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April 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: 2019-2020

Beat the Backlist 2020



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A Scandal in Scarlet: 04/30/19

A Scandal in Scarlet

A Scandal in Scarlet by Vicki Delany is the fourth of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries. Gemma Doyle and her dog Violet notice that the Scarlet House museum has caught fire one night when they are out walking. To fix the museum and replace the destroyed furniture, an auction will be held at the book store and tea shop. Before the auction can even begin, board member Kathy Lamb is found strangled.

Gemma's uncle offers a signed Sherlock Holmes story. There are lots of valuable things and the whole thing has Gemma on edge. I'd say this is the first book where she's not just a female Sherlock Holmes. Yes, she still infers lots of usual information through observation but she's not as unnaturally good at it as she has been.

All the clues point to the murder being tied up with the fire at the museum. Is it retaliation for the fire? Is it something bigger than includes the fire? It's more red herring rich than the previous book.

This book was a departure from the previous ones. It's less Sherlock Holmes centered, beyond the conveniently named house and the inclusion of the Uncle's donation. The solution is also after all the subterfuge is cleared away, a very straightforward one.

The fifth book will be There's a Murder Afoot which comes out January 7, 2020.

Four stars

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Watch Us Rise: 04/29/19

Watch Us Rise

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagen is a young adult novel about two girls trying to make a difference at their high school. Jasmine is black and wants to be an actress but she's tired of being type cast into one of four racist roles. Chelsea is Irish Catholic and is driven by her need to write poetry but she's sick of the same old dead dudes being taught in class.

When neither of their chosen clubs feels like a safe, nurturing place to be a young creative woman, they start a new club: the Women's Rights Club. They also start a blog where Chelsea can post her poetry and Jasmine can post her observations about the micro-aggressions she and other minority students face at school.

Their so-called "progressive" high school ends up being anything but and the two soon find themselves labeled as troublemakers. The bulk of the book is their on-going fight against the school.

The book is full of raw emotion that rings true. It's a reminder to older readers (aka adults) about the importance of staying current and making sure all children see themselves represented and respected by the curriculum. For teen readers, the book includes numerous resources for further reading.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 29): 04/29/19

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

My husband is out of town until next Saturday. It's one of his quarterly business trips. His first day gone I had to take my oldest across town for an AP study session and then my youngest to her friend's home. It's no big deal beyond my morning being front loaded on a day when I hadn't slept well because of my husband leaving at 3 AM.

This weekend was the last one before the fire mitigation inspections begin. Part of living at the edge of things becoming rural are these annual inspections. Fire season runs from April to October. We have the month of April to weed before the inspections begin in May. Last year we had no problem being compliant but this year we've had four months of almost non-stop rain and grass from other yards has made itself at home in our yard. We've been weeding every weekend this month.

On the plus side, after twenty years of living in the Bay Area, I've finally managed to grow a California poppy in my yard. Truth be told, it's only the second year I've actually had a yard — but they don't take kindly to pots. They do, however, seem to pop up in all manner of unlikely places, likes gutters, cracks in sidewalks, and so forth. But try to invite them to you yard, and it's a struggle. Hopefully this one will invite more friends.

California poppy

After the gardening, laundry, dishes, and feeding my kids and myself breakfast (though not in this order), I took an hour to do some painting. Mini Nature 3 is coming along nicely. I think I need one more round with the painting before it's done. The painting is 4x4 inches, so getting details in place involves the need for a steady hand and tiny paint brushes.

Nature 3 painting: a bee on a cornflower. Painted on 4x4 inch canvas

What I read:

Until Thursday, I had only read two books. Then I read through a bunch of picture books for the art camp I'm planning, I need to get my projects scheduled out by Tuesday night. My two favorite picture books were Some Birds and If You Plant a Seed. Among the books read for pleasure, my two favorites were Prince in Disguise and The Phantom Tower.

  • Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June; library book / research
  • Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm; library book
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles; personal collection / research
  • The Blue Bird's Palace by Orianne Lallemand and Carole Henáff (illustrations); library book / work
  • Some Birds by Matt Spink; library book / work
  • If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson; library book / work
  • My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo; library book / work
  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Ryan Andrews (illustrator); personal collection / research
  • The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh (Artist)
  • The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff; library book / research

What I'm reading:

I have a small pile of library books due a week from Tuesday. That means I'll probably be concentrating most on the library books at the expense of my recent purchases.

  • Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas; personal collection A murder for the books by Victoria Gilbert; library book
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia; personal collection
  • The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P.G. Bell; library book / research

Up Soon:

  • The Fever King by Victoria Lee; personal collection
  • The Crossroads by Alexandra Diaz; library book
  • You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook; personal collection
  • The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser; personal collection

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (18)


The Fire Cat: 04/28/19

The Fire Cat

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill is one of the Cat Club books. Pickles is a stray cat who lives outside Mrs. Goodkind's home. She wants to adopt him but he doesn't want to stay indoors. She quickly realizes that he is a cat destined for big things.


"My home is too little for Pickles. Pickles is a cat who wishes to do big things. And some day he will do them. Look at his big paws." (p. 29)

Although Pickles begins life as a bully, he is lured into a life of service through the neighborhood fire station. Pickles, to earn the respect of Joe, one of the fire fighters, he learns everything he can about living and working in a fire house.


"He picked her up and took her gently to Mrs. Goodkind." (p. 61)

By the time The Fire Cat was published, Pickles was an established member of the Cat Club. He is usually shown wearing his fire hat. This book, then, is his origin story.

Five stars

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Bat and the End of Everything: 04/27/19

Bat and the End of Everything

Bat and the End of Everything by Elana K. Arnold is the third (and possibly conclusion) to the Boy Called Bat series. Bat has run out of time and knows it's only weeks until Thor has to be released into the wild. Meanwhile, it's the end of the school year, which means it will be a new teacher next year.

At the start of the book, Bat is given the opportunity to take the classroom rabbit home over the summer. He is one of the regular caretakers of the rabbit and with a mother who is a veterinarian, Bat is the perfect choice. Because of Thor, though, Bat declines, showing just how dedicated he is to the skunk and how well he has come to learn his limits.

Bat and his sister meanwhile also have to face the reality that their father is now dating. He wants both kids to get to know his girl friend because the relationship is getting serious enough they might be considering marriage. While neither sibling is thrilled, it's Bat who again is better at coping with the news. A year of caring for Thor has taught him ways of coping that he hadn't previously had.

The book ultimately has a happy ending for Bat and Thor, one that I'm not going to spoil here. It's a realistic ending based on actual skunk research. This book includes a second, real life skunk expect, just as the first has.

All that said, there are enough loose ends especially with the father and potential step-mother, that there could be a fourth book. I like that there is this opening for more and would eagerly read a fourth book. But as it stands, Bat and the End of Everything is also a satisfying conclusion.

Five stars

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Looking ahead to July: 04/27/19

Glasses and a book

July happens to be when my scheduled posts thins out and I start having open days. I'm not panicking but I am being a realist when I say there may be days when I don't post anything. That will be a first since the summer of 2006.

Sure, I read 300 or more books a year, consistently. But July will be a busy month for me.

At the start of it, we're taking our annual road trip and will be traveling for about ten days. I am not one who reads much while traveling. Either I'm driving or I'm photographing. If we're at the hotel, I'm working on the photographs I took that day.

The last full week of the month, I'm teaching a summer art camp featuring birds and dinosaurs. I'll be there from 8 to 5 every day and while there won't be grading, it will be a lot of standing and walking around and just the stress of teaching a curriculum I've made up myself.

While I'm planning to read a little bit before bed every night in July, I have to admit that those fifteen days (travel and teaching) may very well go without a single book finished (unless I opt for comic books and picture books).

Comments  (8)


An Unkindness of Ghosts: 04/26/19

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon is set on the HSS Matilda, a generational ship heading towards the Promised Land. The narrative is split between people: Aster, a midwife living in the lower levels — the enslaved levels. The other is Theo, a doctor who has ties to the current head of the ship and is privileged enough to live in the upper levels of the ship.

Matilda herself is as much of a character. The author has taken great care in creating a stratified society that is recognizably built around the Antebellum Period of the American South. At the same time, it is a functioning (more or less) ship with the sort of attention to engineering as any of the hard scifi novels of the 1970s and 1980s.


