon Pearl. She decides to go after it herself to clear her brother's name (and hopefully find him). Of course doing this means using all of her fox spirit magic and Charm to the fullest of her abilities.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American born in Houston and now living in Baton Rouge. It shows in his writing as this novel fits perfectly into the road narrative spectrum. It has traveler, Min, a destination, the Ghost Planet, and a labyrinthine route.

Min, of course has her family back home on Jinju, so she's not a literal orphan (FF). Her status as an orphan traveler is one of choice, one of going solo. She does this because she doesn't have her family's support and as a young teen, she doesn't have the agency. But she does have Charm, which in the parlance of the road narrative spectrum, would be a literal representation of orphan magic.

While Min's main goal is to either reunite with her brother or to find the Dragon Pearl, the physical goal is the Ghost Planet — a planet inhabited, if you will, entirely by ghosts. Ghosts as I've written about before often are a sign of a uhoric (out of time) destination. (CC)

Finally there is the path. I could argue that since the travel is through outer space, the route is "offroad." I would except for many different ways that Min uses Charm to work her way from point to point to her final destination. With her befriending of a ghost early on and her reliance on his guidance through the potentially dangerous situations, thus making the route confusing but relatively safe, I'm placing the route at labyrinth rather than either maze or offroad (99)

Put all together, Min's journey to find out the fate of her brother and to locate the Dragon Pearl is an orphan traveling through a labyrinth to uhoria.

At the moment, this book is a standalone. Should there be further adventures for Min, I will eagerly read them.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz: 02/15/19

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum is the fourth book in the original Oz series. It is set recently after the April 18, 1906 in the East Bay. The journey this time to Oz will be by way of an underground

Dorothy has come on the train from San Francisco having returned the United States after her time in Australia. Her plans are to spend the night at Hugson's Siding with distant relatives and then catch the train back to Kansas.

Trains no longer go directly to San Francisco but the transcontinental line begins in San José and heads up along the East Bay near the shoreline and up and around by San Pedro before paralleling the I80 (more or less). Hayward has a long farming tradition (one of the high schools even still uses the Farmer as its mascot). Our Amtrak station is the same little train station that used to serve as the delivery point to the Hunt cannery. It sat at the intersection of three tracks of farmland owned by the Osterloh family. Across the street from the depot was Country Road (now West A Street).

But more broadly speaking, this starting point with it's H name and the apostrophe brings to mind the city's original name: Haywards. More importantly it connects Dorothy with another real world place, and this time with a real world event: the 1906 Earthquake. Also, Baum was old enough to have heard of the Hayward earthquake of 1868.

Baum sets the stage and earns a whole new set of readers by having Dorothy survive an event that just two years earlier (the book being published in 1908) they had survived. Eighty years after it was first published, I can remember how extraordinary it was to see an earthquake as a source to a magical, beloved land. California usually isn't an entry into utopia.

In Dorothy's first two trips to Oz she was essentially alone, having only an animal companion (Toto or Bill). Now she has two animal companions: Eureka the cat and Jim the horse, as well as her cousin, Zeb. Together they meet up with the Wizard.

Although they have fallen deep into the earth, Dorothy et al take the same practical approach that served her well in Kansas (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and the Pacific Ocean (Ozma of Oz). When it's obvious that the fall hasn't killed them but there isn't an easy way out, Dorothy declares that they should keep going and eventually they might be spotted and rescued by Ozma.

What follows is a weird underground adventure through a land of plant people, a land of invisible people, a land of wooden gargoyles. Their journey

for the most part is wide enough for Jim to pull the buggy. It's the 1906 version of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. But here, the path, though it seems rather fraught with danger, isn't full of the blind alleys and traps of a maze. Instead, it's a labyrinth.

Now while I've written of Dorothy as the exemplar orphan for the American road narrative, in this volume, she is part of a family, both through her connection to Zeb as well as her friendship with the Oscar the Wizard. That puts Dorothy and company into the "family" category of traveler (33). The ultimate destination (before home) is Oz, which remains a utopia (FF) at this juncture. Time is still passing normally for Oz and Dorothy and Ozma both look and act older. The road they take, as I've discussed is through a labyrinth (99). All together it's a family en route to utopia through a labyrinth.

