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Murder Lo Mein: 05/22/19
Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien is the third in the Noodle Shop Mystery series. Lana has settled into her role as manager of Ho-Lee while her mother deals with her mother coming for a visit from Taiwan. Meanwhile, the noodle shop is participating in an annual Asian restaurant competition, this time being hosted at the mall and run by Ian, the mall manager and owner.
At the close of the first round of competition, one of the judges is found dead. The only clue is a fortune that is a quote from the Art of War. As the competition tries to restart on another day, another judge is murdered and another Art of War fortune is found.
Lana doesn't want to investigate another murder but she has insights into most of the suspects that others don't. She also has received an Art of War fortune as a warning. She knows if she doesn't act, she might be next.
This series continues to be fun. I hope Lana's grandmother ends up being a regular character. She is the most like Lana of all her family members. She might not speak English well and Lana might not speak either Mandarin or the Taiwanese dialect her family prefers very well, but the two clearly enjoy each other's company.
The fourth book is Wonton Terror. It will be released on August 27th of this year.
The Unteachables: 05/21/19
The Unteachables by Gordon Korman is about a classroom of misfits who fight to save their teacher's job so that he can retire with benefits. It's told from multiple points of view but does manage to tell a complete and compelling story.
There's a scene early on in the pilot of The Greatest American Hero (1981) where Ralph Hinkley gets the attention of his class of "unteachables" by tossing a chair into the middle of the room. I see teacher Zachary Kermit as a burned out Hinkley. At the start of his career one of his students was part of a cheating ring. Since the student was the son of the mayor, Mr. Kermit was thrown under the bus. He and his career have never recovered.
So now it's his last year of teaching. He's been assigned the classroom of kids jokingly called "the unteacheables" by the school administrators as well as the other students. They're kept to their own corner of the school: a seventh grade class and an eighth grade class. Mr. Kermit has been assigned the eighth grade class.
All of this is introduced by way of the first narrator, a girl named Kiana. She's here only temporarily while her mother is filming on location. Her step-mother doesn't show up in time to register her for class. So she goes to the office to register herself. Unfortunately before she gets there, she has a run-in with Parker, one of the unteacheables and is sent to the class too. It's one big case of mistaken identity that doesn't get noticed until the school year is nearly over.
Despite Mr. Kermit not wanting to be there and Kiana not belonging there and the other students having given up ever learning anything, or being taken seriously by a teacher, these misfits come together. They do end up learning and they do end up rallying behind Mr. Kermit when the administration decides to force him out before he's able to retire with benefits.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears: 05/20/19
Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina is set in Florida. Merci and her brother attend an exclusive school on scholarship and that sets them apart from the other students. At home, their grandfather is starting to exhibit more and more symptoms of dementia.
Then there's a new kid from Minnesota and Merci is paired with him as his mentor. There's jealousy with the popular girl in her grade.
The school and home bits are tied together through Merci's love of bicycling. It's something she and her grandfather share. She's sad to see him losing his ability to ride safely.
Frankly the bits of the book that have stuck with me are the scenes with Merci and her grandfather, and the ones where she is bicycling or working on her bike.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 20): 05/20/19
My daughter's school was doing standardized testing all week and running on a block schedule. That meant that every day she was getting out early. We took advantage of the no homework and early release to do more geocaching (weather permitting). I let her do most of the searching and I had fun taking photographs of the area. Lots of caches are in our many regional parks.
My other big project was installing the hardware to make my shadow box gallery ready. I bought some drawer knobs which I screwed into the box. These provide a solid base for the rectangles I've built to hold my canvases in place but still allow me to swap them out as needed. I also installed the wire hanger on the back.
Late in the week I started on Mini Nature 5. This one is a ladybug on pickle weed. It's from a photo I took a few years back a the Hayward Regional Shoreline.
What I read:
I finished four books. My favorite book last week was Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali. It's delightful from start to finish.
What I'm reading:
I wanted to also finish Opposite of Always by Justin A Reynolds but I've only made it to the halfway point. It's a longer than usually for me book and it's one of those books where I don't want to skim. I'll finish it this week.
Posts and reviews:
The Big Necessity: 05/19/19
The Big Necessity by Rose George is about human waste and pluming or the lack of pluming. The thesis of the book is that a lot can be discerned about a culture by how they handle their shit.
Each chapter is set in a different country and looks at a different solution. In Japan she overs the smart toilets and their failure to make inroads into the United States. In England she looks at the London sewers and the troubles with keeping old pipes flowing. In India she looks at the vast pollution problem and the caste system.
I came to this book wanting something different — something more technical and less smug travelogue. A third of the world has no access to a toilet, latrine or other sanitary solution, the book's focus is too disjointed to really drive that point home. Instead the chapters divide up into solutions the author is comfortable with and things she's not.
Where the Heart Is: 05/18/19
Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is set over the summer that Rachel turns thirteen. She lives with her family in a farmhouse with a horse and new neighbors who have taken their sledding hill and built their own farm with house, barn, and chicken coop.