Placement of the novel on the road narrative spectrum.

This book also qualifies for the road narrative spectrum. It sits at 996699: scarecrow/ minotaur home labyrinth. It's one of the rare ones in the traveler category that has both a scarecrow and a minotaur. Together, Aster and Theo put the traveler category at 99.

Aster is the minotaur, which is even shown in her name, taken from the Greek for star, and not too different from the Minotaur's actual name: Asterion. Though she has traveling rights to the upper levels to assist Theo, she is still essentially a slave, a prisoner on the more labyrinthine lower levels.

Theo, as a doctor, as someone with blood ties to the current leadership, is a scarecrow. He is a protector bound to the lower levels by his need to care for the people who work the fields.

The collective goal for everyone on the ship, including Aster and Theo is home (66). Everyone born on the ship believes this home will be the Promised Land. Home, though, isn't always what has been promised. And that is the big, looming secret of Matilda, the things that those in control don't want everyone else to know. Despite the change in actual destination, the symbolic one is still home.

The route home one might think is offroad given that everyone is in a ship that is traveling through space. This novel, though, is a story on a human scale. The ship has moving parts, rotating levels, and yet to those who understand the cycles of these rotating pieces, the path is clear and predictable. While there is danger, man-made danger, the path itself, though confusing is still direct, and thus comes in at a labyrinth (99), not a maze.

Five stars

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CCFF99: siblings to utopia via the labyrinth: 04/26/19

January book sources

The next way to utopia for siblings is via the labyrinth. It's another twisty path, like the maze, but one with little to no obstruction. The path might be confusing but it is reliable.

For this stop in the road narrative spectrum, I have one exemplar: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the second of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire. It's the tale of Jack and Jill and how they got to their world after their parents systematically dismantled their reality as identical twins.

Sibling travelers are brothers and sisters — or just brothers or just sisters — who are separated from the remainder of their family on their travels. They can be adults like the Winchesters or they can be children as is the case for Jack and Jill. They don't have to be blood relatives, although most of my examples so far, are.

Utopia is a no place. It can be a eutopia (a good place) or a dystopia (a bad place) but it doesn't have to be. It is a place that isn't on conventional maps. It might not even be in the same dimension that the travelers are from. It is somewhere else — somewhere undefinable or unknowable. In

In Jack and Jill's case, their utopia borders on dystopia, though its badness is related to the monsters and mad scientists who inhabit it. Many of these so called bad people though, were recruited through doors just as Jack and Jill were, and they have managed to follow the rules.

The route to utopia this time is the labyrinth. Labyrinth is a catch-all term for any twisty route that appears constructed and isn't rife with blind alleys, traps, and dangers like the maze. It is a route that can appear dangerous or can appear complex but ends up being a fairly straightforward, single track to the destination.

For Jack and Jill the path is an impossible staircase that appears in their house. As it's a journey downwards until they go well beyond the bounds of the house and end up in their new land, it's also a metaphorical linking to the Labyrinth of Minos.

The labyrinth could be an actual spiral labyrinth. It could be one in a garden that appears normal until the center reveals a portal to another world.

On the inverse, the tale could be of some unknown force from an unknown world coming through the garden labyrinth to invade the mundane world. In this example, the siblings would be the ones who drive the invader back through the labyrinth to utopia.

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Secret Coders 6: Monsters & Modules: 04/25/19

Secret Coders 6: Monsters & Modules

Monsters & Modules by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes is the conclusion to the Secret Coders series. Our heroes travel to Flatland to save their school and possibly their dimension.

This book takes all the coding taught in previous volumes to do some fairly complex Logo programming which readers can do to play along.

Of course it's also fun to see the main characters rendered as 2D shapes. There is the built in misogyny of Edwin Abbott's "romance in many dimensions" that is explored when Hopper is rendered as a line and is treated as an inferior even though she by far the most competent of all them.

Five stars

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Murders and Metaphors: 04/24/19

Murders and Metaphors

Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower is the third book in the Magical Bookshop mystery series. Between books two and three, the series' publisher changed from Berkeley Mysteries to Crooked Lane. I have a feeling that the publishing of book three was rushed. I"ll get to that later.

Book three opens with Violet and Daisy getting ready for an offsite book signing. A local sommelier has a new book out and the signing is being hosted at the winery that belongs to the mayor's parents. They specialize in ice wine and the event will include a night picking of grapes.

There's a row at the event between the author and her estranged sister. Violet would pay more attentions but she's distracted by Emerson as he has stowed away to the event. When he gets loose, he leads Violet the author's body.

The mystery of the author's death is commented on by the bookshop via hints dropped in the form of Little Women. The author was one of four sisters. Now Violet's friend, her estranged sister, is the prime suspect.

I'm not a fan of Little Women. I tried and failed to read it as a teen. But I like the way it is used here to examine the family dynamics of the author and her other three sisters.

But the book suffers from a lack of copyediting. Or, as I said before, rushed. There are at least a dozen basic errors in the text. You for your, your for you're, missing prepositions, and similar small by glaring errors. None of the other Crooked Lane books I've read have had these problems. I can say the same of the other two Amanda Flower mysteries in this series. That's why I'm guessing that the publication of book three was rushed when Crooked Lane bought the series from Berkeley.

The fourth book is scheduled for November. It's currently listed as Verse and Vengeance but it also has been listed as Spoke and Word. Regardless, I'm looking forward to book four.

Four stars

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Circle: 04/23/19

Circle

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is the conclusion to the Shapes trilogy. It continues on the uncomfortable path created in Square by the gendering of Circle.

I get that he/him ends up often being the default in English. There's a movement to rely more on the single they/them and I think these three books would have been better without a gender binary.

But here we are, now with a third book from the point of view of the only female in the series. Circle is playing hide and seek with Triangle and Square. She sets the rules and there is one big important one: don't go into the cave behind the waterfall.

Dude-bro Triangle has no respect for Circle or her rules and immediately goes into the cave. Square did nothing to stop him and offers no help at finding his friend.

So basically it's a cute shape reiteration of typical male micro-aggressions against women. Circle should have just left Triangle and Square alone to sort their own self-imposed problems out. She gave them one rule and they ignored it. She owes them nothing.

Except, women are raised to be caretakers of men. For less pay. For less personal agency. For less respect. For expectations of personal harm. This book plays into all of that socializing of girls and women with zero self awareness.

Two stars

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Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World: 04/22/19

Finding Dorothy

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake is set against the backdrop of a devastating tornado. In that regard it's similar to 14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop. But there's also an element of sharing letters back and forth through a locker, which brings to mind The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh.

With a storm brewing outside, Ivy is drawing in her room. She draws two girls holding hands. One girl is herself and the other isn't anyone in particular. Behind them is a spiraling, colorful twirl (see the book cover). She's nearly finished when her father bursts in and drags her down to the storm shelter. When they emerge later, the house is gone. The notebook of her artwork, her Copic markers and, well, the entire house, is gone.

So set against the backdrop of Ivy's family trying to rebuild and Ivy being completely crushed at the loss of her art, her supplies, and her safe space. Then, at school, pages from her note book start showing up in her locker.

Eventually Ivy and the mystery person end up in an old school love letter romance by way of the locker. This part has a similar vibe to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 22): 04/22/19

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

My kids were on spring break. For my oldest, that meant tons of homework. For my youngest, it meant four days of volunteering at the Girl Scout spring fling camp. She was working for a different council and their way of running camp was very different. She came home exhausted each night.

Girl Scout cabin

On Tuesday I worked. We've moved on from children's picture books to the environment as our subject. The field trip classes are always themed around the main show in the gallery.

Another field trip

My husband took Thursday and Friday off, so that was nice. As a family we did some spring cleaning and gardening. My daughter (when she wasn't working) took charge of the weeding and I helped out. Fire season has begun and we have a month to get ready before the fire mitigation inspections begin.

Wees in a trashcan

I finished the daffodil painting (Mini Nature 2). It's not quite what I was going for but I don't normally work on such small pieces. Frankly these things are so small that it's sometimes hard to see what I'm painting. I need to get a magnifying glass and desk lamp with a good white light.

Daffodil painting on a 4x4 inch canvas

This weekend was also a mixture of holidays with a seder on Friday and egg dying and hiding today.