Works cited:

Four stars

Comments (0)

Bird & Squirrel All Tangled Up: 02/14/19

Bird & Squirrel All Tangled Up

Two years ago when I reviewed Bird & Squirrel on Fire I said it felt like a good place to end the series. With the two travelers finally home and with Squirrel getting married, it felt final. Now, to my sheer and utter delight, there is a fifth book, Bird & Squirrel All Tangled Up by James Burks.

The book opens with Squirrel's wife leaving on a business trip. Bird is by to visit and to be the adventuring loving uncle to Squirrel's child.

Lingering in the wings of this story is Squirrel's old fears. Now, though, they are reframed in his abilities to parent and to keep his child safe. His child, meanwhile, has Bird's love of adventure and perhaps, his recklessness.

Bird lights the fire for adventure with stories of a Bigfeet. The trio sets off on their adventure with each encounter involving more and more danger. But each encounter also further builds up the story of the Bigfeet and his lifestyle.

The sliding from realism (if talking, brightly colored animals can count as realism) into fantasy (Bigfoot dubbed Bigfeet by Bird) brings to mind The Bigfoot Files by Lindsey Edgar (review coming). The two have very similar plots but very different executions.

Looking further, there is an unwritten rule that whenever Bigfoot or the Yeti or Sasquatch is mentioned, they will make an appearance if not to the main characters, at least to the audience.

For further reading:

Five stars

Comments (0)

FF3333: orphans in rural places along Blue Highways: 02/14/19

FF3333: orphans in rural places along Blue Highways

If I were to point to the origin of the road narrative spectrum, to the type of narrative that made me question the conventional approach to road narratives(especially road trip stories), it would be this one: the orphan in a rural place along a Blue Highway.

In the rural setting, I found a sharp dichotomy: either people trying to leave their small town setting or people coming trapped there. In both examples, though, the rural place was of greater importance than the road or the car, where as in the traditional readings, the goal is always framed in relationship to the big city: as somewhere to leave from or somewhere to go to, and often both (New York to Los Angeles, being the quintessential road narrative by this model).

Two books that fit into the category are The Boneshaker by Kate Milford (2010) and Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez (2017).

Starting again with the traveler, we have the orphan. Orphans are lone travelers either by choice or by circumstance. They can be literal orphans, as Dani is in Because of the Sun. Or they can be the only one left standing, such as Natalie in Boneshaker.

Here we have a rural setting. For Natalie, Arcane is her home. She doesn't want to leave and doesn't have any reason to leave. Her reason for leaving, for the ghost town, is to protect her town from Dr. Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show. For Dani, Columbus, NM is her new home after the death of her mother. She's been sent to her aunt, her only living relative. It's a huge change from the big city she's used to.

Finally there is the route. Dani's way into and out of Colubus is via two Blue Highways: 11 and 9. They come to a crossroads, just like the one outside Arcane, Natalie's home. For Dani, these roads while allowing her to go to school and into town, mostly serve as reminders of her newly imposed isolation as well as her family roots. Arcane's crossroads are a point of magic, a beacon for magical creatures, good and bad.

Note the placement of the spectrum, being close to crossroads between horror and realistic fiction

These two examples begin grounded in realistic fiction but drift into fantasy as their narratives progress. Because of the Sun uses elements of magical realism, brought on through heat exhaustion, to connect Dani to her past. Boneshaker by the midway point is fully horror in the style of Something Wicked This Way Comes with a town under attack, invaded by an evil traveling medicine show. Natalie is happens is the only one with the magical abilities needed to defeat the invaders and rescue their home.

Comments  (0)

Eggs in Purgatory: 02/13/19

Eggs in Purgatory

Eggs in Purgatory by Laura Childs is the start of the Cackleberry Club series. I decided to read it because of the buzz around the release of the most recent book, Eggs on Ice.

Suzanne, Toni, and Petra have all lost their husbands. They have pooled their resources to open the Cackleberry Club. It's a cozy cafe that is part breakfast shop, part tea shop, and party knitting store. And then it becomes the spot for the murder of a lawyer.

