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March 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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Tigers in Red Weather: 03/31/19

Tigers in Red Weather

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is a multi-generation historical fiction that starts at Martha's Vineyard in the 1940s. Each section is told from a different point of view and each point of view character agonizes over something.

The different eras and different points of view makes this book read more like a series of vaguely connected novellas than a single coherent novel.

In there as well is a violent murder that affects everyone but it's not a mystery. The murder is just one more distraction, along with the violence of war, the violence of domestic abuse, parents who don't love their children, etc.

Two stars

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When February is three months long: 03/30/19

Recently published books

February had so many releases I was interesting in reading that I ended up buying three month's worth of reading. Here we are at the close of March and I still have a month's worth of February releases to read.

So far from my February pile I've read and reviewed:

I've read but still need to review:

  • A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano (February 05)
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (February 12)
  • Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley (February 26)

I'm currently reading:

  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (February 12)
  • Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower (February 12)
  • Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson (February 12)
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts (February 12)
  • Giant Days Volume 9 by John Allison (February 19)

I still have to read:

  • The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee (February 19)
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (February 26)
  • The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena (February 26)

And that doesn't cover the sixteen March releases I've purchased and plan to read and review.

Comments  (12)

To Night Owl from Dogfish: 03/30/19

To Night Owl from Dogfish

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer is an epistolatory middle grade novel about the trials and errors of blending families.

It begins with Bett Devlin emailing Avery Bloom at her school with a tale of their fathers being engaged after meeting at a conference. The girls we learn will be spending their summer at hippy STEM camp while the two dads go on a whirlwind tour of China.

Things instantly go awry for both parties. The dads keep crashing into things, getting lost, losing things. The girls keep getting into trouble. Avery is about as well suited for summer camp as Wednesday Adams.

Bett further complicates things by inviting Avery's mother to family day since the dads are out of the country. The introduction of Avery's super famous, successful mother into the plot is where the novel lost me. She reads like Charlotte from Lucifer in her power and in her parenting cluelessness.

Anyway, as the engagement falls apart there's this whole subplot with Bett's grandmother and Avery's mother bonding over their time on the stage. Betty ends up rekindling her acting career. This entire B plot could easily be removed to make a stronger, shorter, and more focused novel of two families finally becoming one after some pitfalls.

Three stars

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The Penderwicks on Gardam Street: 03/29/19

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall takes place a few months after the conclusion of the first books. Mr. Penderwick and his daughters are back at home on Gardam Street. Their life is set upside down when their aunt comes insisting it's time for her brother to start dating again.

The four Penderwick sisters take it into their own hands to prevent their father from remarrying. They set up dates with when their father will find boring. They find other ways of sabotage.

But... right next door, is a women and her young son and their cat. She is so like Mr. Penderwick that romance is bound to be in the air even if the two adults don't see it at first. And they are so close to each other geographically that there's not much for the sisters to do.

Progression of the Penderwicks through the spectrum from book one to two

Although the Penderwicks are at home for this second volume and there's not much in the way of travel, it does still sit on the road narrative spectrum, albeit metaphorically.

The travelers are the Penderwicks as a family, just as in the first volume. That puts the traveler nearly at the bottom of the traveler column, a 33. The destination could be home since they are at home, but I'm setting it instead at uhoria. Birdsall writes in a timeless fashion, only hinting at specific events to give a sense as to when the story is taking place. The odd out of time feeling to it, though, qualifies it (like the previous one) as a CC. Finally there is the route taken. It could be Blue Highway in honor of the role Gardam street plays in setting the stage. It could be offroad for the forest at the end of the street. Instead, though, I'm placing it at maze (CC) for the very complicated schemes the girls set up to keep their father from dating. It's a maze full of traps and blind alleys that they make and impose on themselves and their father but it does complicate their path to becoming a blended family. Put all together it's 33CCCC.

The next book in the series is The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (2011).

Five stars

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FF0033: An orphan's journey to the big city by way of the Blue Highway: 03/29/19

January book sources

The penultimate city journey an orphan can take is by way of the Blue Highway. At this time I don't have an exemplar, so this post will be entirely descriptive and hypothetical.

The orphan traveler is a solo traveler. They may be a literal orphan. Or they may be someone forced by circumstance to travel or act alone. They are not a privileged traveler (00) as they lack the personal agency to travel whenever and wherever they chose.

Orphan travelers are often children but don't have to be. They can be adults if for some reason they won't otherwise have the agency to leave at will.

The city is the last of the destinations because the city is the obvious destination. Travelers leave cities to travel to other cities. Rural travelers leave home, the farm, the small town, to make it big in the city. The city is a lure to many and a common narrative point.

Finally there is the Blue Highway. The name is taken from the older, smaller highways that criss-cross the United States. More broadly speaking for this project, it's any meandering but maintained road.

Put all together, this type of narrative would probably be one of a child forced by circumstances to go to a city, perhaps to distant family, or to try to make a living after being orphaned, or when running away from a dangerous situation.

If the narrative is contained within the bounds of the city, the orphan could be roaming the streets. They could be homeless.

A final version could be one of kidnapping. Someone could be bodily removed from their circumstances for reasons that would require either rescue or escape. The vast majority of the orphan narratives I've read so far would lead me to expect escape, rather than rescue.

If you can recommend a novel, film, or television episode that fits into this category, please let me know the title in a comment.

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Birding Is My Favorite Video Game: 03/28/19

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco is a collection of the Bird & Moon comics. They are climate change and STEAM comics and sometimes just off the wall observations about birds and nature.

These are primarily four panel and single panel comics. There are ones like the mocking bird problems where the bird is proudly showing off its skills at mimicry only to annoy everyone. The bird is, of course, doing car alarm sounds.

There are also some longer ones where there is more to tell than can be done in just four panels. The milkweed vs monarch, for instance, goes across two pages (or a long page scroll if reading on line).

These comics whether read in print or online are fun. I had a few problems with the text on some pages. In print the letters are sometimes too small for me and need to be read with a magnifying glass. This is my problem — with wonky eyes and an equally wonky prescription.

The webcomic is online at Bird & Moon.

Four stars

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Dim Sum of All Fears: 03/27/19

Dim Sum of All Fears

Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien is the second of the Noodle Shop mysteries. Lana Lee has an interview for a dream job, one that will take her away from the family noodle shop. She's about to break the news when her parents spring something worse — they are flying out of the country and she's in charge of the restaurant while they are gone. So much for the interview!

As someone who has been in an odd job situation for the last many years, I was once again instantly relating to Lana's situation. I can't tell you how many times conflict of family needs and possible fantastic job have come up.

But this series isn't just a family drama. It's a cozy mystery series. The set up is there. With Lana's parents out of the country, someone is bound to end up dead at the shopping center. Sure enough, it's the new proprietors of the shop next door.

What comes out with their deaths is that the husband had a lot of exes. And they are now vying for control of the shop. Meanwhile, long time shop owners are convinced that the space is cursed.

I happened to read Dim Sum of All Fears in the middle of a binge watch of Midsommer Murders. The two share a central theme: sex and money being at the root of murder.