Dyed eggs

What I read:

I had a good week of reading. More picture books for work to plan out art projects that are bird and dinosaur themed. Of these, my favorite is If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. I also finished five newly published books. I'm starting to make a dent in my new purchases.

  • The End of Oz by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee; personal collection
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part One by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection
  • The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena; personal collection
  • If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold and Greg Newbold (Illustrations); library / work
  • Learn to Draw Dinosaurs by the Walter Foster creative team; library / work
  • The Unteachables by Gordon Korman; library book
  • The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol; personal collection / research
  • A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June; library book / research
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles; personal collection / research
  • Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm; library book
  • Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Ryan Andrews (illustrator); personal collection
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia; personal collection
  • The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh (Artist)
  • The Fever King by Victoria Lee; personal collection

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (22)


Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara: 04/21/19

Finding Dorothy

Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara by Colleen Morton Busch is an account of the 2008 fire that threatened the Tassajara Zen Mountain complex.

In the summer of 2008, a pair of fires converged and started to move to wards the Zen Mountain Complex. While mandatory evacuations were ordered, some of the monks decided to stay behind to fight the fire. The place has been equipped with the necessary tools and so a small number were allowed to stay.

The problem with a book like this is that there's only so much to write about during the actual events. Either it comes out sounding too detail oriented or it's very short.

To keep it from being too short, there needs to be filler. For a biography, that often ends up coming in the form of extended biographies of grandparents and parents. Here, it's mini biographies of the monks as well as a gushing account of how marvelous the center is.

What the book doesn't give is a good sense as to why it's a good idea to build in such a remote place. Nor was there any lasting sense of camaraderie for the people profiled — even though their details were given.

What the book doesn't have is any perspective from outsiders — from the fire fighters, from the people who ordered the evacuations.

Two stars

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Finding Dorothy: 04/20/19

Finding Dorothy

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is primarily the story of Maud Baum consulting at MGM during the filming of The Wizard of Oz (1938). There are also extended flashbacks of her life with L. Frank Baum that serve to contextualize her opinions on the studio's adaptation of the film.

In biographies of L. Frank Baum I've read, his wife isn't usually treated very well. She's caricatured either as a harpy or a robot. She was the daughter of Matilda Gage, a suffragette. While Maud was certainly her mother's daughter, she wasn't as outspoken as her and her choice to live more "traditionally" than her upbringing is difficult for many biographers (of her husband) to come to terms with.

Here, Maud is presented as shy and stubborn but still human. In the flashbacks she's shown struggling between the expectations of her mother and her own personal happiness.

If, like me, you're familiar with Baum's life, the flashback scenes will read as fairly faithful novelizations of key moments. As this book is ultimately about the transformation of Dorothy as idea to book protagonist to vehicle for a young Judy Garland, there is more emphasis put on dramatizing real life events that may have inspired Baum's most famous character.

For me through, the meat and bones of this novel is in the "present day" bits where Maud is at the studio. Here she is in her late seventies, and has been a widow for about twenty years. She has survived so many things and so many people that she has lost much (but not all) of her youthful shyness. She is a small powerhouse willing to take on the studio to see that the film is adapted with its heart and soul intact.

She's also shown to be the one person who recognizes the anguish Judy Garland is already in and can see ahead of her a long fight with depression. She does her best to nip it in the bud, but ultimately she doesn't have that sort of power.

How much influence Maud had with the filming, isn't something I know. I do know she was paid to promote the film and was interviewed by Ripley where she told about her life with Frank. There is also a photograph of a her and Garland eating together—something that is dramatized in the novel.

Finally, while this book is realistic historical fiction it does still sit within the bounds of the road narrative spectrum. Maud, though she has been through a lot, from the point of view of the studio, is a marginalized traveler (66). She isn't L. Frank and she isn't a studio executive, nor is she an actor. Her destination, and really, the entirety of the "present day" narrative is set within Culver City (and more broadly, Los Angeles, though it wasn't the all encompassing city then that it is now). Nonetheless, the destination is the city (00). Maud's method of travel is the blue highway (33) — both in terms of roads (no interstates as we know them, yet) and including older trolley lines (some even discontinued by 1938). Put all together, it's the story of a marginalized woman traveling through the city via the blue highway.

Five stars

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The value of ebooks: 04/20/19

Glasses and a book

Two years ago this April my daughter was bridging from junior to cadette in Girl Scouts. Locally there is a tradition of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge to literally bridge. She and I participated.

By the time we had reached the party at the other end, I realized I couldn't read the map on the back of our participation badges. The day before my eyesight had been fine. I thought maybe it was the heat and fatigue; April tends to be one of the hottest months in San Francisco.

The next morning I still was struggling to read. After six months I finally gave in and had my eyes checked. I needed glasses. My right eye, which as a child was found to be "lazy" but not so bad to need correction then, has now gone extremely farsighted. Both eyes are vaguely astigmatic too.

Now two years later I'm finding that even with my glasses I can't read some printed text. There are even some extreme cases where even with the help of a magnifying glass, I can't read the type face.

And that's where ebooks come in. Although the majority of the books I read are still in print, certain books: graphic novels, nonfiction reference, and literary fiction I'm buying as ebooks now more and more often.

Ebooks have the advantage of adjustable fonts or in the case of graphic novels, they can be zoomed in on to see the panels better.

I read ebooks on my phone or on my computer. My phone is better at handling image heavy ebooks. My computer is better at text heavy ones.

Recent ebooks I've read:

  • The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht
  • Bat and the End of Everything by Elana K. Arnold; personal collection
  • Ghostbusters: Crossing Over by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening (Illustrations)
  • Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley
  • Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle
  • Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1 by Hinowa Kouzuki
  • Rainbow Brite #2 by Jeremy Whitley and Brittney Williams (Illustrator)
  • Fearless Mary: The True Adventures of Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver by Tami Charles

Comments  (8)


Wee Sister Strange: 04/19/19

Wee Sister Strange

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell (illustrations) is a picture book metafiction horror about a magical girl who lives by herself in the woods and does all these magical things and has adventures.

As the Dadaist poem progresses, wee sister strange begins to make her way towards the sound of someone reading a bedtime story. As the story concludes, it's revealed to be the very book that contains her story!

This sort, strange book fits beautifully in the road narrative spectrum. It's an FF66FF or orphan home cornfield. We sister strange lives by herself and may even be the only one of her kind (FF) — giving her the ultimate levels of orphan magic. She has a home in the middle of the woods, but is also traveling to your home (66)! Her starting route is via a wooded area near water, which as I've described before, is a tkaronto. See my review of Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking for more information.

For a deeper spectrum reading of this book, please see FF66FF: orphan home cornfield. The link is listed below.

Works cited

Four stars

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All Summer Long: 04/18/19

All Summer Long

All Summer Long by Hope Larson is about thirteen-year-old Bina who feels adrift when her best friend, Austin, leaves for soccer camp. He and she have a history of rating their summer fun by a long list of silly and somewhat arbitrary things. This year, though, she's by herself.

Her summer of boredom takes a turn when she ends up locked out of the house. She knows Austin has a key to her house. Rather than knock, she decides to break-in via the open bathroom window. It's that break-in that puts her face to face with Austin's older sister, Charlie.

Charlie is the wild child of Austin's family. She has a boyfriend and a summer-long babysitting commitment that she decides to pawn off on Bina. Whether or not Charlie's influence on Bina is good or bad is left up to interpretation.


Panel showing the Fair Oaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena

It's a rather quiet graphic novel but it hit close to home because of its location. Though place names aren't ever really mentioned in the text, the illustrations tell a very different story, placing it unambiguously in South Pasadena, California. This is a town I have family ties to, one that will soon stop being a place of annual migration as the remaining family is moving north to Vancouver.

Five stars

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CCFFCC: Siblings through the maze to utopia: 04/18/19

January book sources

The next way for siblings travelers to get to utopia is through the maze. The exemplar for this stop in the spectrum, is Beneath by Roland Smith (2009). Beneath is the first in a duology about a young man who goes to New York to find his brother, Coop. When they were younger, Coop spent all of his free time digging tunnels under their hometown. Now it's rumored that he's doing the same thing under New York City.

Although the novel is told from Pat's point of view exclusively, he always frames his story against his brother's. His journey to, through, and under New York is one of recapitulation. For this reason, Pat and Coop's story counts as sibling travelers.