Although I read a on average a mystery a week — so around fifty two or more mysteries per year — and have been going at this pace since my teens, sometimes a mystery just doesn't gel for me. Eggs in Purgatory is one of those books. Somehow the clues connecting the victim to the murderer don't make sense to me. The red herrings, that the Cackleberry Club owners follow up, were obvious red herrings that I had to question their sleuthing skills.

But somehow the last red herring leads them to jump to the correct solution and that's where the book lost me. But it's the first of a series and firsts often have rough stars. I'm willing to try second book in the series to see if it finds its pace.

The second book is Eggs Benedict Arnold (2009).

Two stars

Comments (0)

Body on Baker Street: 02/12/19

Body on Baker Street

Body on Baker Street by Vicki Delany is the second of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery series. Gemma receives a late afternoon telephone call from a publicist; a popular Sherlock Holmes romance writer wants to do a signing at her shop. Of course at the end of the signing the author ends up dead!

Read enough book themed cozies and one is bound to come across similar plots. For instance, this plot starts like Bookmarked for Murder by Lorna Barrett. The second half of the book, though, bears a resemblance to another Lorna Barrett mystery, Title Wave.

The basic gist of these mysteries is that a popular author has been murdered and her death leads to everyone knowing that she wasn't as talented as everyone thought. Was she killed because she had stolen someone else's work? Was her ghostwriter tired of living in her shadow?

Even though I recognized the ingredients that went into the mystery, I still enjoyed the book. The reasons for this particular author's murder aren't like the ones in either of the Lorna Barrett books.

The third book in the series is The Cat of Baskervilles (2018)

Four stars

Comments (0)

Hurricane Child: 02/11/19

Hurricane Child

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender is about Caroline who lives on a Water Island (part of the U.S. Virgin Islands). She takes a water taxi to school every day — a school where she is hated for her dark skin.

Besides a less than thrilling school situation, Caroline is missing her mother. She walked out on her family, leaving Caroline with her father. She believes the walk out was her fault, for being an unlucky child, born during a hurricane.

When a new girl shows up at school, Caroline is jolted out of her rut. Kalinda is from Barbardos. Their awkward friendship expands her horizons. It also gives her the means for finding her mother and learning the truth behind her disappearance.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum project, this book comes in as a realistic fiction. It's a 663366 — marginalized, rural, offroad.

Caroline is marginalized because she is young, she is poor, and because she doesn't have much in the way of adult support in her life. Her destinations are rural in the sense that they are small, out of the way places. Water Island has a population under 200 (per the Google card). Her means of travel is offroad primarily because it's done via water taxi or on foot.

The story is raw and emotionally charged. I have a feeling that it's also deeply personal.

I admit that I didn't have the time for this novel that it requires.

Three stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 11): 02/11/19

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

I have five pages left in my sketchbook and will hopefully be mailing it back in a week or two, well before the March 30th deadline. I'm taking a multimedia approach by using acrylics, pen and ink, and colored pencils as needed.

Painted sketches of a cardinal, blue jay, California scrub jay, and Steller's jay

On Monday my new lens arrived, a 75-300 mm lens. Of course it's been raining again for most of the week, so my chances to test it out have been limited to the birds who visit my yard and the gorgeous rainy sunsets.

Acorn woodpecker
Acorn woodpecker shot with the new lens.

Last Monday it got cold enough during our day long rainstorm that the local hills got a dusting of snow. Actually this weekend, some of them got a second, thicker dusting. The photo below was taken Tuesday morning.

Snow on the Palomares ridge

What I read:

  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig; personal collection
  • Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 2 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • Bird and Squirrel All Tangled Up by James Burks; personal collection
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee; personal collection
  • Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection / research
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley; personal collection
  • Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 3: Absolution by Mitch Iverson; personal collection
  • Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle; personal collection
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon; library book

Up Soon:

  • The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley; personal collection
  • Brave by Svetlana Chmakova; personal collection
  • Ghostbusters: Crossing Over by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening (Illustrations); personal collection
  • Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen; personal collection


Reviews Posted

Comments  (26)

Daring Do and the Eternal Flower: 02/10/19

Daring Do and the Eternal Flower

Daring Do and the Eternal Flower by A.K. Yearling is the second in a trilogy inspired by the books and author mentioned in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The conceit in the cartoon is that A.K. Yearling is the pseudonym of Daring Do — meaning that her popular adventures are more fact than fiction.