Rachel is hired by the new neighbors to watch their animals while they are traveling. She comes to see the animals as her extended family, including the pig which they are raising for meat. It's a middle grade Silver Spoon.
But there are other things going on in the background that soon Rachel and younger sister, Ivy, can't ignore. Their parents are having money trouble. They are falling behind on their mortgage and the bank is threatening to foreclose. This summer will be their last in the farmhouse.
This book from Rachel's point of view doesn't have a happy ending. It's not sad either — just realistic. Sometimes you don't get to save the day. The pig dies. The bank forecloses. And life goes on.
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, this book comes in at a 336633. It's the story of a family (33) trying to save their home (66) and failing. They have to move to a new home which sits across town along a smaller but established road, which for the spectrum, puts it along a Blue Highway (33).
Wild Blues: 05/17/19
Wild Blues by Beth Kephart is a middle grade novel set in Adirondacks during the escape of two convicts from a nearby prison. It's the same inspiration as Breakout by Kate Messner, but with a very different execution.
Thirteen year old Lizzie has been living with her Uncle Davy while her mother gets her life together. She has a year-rounder friend and together they've been learning the forest backwards and forwards.
Lizzie's life in the Adirondacks is framed around a survival book, Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart (an ancestor of Beth Kephart). Lizzie's actions are inspired by, defined by, favorite quotes from Horace Kephart.
Of all the books I read last year, Wild Blues is one of the most poetic. The poetry is built from H. Kephart's quotes and Lizzie's interpretations of them. Her witness statement is also broken up into snippets and phrases.
But all of this is told through a victim's statement. Lizzie, we know from the very beginning, is a survivor. As her account of what happened unfolds, we learn just how she managed to survive and how she managed to rescue her uncle and her best friend.
All of this survival and rescue fits into the road narrative spectrum. Lizzie, cut off from friends and family because of the convicts, is for most of this novel, an orphan traveler (FF). Her destination is wherever her uncle and friend are being kept by the convicts. It's somewhere in the wilderness, or for the spectrum, the wildlands (99). Her route is fraught with danger — from the landscape itself, to the convicts. As her route is also circuitous, it counts as a maze, albeit a nature made one (CC). Put all together, it's an orphan going through a maze of the wildlands to rescue kith and kin.
Miss Communication: 05/16/19
Miss Communication by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm is the second volume in the Babymouse: Tales from the Locker series. It's a graphic novel hybrid with more emphasis on text than the original series. And that's a good thing.
Babymouse is in middle school and all her friends have smartphones. She doesn't even have a flip phone. After lots of begging and scheming, her parents relent and get her a smartphone. Babymouse and apps — not a good combo.
Apps and social media can be addictive. They certainly are for Babymouse. But her clumsiness holds true and she ends up cracking her screen almost as soon as she gets her phone. Things just go downhill from there.
I read this second book as a parent of teens who don't have smartphones. One has a flip-phone. The other inherited her great grandfather's phone. The phone is six years older than she is.
Anyway, it was a fun second book. I prefer Babymouse as a middle schooler. The third book is School-Tripped and comes out July 9th, 2019
CCFF00: Siblings to Utopia via the interstate: 05/16/19
The last method to utopia for the sibling travel is via the interstate or railroad. At this point I don't have an exemplar, so this post will be strictly hypothetical based on the three elements that would make up a narrative in this category.
The travelers this time are siblings. Brothers and sisters or just brothers or just sisters or nonbinary siblings. The point is, they grew up in the same family, whether by blood relation or adopted. They are traveling together either by choice or out of circumstances. If they are adults, it's probably by choice, unless it is to attend to a family matter (attending a funeral, a wedding, helping another relative move). If they are children, most likely this is a trip beyond their control.
The destination is utopia. It's an impossible place, a place not found on any mundane map. It could be a eutopia - good place — or a dystopia, a bad place. The key thing is that it isn't a known place. Travel to utopia usually places the narrative into the fantasy genre, though it could also be science fiction (with space travel, near future speculation, yet to be invented gadgetry, etc), or it could be horror. Beyond business how-to and philosophy books, I've yet to read a non-fiction trip to utopia narrative.
Finally there is the route taken. The route here is either the railroad or the interstate. It's a straight shot, safe, well maintained route to an impossible place. If The Polar Express included sibling travelers, it would sit in this category.
Truly Devious: 05/15/19
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson is the first book in a YA series that is part cold case mystery, part modern day thriller, and part of the road narrative spectrum. Past and present are both set at Ellingham Academy in rural Vermont. In the past, the founder of the school loses his wife and child. In the present, new student Stevie Bell is trying to solve the cold case murder of Mrs. Ellingham and the kidnapping/disappearance of Alice Ellingham, but all that goes horribly pear-shaped when a fellow student dies of suspicious circumstances.