Sibling travelers don't always have to have their story told in alternating first person nor in a third person omniscient. All that's needed is a narrative sense of family bonding to count for sibling travelers.

If Beneath is about a trip to New York to find an estranged brother, how then does the destination count as utopia? Utopia is a "no place" or more broadly, speaking an unmappable destination. New York does have a vast network of underground tunnels used for a variety of things. Some of those tunnels are abandoned and closed off. But the underground New York that Roland Smith imagines expands these underground features into an entirely different world with its own architecture and culture. The city or any other recognizable destination when it transcends its physical, known bounds, becomes either utopia or uhoria (if the bounds being transcended are temporal rather than physical).

Finally there is the route of Pat and Coop's reunion. First in Pat's flashback's and later in his journey under New York, the tunnels that Coop prefers are full of dangers. There is the threat of cave in. There is the threat of violence from the community. There is the threat of drowning from an underground river. There is an overall threat of getting lost in the dark. With the darkness and the unknowable paths, the routes to and through under New York count as a maze.

Beneath is but one example of how siblings can travel through a maze to get to utopia. Or travel through a maze like utopia, as the case may be in this example.

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Knife Edge: 04/17/19

Stone Angel

Knife Edge by Andrew Lane is the sixth book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series. Sherlock has found his way back to the British isles and has come ashore in Ireland where he is met by Mycroft.

They are to stay at Quintillan castle which has been modernized with a "ascending room" because the lord is wheelchair bound. He is hosting an auction and has invited nefarious representatives from various nations.

Of course shortly after their arrival, a woman ends up dead and despite being found outside, she is barefoot. Her murder reveals many of the castle's dark secrets.

So here's the thing. There are a number of old Avengers episodes from the 1960s that have most of the pieces of this mystery. It really felt like Lane was writing Avengers fanfic and putting his versions of the brothers Holmes into it.

And then there's the ridiculousness of the "ascending room." Not that a lift or elevator would exist back then. Harry Waterman's invention dates to 1850. The safety brake version dates to 1853. What I'm kvetching about is the ridiculous name Lane has given to it. Is he trying to obscure the inclusion of an elevator? Is he trying to sound more Victorian? Did he just not do his homework and didn't know that such an invention did exist in time for this mystery to logically make use of one?

Three stars

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The Stone Angel: 04/16/19

Stone Angel

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is part of the Manawaka Sequence. I read it because it was mentioned as the most boring assigned reading for high schoolers in Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (2019). Curious and in need of more Canadian fiction, I decided to read this disparaged classic.

The stone angel was carved from Italian marble and sits atop the grave of the protagonist's mother. As she is now in her 90s, she is the last surviving person who has a personal memory of the angel. She wonders how much longer the angel will remain with no one to tend to it.

And that opening paragraph or so sets the tone for this novel. Hagar Shipley in the present, let us assume late 1950s as the book was published in 1960, is trying to hold onto her life, her routine, her house. But she is slowly failing and it's obvious to her son and daughter in law that she can't stay at home.

This present day story is fairly short. She suffers a fall in front of her son and daughter-in-law. They convince her to move to a home. She eventually does move in. She settles reluctantly into a new routine. Finally at peace she dies in bed.

The bulk of the book though is historical fiction told more or less in chronological order through her lengthy memories. It's here that we see the struggles of rural life of being a woman in what was then a cold, unforgiving wilderness. She was ill prepared for marriage, sex, pregnancy and childbirth but muddled along and managed to thrive.

Coming to this book in my mid-forties, I found it a quick read. It's a quiet piece told by a strong woman who is running out of life. I can, though, see why it would strike a high schooler as boring.

Three stars

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Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII: 04/15/19

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII by Sally Deng is a slim historical fiction about four young women who want to be pilots. WWII gives them each the opportunity to reach their goals.

Rather than follow each woman separately, the book shows the same scene from each point of view through picture and text. There is a Japanese-American woman, an English woman, and a Russian woman.

The scenes are things like, when they first discover they want to be pilots, getting those first lessons, being recruited for the war effort, their dorms, their uniforms, and their post war lives.

It's an interesting book and one of a few recent picture books for middle schoolers I've read. If anything, I wanted more plot. The illustrations are lovely but the book would have done well expanded into a graphic novel, or even a trilogy of graphic novels.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 15): 04/15/19

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

This week my kids are on Spring Break. My youngest is volunteering as a PA for the spring Girl Scout camp. My husband and oldest are taking a two day road trip to check out some colleges. Daffodil painting, WIP

Last week I made progress on my second mini nature painting. I'm nearly done with the daffodil but I got distracted by other things and didn't finish it. Landscapes

Yesterday was the artists' reception for the Planet Earth: the Beauty of Life show. I have four paintings in the show: two landscapes and two birds. The seascape and the salt flats paintings in the above photo are mine. Owl and hen paintings

On the reading front, it was a good week. It was a mixture of new and backlist. I read four mysteries, a children's book, a humor book, and a comic book.

What I read:

  • Bat and the End of Everything by Elana K. Arnold; personal collection
  • Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower; personal collection
  • To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames; library book
  • Giant Days, Vol. 9 by John Allison; personal collection
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson; library book
  • Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choi by Sharon Kahn; library book
  • Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan; personal collection
  • The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • The End of Oz by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research
  • The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee; personal collection
  • The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena; personal collection
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part One by Faith Erin Hicks; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro; personal collection
  • The Unteachables by Gordon Korman; library book
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles; personal collection / research
  • City of Lies by Victoria Thompson; library book

Posts and reviews:

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Insurgent: 04/14/19

Insurgent

Insurgent by Veronica Roth is the second of the Divergent books. Tris has left the Dauntless and is now holed up with a bunch of teens who have all left their assigned compounds.

The place where Tris ends up is a multilayer skyscraper — a popular choice for dystopian fiction. I imagined this particular building being like the one Chess find in Port Oro, in The Lost Compass by Joel N. Ross.

Divergent derives its plot from world building. Tris has to pick a different faction than her family to give us a glimpse into more of the world.

Now having taken the Dauntless piece of the world to its extremes, there's nowhere else to go but elsewhere. Unfortunately this second glimpse into post-apocalyptic Chicago isn't as well formed as the first one.

Much of Insurgent is taken up with the the residents of the compound falling under unexpected simulations. If these would be rebels are smart enough to be capable of undoing their society — why are they so easily, and repeatedly fooled? This is more of a case of fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. This is upwards of fool me a dozen times, I'm gullible!

Two stars

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Reading for Work: 04/13/19

January book sources

The summer of 2017 I was hired part time as an art teacher at a local gallery. It's the shortest commute I've had since 1999 when I was working as a web designer for Cars.com and had a five minute, no freeway commute.

Initially this job as an art teacher didn't amount to many hours. It was essentially two weeks of work to give me a break from the move we were going through. Assisting at a summer camp was a lot more fun than scrubbing our old condo so we could put it on the market.

The woman who hired me originally left shortly after the start of the summer camp season. I don't think my paperwork was completed properly and with her no longer in charge of scheduling hours, I wasn't called in for any more work.

Last fall when I saw my job re-offered, I contacted the director and asked about the job position. The short version is that I was rehired. The paperwork is now done properly and I've been working fairly steadily since November.

The summer camp season is approaching and the director sent out an email asking if any of us wanted to teach a week-long art camp. Even though I haven't taught one before, I jumped at the chance.

I spent January and February writing and illustrating a sketchbook about my love of dinosaurs and birds. Inspired by what I learned in the process, I suggested the summer camp topic: "Birds of a feather, dinosaurs together."

But here's the thing. I can't just spend the week making bird and dinosaur sketch books with a studio of children! I need to come up with two projects for each day for a total of ten.

The director, though, had a brilliant piece of advice for teaching art to children: read picture books for inspiration. So that's what I've been doing. I'm reading bird and dinosaur themed picture books and taking notes.

In the past weeks I've read:

  1. Bob the Artist by Marion Deuchars
  2. Magnificent Birds by Narisa Togo; library book
  3. Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner and Andy Comins (photography)
  4. Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists by William Thomas Cooper
  5. Birds & Other Animals by Pablo Picasso
  6. All Ducks Are Birds: But, Not All Birds Are Ducks by Tara Michele Zrinski
  7. Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland
  8. Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat
  9. Kids Draw Dinosaurs by Christopher Hart
  10. Make-A-Saurus: My Life with Raptors and Other Dinosaurs by Brian Cooley
  11. You Are Light by Aaron Becker
  12. This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming

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You Are Light: 04/13/19

You Are Light

You Are Light by Aaron Becker is a board book that teaches colors to children both through the text and through the book's design.