In this adventure, Daring is after a special flower that when found grants immortality to the finder. But it's nearly impossible to find, always hiding when spotted and never blooming in the same place twice. She though has some clues in the form on a leaf and her father's journal.

Of course I should have been thinking of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The details are the same: the promise of immortality and the collaboration between father and adult child. The leaves though, which act as a compass, reminded me instead of Curse of the Black Pearl and the father's journal (and the more or less absent father) reminded me of the early seasons of Supernatural.

Despite the obvious connection with the cartoon series — the motivation being one of brand proliferation, the book is a fun read. It is what it is but if you need an afternoon of escape, it will provide it.

Four stars

Comments (0)

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise: 02/09/19

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart is a middle grade novel about a daughter trying to get her father to confront his grief head on and make it home in time to save a time capsule before a park is razed.

It begins, though, with the bartering of a slushy for a kitten at a rest stop in Oregon. After years of just the two: Rodeo and Coyote traveling and living in a converted school bus, the journey changes. They begin to take on passengers, starting with Ivan the cat, (named for the One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate).

And then in Naples Florida Coyote gets the news about the park and a near impossible deadline. She needs to be back in Washington State to get in little over three days. It is this deadline and near impossible distance that sets the tone of the book and establishes its placement in the road narrative spectrum.

Coyote knows she can't just tell her father outright about the deadline. She knows home is the one place he won't drive the bus. The best she can do is point him (and thus the bus) in the right direction.

The thing about buses in fiction, if they are privately owned, they invariably end up taking on passengers. Passengers change the group dynamic. Passengers become extended family.

Which brings to the road narrative spectrum. The travelers here first explicitly, a family (33): father and daughter. By the end, that family is an extended, metaphorical family of fellow travelers. The destination could be "home" but I'm counting it as uhoria because of the time capsule and for Coyote's memories of her mother and sisters who were killed in an accident years before this story. As it is impossible for Coyote and her father to get back the family they once had, their trip home is a trip to uhoria (or no time) (CC). Finally there is the route taken. Except for one detour, which Coyote mentions in the climax, Rodeo keeps the bus on the interstate (00). Certainly for expediency (even with detours), Coyote would want to direct the various drivers to stay on the most direct route. Put all together, the novel is a 33CC00 or family traveling to uhoria via the interstate.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Boat of Dreams: 02/08/19

Boat of Dreams

Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho is a wordless picture book in two parts that are connected through the image of a winged boat.

The first part is from the perspective of a boy in an apparently abandoned town. He sets to work on designing a clockwork flying boat. At the end of the day he sets it free. The second part is of an old man who lives at the edge of the sea and receives a message in the bottle that's related to what the boy was working on.

I read this book initially for the road narrative review before I had finalized my road narrative spectrum. I expected it to rank higher given its fantasy and steampunk settings. Instead, though, it ranks in the middle of the top row of the lowest section.

Placement of BOAT OF DREAMS on the road narrative spectrum

Starting with the traveler, we have connected but parallel stories of a boy and a man who are in control of their lives and their worlds. Without extra context (other characters, for instance) the only way they can be classified is as privileged (00). Their interconnected lands, accessible via the magic boat as well as by dreams, is a utopic (no place) destination (FF). The boat which connects the two worlds doesn't have an obvious road between the two. Nor is it separated by corn. It could be separated by time but that isn't made obvious; therefore I'm placing the route as offroad (66). All together that is 00FF66.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Awkward: 02/07/19


Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova is the first graphic novel in a series about middle school. It begins with Peppi Torres breaking her cardinal rule: don't get noticed by the mean kids. She does this by accidentally knocking over Jaime Thompson. Now she's been dubbed his "nerder girl friend."

Despite the rough introduction, Peppi does manage to find friends and more importantly apologize to Jaime. It turns out she and he have a lot in common.

It's a sweet book similar in tone and humor as Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat.

The second book is Brave (2017), which I am currently reading.