As the side plot, there is the on-going friendship that might be a relationship with the detective from the first book. Are they dating? Does he want to date her? Or is she a means to and end in his recurring investigations at the shopping center? Their whatever it is, is distracting, but not enough so that I want to quit the series.

Book three is Murder Lo Mein and it came out yesterday. I have it and will be reading it soon.

Four stars

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Comics Will Break Your Heart: 03/26/19

Comics Will Break Your Heart

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks is the graphic novelist's first prose only novel. It's set in a small town in Nova Scotia, a town with ties to a hot comic book franchise, recently adapted to a blockbuster movie.

Miriam is working in a comic book shop and meets a newcomer to the town, Weldon. He's interested in one of her mother's paintings featuring characters from The TomorrowMen in their original costumes. It doesn't take long for these two to realize they're both descendants of the co-creators of the comic. Weldon's family now holds the entire copyright and all the profits, while Miriam's family has nothing beyond the small amount of money their grandfather got when he was bought out.

The book is sold on the idea that it's a modern day retelling of Romeo and Juliet set around the comics book industry. It's not. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. This book is a romantic comedy. It's more like Much Ado About Nothing with a smaller cast of characters and fewer shenanigans.

You don't have to be a follower of either of the major comics publishers to enjoy this book. Nor do you have to have seen all (or any) of the recent superhero movies. Everything you need to know is in the book and in the characters. It's self contained and utterly delightful.

It's a good similar read to Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian.

This novel also fits into the road narrative spectrum. While most of the book takes place in Nova Scotia, the climax is set on the other end of the continent in San Diego, at Comic Con. Because the ultimate goal is the coming together of these two characters into a romantic coupling, the travelers are a couple (33). Their destination is San Diego, a city (00). Their method to getting to San Diego is offroad (via airplanes) (66).

Five stars

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Tiny Infinities: 03/25/19

Tiny Infinities

Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl has a lot of plot threads that all come together with the summer fireflies. Alice has moved into her parents' Renaissance faire tent in the backyard. It's her safe place away from the chaos of her parents' divorce.

Next door a new family has moved in. Their daughter doesn't talk. She used to but stopped when she was in preschool. Now she needs constant supervision and Alice connects with her over the summer as she works part-time as her minder.

At school Alice is trying to beat her record for freestyle to make it on the school record board. But a new kid, Harriet, who is obsessed with the science fair, has some strong opinions about Alice's swimming.

All of these apparently separate plots come together in Alice's backyard. It's there that the fireflies come out. It's there that Piper says her first words after years of silence. It's there that Harriet embraces her love of science.

This book reads like a one coeur summer slice of life anime. Things happen around these children but there is no big narrative arc. There is no happy ending. There are just scenes of kids doing their best through good and bad.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 25): 03/25/19

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

I finished two gouache and acrylic paintings in the Climate Change series. Number four is another sunset view overlooking the Sun Gallery, but focuses on the clouds instead of the building. Number five is from a photograph I took on Wednesday.

Climate Change 4
Climate Change 4

Climate Change 5
Climate Change 5

All five paintings
All five paintings together

On Wednesday and Thursday we had our last super moon of the year. It happened to fall on the equinox, making it the Super Worm Equinox Moon. The clouds were cooperative and I was able to get some good shots.

Super Worm Equinox Moon
Super Worm Equinox Moon. The spring moon apparently gets called a worm moon because the earthworms come up after the rains. Oh the things I learn on the radio.

On the reading front, it looks like I spent the entire week reading because of the large number of books. Actually, though, by Friday I had only finished two books: An Ocean of Minutes and Kid Gloves. The list is inflated by more reading for work. I'm looking at picture books for inspiration for the bird and dinosaur camp I'm planning. The Penderwicks at Last is an audiobook I've been listening to while painting for most of this year.

What I read:

  • An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim; personal collection / research
  • Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley; personal collection
  • Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso by Pablo Picasso; library book / work
  • The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall; personal collection / research
  • Knife Edge by Andrew Lane; library book
  • All Ducks Are Birds: But, Not All Birds Are Ducks by Tara Michele Zrinski; library book / work
  • Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland; library book / work
  • Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat (illustrator; library book / work
  • To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer; personal collection
  • The 91-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton (Illustrator); personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli; personal collection
  • The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders; personal collection
  • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor; library book

Up Soon:

  • A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano; personal collection
  • A Scandal in Scarlet by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts; personal collection
  • Misfit City Volume 2 by Kirsten Smith; library book / research

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (26)

Click'd: 03/24/19


Click'd by Tamara Ireland Stone is the first of the Code Girls series (with book two coming out later this year). Allie Navarro has built an amazing friendship app at the CodeGirls summer camp. It's called CLICK'D and it uses a quiz to rank everyone's personalities so that they can find their ten best friends near them.

Allie's program has enough potential that she's planning to enter it in an upcoming youth programming contest. Eager to show her friends how it works, she does a beta test at her school and the thing goes viral — for good and bad.

Of all the programming themed fiction I've read, this one gets the scalability issues of large scale usability experience. What works for a few doesn't necessarily work the same way for a large number. And when things go viral and get well beyond the planned audience or the assumed audience, all bets are off.

Despite the flaws in the initial release of CLICK'D as described in the book, I think it sounds like a fun app with a lot of real world potential. Mind you, there are still privacy issues due to its reliance on location data, and the need to have different networks of friends — because no one has just one set of friends. Friendship is both situational and location based.

The second book is Swap'd (2019).

Five stars

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The slippery slope of trying to read current: 03/23/19

Recently published books

For the last two years I've made the effort to read and review one newly published book each week. That means a commitment of fifty-two reviews of newly published books and the other 313 review slots left open for backlog books.

The reality is, there are far more books published in a given year that I want to read. As I'm at a place in my life where I can afford to buy new books and I have a small local independent bookshop that I want to support, I have been purchasing most of the new books I want to read.

To avoid completely breaking the family budget I make a pre-order list a month in advance and email it to the bookshop. That makes things simpler for the bookshop too — as it is literally run by three people: the owner and her two employees. It also gives me a way of tracking which books are no longer "wishlist" but are now on my "to be read" shelf.

I've purchased forty-four books so far this year. Of those, I've read 21 of them. That means I've read 47% of the 2019 books I've purchased. Of those purchased and read, I've reviewed 19 of them, or 43% of my purchases.

There are times when I feel like I should only be reading my newly purchased books. Doing so would certainly catch me up but it would get in the way of other reading. For instance, I am also trying to finish the remainders of last year's purchases. I have forty-three books left unread from last year. There are also library books, ones I'm primarily reading for work. I'll talk about those in a later post.

For right now, my goal for reading this year's purchases is to not fall as far behind as I did last year. Right now the five books I'm reading were all released last month, about six weeks ago. I have sixteen purchases so far this month and I have't read any of them. I have five left unread from February beyond the ones I'm currently reading.

We'll see how it goes.