The text itself is a poem that compares the reader, "you" to different aspects of nature. Each of these traits is tied to a particular color. The traits and colors go through the visible spectrum, and black, and then ends on a white page proclaiming that the "you are light."

But what makes this book extra special is the center piece. From the cover art you can see the circles that make a color wheel. Each of these circles is made up one ore more layers of lightly tinted film. As pages are turned, more and more of these layers are built up to create the color wheel from the primary colors.

But!!! It gets better. Children are usually taught that the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. But that's only the case with thicker pigments. For inks and transparencies, like this book, it's actually magenta, cyan, and yellow. This is the first book in about forty years I've seen written for children that uses the magenta, cyan, and yellow to show color mixing. The previous one was one that had this color mixing aspect was a book of optical illusions.

Five stars

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Lost Children Archive: 04/12/19

Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a run of the mill road narrative wrapped up in a literary fiction package. Actually it's two such narratives strung together, one in two parts serving as the bookends to a shorter one.

The narrator of the longer of the two narratives is the mother/step-mother. Her husband has decided to uproot the entire family to record the sounds of the south west. In particular, he's oddly fascinated with Geronimo and the Bedonkohe band of Apaches.

The mother / narrator, meanwhile, while also interested in recording sounds for posterity is more concerned with the present and the separating of immigrant children from their parents. This is a real, current, and terrible thing that is happening.

But for all the narrator's thoughts on the matter, the novel really never does anything with this current events. She speaks of trying to help a mother whose sons were deported to Mexico but never arrived at their destination and she exchanges some telephone calls with her, but nothing really comes of this plot thread.

Instead, upon arrival in Arizona, the narrator suddenly changes to the son. Throughout the trip he has been in charge of keeping the trunk organized: his parents boxes and his and his sister's boxes. For reasons all his own, he decides to rifle through one of them. What he finds inspires him to take his step-sister on a journey to a wilderness spot marked on one of the maps.

For previous books, when there are multiple narratives or multiple destinations, I have chosen to take the highest ranking one. Thus for the purpose of my project, it's the children's journey that counts.

By marriage, these two children are siblings. Sibling (CC) travelers are the second most powerful (in terms of their ability to survive or succeed against insurmountable odds). Their destination is the wildlands of Arizona, a spot marked on a map, a spot they have heard about in stories while in the car (99). Their method of getting there is not too dissimilar to their trip to Arizona: a straightforward, fixed path, except it's via the railroad instead of the interstate (00).

Outside of this novel being an American road narrative, it's really nothing special. It uses the tropes of would-be literary fiction in an attempt to set itself apart from more genre aware books. Quotation marks are avoided for most things, rendering all the dialog into a bland monotone. The mother's ties to indigenous Mexico somehow is supposed to absolve the family's racist comments about the Apache. Finally, there is the author's choice to not name any of the family members. They are just "Ma, Pa, the Boy, the Girl." That approach can work (see Last Year at Marienbad (1961) but it doesn't for this novel.

Three stars

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Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1: 04/11/19

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1

In the summer of 2017 while we were temporarily living in a tiny apartment. That same summer, Crunchyroll simulcasted a delightful anime series, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life. As the anime wrapped up, I saw that the manga was available on Books. Since space was at a premium and I didn't know how long we'd be there, I purchased an ebook copy and there it sat on my phone until this year. I had Cybils to read for and our time in the apartment was much shorter than I expected and we were once again caught up in the excitement of moving.

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, Volume 1 by Hinowa Kouzuki is one of an ongoing series. There are currently eighteen volumes (if you can read Japanese), with eight of them translated into English.

This opening volume introduces Yushi Inaba and his situation. Like so many high school aged manga protagonists, he is an orphan and he has been living with his uncle's family. In American literature, that situation wouldn't be the starting off point, but in manga it is.

Yushi has worked hart and gotten into a high school that has dormitories. Unfortunately just before school starts, the dorm he's been assigned to burns down (another manga / anime trope). Yushi, now desperate because he doesn't want to go back to being dependent on his uncle, he needs an apartment he can afford. Two problems: he's a teenager with a part-time job, and he's living in Tokyo.

Japan, even modern day Tokyo, is rife with supernatural housing options for those most in need. For Yushi, it's an older building that offers spacious rooms, apparently has space to spare, free food, and is something he can afford.

But by the second day there, Yushi realizes that his elegant apartment building is inhabited by ghosts and other spirits. The excellent food served there is made by a spirit who is only a pair disembodied hands.

Since this is an ongoing series, Yushi's sixth month stay in the apartment ends up being a full time thing. The remainder of this first volume introduces the other main characters who reside there.

The manga is as delightful as the anime adaptation. I have the second volume on hand and hope to read it sooner than the two years it took me to read this volume.

Five stars

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CCFFFF: Siblings to Utopia by Way of the Cornfield: a reading of "Slumber Party.": 04/11/19

January book sources

At the fantasy end of the road narrative the second most magical type of traveler are the siblings. I place the siblings next based on the number of stories involving siblings traveling to other worlds or escaping from dire experiences. I am also inspired by the long traveled Winchester brothers in Supernatural (2005-2020).

Sibling travelers don't have their parents with them. That means in some seasons and episodes of Supernatural, the brothers Winchester are downgraded to family travelers (33) when traveling either with their father, or more recently, their mother.

As with the orphan, the first destination, the most extreme destination is utopia. That means a no-place. A place that can't be reached by conventional means or found on a conventional map.

The most magical route to utopia is via the cornfield or tkaronto "place where trees stand in water." These are barriers between nature and man, places that can hide the magical or trap the unsuspecting.

My one example for this spot in the spectrum is episode four from season 9 of Supernatural, "Slumber Party." As I've mentioned before, road narratives can be about visitors coming to the protagonists. The traveler for the sake of the placement on the spectrum is the protagonist. In Supernatural, the travelers are Sam and Dean.

"Slumber Party" comes early in the days of Sam and Dean occupying the old Men of Letters bunker. A big part of the episode is their on-going debate on whether or not the bunker counts as home. The bunker, though the setting of the episode, isn't the destination. That's Oz and it's also the source of their monster as well as the person who can help, Dorothy herself.


Image showing a drawing and handwritten description of the key to Oz.

Oz, while from later adventures by Dorothy (in the books, not necessarily the Supernatural incarnation) is a known place with known routes, to Sam, Dean and Charlie (who is visiting to do IT work on the 1950s era computer), is utopia (FF). It is both eutopia (good place) and utopia (no place). It is the place of dreams and magic. While the show offers a door, really any door, as the way into Oz, the door needs a magic key. The key is decorated with a complex design that at the bottom shows the many branches of country road that ultimately lead to Oz (Road to Oz (1909) as well as a modified staff of Asclepius. All together it looks a bit like a complex crop circle, and harkens to the cornfield. Also keep in mind that Dorothy as well as the Winchesters are all from Kansas and the bunker is located somewhere in Kansas. Though there is no physical cornfield, its presence and influence is heavily referenced throughout (FF).


Note the overwhelming blueness of this scene where Dean reveals Dorothy inside the cocoon.

From the point of view of the brothers, their Bunker was invaded by two people: Dorothy and the Wicked Witch who were trapped together in a semi liquid form in a jar in the computer room since 1936. Now it's implied by the winged monkeys that the Wicked Witch in question is the one from the land of the Winkies. However, in their liquid form, the two are blue. Blue is the land of the Munchkins. Dorothy throughout the episode insists she can't kill the Wicked Witch but never states which one she is. Given the strong color coding Oz has throughout the series, I suggest that the witch's body under Dorothy's house didn't whither and disappear, that instead, she survived and went somewhere to plan her next move, thus leaving the Wicked Witch of the West, well and truly dead.


Image showing Dorothy and Charlie leaving the bunker via the yellow brick road with the Emerald City (MGM style) on the horizon.