Five stars

Comments (0)

FF3366: orphans going offroad to rural places: 02/07/19

FF3366: orphans going offroad to rural places

Next stop for the orphan traveler in the road narrative spectrum is the rural destination by way of an offroad route. For this essay, I'm including a discussion of two novels, Finding Fortune by Delia Ray and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. The former qualifies for being written by an American author and being set in Mississippi. The latter is an outlier but I've mentioned before how Japanese literature has many examples of road narratives that fit well within the spectrum.

As always we start with the traveler. The orphan is a solo traveler. Ren, though she has parents (who are in the middle of a divorce), needs a place to escape from the family drama. She thus takes her bike and rides out of town to a nearby ghost town, Fortune. Tsukuru has been abandoned by his friends and has spent the first decade or so of adulthood feeling adrift. He decides to make amends for this by reconnecting with his former friends.

The solo traveler, especially in fantasies, has access to abilities that other types of travelers do not. For more realistic fiction such as these two examples, the magic is mostly metaphorical. For Ren, her ability as an outsider is that she's able to help track down the treasure hidden in the old school, now serving as a boarding house.

For Tsukuru, there is a hint of powers linked up with the severing of an extra digit. In other Murakami novels, that missing digit would link him to a twin (and put the novel in the CC3366 category) but here it is just a hint at powers (or perhaps a lingering curse) that hangs over Tsukuru.

For the case of the destination, I pick the one that stands out the most or is the most difficult to reach. Now for Ren, there is only one destination, the former town of Fortune. It's in a town so small that it has gone bust, whose only residents are those at the boarding house.

For Tsukuru, his final destination is a farmhouse outside Helsinki. And while Helsinki has about the same population as San Francisco, Tsukuru's reaction to being so far from home, is how remote the location feels. It is that personal, emotional response that has prompted me to set the destination as rural, rather than city.

Finally there is the method of travel. Again, I pick the most extreme route of travel. For Ren, it's her bicycle and whatever paths she uses to get from home to Fortune and back. Since she's originally riding to clear her head, the path isn't a well established road (a Blue Highway).

For Tsukuru, within Tokyo he's primarily taking trains and highways but again, it's that last trip to Finland via an airplane where his pilgrimage finally brings him the emotional closure he's looking for (though not in the form he expected). That flight counts as offroad.

In the first example, we have a child looking for a place to clear her head. Her journey ends up being to a location where she is able to make new friends and to have the thrill of solving an old treasure hunt. Her journey begins as a psychological one and ends up being one where she can help people and learn about the past of a neighboring former town.

In the second example, the pilgrimage around Japan and then to Finland is a means for Tsukuru to work through his depression and his feelings of abandonment. The journey is one of personal growth and self reflection with a maturity that reflects his next step in adulthood.

Works cited:

Comments  (0)

Clobbered by Camembert: 02/06/19

Clobbered by Camembert

Clobbered by Camembert by Avery Aames is the third of the Cheese Shop mysteries. It's wintertime and Charlotte is getting her stall ready for the upcoming festival. Into the mix of this planning chaos, an old friend of her mother comes to town to start a honeybee farm to compete with the town's current farm. And then she ends up dead.

In cozies, when someone new suddenly returns to town, they will end up dead. They will also end up with closets full of skeletons. Pretty soon everyone in town (or at least the half dozen or so who feature in the mystery) have motives for murder.

Before Kaitlyn Clydesdale died she cast doubt on the story of death of Charlotte's parents. I realize the tragic backstory isn't something unique to this particular series, but I do find them rather tedious.

Ignoring the avalanche of dirt Clydesdale had on people in the town, the identity of the murder is pretty obvious. In that they pretty much broadcast not only that they did it but that they are EVIL. Yet it takes Charlotte to the penultimate chapter to notice the murder prancing about giggling to themselves.

The fourth book is To Brie or Not to Brie (2013).

Three stars

Comments (0)

The Ghost Road: 02/05/19

The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter opens with a shipwreck. It opens with a girl calling to her mother and expecting to drown. This nightmare will play a significant role in the novel.

Ruth has been sent to her aunt's house while her father and her stepmother go on their honeymoon. Ruth is from Toronto which is warmer and drier in the summer. Ruth isn't prepared for the days of fog and rain.