Comments  (2)

Swap'd: 03/23/19


Swap'd by Tamara Ireland Stone is the second CodeGirls book. Allie Navarro wants to redeem herself after the fiasco with Click'd. Her advanced computer science teacher has assigned everyone to make programs that uses code already created, basically to learn how to rapid prototype with code libraries, rather than reinventing something each and every time.

Meanwhile, Allie also has tickets to an upcoming coding event and wants her CodeGirls buddy Courtney to join her. They have less than a month to get the money together to pay for the flight but with such short notice, flights are expensive.

The solution to both problems is a school app for selling things where Allie and Courtney take a small percentage of the sales for a transaction fee. Allie can build it from her Click'd app as well as bits and pieces from other Code Girl apps.

Although I enjoyed every single moment of this second book, the climax hinges on the teacher saying that Swap'd (the new app) is illegal because selling things on school campus isn't allowed in California. Curious, I went through and read through the California Education Department's laws regarding school regulation and while there are restrictions on types of food sales (both for consumption by students on a regular basis and for the sake of fundraising), I couldn't find a single law that would prohibit an app like Swap'd or the general selling of things between students.

That leaves a big plot hole. Was the teacher lying because of misconceptions of state law? Does the teacher just want Allie to fail to boost Nathan's program (even though he only seems to be a one trick pony when it comes to programming)? Or is this just authorial oversight?

Regardless of the plot hole, I still enjoyed the book. I hope there is a third one.

Five stars

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Summerlost: 03/22/19


Summerlost by Ally Condie is set in a fictional Iron Creek, a rural town that is recognizably inspired by Cedar Springs, UT. Cedar and her mother have come to her mother's childhood home town to recover and move on after the tragic death of Cedar's father and brother.

On her first day there, Cedar sees a boy about her age riding by on the two lane highway. With nothing else to do, she hops on her bike and follows him into the heart of the annual Shakespeare festival. Working at the festival gives her a chance to make new friends and to work through her grief.

In terms of the road narrative project, this one as a realistic, contemporary middle grade novel comes in low on the road narrative spectrum. It's a marginalized protagonist trying to adjust to her new home along a Blue Highway.

Cedar is marginalized because she is new to the town and she is young. She is also the surviving child of a grieving woman who is understandably now over protective. Thus her circumstances leave her with little in the way of agency.

Home is both the farm house along the highway she's moved into, as well as Iron Springs. Making her new situation home involves making new routines, new traditions, new friends, and accepting the direction her life has taken. Finally the road traveled is the Blue Highway that brought Cedar and her mother two Iron Creek. It's also the same road that Cedar takes every day to and from her summer job at the festival. The road gives her time to think things through. It is her place of spiritual transformation even if bodily, she's not traveling very far.

Four stars

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FF0066: Orphans going offroad in the city: 03/22/19

January book sources

The next way the orphan gets to or through the city is via an offroad manner. The two examples I'm showing are journeys through and around their respective cities. These two books are: Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale (2010) and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (2013).

Like the orphan in the city by way of the labyrinth, these examples are travels through a city. These are travelers with ties to the city who are forced to go there, or returning after a sojourn somewhere else.

For Jack, it's both. First it's his backstory of growing up in the city, an indigenous person living with his mother and being forced into thievery by those in power. For Tara, she is trying to find family sent to one of the coldtowns, cities walled up to keep the vampires inside. Tara is isolated from the non-infected masses. She can survive because she is alone.

While Jack returns to the city with Rapunzel to fight the Ant People, most of the narrative is his transformation into the man who is now returning as a hero. Most of the work he has done to become a hero, to survive, he has done on his own as an orphan traveler.

The city for Jack is one of return. He's going to show Rapunzel his home and to her to his kith and kin. He's also going to save the city and right some wrongs. He's going to use the skills he learned as a thief for the greater good. The city is his landscape for going offroad — primarily through the air and over rooftops.

The city for Tara is one of isolation. It has been cut off from the rest of the world, becoming a giant vampire ghetto. It's not a single neighborhood cut off; it's the entire city. With her car abandoned at the gate, her methods of travel are by foot and through similar unconventional paths as Jack.

Both examples are at the crossing over point between fantasy and horror. Calamity Jack is a blend of Western and horror (of the giant bug kind) with fantasy elements (magic and trolls). The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is straight up urban horror, blending the pathogen thrillers of Robin Cook with vampirism.

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Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology: 03/21/19

Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology

Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfé R. Monster was kickstarted in late 2014 and published in 2015. It is a collection of queer fantasy and science fiction comics.

The stories range from post war families, robots or clones working on distant starships, urban fantasy and so forth. The range in art and lettering skills varies, and unfortunately not all of them were easy for me to read without using a magnifying glass (along with my prescription glasses).

My favorite of the set is a story of a married couple and their adopted child. After bedtime, the child is kidnapped by changelings who live at the end of the street. They go heroically after her to bring her home.

In a twist that would fit comfortably in Troll Hunters, the parents end up rescuing their child and then decide to offer a home to the changelings. Rather than them taking other children to replace them, they are given unconditionally a safe, loving place to stay.

Later a second volume was also kickstartered and I have it on my TBR to read soon.

Four stars

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The Sign in the Smoke: 03/20/19

The Sign in the Smoke

The Sign in the Smoke by Carolyn Keene is the twelfth of the Nancy Drew Diaries. Nancy has been roped into being a summer camp counselor by her friends. They're working at the recently reopened and renamed camp.

Nancy is hoping to have some time off from sleuthing. But there's no escape, especially when the camp appears to be haunted by a girl who supposedly drowned at the previous camp.

This Nancy Drew series has so far avoided ghosts. The set up, beyond the paranormal angle, was similar to Secret at Mystic Lake, book six in this very series. What's different here is that there are clearly multiple people and multiple motives all feeding into the overall "haunting."

My main complaint with this book is that it's too similar too soon to previous books in the series. There are times that this mystery feels like a collage of previous books.

The thirteenth book is The Ghost in the Grey Fox Inn (2017). I am currently reading it.

Four stars

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The Cat of the Baskervillese: 03/19/19

The Cat of the Baskervillese

The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany is the third of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries. It's set in West London, Massachusetts. That puts it in the middle of the fictional Cape Cod also mapped and populated by Joseph C. Lincoln's novels a hundred years ago.

West London's theater festival is doing a version of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Playing Sherlock Holmes is a well known film star who is at a low point in his career. He and the other actors are there at a summer lunch to do a reading. After flubbing his lines he's later found dead, having apparently slipped and fallen to his death.

But nothing is ever that simple and it's clear from evidence left on the trail that he was probably pushed. Gemma decides it's in her best interest to solve the case since the local police don't seem up to the task.

The set up of this one reminded me of a Columbo or maybe a Midsommer Murders especially with the victim being elderly and the criminal also being elderly — albeit spry. There's nothing wrong with this type of plot but it did put me in a nostalgic mindset as this plot was far more common twenty or thirty or even forty years ago.

The next book is A Scandal in Scarlet (2018).