The entire hunt and Charlie's temporary death all happen in the bounds of the bunker. Throughout Oz is spoken of in terms of the books and in terms of this alternate Men of Letters reality. According to Dorothy, her father was L. Frank Baum and he was a Man of Letters. He wrote the books to hide the truth about Oz and to provide clues to defeating monsters from Oz. Since his life with Maud is well documented, we'll argue that perhaps Dorothy is from an extra marital affair. Or that Dorothy was adopted. Or she's lying to keep the brothers focused on killing the unkillable Wicked Witch.

Regardless, killing the witch and getting Dorothy back to OZ are in the brothers' best interest so that they can get back to their larger mission: tracking the fallen angels. Had this episode been told from Dorothy's point of view, it would have been the same as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Had it been told from Dorothy and Charlie's joint point of view, as a couple, the episode's placement would have been further down in the spectrum: 33FFFF. As it stands, though, it is about siblings using their ties to the cornfield to open a door to utopia.

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Prose and Cons: 04/10/19

Prose and Cons

Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower is the second in the Magical Bookshop series. It's October and that means the annual Food and Wine Festival. Daisy has invited the Red Inkers, a local writers' group to give readings from Edgar Allan Poe's works at the store. Then something goes horribly wrong and the meanest member of the group ends up dead.

The tree which communicates through the books in the shop uses the Poe theme to suggest that the dead woman has some hidden secrets. This leads Daisy into learn an alternate site of the woman. It's another version of the person who isn't successful secretly being so. At least this time, it isn't a ghostwriter plot.

Meanwhile, Daisy and the Sheriff end up closer, though still not in a relationship. I suspect they will be in a book or two.

This second book spends less time on setting up the town and more time on the actual sleuthing. I enjoyed taking a mental break from the where and the how of Cascade Springs as it's in an impossible location.

All in all I enjoyed this book and found it a nice distraction from the longer books I was reading. The third book is Murders and Metaphors. It just came out and I will be reviewing it soon.

Five stars

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An Ocean of Minutes: 04/09/19

An Ocean of Minutes

I rarely come away from finishing a book with a hangover feeling. An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim is one of those rare books that left me with a weeklong one.

Most time travel books are set in contemporaneous times, either as the origin point — for traveling to the future or the past, or as the destination point, from either the past or the future. Lim, instead, sets a time range from 1978 to 1998, a span of twenty years, that is forty to twenty years in the past. This choice gives the entire novel a retro feeling, like reading a newly discovered time travel book from the 1950s or mid 1970s.

In 1981, Polly and Frank, vacationers from Buffalo, New York, are trapped by an influenza quarantine in Galveston, Texas. Frank ends up sick and can't afford treatment. Polly is given the opportunity to work off his treatment because she has skills that are in high demand. All she has to do is travel to the future, to 1993, work for 22 months, and then she's free to reunite with Frank.

This is a what-if scenario. The 1981-1982 influenza season was relatively mild, a non-event save for a few southern states. There were 61 confirmed deaths. In Polly and Frank's 1981, the flu spread beyond those 61 and became a pandemic.

Here is where An Ocean of Minutes takes a turn for the familiar, bringing to mind Chris Marker's 1962 film, La Jetée. I know what you're thinking, 12 Monkeys but the forty-year gap between now and then as well as Lim's terse language and Polly's on-going confusion especially after she travels, brings to mind the starkness and open ended plot of Marker's short film, more so than Terry Gilliam's 1995 update. (I'm not going to compare the television adaptation as I haven't seen it).

There's one more key thing the two have in common, the airport as the travel point. In the Marker and Gilliam versions, the time traveler is sent back to stop patient zero from getting on a plane and infecting the world with a virulent disease. Here, though, the Houston airport has been repurposed for time travel because it makes it appear safe and normal.

Most of this book, though, is about Polly's work in the future. Her life as now an O-1 visa holding worker is a chance to imagine an alternate future (now past) as well as to make social commentary on the current xenophobia circling around immigration, even at the high end, skilled worker visas.

This novel works because it has a grounded sense of place. Galveston, though changed by an alternate timeline, is still recognizable and Polly's life there can be tracked on Google Maps. For instance, her agreed upon meeting spot, has been taken over by the time travel company that essentially now runs the former Southern half of the United States. On our Google Map, the hotel in question has been closed for ten years from damage by Hurricane Ike. Ten years before, though, in our timeline, it was open. It should have been a safe bet.

I am old enough to have lived through these twenty lost years in Polly and Frank's relationship. I am old enough to remember those years. Even so, Lim has made the time gap seem even more insurmountable than it is for anyone who has lived through a span of forty years (as Frank has through normal aging) and how different things would seem to someone who hasn't (Polly).

I could go on with a deeper read, but I will leave that for a separate essay for the road narrative spectrum. I will however briefly explain where this novel sits in it.

For the road narrative spectrum, it is an orphan traveling to uhoria via an offroad manner (FFCC66). Polly is forced to separate from Frank to travel forward in time so that he'll be given life saving treatment. Her journey to the future, while grounded in a real world, recognizable place, it is in an alternate timeline, one where time travel exist, and so the oddity of time lost is the destination itself. Finally, Polly's travel to the future as well as her eventual return to Buffalo is all done by offroad methods: airplane (time machine) and ship.

Five stars

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Everlasting Nora: 04/08/19

Everlasting Nora

Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz is set in Manilla's North Cemetery. Nora and her mother have been living in her father's tomb after he was killed and their apartment home destroyed by a massive fire.

Nora's day to day now is spent preparing flowers and selling flowers to mourners at the cemetery. She also takes on much of her mother's laundry work as she is more and more addicted to her gambling.

Then one day, Nora's mother disappears and she's stuck on her own. The remainder of the novel is Nora doing everything she can to find her mother. She has help from her friend Jojo and his grandmother.

The events of the fire and Nora's life before the cemetery are all told in flashback. As other reviewers have noted, the novel would have been more impactful if events had been told in order. I would have liked to learn more gradually about the mother's gambling and to get to know the father. His death and the loss of the house and the eventual move into the tomb would have been all the more tragic. The novel, though, probably would have been twice as long which would put it close to six hundred pages.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 08): 04/08/19

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

Had a busy week but I did manage to finish my first mini nature painting. The canvas is 4x4 inches.


Mini Nature 1, acrylic on canvas.

On the reading front, more books for work and a couple newly published picture books along with my usual mixture of novels and mysteries.

What I read:

  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders; personal collection
  • The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence; library book
  • Kids Draw Dinosaurs by Christopher Hart; library book / work
  • Make-A-Saurus: My Life with Raptors and Other Dinosaurs by Brian Cooley; library book / work
  • You Are Light by Aaron Becker; personal collection / work
  • This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming; library / work
  • Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Illustrator); library book
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts; personal collection
  • A Scandal in Scarlet by Vicki Delany; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower; personal collection
  • To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames; library book
  • Giant Days, Vol. 9 by John Allison; personal collection
  • The End of Oz by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research

Up Soon:

  • Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan; personal collection
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson; library book
  • The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee; personal collection
  • Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choi by Sharon Kahn; library book

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (30)


Mothership: 04/07/19

Mothership

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal is one of those books I have to wonder what on Earth inspired me to read it since it's exactly what it sounds like from the get go — and worse. Elvie Nava has been sent to a low orbit high school for pregnant girls. Just as she's getting to her third trimester, the ship is invaded and Evie has to save herself and her classmates.

Let me begin by saying that normally a one star rating means that I didn't finish the book. Here, though, I actually did read it to the end to see if it would have any redeeming features. I didn't see any.

Mothership is a product of the vitriolic paternalism of this country, wrapped up in rape culture. The girls here are carrying the clones of their alien rapists. No one was given enough information about who she was sleeping with to make an informed decision. None of them were given the opportunity to abort their understandably unwanted pregnancies.

This is a horror but it's played for laughs. Except for the bubbly but kick ass protagonist, the girls are shallow, self absorbed idiots too dumb to realize what situation they're in. They're pregnant not because they were raped by aliens, but because they were too stupid not to. Basically it's the "they asked for it" defense of the typical privileged male rapist.

As these other girls are just there as an example of how silly pregnant girls are, most of them end up dying over the course of the book. All the meanwhile, the over all tone of the book is that this situation is funny. It's not even the morbid humor that Bobby uses to cope with the zombie apocalypse in Undead and Unfed.