Ruth's aunt lives in Buckle Newfoundland which is described as being near St. John's (if anything is near anything else on Newfoundland). The name brings to mind Blueberry Buckle.

I making a big deal about the location because it is as much a character as Ruth and her family are. This small town is steeped in history, still holding on to the memory of three founding families. Ruth happens to related to all of them.

Ruth learns her family history through her time with her cousin, Ruby. Ruby has grown up around the lore and legends. She knows the basics of the family history and the town history. Most importantly she knows about the family curse.

The way Ruth and Ruby unravel the nature of the family curse is built on the three ingredients of the North American road narrative spectrum. By understanding the spectrum, some of the surprises in this fantasy aren't so surprising.

The first question in the road narrative is who is the traveler. The obvious answer is Ruth. As she is first presented, separated from her father and future step mother, the first assumption is that she is an orphan (FF). Except, she has been sent to her extended family and has been paired with her cousin. That would put her farther down the list at family (33). It is the curse and the uncanny number of twins her her family as well as her physical similarities to Ruby that aligns the two girls as siblings (CC).

Next is the destination. The curse and the lore are tied up with a town that was drowned (with only two survivors) during a storm surge. Now that town, lost and replaced by the wilderness, could be the wildlands (99). At the far extreme, the place could be a no-place (utopia) as it no longer exists (FF). But the way to the former town can be mapped even though the starting point is a fictional town. It's described as being a four hour walk to a place in a valley near a hidden cove. Four hours of walking is roughly twelve miles. It would still most likely be along the coast in the same area of Newfoundland as St John's. But there is the curse and the ghosts and visions Ruth is having where she essentially relives pieces of the lives of the women who came before her. That disconnect in time puts the location as uhoria (CC).

Finally there is the route. That is given in the title: "the ghost road." There was, once upon a time, a road between Buckle and the original town. Though it has been lost to time and overgrown, women with the sight can see it. Since the road at its time of use was an actual road, one that could be walked, or horses ridden over, it was a well enough established to count as a Blue Highway (33).

Put all together, this middle grade fantasy set in Newfoundland in the late 1970s is a CCCC33 or siblings who travel to uhoria via a Blue Highway.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Takedown: 02/04/19


Takedown by Laura Shovan is a middle grade novel about wrestling. It's told in alternating chapters narrated by a girl and a boy.

Mikayla has brothers and loves wrestling. She's fought hard for a role on the team but not everyone is thrilled to have a girl on the team. Meanwhile Lev has been training with his buddies and is disappointed to be paired with a girl.

So it's about sexism in sports and toxic masculinity. Mikayla has to go above and beyond to prove herself, more so than any of her male teammates. Lev meanwhile has to suffer through constant teasing for being teamed with a girl.

Beyond that, this book is best suited for readers who are in into wresting or similar school sports.

Two stars

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 04): 02/04/19

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

The rain is back and will be around for most of next week. It's nice to not have to water. Fortunately we aren't expecting any flooding. Other parts of California aren't as lucky.

Progress on the Davis farm painting

I've made some progress on the Davis farm painting. But it's going slowly. Mostly I need to stare at it and think how to attack it next.

In the meantime, I'm about half way finished with my sketchbook. I should be finished with it in about two weeks.

Below is a painting of turkeysaurus-Rex. No, it's not a real thing, just a what if. What if the T-Rex were even more like a turkey than it actually was.

Progress on the Davis farm painting

Reading this week was pretty calm until today when I realized I had a bunch of library books due. So I spent my rainy day reading. Nearly half the books I read this week were ones I finished today.

What I read:

  • Black Hammer, Vol. 3: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire; personal collection
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson; personal collection
  • Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1 by Hinowa Kouzuki; personal collection
  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart; personal collection / research
  • Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs; library book
  • Monsters & Modules by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes (Illustrations); library book
  • The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio; library book/ research

What I'm reading:

  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig; personal collection
  • Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 2 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien; personal collection
  • Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee; personal collection
  • Voltron Legendary Defender Volume 3: Absolution by Mitch Iverson; personal collection
  • Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle; personal collection
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon; library book


Reviews Posted

Comments  (20)

Charley Harper's Book of Colors: 02/03/19

Charley Harper's Book of Colors

Charley Harper's Book of Colors by Zoe Burke is a picture book that uses Harper's bright, geometric illustrations as inspiration for a color concept book.