Four stars

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Drum Roll, Please: 03/18/19

Drum Roll, Please

Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow is set at a music summer camp. Melly has come to camp because her friend Olivia begged her to. But now that she's here she realizes that she adores playing the drums. They give this otherwise shy girl a voice.

Camp though is a new experience in a new location. It's not the guarantee that long time friends will be kept together. There are new kids to meet and new friends to make. As the camp progresses, Melly and Olivia drift apart. Both are at fault and some of it is just the nature of new experiences taking their effect.

It's also a time for new love. Melly discovers she has a crush on another camper. It's played out with just the right amount of drama and sincerity.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 18): 03/18/19

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

No photos of my art this week. The piece I showed you last week is still waiting for me to work on it. I got caught up in other projects and there was a full day of work on Friday.

A patch of hail looking like snow
The hail of last Sunday week stuck around for much of Monday. Here is some near our local grocery store.

The last two Fridays I've worked full days at the gallery to co-teach four different field trips. Each field trip lasts two hours with a half hour break between them. Each class has between twenty and thirty students plus their teacher and adult volunteers.

Linda teaching
Here's Linda giving an art lesson on drawing things from simple shapes.

Tiki drawing in oil pastel
The second half of each field trip is done in the studio where we lead the students through an oil pastel project.

Two Tiki drawings being worked on by 1st graders.

Reading-wise it was a quiet week. I finished four books. They were all excellent. My favorite of the lot was Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, with Swap'd by Tamara Ireland Stone coming in a close second.

What I read:

  • Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection
  • Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower; personal collection
  • Swap'd by Tamara Ireland Stone; personal collection
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor; library book / research

What I'm reading:

  • An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim; personal collection / research
  • Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley; personal collection
  • Knife Edge by Andrew Lane; library book
  • To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli; personal collection
  • The 91-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton (Illustrator); personal collection
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders; personal collection
  • The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn by Carolyn Keene; library book

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (18)

Tops & Bottoms: 03/17/19

Tops & Bottoms

Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens is a picture book story about some industrious hares teaching their bear neighbor a lesson. The story is a retelling of a Brer Rabbit tale.

The gist of this book is that Bear, a landowner — a plantation owner — is too lazy to do his own work. The hares do all the work. To obscure the fact that the hares are stand-ins for slaves, they are recast as neighbors.

With the hares as neighbors, their motivation to farm Bear's land is weird. Granted, the hares are a huge, hungry family. Granted too that lagomorphs do raid gardens (see the second Fenway and Hattie book, for example) but here you have anthropomorphized animal characters sometimes doing animal things because it's convenient for the plot.

The focus instead is taken to how the hares trick Bear during their one year of farming for him. When they give them the "tops", they only grow root vegetables. When they give him the "bottoms" they only grow plants that produce edible parts above ground. When he wants both the "tops and bottoms", they grown corn and take the "middle" (aka the ears of corn).

What is left unanswered is why did they do this for bear in the first place? If he's not forcing them through slavery, why not just till their own land. If their land isn't big enough to feed the entire family, what happens next year? Does Bear share? Does he hire them to do the work?

Two stars

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Curating while reading: 03/17/19

January book sources

After ten years of slogging through a reading and reviewing backlog I am now within weeks of being completely current with my reading and reviewing. This is both exhilarating and terrifying.

I have come to rely on having finished books and finished reviews for posting on days when I hadn't finished reading something. Now those days will end sometime this year. I know they will because I am slowing down with my reading due to a few reasons: age (my eyes aren't what they used to be), other commitments, other hobbies.

I am working part time as an art instructor at a local gallery. It's a dream job. I'm using my non-work hours to work on my art to show and to sell. I also have a summer camp to plan.

The good news is that this blog will become more coherent and will feature reviews and posts that more focused on subjects and genres that I am passionate about.

I am keeping the themed days. A week of reviews here looks like this:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Backlist review, any genre Canadian books, any genre Inclusive books, any genre Mysteries Graphic novels or comics, any genre Road narrative spectrum books Newly published books, any genre

Once the backlog is cleared, Monday will probably become a genre focused day. I'm thinking scifi/fantasy. I enjoy those genres but haven't been focusing on them much in recent years.

What about days where there is no review?

On days that I don't have a review ready, I will write something else that fits the day's theme. I might make a list of favorite books. I might talk about my favorite author. I might look at the history of the genre. I might talk about upcoming books.

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Song for a Whale: 03/16/19

Song for a Whale

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly is about the connection a Deaf girl connects with a whale who doesn't seem to have any other whales who can understand him. She uses her love of fixing old electronics (especially radios) to find a way to communicate with him so he knows he's not alone in the world.

For the most part, Nina dislikes her school. She has a classmate who tries to help by speaking in sign but it's not ASL and she doesn't respect Nina's personal space. There's the teacher who would rather send her to the office than see things from her point of view.

Things change when in science class she sees a video about Blue 55, a whale who sings in a frequency that is too different from other blue whales. Nina as the only Deaf kid in her school has a gut reaction feeling to how Blue 55 must feel about being alone in the ocean. She also, through her knowledge of electronics, sees a way to send him a message.

And so she does.

The "and so she does" aspect of this novel takes a rather conventional but delightful middle grade novel into the road narrative spectrum.

Although Nina primarily works by herself, she does not travel by herself (save for a few brief instances). The bulk of her traveling she does with her grandmother which puts her as traveler in the family category (33). Her goal is to meet up with Blue 55 and play the song she has written for him to him herself. As he is a whale, his location (the ocean) counts as wildlands (99). Finally, how she gets there (again save for a brief detour) is via a ship. Going over water is offroad (66). Put all together, Song for a Whale is family journey to the wildlands by an offroad route (339966).

Throughout all of Nina's narrative, from the trouble at school, to her radio projects, to her Blue 55 song, to her journey, her voice is strong and unique. Though there are other middle grade novels with Deaf characters, they are rarely the protagonists. Nina joins Macy (Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green) as being on a very short list of lead Deaf characters in middle grade fiction.

Five stars

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Yellow Brick War: 03/15/19

Yellow Brick War

Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige is the third of the Dorothy Must Die series. It opens in a dark, twisted Kansas, corrupted by the evil magic of dystopian Oz. To save Kansas and Earth, Amy has to find a way of sending Dorothy et. al. back to Oz.

This book is built on the supposition that Oz and Kansas are the same shape. Oz is vaguely rectangular with some curvy bits. It is divided into five sections with East and West flipped. For more on Oz's landscape, please read: In the upside-down: the hobo life in Oz.

But Paige describes Oz as rectangular and Kansas as well. Kansas isn't exactly rectangular either and the two shapes don't overlay.

As the action is primarily set in Kansas, the dystopian fantasy story is replaced by a paranormal high school drama, in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it lacks the narrative drive of the previous two and is left to stumble along on the rather weak character building.

Placement on the road narrative spectrum of the first three books in the Dorothy Must Die series.

For the road narrative spectrum, book three is a 3366FF: family, home, and cornfield. The traveler, Amy, is reunited with her mother. The location is Amy's original home. It's what she was desperate to leave but now she is back. These two pieces are low down on their axes of the spectrum, brining the novel almost to the realistic fiction. But the arrival on the outskirts of town, in the cornfields — albeit darkened and corrupted by tainted magic — puts the novel in the neighborhood of horror.