The book alternates between flashbacks, snippets of historical documents relating to the case, and Stevie's modern day experience as a new student. Stevie, while she knows more about the Ellingham case than anyone living, has her own problems in the form of anxiety. Although it's not specifically mentioned, she also reads as autistic to me.
I'm going to admit that I spent most of my energy reading the present day scenes. Everything you need to know about the 1938 kidnapping and the aftermath in 1939 are presented through Stevie's research. Reading it first hand isn't needed, but it's there if you want it. That said, Johnson maintains distinct voices for the past and the present. The historical sections ring true.
About two thirds through the book, a student ends up dead in one of the tunnels that have since the kidnapping been filled and closed to access. They've only recently been opened but are most likely off limits to students. That doesn't stop Stevie's cohorts from entering. One of them is a Youtuber who wants to make a video reenacting the 1938 crime. He convinces everyone else to go into the tunnels or realism. He's later found in one, dead.
The death, while determined to be suspicious and possibly murder, isn't solved in volume one. So in that regard, Truly Devious isn't a true mystery. But it uses the tropes and it's a page turner.
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, it's a 66CCCC, or marginalized traveler to uhoria via a maze. The travelers are Stevie and the other students. As students away from home and without transportation off the campus, they don't have many options (66). The destination is primarily the cold case. While there are no ghosts as this is realistic fiction, there are the clues from the past. With the focus being on a crime from 1938 (so an eighty year old mystery), the destination is metaphorically uhoria (CC). Finally, the route to uhoria — to solving the mystery — is one of investigating the grounds and the buildings. They have changed. The death of the Youtuber is evidence enough of the danger of these forgotten, and thus maze like paths (CC).
The second book is The Vanishing Stair (2019), which I have out from the library and will be reading soon.
The Beauty of the Moment: 05/14/19
The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena is a YA set in Toronto. The novel alternates between the points of view of Susan, recently moved to Canada from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Malcolm has lived most of his life in Toronto and he's earned a bad reputation and has pretty much given up on school.
Susan has moved here with her mother. Her father promises he'll be moving soon too, just as soon as work lets him. But it's clear that her parents are on the edge of a divorce and Susan and her mother may end up stranded in an unfamiliar country.
Malcom's father is an adulterer. He's expected to be as much of a player but his heart isn't in it. He recently broke up with his girlfriend and is still reeling from it.
Their relationship builds over a course of a year at high school. Susan is trying to fit in and finding Canadian education off-putting. She's struggling to maintain her stellar grades and she's also finding it hard to make friends.
Malcolm through his friendship with Susan begins to rethink his reputation. He's rethinking his future. He's also encouraging Susan (as is her friend back in Saudi Arabia) to rethink her future. Her parents want a science or medical career for her; she wants to study art.
Mostly though it's a sweet novel about the difficulties of fitting in to a new life in a new country. It's about finding yourself and defining yourself even if its in opposition to what your parents or other adults in your life want for you or think of you.
Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas is the third in the Worldquake sequence. Effie, Wolf, Lexie, Raven, and Max have to save the world during a midwinter's festival which the Diberi hope to corrupt to bring the end to the world.
The Diberi plot, though, is one small sliver of the multiple side plots that make up this book. They are all woven together in a way that reminds me of the early Discworld books, for better or worse.
The title comes from what type of magic user Effie is. It's one that has taken on negative connotations in the mainland and has lead to the expulsion of anyone diagnosed as one. For native mainlanders, that usually means a death sentence. For Effie, not so much, as she's from the Island. But it's still frightening and something she needs to do some serious soul searching about.
The most disturbing part of the book is Lexie's narrative. Her parents are hosting a famous magic scholar who is a lech. He has taken to abusing her physically and emotionally every chance he can get and because her parents are so intent on being the best hosts, she feels like she can't say anything. If she were to, she'd either be punished or disbelieved.
While I enjoyed most of this book, I'm taking one star off for a side plot that reads like a loose homage to The Outlaw Varjak Paw if it were to include the animals from Wonder Pets.
Of the three books so far, this one seemed to be trying too much in too little time. With five human protagonists to keep track of, each having their own separate adventures, along with the one involving the school pets and the cats' home, the narrative seems muddy. There are just too many separate plot threads and it's not entirely clear which mixture of adventures ended up thwarting the Diberi.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 13): 05/13/19
The deadline for the summer members' show is rapidly approaching. My mini pieces are too small to easily attach a wire too for hanging, so I decided to combine the four into a temporary larger piece. This is my first time working with a shadow box. I've painted it and gotten the paintings in well enough to photograph the box to submit via email. I have a sturdier hanging solution coming that I'll pick up from the hardware store when it arrives.
My daughter has taken up geocaching. She's working as a program aide at the Girl Scout summer day camp in June. One of the things they're going to be teaching the campers is geocaching. So she needs to practice. Every day this week after school we've gone after a cache. She's also set up one. If you're in the Bay Area, check out Mr. Lizard's Bush.