The illustrations are by far the best part of the book. Harper has a unique, recognizable and perfectly suited for a board book such as this. Frankly the book would be better without the text.

The text though makes at least one glaring error — a very basic science one — the sort of science that even a toddler can know and understand. There is a bee out collecting pollen and the text calls it a he.

Bees while capable of complex architecture and communication through dance don't have gender rolls or gender expression in a human way. What we do know is that the queen and her workers are female. The only ones who are male are the drones who are there for reproduction only.

In regards to the calico on the cover — there's another case where calico cats are primarily female. The sex linked genetics here are a bit more complicated. Here the text doesn't outright pick a gender, it's left neutral. But it's another point where "she" would have been more appropriate.

Is it ignorance or some internalized misogyny that has removed the females from this book?

Two stars

Comments (0)

Road Narrative Update for January 2019: 02/03/19

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 nine books in January, up from three books in the previous month:

  1. The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (CCCC33: Siblings uhoria Blue Highway)
  2. The Similars by Rebecca Hanover (99FFCC (scarecrow, utopia, maze)
  3. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (99FF99: S/M utopia labyrinth)
  4. The Extremely High Tide! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats (66FF66: marginalized utopia offroad)
  5. The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis (66CC66: marginalized uhoria offroad)
  6. Lions and Liars by Kate Beasley (669966: marginalized wildlands offroad)
  7. Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian (663366: marginalized rural offroad)
  8. Black Hammer, Volume 3: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire (33FFFF: family utopia cornfield)
  9. The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (3366CC: family home maze)

January's selection was a mixture of ages and genres.

Narratives read by placement in the spectrum
CCCC33 99FFCC 99FF99
66FF66 66CC66 669966
663366 33FFFF 3366CC

I reviewed or analyzed nine books:

  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (FFFF00: orphan utopia interstate)
  2. The Similars by Rebecca Hanover (99FFCC (scarecrow, utopia, maze)
  3. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (99FF99: S/M Utopia labyrinth)
  4. The Extremely High Tide! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats (66FF66: marginalized utopia offroad)
  5. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (33FFFF: family utopia cornfield)
  6. The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein (33FFFF: family utopia cornfield)
  7. Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott (33FF66: family utopia offroad)
  8. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink (33CC33: family or couple, uhoria, Blue Highway)
  9. Rust: Soul in the Machine by Royden Lepp (336666: family home offroad)

Narratives reviewed by placement in the spectrum
FFFF00 99FFCC 99FF99
66FF66 33FFFF 33FFFF
33FF66 33CC33 336666

Finally I wrote these essays:

  1. FF33CC and FF3399: rural orphans in the maze and labyrinth
  2. FF33FF: orphans in rural places surrounded by cornfields
  3. FF6600: Orphans looking for home on the Interstate
  4. FF6633: orphans going home along the Blue Highway
  5. TFF6666: orphan going offroad towards home

December was focused on reading books purchased in 2018 as well as newly published books. Where possible, those books were also for this project.

Comments  (0)

January 2019 Sources: 02/02/19

January book sources

January I primarily focused on my own books, ones purchased in 2018. Secondarily was research. Finally there were some due library books. As it's a new year, there were some newly published books too.

ROOB Score for the last three years

Despite there being four newly published books, all but one were for research, thus keeping my ROOB score good.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

January 2019 is right in the middle for all Januarys, though it is the lowest one in recent years.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for January dropped slightly from -2.37 to -2.39

Comments  (0)

Black Hammer, Volume 3: Age of Doom Part One: 02/02/19

Black Hammer, Volume 3: Age of Doom Part One

Black Hammer: Age of Doom by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston is the third volume of the Black Hammer series or the fifth volume if the two side stories are included. Lucy Weber has arrived on the farm and she's taken on the mantle of Black Hammer. She knows the truth behind their banishment but before she can reveal it, she disappears.

The majority of volume three is a split narrative, divided between the characters on the farm trying to regroup and Lucy aka Black Hammer trying to find her way back to the farm.