Interestingly, Dorothy Must Die is also situated in the horror. The Wicket Will Rise goes into the fantasy end of horror, before returning to gritty fiction with horror elements for this third book. The final book is The End of Oz.

Two stars

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FF0099: an orphan in a city labyrinth: a close reading of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere: 03/15/19

January book sources

Last week I described how the city landscape can serve as its own road narrative destination even when the story stays within its confines. Today's post will look at a similar narrative structure, but one where the trip is more transformative and at least to the protagonist, less dangerous. For this post I will be looking closely at Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Neverwhere is an interesting example of the American road narrative as written by a then recent immigrant. More interestingly, in its original form — a six episode series — it was created for BBC2 but still harnesses a distinctly new world approach to tell a story set in London, for a British audience.

The protagonist is Richard Mayhew, who at the start of each episodes, introduces himself in a broken video snippet. His faux reality TV addressing of the audience grounds him in the reality of London as a modern-day city, while the distortions and alterations to his testimony highlight how this average Londoner has been transformed and consumed by a very different, magical and ancient city mapped across, through, and under the London that most people think of.

Richard begins in episode one (or chapter one if reading the novel that came later) as part of a romantic couple. He and his fiancée are heading out to dinner when he happens to notice an injured woman, one who is also apparently homeless. Jessica warns him to ignore the woman so that he won't be later to their dinner date. Richard choses not to ignore her and instead offers his help to the woman we will later come to know as Door. By doing so, he has acknowledged someone from the other London, and has therefore orphaned himself from the mundane London.

Through this self inflicted orphaning, Richard is removed from the mundane London to the point that no one knows him any longer (including Jessica). His apartment is empty. His job no longer exists. He is not only homeless, he is existence-less. But this odd not quite there status is his entry point into this other London and his means for traveling through it.

The destination for Richard is still London, just this other London. His guide throughout this is Door and the other inhabitants he meets. What makes his journey one of fantasy is the metaphorical ways in which he travels. His quest is mapped to the London Underground but in ways that only make sense through word play.

I classify his route through London as a labyrinth for two reasons. The first is the series' use of minotaur imagery. Richard and his companions take on a guide who goes by the moniker, Hunter. Her scenes are intercut with quick, violent images of bull horns and blood.

The second reason is tied to the Richard's path through London. Although he and Door and the others are tracked by Messrs. Croup and Vandemar who are supernatural, dangerous and deadly, as evidenced by Door's injuries and her dead family, Richard is never really threatened by them. In fact, they seem baffled by him. Richard's continuing status as an outsider, a former mundane Londoner lessens the dangers and removes many of the well established traps in this alternate London. What is a maze for Door is a labyrinth for Richard.

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Disney Manga: Magical Dance Volume 1: 03/14/19

Disney Manga: Magical Dance Volume 1

Sometimes a cover just demands my attention. Disney Manga: Magical Dance Volume 1 by Nao Kodaka is one of those books. Lilo & Stitch is one of my favorite films. So seeing a manga with Stitch on the cover made me curious enough to try the first volume.

Rin wants to join a dance competition but she's not as coordinated as the others on the team. Discouraged and ready to quit, she's befriended by Tinkerbell. With the pixie's help, she able to summon various Disney characters to help her learn a new dance step or to give her the motivation to keep going.

She dances with Mickey, Stitch, Chip & Dale, Lilo & Stitch, and, Cinderella. There are currently two volumes.

Three stars

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Buried in Books: 03/13/19

Buried in Books

Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle is the twelfth in the Bibliophile mystery series. It's seta few years back when ALA had their midwinter conference at Moscone here in San Francisco. Except for this book, it's a fictional version with a slightly different name.

On the work front, Brooklyn has been invited to give a bookbinding workshop and to lead a tour of local famous book locations. The conference has reunited her with her two grad school BFFs, Heather and Sara. Except they still hate each other after Sara stole Heather's boyfriend and married him!

On the homefront, Brooklyn and Derek are getting married. It's also Brooklyn's birthday. During an unwanted surprise party, Heather and Sara each give her a book. Heather's is a well=loved copy of the Blue Fair Book. Sara's appears to be an outrageously rare book.

Through out all the brief encounters with Brooklyn, Heather and Sara there is animosity. Heather repeatedly says she wants to kill Sara. So it's no surprise when Sara ends up dead in the basement of the convention center.

Here's the thing, for Buried in Books to work, the basement of the convention center has to be dark and empty, save for things in storage, during the Not-ALA convention. That's not how convention centers work — certainly not Moscone. The basements are where the exhibitors work. I'm not talking people who have rented booths on the floor; I mean the hosts. It's where the tech support is, running their wifi hotspots, their wired internet connections. It's where pages run stuff between booths because there are hallways down there that aren't crowded with attendees. It's where the press works on their photographs.

It isn't a big, dark, oversized basement. It's not somewhere a person could be sent to work alone. And if there is a forklift involved, there is no way in Hell the convention center would left some random librarian operate it for obvious safety and liability issues.

So assuming that Brooklyn lives in an alternate reality San Francisco where OSHA doesn't exist and librarians can drive forklifts without being certified first. The mechanics of the mystery are lacking. This book is more like an AGA saga with a murder thrown in. The murder mystery from the title onwards is literal and on rails.

There are no red herrings. There is no play on words. Brooklyn isn't in the same sort of danger as previous books. It's not a very exciting mystery.

Read this one if you want to see Brooklyn get married. If you're just in this series for the whodunit, it's okay to skip this volume.

The next volume is The Book Supremacy which comes out June 4th.

Three stars

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Border Markers: 03/12/19

Border Markers

Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson is a slim volume about the dark side of life on the Canadian prairie. The book is 101 pages told through 35 separate flash fiction pieces.

Don't let the small number of pages lull you into a sense that this will be a quick read. For me, it wasn't. I read it in twenty page bursts which comes to about nine stories at a go.

Even with going slow, I came to realize the flash fiction wasn't working for me. I'd get invested in a character and then bam, I'd be somewhere else with a new character. Or there would be the same characters but we would be in different person's head.

Two stars

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The Weight of Our Sky: 03/11/19

The Weight of Our Sky

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf begins with an author's note with a list of trigger warnings and a brief description of the historical context. Read it first. She warns of "graphic violence, death, racism, OCD, and anxiety triggers." And all those things are there. Much of it is real — in that it is experienced first hand by the protagonist, and some of it isn't. That which isn't is the product of her OCD and anxiety, which she has personified as a djinn.

Melati Ahmad's story begins in the week of May 13, 1969, when race riots between the Chinese and Malay erupted in Kuala Lumpur. People were killed. Buildings were looted and burned.

Melati finds herself in the middle of things when she and her friend go to see a movie. She ends up on her own, and then in the care of a woman who choses to lie to save her life.

Now imagine knowing that your friend is dead and expecting the same of your mother while already living with OCD and anxiety. That is what Melati faces. And yet, somehow she keeps her wits about her and holds onto her humanity despite the terrible things happening around her.