What I read:
It ended up being a good week for reading even with the geocaching with my daughter. My favorite book this week was You Owe Me a Murder which is a great retelling of Strangers on a Train.
What I'm reading:
Posts and reviews:
Allegiant by Veronica Roth is the conclusion to the Divergent trilogy. I should start off by saying I did even buy any of the series until the last one was published and the books were offered as a box set. At no point in this trilogy's timeline was I a fan. I'm really in this case, more of an outsider peering over the wall.
By the end of Divergent I was ready to see more of the world to see how broken down ex-Chicago fit into a larger gestalt of post-American society. Insurgent was even more cloistered than the original — save for a brief establishing-shot train ride.
So now we're to see the bigger picture. That's what the book promises. I must have missed something. It seems to be a re-hash of the second book except perhaps that everyone has finally learned that they can be duped into simulations.
There is nothing beyond a few very well described pieces of run down Chicago and a sense of what a personality trait based caste system would work. Oh and there's the inevitable self sacrificing ending because there's nothing really divergent trope-wise for this series despite the name.
The illusion of organized reading: 05/11/19
The last few weeks I've had lots of comments on how organized I appear to be with my blogging and my reading. That's just it, it's an illusion.
I know what my reading and reviewing goals are. The trick is to always have a mixture of books going at once. I keep track of what I'm reading and plan to read in two main ways. The first is GoodReads and the second is the It's Monday, What Are You Reading? meme.
Until last year, Goodreads only allowed the currently reading shelf to hold ten books at one time. Although the site allows more now, I have gotten used to having ten books going at once.
The reality is that of those ten books, I'm only ever reading one to three of them actively. The others on the shelf are there as to be read next.
So how do I decide what to read next? Well, partially that's where the meme comes in. I use the next week's post to keep track of what I'm reading. I like to cycle between a new book and a backlist book. If I have library books out, I try to read one of them each week. I also have my various themed reading and I try to keep one or more of them in play each week.
When I finish a book, I immediately put another book onto my currently reading shelf. If I finish a library book, I pick a new library book. If I finish a road narrative, I pick a new one. A mystery, a new mystery. And so forth.
But! I am human. I'm not a robot. I do have whims. And sometimes there's just something I really want to read. So I put that on the currently reading. And sometimes, I even start reading it right away.
So while it may seem like I have all my reading and all my reviewing planned for the foreseeable future, I don't. I do have a spreadsheet and I do have these two other tools, but they are ultimately "merely guidelines."
The Little Guys: 05/11/19
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol is a picture book by the author of Be Prepared (2018). The Little Guys are a species/community of small acorn shaped creatures who are diligent about collecting all the resources they can from their forest.
The Little Guys go about their collecting reiterating to the reader that they have to work extra hard because they are so little compared to all the other animals.
The artwork, though, tells a different story. It shows the Little Guys taking everything from everyone, even right out of the hands of other animals. Yes, they're small and they feel intimidated by the larger animals, but they the true predators of the forest. Fortunately, the Little Guys aren't so absorbed in themselves to not notice their effect on the forest which gives them a chance to harness their collecting skills for the betterment of everyone.
This book also fits into the road narrative spectrum, coming in at a 339966.
While the Little Guys may believe they are marginalized by their size, they are collectively the most powerful species in the forest. Splitting the difference between privileged and marginalized, I've placed them into the category of the family traveler (33).
The forest setting, while near water, doesn't serve as a portal to another place. As it's not the way to somewhere, it is in itself a destination. That makes the destination the wildlands (99).
Finally there is the route they take. Again, since they aren't going somewhere new, just through the forest, on a path all their own making, the route is offroad. (66).
Put all together, The Little Guys is about a family going offroad through the forest to collect as many food items as they can.
The Great Unknowable End: 05/10/19
The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee is set in the summer of 1977 in Slater, Kansas. It's told from two points of view. There's Stella who lives in Slater, and there's Galliard who was born and raised in Red Sun, the nearby hippie commune.
Stella and Galliard are both trapped by circumstances, though Stella sees her situation as more dire, stuck in a small town with no options because of her grieving father. Her brother has left home for Red Sun, not able to handle the reality of their mother's suicide the day after the moon landing.
Galliard, meanwhile, believes in Red Sun and its founder. At the start of the novel, he wants to be the artist of the commune. There's only one position. But he sees himself as a protector of the commune, and one who is also protected from the dangers of the outside world.
Early in the book Galliard and Stella meet and their friendship ends up expanding both their horizons in unexpected ways. Their alternating points of view, their feelings of entrapment and the need to protect makes them a scarecrow and minotaur combination. While minotaurs and scarecrows can be singletons in the American Road Narrative (99).
All of their meetings, though, is set against an eerie countdown and various Biblical style events: strong winds, blood colored rain, agitated and sickly animals. But the most frightening element is a projected countdown timer that is omnipresent in the town. This countdown gives the need to escape a hair raising urgency.