Lucy's experience dives the comic right into metafiction. Her journey back to the farm involves a bar, a trip through hell, a run in with Sweet Tooth, and so forth. Her quest makes it obvious that things aren't what they appear to be on the farm or anywhere else that isn't Spiral City.

Black Hammer wanders through the Sweet Tooth comic

Meanwhile back on the farm and in neighboring Rockwood, things that had gone awry appear to be fixed. But the suddenness of the fixing is uncanny. This half of the comic also provides insight into the truth behind Rockwood and the whereabouts of Lucy.

Looking at volume three in terms of the Road Narrative Spectrum, this one is a 33FFFF.

From Lucy's perspective, her journey to Rockwood and then to where ever it is she goes, is framed within the context of her father. As she is now wearing his uniform and carrying his hammer, her journey counts as family. Furthermore, the others on the farm are living as a de facto family even if they aren't always happy about their situation. That puts the traveler category at a 33.

The destination as we learn through both pieces of the narrative is a literal no place, or utopia. Both worlds are artifices and their construction is breaking down. That the reality behind the apparent farm and rural town is now revealed boosts the destination up to utopia (FF).

Finally there is the path taken. Although Lucy does a lot of off road tracking, the ultimate barrier between where she and the others are and reality is framed around the context of the cornfield. That puts the destination (or rather, the place to escape from) as an FF.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book: 02/01/19

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins is the final book of the Mabel Jones series but narrative wise, there should be a fourth book.

Mabel now trapped in the Noo World has decided to track down the Doomsday book to learn what happened to humanity. The clues lead her and her crew to Otom. But now there is a new menace, a creature named Von Klaar is also after the book.

The exploration of Otom — aka what's left of Istanbul — should have by rights been the conclusion. It's not. There is lots of derring-do and chasing. And then there's a new clue that points in the direction of whatever has become of Egypt.

And then the book and the series ends. With it now three years after the publish date, I doubt there are more books planned. No. I suspect the author did but something happened. Things happen. Plans get set aside.

While I don't typically count British travel stories in the road narrative because of the "there and back again" nature of them, I have the Mabel books grandfathered in. I started reading them before I knew for sure what my focus would be.

The lack of a conclusion, actually makes this series a better fit the project that it otherwise would have been. I am reminded of The Vacation by Polly Horvath, a middle grade novel that ends before its fictionalized road trip does. The point is, "Noo World" road narratives are often one way and British ones usually involve a round trip.

So in terms of the project, Molly's last adventure comes in at a FFCC66: orphan uhoria offroad. Molly has chosen to stay (and now be stuck) in the far future, some in determined amount of time. Molly through her decision is once again an orphan, meaning see's separated from her family. Her travels are primarily offroad as they are by sea.

progression of the Mabel Jones books up the road narrative spectrum.

  • Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones: 66CC66 marginalized uhoria offroad
  • Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City: CCCC66 siblings uhoria offroad
  • Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book: FFCC66 Orphan uhoria offroad

Over the course of three books, Mabel Jones has gone from a marginalized traveler in a dangerous world, to a sibling traveler (to rescue and then guide her younger sister home), and finally an orphan traveler who has chosen to adventure in this far future world to hopefully prevent whatever tragedy befell humanity.

Four stars

Comments (0)

January 2019 Summary: 02/01/19

Reading report

January has been busy with art. I have a sketchbook due in March and this month has been filled with planning the pages and now executing them. When I am reading, I'm dividing my time between reading through the books I bought last year but didn't get to and reading one newly published book each week for review.

Despite the deadline, I managed to read three more books than I did in December. That comes in as three fewer than a year ago.

I read 27 books in January, up from December's 24. I surpassed my 51% goal for diverse reading, with 63% of all the books I read qualifying. The majority of the books I read were from my own collection with the other half being divided between research and library books. My reviews were equally successful, coming in with 55% of them featuring diverse characters and/or authors.

With one month of 2019 complete, I still have 15 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 20. My 2017 reviews though are at similarly small numbers as the remaining 2016, coming in at 18. I have 78 reviews remaining from 2018 and 20 now from 2019.

Comments  (0)