One of things that keeps Melati going is her love of the Beatles. She references songs throughout her ordeal — mostly from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967).

It is a nail bitter of a YA novel. Even with the author's note, I would even recommend it for the older end of the middle grade set. And despite the violence and the trauma, it has a happy ending.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 11): 03/11/19

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

It was another week of rain which meant staying inside when not running errands. With the weather I had plenty of time to work on my Climate Change series of gouache and acrylic paintings.

Climate Change 2 painting showing the Sun Gallery at a smoky sunset
Climate Change 2 painting showing the Sun Gallery at a smoky sunset

Climate Change 3 painting
Climate Change 3 painting showing redwood trees and a telephone poll in a smoky sunrise.

Climate Change 1-3
The three originally planned gouache and acrylic paintings hanging together.

Climate Change 4 painting WIP
Climate Change 4 painting is still a WIP. I started it on the 10th.

On Friday I had a solid day of teaching at the Sun Gallery. That means two different field trips from local schools. Each visit is two hours of solid teaching but there is also prep time and clean up. I have a similarly busy Friday scheduled for this week.

Today we briefly had sun and then it started hailing.

Readingwise, it was a good week. Some of these books were research for the summer camp I'll be teaching. I'm doing a week of birds and dinosaurs. Tentatively I'm calling it "Birds of a feather, dinosaurs together." I also finished two newly published books and a bunch of backlist stuff I've been meaning to read.

What I read:

  • Heartwood Hotel 1: A True Home by Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin (illustrator)
  • Wrapped Up in You by Dan Jolley and Natalie Nourigat; library book
  • Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner and Andy Comins (photography)
  • The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf; personal collection
  • Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists by William Thomas Cooper
  • Llamaphones by Janik Coat; library book
  • Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly; personal collection
  • Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake; personal collection
  • Paper Girls, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Artist); personal collection
  • Misfit City Volume 1 by Kirsten Smith; library book

What I'm reading:

  • Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection
  • Swap'd by Tamara Ireland Stone; personal collection
  • An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim; personal collection / research
  • Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley; personal collection
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor; library book / research
  • To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer; personal collection
  • The 91-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton (Illustrator); personal collection

Posts and reviews:

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The Neighbors Are Watching: 03/10/19

The Neighbors Are Watching

The Neighbors Are Watching by Debra Ginsberg is a mystery disguised as literature set against the fires that raged through eastern San Diego county. Diana Jones, a pregnant teen shows up on the doorstep of her father's. Until now he hadn't know about her and his wife isn't eager to bring her in.

Every chapter is told from a different point of view. Every chapter is filled with anger and angst to the point of melodrama. Every single character has some deep secret that has left them perpetually seething.

Despite all of this window dressing, the book is basically a mystery. As it's written as literary fiction there aren't any of the usual red herrings. So for anyone who reads mysteries, there's nothing mysterious here. It's all window dressing. The situations are blown out of proportion for the sake of drama. It's all very tedious.

Two stars

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On the Come Up: 03/09/19

On the Come Up

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas draws from her experience as a teen rapper. Bri wants nothing more than to follow in her father's footsteps and be a rapper. Her mother would prefer she go to college like her brother. Her home life, though, is rocky and there's no guarantee that if she got into college she would be able to afford it.

In the Ring — the local rap battle event — Bri's main competitor is a boy whose stage name is Milez. She knows she has what it takes to beat him but it isn't until she's unfairly searched and tossed to the floor and then suspended for resisting at school that she truly finds her voice.

"On the Come Up" is the name of the rap Bri writes in an emotional response to being suspended. The entirety of the piece is included in the book and frankly, someone needs to perform it. Ideally, this book will also get optioned for a film and when produced, the titular rap would be included.

A question I've gotten from many interested readers is how does On the Come Up compare to The Hate U Give? Both are raw, emotional reads. Both feature believable, memorable leads. Both feature raw emotion but Starr and Bri are not the same person. They, though, are clearly products of the same environment but their outlets are different. Starr is an activist and her main platform is Tumblr — but later as the lead in the riot. Bri's outlet is rap. Both books are equally good, just different, as they should be.

Five stars

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Sweet Legacy: 03/08/19

Sweet Legacy

Sweet Legacy by Tera Lynn Childs is the conclusion of the Medusa Girls trilogy. The recently reunited triplets are traveling into the underworld to rescue aunts jailed under Mt. Olympus. In their party is adopted sibling Thane who appears to be a traitor. Can anyone be trusted?

The placement of the three books on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

After the build up at the conclusion of Sweet Shadows, I expected the final volume to primarily be in Tartarus or a grand tour of the Greek mythos. It wasn't. Instead, the sisters harnessed their sibling magic (CC) effectively.

As the trip to utopia was but a brief rest stop in this novel, I'm not counting it as the destination in terms of the novel's placement in the road narrative spectrum. Instead, their collective goal is a return to normalcy, aka home (66).

The route, though, that they take, through the underworld is very similar in path (as well as its Bay Area origin) to the route Dorothy, Zeb, Jim, and the Wizard take to Oz, in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, after falling into the earth via an aftershock of the 1906 quake. The difference, though, is that they don't have Ozma watching at the other end to bail them out. That means their journey is potentially dangerous and full of unknowns. The addition of danger turns the labyrinth into the maze (CC).

Three stars

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FF00CC: orphans in the maze of the city: 03/08/19

January book sources

The next way to or through the city for the orphan traveler is through the maze. Or for city based road narratives, the maze can be a metaphor for the complexity of the city.

For this stop on the spectrum, I will be discussing two books: The Dragon That Lived Under Manhattan by E.W. Hildick (1970) and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (2018).

The lone traveler in Hidick's book isn't the knight; it's the boy who summons him. The boy lives in New York. He's at the park unsupervised (thus making him a lone traveler, albeit on a small scale). When the knight wants to kill the dragon who has taken up residence in the subway tunnels, the boy choses to go instead, not to kill the dragon, but to help it.

In Sweep, the lone traveler is Nan Sparrow. She is a literal orphan who has escaped from the man who runs the chimney sweep business and keeps children in unsafe conditions both at "home" and at work. Now all the other sweeps are also literal orphans, so Nan can't harness her "orphan magic" until she's alone. In Nan's case, that means nearly dying, alone in a flue. Her near (or actual death depending on how you read that scene) is the moment that her magic is activated, in the form of Charlie, a soot golem.

The destination for both of these narratives is the city. Rather, the action for these books is all within the confines of the city. There is very little in the means of travel, except in and around the city. The boy, goes from Central Park to under Manhattan to one of the city's abandoned subway tunnels. Nan, meanwhile, goes through London via chimneys, and rooftops, until finding a home in an abandoned mansion that has more chimneys than is practical.

In road narrative studies that focus only on the eight percent, the road narrative has to have an actual road trip, typically going from New York to somewhere in California, or sometimes, from a city to a rural area.