The destination is home (66). In this case it's a starting point for both protagonists. Home rather than being the thing they are seeking, it's the thing they are hoping to escape. Even Galliard comes to change his mind about the apparent eutopia of the commune.
Finally there is the route away from home and that is the cornfield. Red Sun is an agrarian commune. Stella works at an aging drive in theater that abuts corn. (FF). In this novel, the cornfield is acting as a barrier for the main characters. Initially it is a prison for Stella and a safety net for Galliard. Later, though, its meaning for both flips as the narrative unfolds.
CCFF33: siblings to utopia along the Blue Highway: a brief look at the first seven seasons of Supernatural: 05/09/19
The next way for siblings to reach utopia is via the Blue Highway. For this spot in the spectrum, I will be speaking about the television series Supernatural. Specifically, I'll be talking about seasons one through seven, essentially the pre-Men of Letters Bunker portion of the series. The bunker changes the fundamental balance of Sam and Dean's travels which I will cover later when I begin a more in depth analysis of the series.
In the early days of Supernatural it was presented as a blending of Route 66 and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, though I will argue that Castiel's character comes from Desolation Angels. That too is an essay for a later date.
In season one, Dean has picked up Sam at college because their father is missing. When Sam's fiancée ends up murdered by the yellow-eyed demon, he has nothing else to lose and agrees to go on the road for however long it takes to find their father.
From the very beginning, Sam and Dean are presented as adults. They are in their twenties and compared to the more grizzled Sam and Dean at the close of the series, they appear very young. What is driven home nearly episode, especially early on, is that they are brothers. So here they are as adult examples of the sibling traveler.
Most of the utopias I've described so far have been magical places outside of known areas. In Supernatural's case, especially in the first seasons, utopia is more metaphorical. Sam and Dean go place to place either following clues about their missing father or to chase down supernatural events so that they can hunt the monster behind the event. These places are always given in terms of a known state but most of the time these places are completely fictional.
Being a fictional place doesn't automatically make it a utopia. But taken all together, if one were to map (or attempt to map) all their destinations in episode order, they don't make sense. Or rather, they make as much sense as the route taken in The Magic Cornfield by Nancy Willard which is an orphan to utopia via the cornfield (FFFFFF) story.
But Sam and Dean don't usually go through cornfields. There are exceptions to this, "Scarecrow" (season 1, episode 11), for example. But their main method of travel in these early seasons is via the Blue Highway.
The Blue Highway for the horror end of the road narrative spectrum takes travelers to small towns and forgotten corners where the monsters hide. As Sam and Dean have been raised to hunt monsters, it makes sense that their preferred routes would be on the Blue Highway.
Delicious in Dungeon Volume 2: 05/09/19
Delicious in Dungeon Volume 2 by Ryoko Kui takes a closer look at what it takes to be a successful questing party in this sunken city turned dungeon.
To drive this fact home brutally fast, the book begins with a questing party buying supplies for their foray into the dungeon. They are putting their packing emphasis on food because they don't want to have to go back up to the surface and they are afraid of going hungry.
The very next scene is our main characters examining their bodies. They had been killed by bugs that pretend to be loot. The same bugs end up being a tasty source of protein when cooked right. Had they been more observant they could have survived and saved money on foodstuffs.
Another thing our heroes learn (and help with) is the growing of vegetables in the dungeon. Now a dark, buried maze of rooms doesn't seem like the place to grow greens but they grow just fine when planted on the backs of golems. Yup. Think magical, enchanted, semi-aware moving Chia Pets.
Although this manga series is Japanese, it fits into the road narrative spectrum as many Japanese stories do. I am counting this book as one of those outliers.
By this second volume, the questers have come together as an ersatz family. As they are now working as a cohesive unit (as demonstrated by their ability to survive and thrive in the dungeon), we can call them a family (33).
The dungeon is tied up in the history of the area and is the remains of a buried castle. Later on in this volume, there is a side quest to find food by way of living paintings. These paintings take the traveler into key points of history of the castle when it was a castle and not the cursed upside thing it is in the present. The paintings, the ghosts, and the other cursed objects tied to the time before makes this journey one through uhoria (CC).
Finally there is the method or route of travel. The many traps, the blind alleys, the unexpected secret rooms, takes the route through a maze (CC). The danger is demonstrated through the death of the party at the beginning of the book and later by the capture of the protagonists by orcs.
Put all together, this second volume is a family going through uhoria by way of a maze.
A Question of Holmes: 05/08/19
A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro is the fourth and final book of the Charlotte Holmes series. Charlotte and Jamie have left the boarding school and are in a pre-university summer program. They feel like they might finally be safe.
But before they're even unpacked, Charlotte is drawn into a new mystery involving accidents with the local theater troupe. She decides to join them to figure out what's going on.
