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June 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

Beat the Backlist 2024

Ozathon: 12/2023-01/2025

Canadian Book Challenge: 2023-2024

Chicken Prints
Paintings and Postcards

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Wolf Hollow: 06/30/19

Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is a story about rural life in World War Two. Annabelle's life in Pennsylvania has been quiet and relatively sheltered until the arrival of Betty Glengarry. Betty is a bully and her actions send ripples of discontent throughout the town.

Tony, a veteran of the World War One becomes Betty's next victim when he comes to Annabelle's aid. Due to his age and his untreated ptsd (or shell shock as it was called back then), it doesn't take much for Betty to turn the town against him.

Thematically the book reminds me of a mixture of two other middle grade / YA books: A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959) and The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry (2009). This book, though, lacks the emotional impact of them. There's a lot at play: the stress of the war, the bullying, the visceral nature of the mob mentality but how those affect Annabelle doesn't come through. Her voice remains distant through out.

Three stars

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The Vanishing Stair: 06/29/19

The Vanishing Stair

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson is the second in the Truly Devious YA mystery trilogy. Stevie Bell at the end of the first book went home, shamed by her involvement of the death of a student and the disappearance of another. Now out of the blue, the wealthy and powerful father of another student, David, invites her back with the caveat that she keep his son out of trouble.

It doesn't take Stevie long to settle back into her favorite obsession — investigating the Ellingham mystery (a kidnapping and murder). Now, though, she has the support of a nearby university professor. She has a list of things to research and questions to answer.

Stevie's investigation compounded by David's encouragement leads to the answer to what happened to the student who disappeared. It also leads to more questions and more danger for everyone involved.

Like the first book, this one sits on the road narrative spectrum. In fact it sits in the same spot as Truly Devious (2017). Both sit at 66CCCC.

Stevie and the other students continue to be marginalized (66) by their age and by their remote location. Stevie even though she has adult help now, still needs to ask for rides or rely on the shuttle into town.

With the modern day mysteries still tied heavily to the original crimes, the overall destination is uhoria (CC). That is a destination out of time — out of sync with the "present" timeline of the traveler's narrative. This uhoria is presented through Stevie's research as well as the flashback chapters and historical documents.

The route remains the maze. In this case, the school itself is the maze. It's rife with tunnels and secret passages. With the deaths in the past and the deaths in the present, it's clear these tunnels and whatnot are dangerous. It's that very real threat of violence, of death, that makes the school a maze instead of a labyrinth.

The final book is The Hand on the Wall which will be released January 21, 2020.

Five stars

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Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe: 06/28/19

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl is the story of a girl trying to honor her mother's memory by finding the secret room painted by a mysterious artist. Her only clue is an old coin from a defunct company town. She sets out with her pockets full of stolen stacks, the old coin, and her father's guidebook.

Cricket's father has died. Her mother has run off. With no parent to care for her she is left with her aunt Belinda. Her moment to escape to find the painted room comes when she is accidentally left at the Cash 'n' Carry.

This middle grade novel is magical in its sense of place and discovery. Though Cricket has had a hard life, especially of recent, she remains optimistic. She is also resourceful and determined. It reminds me of Finding Fortune by Delia Ray (2015)

Cricket's journey to find the bird room is one that can be mapped through the road narrative spectrum. As she travels alone, has to steal food, and squat in old buildings, she is an orphan traveler (FF). Within the diegesis, she may also be a literal orphan as her mother's fate is unknown.

Her destination is a hidden room in an overgrown former company town. It's a ghost town. Cricket's goal is to uncover its past and connect with her mother at one of her happiest times. This nostalgia driven quest makes the destination a uhoric one (CC).

Finally her path there could seem like an offroad one as she's going through the forest that has grown up around the old town, she is wayfaring by her father's notes, clues found in the town, and her own memories of her mother's stories. As one clue leads to another and all spiral into her ultimate goal, the painted room, the route instead is a labyrinthine one (99).

Put all together, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe is the journey of an orphan through a labyrinth of clues to uhoria (FFCC99).

Five stars

Comments (2)

CCCC00: Siblings to uhoria along the interstate: 06/28/19

CCCC00: Siblings to uhoria along the interstate.

The last way for siblings to travel to a place out of time is via the interstate or the railroad. For this place in the spectrum, I don't have an exemplar. I will be describing potential plots instead.

The travelers are siblings. They are same generation relatives. They can be blood relatives. They can be adopted. They can be people who have decided to call themselves siblings (such as the bears in We Bare Bears. They can be children or they can be adults.

