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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: 2018-2019

Beat the Backlist 2019

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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 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 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:

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Mothership: 04/07/19


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.


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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