After all the personal drama of the previous books, this one read like a YA cozy. It was fun in the moment but the plot honestly isn't sticking with me.
This one was also exclusively written in Charlotte's point of view which is odd. Holmes mysteries — and it doesn't matter which Holmes it is — don't work the same from the detective's point of view. Holmes are mysterious and hard to interpret, even by their long time friends. That distance is what makes the mysteries work.
There is an epilog that gives the author and the series a way to evolve into a New Adult or just Adult series at some later date. Were that to happen, I would read the new book.
Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020: 05/07/19
July 1st, Canada Day, is also the starting day for the annual Canadain Books Challenge. It's been running for twelve years and this thirteenth year will be the first year of it being hosted on the Canadian Bookworm blog.
Books read and reviewed in 2019-2020
I'm tracking books read and reviewed for the 13th annual Canadian Book Challenge
I have been participating since 2009. While the official goal is to read thirteen (or one per province), my personal goal is 52 or more. That means posting at least one review of a Canadian book each week. My Canadian book review day is Tuesday.
Last year's theme was roadside attractions of Canada. This year the theme is Indigenous languages of Canada. It works well with my goal of diversifying my reading both for pleasure and in my Road Narrative Spectrum project.
Books read and reviewed in 2018-2019
I'm tracking books read and reviewed for the 12th Annual CanBook Challenge.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part One: 05/07/19
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part One by Faith Erin Hicks is the continuation of the comics featuring Aang after the end of the television series. It's the first story in the series by Hicks, taking over from Gene Luen Yang.
Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph visit the Earthen Fire Industries factory, first featured in the "The Rift" sequence. The once frontier town and factory has boomed and now there are multiple factories. There is also a new kind of rift between the benders and the non-benders. It's a precursor to the political unrest that will face Republic City in Korra's time.
It's been five years since I read and reviewed "The Rift" and my faulty memory made diving into Hick's story harder than it should have been. Beyond that the story's a little rough around the edges but this is her first time writing these characters beyond a short in an anthology. That said, it was good enough for me to purchase Part Two which came out in April. I have it on hand and will be reading it soon.
Nowhere Boy: 05/06/19
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh is a contemporary middle grade novel set primarily in Brussels. It's told in alternating points of view: Ahmed's and Mike's. Ahmed has escaped from Syria with his father only to be separated and forced to go on his own where he eventually ends up in Brussels. Mike is an American now living in Brussels because his parents have moved there for work.
The intersection of these two plots is the house Mike's family is renting. Ahmed has found a way into the basement which has been converted to include a bathroom, a couch to sleep on, and it's close to the kitchen by way of a short flight of stairs.
Early one I expected the two boys' stories to stay separate minus the shared space. Mike though does discover Ahmed and they become friends. While Ahmed is technically in Belgium illegally, Mike takes the necessary risks to help him: getting him into school, getting him an ID, and ultimately helping him find his father.
Now although this novel is set in Europe, the author is American, and it uses elements of the road narrative to fit into the spectrum. For the traveler piece, Ahmed and Mike for their collaboration, fit into the marginalized traveler status (66). Ahmed is marginalized as a refugee separated from his father. Mike is marginalized as a visa holder who doesn't speak anything beyond English. The destination throughout the book is home (66). First it's the house that the two are sharing, and later it is in the journey for a reunion. The journey to the reunion is done via train, which like the interstate is the most straightforward, safest way to travel (00). Of course traveling without parents, with little in the way of language, and with dubious IDs, adds danger to the route.
All together, this novel in terms of the road narrative spectrum is a tale of marginalized travelers taking a railroad to find home.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (May 06): 05/06/19
Last week my husband was traveling for work. He arrived home yesterday afternoon. Rather, we picked him up at his local office as it's close to the airport. Our teens have busy schedules and those schedules conflicted with picking him up directly from the airport.
Last week I finished Mini Nature 3 which features a honey bee on a cornflower. I'm really please with how it turned out. Now I am working on Mini Nature 4 which features a honey bee and a plum flower.
What I read:
No picture books last week. All of these books were about three hundred pages long. I had hoped to also finish The Train to Impossible Places this week. I'm about half way through it and will finish it probably tomorrow night.
What I'm reading:
Besides the four listed here, I also have an interlibrary loan book that I need to finish this week. It's due on the 11th. The book is The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield (1920). I'm fifty pages into it.
Posts and reviews:
I posted seven reviews, four posts, and one essay.
The Tiger in the House: 05/05/19
The Tiger in the House by Carl Van Vechten is a collection of essays on the different ways the cat has infiltrated our lives. They are broken down into topics like arts, music, law, theater, and so forth.
My favorite part of the book is the first third which deals mostly with the author's own experiences as an owner of cats. He looks at the individual personalities of cats he has owned and the ones he has known through friends of his and goes from there. He also outlines the way famous people wrote about their cats.