And then after all is said and done, Elvie ends up staying with her rapist because he's managed to convince her that she's his one, true love. The proof that his intentions were always purse (gag) is that their child is a girl — something that should be biologically impossible among his species. That's also the hook to a second book, something I have ZERO desire to read.

One star

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A Sprinkle of Spirits: 04/06/19

A Sprinkle of Spirits

A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano is the second book in the middle grade series, Love Sugar Magic. Leonora (Leo) is now able to practice her magic with her sisters and mother. She is helping in the store and has an idea for improving the magical baking of the treats they're selling. But of course, things are about to go awry and fingers will be pointed at Leo.

Before Leo has a chance to try out her idea, her dead grandmother shows up at her home, trailing marigolds behind her. She's not a ghost. She's a physical being, brought over del Otro Lado. As Leo and Abuelita are trying to figure out what has happened, they become aware of other spirits suddenly back in the neighborhood.

This series isn't like Upside-Down Magic where magic going awry is always fault of the main character or one of her friends. Leo, it's been established, has learned her lesson and has been welcomed (albeit early) into the family craft. This magic, then, isn't hers directly.

While I haven't counted the first book in the road narrative spectrum, this second book clearly makes use of the road narrative construction elements to build the story.

For the travelers we have the entire family working together to solve the mystery of the returning spirits (33). Now in WASP centric road narratives, the family is near the bottom because the family is often framed as something to be protected by the male protagonist, or in horror, to be taken away from him. In road narratives by non-white authors, family sits higher and has more power as a cohesive unit the individuals (children or siblings) do.

The destination is el Otro Lado, or rather, a method of returning the spirits to there. Although they aren't ghosts, they are from the past. For this reason, I'm counting el Otro Lado as uhoria (CC).

Finally, the route is the Blue Highway. I include in this category all the smaller roads that make up a town. The rounding up of the spirits happens along these neighborhood streets. There are times when they even drive the spirits around to keep them out of the attention of unsuspecting living people (33).

Put all together, it's a family traveling the blue highways to help others return to uhoria (33CC33).

It's a delightful second book. I loved seeing Leo and her sisters working together. I like this upbeat family of brujas who are practicing magic fairly openly and benefitting the entire town in the process.

The third book is A Mixture of Mischief and comes out next year.

Five stars

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Weekends: 04/06/19

January book sources

Friday online I see lots of versions of the question: what are you reading this weekend? While I always have at least one book going, the weekend isn't my time for reading.

Even when I've worked full time out of the house the weekends have been family time. In the past they were days when my parents took us places. Or when as a parent, I took my kids places. Now that they are super busy with their own things, the weekends often mean binging on TV (the only days where I watch most of my weekly TV), and it means time to work on my paintings or my photographs.

Ramen

Take today for instance. We got up like it were a weekday so our son could meet his friends at the BART station. They had an all day event at Cal Berkeley. Then it was time to pay the mortgage and after that, our post-mortgage ramen date.

Mini Nature paintings 1 and 2

When we got home, I started on my second Mini Nature painting. I have ten 4x4 inch canvases that I'm painting with flowers I've photographed over the years. My goal is to get at least these first ten finished, and possibly a second ten, by November. The gallery where I now work has an annual arts and crafts boutique and I hope to sell them there.

So that's the sort of thing I do instead of reading on the weekends.

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The Road to Oz: 04/05/19

The Road to Oz

The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum is the fifth of the Oz books. I've reviewed the graphic novelization by Eric Shanower back in 2016. It is Dorothy's fourth trip to Oz and her second with a human companion.

By now readers know that Oz is a fantasy land that can be traveled to. There's no need in setting the scene or reintroducing his most famous protagonist: Dorothy. Thus the book begins with the Shaggy Man asking for the "road to Butterfield."

Dorothy knows the way in the way a local would. In the days before even the first Blue Highway (the Lincoln Highway which opened in 1913), travel wasn't as defined by roads as it is now. Her instructions are: "'You cross the ten-acre lot, follow the lane to the highway, go north to the five branches, and take—" at which point she stops, unsure how to describe the next step(s) (p. 13). After a few more attempts, she ends with "I shall have to show you the way; your so stupid." (p. 14)

By the time they get to the "five branches" it's clear that something is wrong. There are now "as many as the spokes of a wheel," meaning she can't find her way to the highway. Nor can she find her way home.

Dorothy, not planning to go on another trip has ended up forced to take one. As she at no point considers the Shaggy Man or any of the other individuals they meet along the way, equals, she is traveling as an orphan (lone traveler). She is also a literal orphan. By crossing through the "ten acre lot", aka a cornfield, she has invoked her orphan magic. The road whether she wants it to or not is taking her to Oz.

Looking at this novel in terms of the road narrative spectrum, The Road to Oz comes in as a FF00FF. I realize in past articles and reviews, I've said I count the most extreme part of a narrative element when determining placement. I could put this book in the same category as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, namely FFFFFF, if I count the final destination as utopia.

I don't believe utopia is the correct destination for this book, even though Oz is a "no place." This book chronicles Dorothy's fourth trip to Oz and she is basically over the excitement of going there. Or put more bluntly, she's as skilled a navigator to and through Oz as she is Kansas. Oz may be utopia to you and me, but to her, it's a known place.

If Oz is mappable by Dorothy, then she can navigate herself and her companions to somewhere safe. Her goal throughout this book, once she realizes she can't get back to the family farm, is the Emerald City. It is there that she can find a means home via Ozma's magic. Therefore, I'm putting the destination at the other extreme, at city (00).

Road to Oz is significant for one last reason: it's the book where Dorothy decides to stay. It's not until book six, though, The Emerald City that Dorothy's aunt and uncle emigrate to Oz. Later stories of travel from the real world to Oz will be done by new travelers.

The next book is The Emerald City (1910).

Four stars

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FF0000: Orphans to the city by way of the interstate: 04/05/19

January book sources

The final journey an orphan traveler can take in the road narrative spectrum is to the city by way of the interstate or railroad. I have a link+ book coming that I believe qualifies for this category: Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June (2018). In the meantime, I will describe how this category should work.

As one navigates through the narrative spectrum to more realistic locations and routes, one expects more realistic fiction, or even memoir or other forms of nonfiction.

Keeping in mind that the orphan is a lone traveler, and one without the agency to chose to travel at a whim, as the privileged traveler (00) can, the orphan traveler here is most likely a minor or someone who is otherwise unable to make travel arrangements.

The destination is the city. A child going to the city could be one being sent to an orphanage or to distant relatives. It's also possible that a child has been sent on the train or bus solo to vacation with relatives or trusted family friends. It could be a child going to school.

The route is by the straightest, most surefire method. It's either the railroad which takes people in on routes that can't be altered because of the nature of how trains work. Or it's by interstate which offer straight, fast road routes that for automobile travel offer the most efficient ways between cities (and the smaller destinations in between).

Possible scenarios could be a child put on a train to meet their new life in the city, a teen riding a bus or train to the city for school, camp, or job, or a teen hitchhiking to the city. There's also the possibility of a child being a stowaway or a kidnap victim. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White features sibling stowaways going home to a city by way of the interstate, which I will discuss further when I get to that category (CC0000).

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Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos: 04/04/19

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley is the latest graphic novel memoir. From the cover and title it's obvious about her venture into motherhood. The cheery cover is inviting. But this is a heavy hitting, anger inducing, emotional rollercoaster. The book covers miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, C-section, maternal mortality, and dismissive male obgyns.

Lucy Knisley opens not with her first pregnancy, but with her sex education and her experience with different kinds of birth control. Straightaway there are frank warnings about different side effects, that while many women won't experience, some will.

Then she describes her first two pregnancies which ended in miscarriages. This section brought things home, as I went through two miscarriages before my son was born. Her experience though were different, in that she didn't have a DNC (but probably should have from how long she ended up suffering and bleeding.

Now in her case, her miscarriages could be traced to something that could be fixed with surgery. But she mentions that most miscarriages aren't so easily traced to something that can be fixed.

And then she gets pregnant a third time and this one covers most of the remainder of the book. It's an emotional rollercoaster, first because of the natural worry that comes with a pregnancy after miscarriage. But there is also the extreme morning sickness, the fatigue, the swelling, the warning signs of pre-eclampsia that get ignored.

This memoir also includes photographs of her post delivery showing just how poorly things went for her. The good news is she and her son survived. The infuriating truth is, it didn't have to this bad. Her delivery and recovery could and should have been better if her ob-gyn hadn't been so dismissive.