If these were the only types of road narratives, then this category, and these two examples, wouldn't qualify. I hope by now, I've shown how the traveler, the destination, and the road are prominent features of many North American narratives, even those that aren't literal road trip stories.

Finally there is the route taken. As both of these examples are contained within the cities they start in, the route traveled is somewhat metaphorical. For the boy, the journey to find the dragon is one of twists, turns, and potential danger both from the city itself, as well as the dragon. For Nan, the danger lies in her work as a chimney sweep, as well as from the man she has escaped. Both journeys, both paths through the city are ones punctuated with the threat of death. In Nan's case, literal death, although she was brought back through the magic her predicament released.

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Ghostbusters: Crossing Over: 03/07/19

Ghostbusters: Crossing Over

Ghostbusters: Crossing Over by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening is the largest omnibus of Ghostbusters comics so far. This one collects eight issues and the Ghostbuster's annual.

Holtzmann is still hanging with the original Ghostbusters, but has taken on a project with Ron. Meanwhile, Ray has a warning about using the dimensional door while the containment field is being accessed. Ron and Holtzmann, being out doing their own thing, don't get the warning and end up triggering a cascading event where multiple dimensional rifts open up and the contained ghosts escape.

When there is more work to do than the current staff on hand can handle, what do you do? You call all the Ghostbusters. Well, most of them. I guess the TNMT don't count, although they were mentioned.

The remainder of the story is spread across different dimensions with different teams trying to wrangle their ghosts. All the while there is a larger, bigger bad waiting to pounce.

It's a fun read but should be read after reading through previous collections. If you only want to read one other, read Ghostbusters 101: Everyone Answers the Call (2018).

My one complaint is that it was a little long, which is also its selling point. It just could have been a little tighter.

Four stars

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Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver?: 03/06/19

Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver?

Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver? by Sharon Kahn is the fifth book in the Ruby, the Rabbi's Wife mystery series. Essie Sue has put together a reunion in nearby Austin to hopefully encourage previous congregation members to donate to the temple. The opening reception is set to include a large chopped liver made into the shape of Texas. Instead of the liver, there's a dead body!

Primarily this mystery is set at the hotel hosting the convention Essie Sue has put together. There are quite a few scenes though of Ruby ferrying between Austin and home, grousing all the way. That seems to be the continuing weakness with this series, namely the pages wasted on travel scenes.

If she hates Essie Sue so much, why does she continue to agree to do things for her? I think we're supposed to believe that she has a continuing loyalty to her dead husband, the previous rabbi. Clearly though, he's been dead long enough for the temple to move on. Kevin might be too modern and too awkward for Ruby's tastes but the temple is adjusting and changing with the times. It's time for Ruby to move on to a congregation that fits her personality.

The mystery itself was pretty easy to figure out. The murderer doesn't go as far as announce that they did it but they might as well have. There is literally no one else in this book with motivation that comes close.

Finally, the novel feels dated even for the time it was published. For instance, a major clue is a "secure digital card." Come on, even in 2004, everyone was calling them SD Cards.

The last book in the series is Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir (2006)

Three stars

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Old City Hall: 03/05/19

Old City Hall

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg is the first of the Detective Greene mystery series set in modern day Toronto. I've started the series because he wrote one of my favorite episodes of Murdoch Mysteries, "Murdoch Schmurdoch."

The book opens with an Indian delivering the morning papers to 12B. He's a couple minutes early, which bothers him. The door is ajar and when he finally gets the attention of the man living there, the man admits to killing his wife.

The narrative is set up in a style similar to the Law and Order shows, in that there are the detectives investigating and then there is the trial. That's fine but the book jumps between numerous points of view even though at most there should be two main characters — the detective and the defense, should the initially accused be innocent.

I have to admit that I ended up skipping most of the POVs that weren't from either of these points of view. There's really to the other scenes that are crucial for understanding the flow of the plot or the unfolding of the investigation or trial.

There's also annoying subplot, that thankfully doesn't go anywhere, involving the accused son. He happens to autistic and Greene speculates that he committed the murder while having a violent meltdown. Just no. Thankfully he didn't end up doing it. Had it been the murderer, this review would be a lot longer and angrier.

The second book in the series is The Guilty Plea (2011).

Three stars

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Al Capone Throws Me a Curve: 03/04/19

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko is what feels like the conclusion of the Al Capone at Alcatraz series. Moose wants to play baseball on the high school team in San Francisco but to do that he needs to make time to ride the ferry from Alcatraz where he lives because his father is a guard.

But things are complicated for him further because he has to watch his autistic older sister and the warden's danger loving daughter, Piper. Putting Piper and Natalie together away from parental supervision is sure to bring trouble.

These books all follow the same sort of recipe. First there's stuff about life on the island. Then there are San Franciscans not believing Moose (in all fairness, many from the City can't imagine life outside of the City). Then there is some contrived interaction between Moose, his friends, and the inmates (preferably Al Capone). Finally there is some crisis involving Natalie and an awkward reminder of her age vs her abilities.

The problem is that nothing changes. Moose's parents remain as stuck in their preconceived notions of how their family works and complete denial that it's not in fact working. Moose who continues to not know how to say no to people. There's Natalie who more and more reads like a caricature of an autistic person.

The short version is that the first book was both fun and fascinating. The last book isn't but might have been if it had been the only one I had read.

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 04): 03/04/19

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

I finished the Davis painting. I'm not entirely satisfied with it but it's as good as I can do now.

Davis farm at sunset, a painting in acrylic

I also started the first of the climate change paintings. It's my first time using gouache but I felt it was the best medium for the series.

Smoke over East Avenue, gouache

Last week I read seven books, but the three last ones were really short and I read them over the weekend. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is as good as The Hate U Give. I will be reviewing it on Saturday.

What I read:

  • Ghostbusters: Crossing Over by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening (Illustrations); personal collection
  • The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delany; personal collection
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan; library book
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas; personal collection
  • Border Markers by Jenny Ferguson; personal collection
  • Bob the Artist by Marion Deuchars; library book
  • Magnificent Birds by Narisa Togo; library book

What I'm reading:

  • The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf; personal collection
  • Wrapped Up in You by Dan Jolley and Natalie Nourigat; library book
  • Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly; personal collection
  • Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection
  • Paper Girls, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Artist); personal collection
  • Swap'd by Tamara Ireland Stone; personal collection
  • An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim; personal collection / research

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (26)

Road Narrative Update for February 2019: 03/03/19

Road Narrative Update for February 2019

I'm trying something different this week. Rather than split up all the books read and reviewed and the essays written, I'm posting them as one master list. I'm also including their placement on the road narrative spectrum so you can see what sort of coverage I had.

My reading was down for February with only five books read. As four of those were published in 2019, I ended up reviewing them shortly after reading them. I reviewed ten books. I also wrote four descriptive essays and one more general one about the research process.

Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in February. Click to see a larger version
Placement of the books read, reviewed, and essays written in February. Click to see a larger version

  1. FFCC99: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (read and reviewed)
  2. FFCC66: Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins (reviewed)
  3. FF3366: orphans going offroad to rural places (essay)
  4. FF3333: orphans in rural places along Blue Highways (essay)
  5. FF3300: orphans left in rural places along interstates
  6. FF00FF: orphans in the city by way of the cornfield
  7. CCCC33: The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (reviewed)
  8. 9900FF: Captive Hearts of Oz Volume 1 by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru (reviewed)
  9. 663366: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (reviewed)
  10. 33FFFF: Black Hammer: Age of Doom by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston (reviewed)
  11. 33FF99: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum (reviewed)
  12. 33CC33: Paradox Bound by Peter Clines (read and reviewed)
  13. 33CC00: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart (read and reviewed)
  14. 336666: The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (read)
  15. 336633: The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio (read)
  16. 00FF66: Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho (reviewed)
  17. 00CC66: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (read in February / reviewed in March)

I am still primarily focusing on reading newly published books and my unread purchases from 2018. I have plenty of finished books that still need analyzing/reviewing so Fridays will still be featuring a road narrative book.

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Chicks Dig Time Lords: 03/03/19

Chicks Dig Time Lords

Chicks Dig Time Lords edited by Lynne M. Thomas was published at the height of the excitement over the re-launched Doctor Who franchise. After about a two decade hiatus (minus the Fox made for TV movie) the Doctor was back but in a different format — hour long episodes and modern day CGI.

Around the same time, the current wave of backlash against women in fandom was starting to hot up — though Gamergate was still to come (by far the low point in all this nonsense). So a book about Doctor Who about women fans written by women sounded fascinating.

I suppose to its credit, it does manage to show that women fans are really and truly no different than men (discounting the toxic fringe who make it bad for everyone). The typical essay in here comes down to who was my first Doctor and what keeps me coming back for more. There were also numerous essays on the conventions — something that I'm not at all interested in — but I do have friends who attend regularly (including one who dresses as the TARDIS every year).

The film analyst in me wanted more meat and bones to this book. I wanted more look at motifs and feminist readings of the 50+ years of this series. Save for a couple essays buried in the book, it's not there. This is really more of a light-hearted zine given a larger print run.

Three stars

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February 2019 Sources: 03/02/19

January book sources

February my two main goals for reading was working through my 2019 purchases, at least one a week, and reading through the remainders of my 2018 purchases. After that my goal was research and finally, library books.

ROOB Score for the last three years

Despite there being five 2019 published books, all but one were from January, thus keeping my ROOB score good.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

February 2019 was my lowest (meaning best) of all the Februarys where I've tracked my reading against this metric.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for February dropped from -2.35 to -2.45

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Here and Now and Then: 03/02/19

Here and Now and Then

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen is a time travel story set in 2014 and 2142 San Francisco. Quinoa "Kin" Stewart is a programmer in San Francisco. He's suffering from blackouts and debilitating headaches. He knows its from time travel; his wife and daughter think it's PTSD. All that changes when his best friend and handler from 2142 finds him and orders him home.

Time travel here works with the premise that the body can't handle different times. Memory loss or time induced amnesia as well as the headaches and heart damage are part and parcel of time travel. There are drugs and implants to help ease the process. Kin has taken out his implant and his long spate of time in the past has made travel more dangerous for him.

Travelers are supposed to lay low and avoid interacting with the past as much as possible. Kin has broken those protocols in the most extreme way imagined by marrying and fathering a child. The bulk of Here and Now and Then is the aftermath of having a family in the past and then leaving them there.

Looking at the cover art one can see visual similarities with Paradox Bound by Peter Clines (2017). Both sport a lemniscate road. Paradox Bound's cover has a car which obfuscates the romantic couple, while Here and Now and Then sports a man running on the top, and a woman at the bottom along side the San Francisco skyline, which implies a romantic couple, when in fact the woman is his daughter left behind in 2014.

Placement comparisons between Paradox Now, Here and Now and Then, and a hypothetical Here and Now and Then told from Miranda's point of view
Placement comparisons between Paradox Now, Here and Now and Then, and a hypothetical Here and Now and Then told from Miranda's point of view

As this novel is entirely from Kin's point of view, the narrative falls lower on the spectrum than Paradox Bound. Both are in the horror part of the spectrum but Chen's novel is more so than Clines's because it focuses so heavily on Kin's horror at what happens to Miranda, his daughter, after he leaves.

Kin as a time traveler, a rather elite and semi-secret position puts him at the bottom of the spectrum for traveler types: privileged (00). The destination coming and going is a change in time, or uhoria (CC) to a real, mappable location (San Francisco). The route is one that starts and finishes through an offroad path (hiking up Mount Tam or similar nearby hiking trail) (66). All together it's 00CC66 compared to Paradox Bound's 33CC33 (Couple uhoria blue highway).

Had this novel instead been from Miranda's point of view, it would have set much higher in the spectrum. Miranda as an orphan (due to her father leaving and her mother dying) would have access to orphan magic. Even though the world is set up so that people in the past can't have access to the technology, she would have managed to either reverse engineer the process from following her father's tracks to one of the tethered travel spots, or she would have ended up inventing the technology (paradoxes be damned). If that were the case, Miranda's story would be an FFCC66.

That said, Here and Now and Then was still a fun read. It's just a very male centered, man as maverick and hero type of novel. Miranda's story would have been more interesting.

Four stars

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February 2019 Summary: 03/01/19

Reading report

February was also busy with art. I finished the sketchbook and mailed it back in the last week of the month. Now my art time is divided between two projects: a series of gouache pieces inspired by last year's fires, and planning bird and dinosaur crafts for summer camp.

When I am reading, I'm reading either newly purchased books, last year's remainders, or library books for the summer camp.

I read 25 books in February, down from January's 27. I surpassed my 51% goal for diverse reading, with 72% 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 57% of them featuring diverse characters and/or authors.

With two months of 2019 complete, I still have 13 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 15. My 2017 reviews though are at similarly small numbers as the remaining 2016, coming in at 16. I have 63 reviews remaining from 2018 and 36 now from 2019.

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Lost in the Labyrinth: 03/01/19

Lost in the Labyrinth

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl is a retelling of the story of the Labyrinth of Minos from Princess Xenodice's point of view. It begins with the death of Ariadne after having helped Theseus survive the Labyrinth.

All of this is recounted by her younger sister who in modern day reckoning would a tween or middle schooler. Her testimony is written in a stilted, melodramatic language that I think is supposed to sound both regal and tragic. It fails utterly at both.

I suppose the idea was to have the freedom to rework the story however one wanted by picking a minor daughter of King Minos. She is literally known just for being the sister of Ariadne and a half sister of Asterion (the Minotaur).

For a better, more character driven retelling, please see Bull by David Elliott (2017).

Removing the minotaur as the main focus, moves the story down midway between horror and realistic fiction. It's a failed attempt to be literary. By moving away from someone who has the most to lose (freedom in the case of Asterion) or one's life (in the case of Theseus or Ariadne) to a privileged secondhand narrator, there is no drama. It might as well be a fictionalized "what I did on my summer vacation" type report read by a girl who has bored herself by writing it.

Two stars

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