It's not though a book that can be read quickly. The essays are complex and reference things and people that aren't part of the day to day discourse. As I had a library book, borrowed through interlibrary loan (and therefore not renewable) I didn't have enough time with it.
I would like to revisit this book in the future — but with a copy that I own and that I can linger over.
May is looking a lot like mid March: 05/04/19
Here it is the first weekend of May but I'm still lagging behind in the early days of spring for my 2019 TBR. I now have two months of reading to catch up on.
From March-April I've read and reviewed:
From February-April I've read but need to review:
From March-April I'm currently reading:
From March-April, I still have to read:
And this list doesn't include the May books that will start rolling in on Tuesday.
The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America: 05/04/19
The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht wasn't on my recent releases radar. But I have online friends who know I'm a birder and a painter of birds. So when this book was released and I wasn't tweeting about it, I had a number of people recommending it.
This book is part field guild and part roasting of some of North America's common birds. The author explains in the introduction how a class assignment on birding went horribly wrong and how he's been frustrated with birds ever since.
The book has the author's sketches of birds which are actually well done and if you know the species, are recognizable. But then he gives them angry parody names like: Poopers Hawk (Cooper's Hawk) and Western Kingbutt (Western Kingbird).
Besides the observations on extant birds, there are also sections on extinct ones, types of bird feeders, tips for watching, the seasons and birding, and keeping your own bird journal.
All in all it's a fun book but I'm taking one star off for its design in print form. The typeface is a tiny, like 8pt thing that is barely different in color from the paper its printed on. The small size and dull color makes it impossible for me to read without a magnifying glass. Even with magnification it's still a tedious affair to read. If you're like me and need glasses when reading, get the ebook version.
The City in the Middle of the Night: 05/03/19
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders is a delightful dense and complex science fiction novel. It's set on a planet with a rotation around the sun that is the same as its revolution, meaning the areas of day and night are fixed. Cities and cultures have adapted, though they may not be the most welcoming.
Though the world and world building is complex, Anders makes things more approachable by using simple English terms for complex ideas. The fun here is in reading the descriptions that lead to a mental picture that doesn't match the usual one.
The narrative is told from two points of view. The first is that of a student, Sophie, who is expelled from school and nearly executed for what should be a minor infraction. The second point of view is that of Mouth's, the sole survivor of a pioneering family, now living as a smuggler.
Sophie and Mouth's stories are personal ones. They have small parts in a much larger story, one of revolution. To me, this book reads like a pared down Dune but told from points of view of two of the supporting characters. And in place of Paul, there is a young woman.
I'm not going to go into the details of the revolution because I want you to read this novel. Instead, I'm going to point out how this book fits into the road narrative spectrum.
Like the co-protagonists of An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, Sophie and Mouth share roles as Scarecrow and Minotaur (99). Sophie, a product of the labyrinthine city feels trapped by it and is persecuted by it. She is therefore the Minotaur. Mouth, while having suffered greater personal losses, is free of the city and has come to provide help (for a fee). She is therefore the Scarecrow.
The destination is the city (00). It is also where most of the action takes place, though both do leave it and come back. The city is the be all and end all of this novel. In the spectrum, the city is the most obvious (and in some genres, the safest) destination. In this novel, not so much. The city is as dangerous as the wilderness, just differently so. It is oppressive. It is restrictive.
As bad as it is, though, is it a dystopia? Does it count as a utopia (no place) for the sake of the road narrative spectrum? I argue no, because from the points of view of Sophie and Mouth, the city, as terrible as it is, is mundane. It is a mappable, knowable place within the confines of their worldview.
Most of the travels these two protagonists take are through Sophie's city. While the city is circular, something they both mention, and while the Minotaur is associated with the labyrinth, the city and the planet are both too dangerous to be considered an easy path, or a transformative one. Therefore, the path is that of the maze (CC).
Put all together The City in the Middle of the Night is the tale of a scarecrow and a minotaur navigating the dangers of the maze to bring revolution to the city.
CCFF66: Siblings going offroad to utopia: 05/03/19
The next route for siblings to come to utopia is via an offroad route. It's a route that isn't as defined as through a cornfield, nor as full of blind alleys as a maze, or as meditative as a labyrinth, or as utilitarian as either a Blue Highway or an Interstate. It's the route that is neither quite magical nor mundane — a crossing over point.
For this spot in the spectrum, I have two exemplars, both which feature sisters. The first is Piece of Mind by Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, and Buzz Parker (2011). The second is Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs (2011).
In both cases, the siblings, while also sisters, are also identical. Now in Emily LeStrange's case, her twin is a clone she has made herself. In Sweet Venom there are identical triplets who have been raised separately and only recently reunited. Being identical adds to the power, something brought up repeatedly in the Childs's Medusa Girls series. In Emily's case, her twin power comes more from science than from magic, though magic does also exist in her world and in her family. Let's call it science in the service of magic.
More broadly speaking, the siblings don't have to be identical. They don't have to be children or teenagers, even though my exemplars here are.