Anyway, this memoir is as well written as her previous ones but it covers the most sensitive and emotional subject yet. I recommend reading it, but if you have recently gone through a miscarriage, a rough pregnancy, give yourself time.

Lucy Kinsley has two more books in the works: Wocks and Stepping Stones, both scheduled for sometime next year. Wocks will be a picture book about "the search for the perfect rock." Stepping Stones will be the first of a middle grade trilogy based on her life.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for March 2019: 04/03/19

Road Narrative Update for February 2019

I've revised last month's changes to how I report on the progress with the road narrative spectrum project. Rather than arrows pointing to the different books read and reviewed as well as essays written, I am providing a color coded key. I've also spelled out each title's placement, so if you're colorblind, you can still find where the stories still relative to each other as well as to the spectrum as a whole.

My reading was up for March. I read ten books, up from February's five. Half of them were released this year and are either already reviewed or will be soon.

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

  1. FFCC66: An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
  2. FF00CC: orphans in the maze of the city
  3. FF0099: an orphan in a city labyrinth: a close reading of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
  4. FF0066: Orphans going offroad in the city
  5. FF0033: An orphan's journey to the big city by way of the Blue Highway
  6. CCCC33: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
  7. CC9900: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  8. CC66CC: Sweet Legacy by Tera Lynn Childs
  9. CC3333: The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall (audio)
  10. 99FF66: Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
  11. 666633: Summerlost by Ally Condie
  12. 66CCFF: Misfit City Vol. 1 by Kirsten Smith
  13. 33CCCC: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  14. 33CC99: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  15. 33CC33: A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano
  16. 339966: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
  17. 3366FF: Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige
  18. 330066: Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks
  19. 00CC66: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
  20. 006699: Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl

April's reading might have fewer books as I am also reading for work. I am trying to come up with a bird and dinosaur art week for a day camp at the gallery where I work.

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Eggs Benedict Arnold: 04/03/19

Eggs Benedict Arnold

Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs is the second of the Cackleberry Club mystery series. Suzanne takes a pie to the mortuary and finds its owner dead on the embalming table! Before she can do anything, she's knocked out, presumably by the murderer.

This volume does a better job of introducing the main characters and the set up of the Cackleberry Club. It does, however, still jump right to the murder without much in the way leading to the murder.

There are two extremes for setting up a mystery. The first extreme is the one that Child's is using: jump right into the event for the most surprise. The other is to show the murder from the murderer's point of view before switching to that of the sleuth's, a method used successfully by Columbo. Most mysteries fall into the middle, taking about fifty pages or so to introduce the relevant characters, the situation that will lead to a murder, and then the discovery of the body.

For Eggs Benedict Arnold there are so few characters, that the obvious murderer was obvious from their first introduction. Knowing who did it but still being inundated with extraneous information, red herrings, and wild goose chases, made this book read like one of those hidden items mystery games I play on my phone. Will Suzanne find the clues before the timer runs out?

That said, the book was more fun to read than Eggs in Purgatory. It was good enough to make me willing to try the third: Bedeviled Eggs (2010)

Three stars

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March 2019 Sources: 04/02/19

March book sources

March had a mixed bag of goals. The first one was to continue reading through my 2019 purchases as well as the remaining purchases from last year. But it looks like I will be teaching a summer art camp, so I've started reading some books on birds and dinosaurs to get inspiration. Finally, as I'm rapidly running out of my backlog of finished books and reviews, I need to focus more directly on my weekly themes to make sure I have material to review. And of course, there is my on going road narrative spectrum project to read for.

ROOB Score for the last three years

Despite reading nine 2019 published books, all of them were from February and don't count against my ROOB score.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

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

ROOB monthly averages

My average for February dropped from -2.07 to -2.20

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Heartwood Hotel 1: A True Home: 04/02/19

Heartwood Hotel 1: A True Home

Heartwood Hotel 1: A True Home by Kallie George is the start of a new children's series by the author of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency. It opens with Mona, a young mouse, trying to find somewhere dry to sleep during a terrible storm. Her only possession are items in a suitcase with a heart carved on the side.

After a few false starts, Mona stumbles upon a magnificent tree that is the home to a grand hotel for traveling animals. She's given a place to stay if she agrees to work as a maid, helping a grumpy squirrel who is afraid of being replaced by Mona.

Mona's time at the Heartwood Hotel is broken up into little episodes. There is a run in with a bear. There are the skunks who are nobility but aren't always the best of guests. There is a bird with a broken wing, and a bug with a suitcase full of money.

All of this is set against the threat of wolves. They want nothing more than to find the hotel and eat everyone inside. They are the closest they've ever been and will find the hotel unless Mona's plan works.

It's a solid and delightful start to a series. The characters are further brought to life by Stephanie Graegin's illustrations.

This book also fits in the road narrative spectrum. Mona is both a literal orphan and a lone traveler (FF). Her destination or goal is a safe, dry home (66). Her journey there is through the forest, in a stumbling, disoriented sort of way — or offroad (66). Put all together it's an orphan in search for a home via an offroad journey (FF6666).

The second book in the series is Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift (2017)

Five stars

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March 2019 Summary: 04/01/19

Reading report

March was also busy with art. I completed six gouache and acrylic paintings in the Climate Change series. I also taught a bunch of classes at the gallery. Both kids were also sick and of course I caught what they had, but not to the severity, thank goodness.

I read a bunch more library books this month, primarily as research for a summer camp I'll be teaching. Those books are bird and dinosaur focused and I didn't take authorship into consideration. Those books are why my not diverse reading is so much higher than last week.

I read 31 books in April, up from March's 25. I surpassed my 51% goal for diverse reading but only slightly, coming in at 58%, down from last month's 72% of all the books I read qualifying. At first glance, the majority of last mont's books were from the library. When looking at the research book, most of those came from my own collection. My reviews fell short of being 51% from diverse authors or featuring diverse characters. I missed the goal by three percent because I am still working through my backlog of reviews.

With three months of 2019 complete, I still have 11 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 13. My 2017 reviews are down to 14 from 16. I have 54 reviews remaining from 2018, down from 63, and 51, up from 36, now from 2019.

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Like Vanessa: 04/01/19

Like Vanessa

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is historic fiction set in 1983 in Newark, New Jersey. This is the year leading up to Vanessa Williams becoming the first Black woman to win the Miss America title. To put that in perspective, I was eleven when she won.

Vanessa of this novel is growing up in a housing project. She's going to a rough school, living through a time when three decades of flight from the urban centers by white middle class had taken its toll on the big cities.

Vanessa has an incarcerated mother and a grandfather who is an addict. She goes to an underfunded school. But a teacher has decided to host a school wide beauty pageant. Vanessa decides to enter to emulate her idol.

I'm obviously not the intended audience but I enjoyed seeing Vanessa William's early career through a different perspective. I certainly did grow up with her as a model and later an actor.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 01): 04/01/19

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

It was a weird week. My daughter and I took turns being sick. Except on Wednesday when we were both sick. It made for a slower week for reading and pushed my painting to the weekend.

Today both my children are home from school for Cesar Chavez day. My daughter has an orthodontist appointment; so I'll be offline for most of the afternoon. My son meanwhile has a biology study session but he's still in the process of planning it and I'm frustrated since I'm often his source of a ride.

Climate Change 6 in gouache and acrylic
Climate Change 6

Climate Change 1-6 in gouache and acrylic
All six paintings together

Although I have more of the folding canvases and more ideas for the climate change series, I'm going to set them aside for now to work on some miniature paintings. I have ten 4x4 inch canvases which I will be painting nature pieces: flowers, bees, butterflies, and so forth. These I plan to sell at this year's holiday boutique at the gallery I work at.

What I read:

  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli; personal collection
  • The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano; personal collection
  • Misfit City Volume 2 by Kirsten Smith; library book / research
  • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor; library book

What I'm reading:

  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders; personal collection
  • The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence; library book
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts; personal collection
  • A Scandal in Scarlet by Vicki Delany; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Murders and Metaphors by Amanda Flower; personal collection
  • To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames; library book
  • Giant Days, Vol. 9 by John Allison; personal collection
  • The End of Oz by Danielle Paige; personal collection / research

Posts and reviews:

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