The destination in these examples is utopia. Utopia is a no place; an unmappable, hard to reach destination. You have to know how to get there or stumble upon it through luck or misfortune. The utopic destination could be a eutopia (good place) or a dystopia (bad place), but it doesn't have to be.
For Emily and her clone it's the same seaside town she went once before. It's a town that only certain people can get to. For most people (save for Dark Aunts or Shady Uncles) the town is impossible to find. Emily's destination while it's being fought over by two sides, isn't a good or bad place, just a special one.
For the triplets, they aren't traveling, they are protecting San Francisco from a steady invasion of monsters from some other place via portal. In the third book, they will actually go through the portal, but in that case, their goal will be returning to the city.
The route as I've said, is offroad. For Emily that means going underground, through secret passages, and through the woods after clues and in the service of the science/magic she's using to keep the town protected. For the triplets, the route to their city is through a portal. Portals aren't cornfields, mazes, labyrinths, or roads.
Admittedly both of these examples are ones I read before formulating the spectrum. That means I was reading them with different things in mind. I should re-read these examples and be on the look out for others.
Road Narrative Update for April 2019: 05/03/19
I like how last month's review worked, so I'm going to stick with this format for now. My April reading was even with March's. Again I read ten qualifying books. Seven of the ten books were published this year and either have been reviewed or will be reviewed soon.
I have no idea how May's reading will shape up. I need to focus on Canadian books and mysteries if I'm going to stick with my current themes.
Giant Days Volume 9: 05/02/19
Giant Days, Volume 9 by John Allison collects issues 33-36 and came out in February. I'm running behind in my current reads and didn't get to this volume until April.
The end of the second year is rapidly approaching and Esther is about to find herself homeless. Susan is moving in with McGraw. Daisy is moving in with her girlfriend. Esther meanwhile is adrift and distraught.
One of the ways Esther decides to face her problems is to drown them in a pub crawl reminiscent (minus the invasion bits) to World's End. She brings along Ed Gemmell and he ends up far worse for the experience.
Daisy with the help of Esther's ridiculously over the top Goth little sister, comes to realize that she isn't happy with her girlfriend. The thought of moving into a tiny self built room in an artists's warehouse is more than she can handle.
In the end that just leaves Susan with plans and the other two girls adrift. What happens to them will hopefully be addressed in Volume 10. It comes out June 25, 2019.
April 2019 Sources: 05/02/19
April's reading goals were pushed aside somewhat with the need to plan for a summer art camp I'll be teaching. It meant checking out almost a dozen picture books about dinosaurs and birds for inspiration. For when I wasn't reading for art camp, I was focusing on reading for my themed weeks, especially the Canada and mystery weeks. Those are the ones I'm running out of material on first.
I read twelve newly published books. most of them were from previous months. There were four, however, that I just wanted to read right away. That was a big hit against the ROOB score.
After four months of trending downwards, being the four best ROOB months since I started tracking, my four new books puts April in the middle of all Aprils.
My average for April rose a little bit from -2.27 to -2.25
The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn: 05/01/19
The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn by Carolyn Keene is the thirteenth of the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Nancy has been invited along to a wedding in Charleston. George's cousin is getting married and it's going to be a big to-do with a large wedding party and guest list.
To accommodate all of the wedding party, the entirety of the famous Grey Fox Inn has been booked. It's known for being haunted but there haven't been any sitings in years, that is until the first night of the wedding party's stay.
Besides the ghostly appearances, last minute details for the wedding seem to be going wrong. Flowers are canceled and changed, things have gone missing from rooms, and so forth. Each event adds to the stress between the families and the bride to be appears to at the edge of a breakdown.
The set up seemed like the start to a Scooby Doo mystery and that was actually a good thing. The ghostly appearances were less elaborate than what the Scooby Gang would have come across. But ultimately everything makes sense.
It was a fun read, one of the best in from the recent ones I've read. Book fourteen is Riverboat Roulette (2017).
April 2019 Summary: 05/01/19
April was busy with reading picture books to brainstorm art ideas for the summer camp I'm running in July. I also taught more classes at the gallery and spent time on a new series of paintings which I'm collectively calling "Mini Art." I've completed three paintings and have begun a fourth. I need to finish the fourth soon in order to put them together in a shadow box to enter in the members show.
My reading was almost evenly divided between personal collection, research, and library books. Six of the ten library books I read were for my summer art camp. These six are also why I missed my diversity reading goal for the month.
Like March, I read 31 books. If I removed the six art camp books, I would have just met my diversity reading goal. I'm not going to do that. What I should have done instead is look for diverse authors. If I read more books for art camp, I will do this. My reviews, however did meet the goal, with eighteen being by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters.
With three months of 2019 complete, I still have 10 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 11. My 2017 reviews are down to 12 from 14. I have 47 reviews remaining from 2018, down from 54, and 80, up from 51, now from 2019.