The destination is time itself. It is a displacement in time, a place out of time relative to the starting point. The displacement with time can be in many forms: actual time travel, a place that is stuck in a different era culturally, or a haunting, for example.

The route to uhoria here is the interstate or the railroad. It's a straight, guaranteed, smooth, trip. Of all the ways to travel, the railroad or the interstate is the safest and most mundane route.

If Marty McFly's sister went time traveling with him in the third Back to the Future film, the return journey via the steam train would sit into this spot on the spectrum.

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The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part Three: 06/27/19

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part Three

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part Three by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh is the conclusion to the story arc involving the disputed spirit portal in Republic City.

The entire city is under attack by this world's version of a dirty bomb. Korra is torn between saving the city and rescuing Asami.

Big battles that were hinted at are solved instead by cunning. Give how many panels and pages can be lost to "epic" battle scenes — yelling, explosions, posturing — it was refreshing to see something different done.

The next sequence begins with Ruins of the Empire, Part One (2019).

Five stars

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Just South of Home: 06/26/19

Just South of Home

Just South of Home by Karen Strong is a middle grade cold case mystery with a supernatural twist. Sarah is looking forward to spending her first summer free from her grandmother's strict watch to read science books and bossing around her younger brother, Ellis. But all those plans are tossed out when cousin Janie is forced to stay the summer while her mother is in Hollywood for a screen test.

Janie is a city girl. She's used to the finer things and staying in a small rural town is not her idea of fun. She also prone to taking mementos even if that means shoplifting. Sarah realizes she's going to be spending her entire summer keeping her cousin out of trouble.

A new girl with big ideas doesn't believe in superstitions. So when she hears about the ruins of a church burned down by the Klan and now believed to be haunted by haints, she has to see it. Sarah gives in and takes her and it's at this point that the book goes from realistic to supernatural fiction. The place is haunted. And when Janie takes home an old locket they draw the ire of the haints.

The bulk of this book is the aftermath of that initial visit to the church ruins. Janie and Sarah learn to work together to find a solution to their problem. They also learn the history of the fire and solve the mystery of a missing relative.

Strong populates her book with well rounded, believable characters. The relationship between Sarah's mother and Mrs. Greene (Sarah's grandmother) is especially fascinating. Mrs. Greene is set in her ways and old fashioned. Why she is the way she is, is revealed over the course of the book. Meanwhile, Sarah's mother is a modern woman, a lawyer, and far more liberal in how she treats the children.

The novel also sits in the road narrative spectrum. As the entire family is involved at one point or another in solving the problem with the haints, they are the traveler (33). With the haints being tied to the history of the town and the family's personal history, the destination is uhoria (CC). Finally the route taken is offroad as the area around the destination is overgrown and left to ruin (66). Put all together, Just South of Home is the story of a family going offroad to uhoria.

Five stars

Comments (2)

My Beautiful Birds: 06/25/19

My Beautiful Birds

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo is a picture book about the civil war in Syria from the point of view of a boy who has had to leave his pet pigeons behind.

Sami and his family and neighbors make the long walk to a refugee camp. Behind them smoke billows over the remains of their city. Life in the camp is primitive and heartbreaking. Eventually, though, Sami meets some new birds and manages to befriend them, thus making life a little easier for himself.

The illustrations are multi media collage. The primary medium is plasticine clay but other items are included to bring texture and dimension to the pages. Samples of her work are available on her website.

Four stars

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The Everlasting Rose: 06/24/19

The Everlasting Rose

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton is the sequel The Belles (2018). Camille and Edel and guard Remy are on the run while there is mayhem in the castle now that Sophia is trying to claim the throne but Charlotte, the rightful heir is gathering her forces from a secret location.

Whereas the first book was all about the pageantry of Orlean's beauty based society and the honored position a belle holds, this second offering is the darker side of the queendom. Beauty comes with an extreme price. It seems as steady as a late in life pyramid scheme.

There is also the nature of the belles themselves. It's not a natural one. It might be a supernatural one. It might be a scientific one that has been dressed up in a supernatural story that has been further romanticized to fit the over all beauty paradigm.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the The Everlasting Rose is a move in the fantasy genre towards the border with horror. In The Belles, the travelers collectively were the newly graduated belles who saw themselves as sisters. As the truth of their heritage becomes more apparent, Camille begins to see herself and her "sisters" in a different light. She wants to be a protector of the queendom. She also wants to free her sisters who are being held prisoner by Sophie's guards. This set up a new dichotomy of traveler: the scarecrow (Camille and Edel) and the minotaur (the other belles).

Close up of the Road Narrative Spectrum showing the progression from book one to two

Otherwise, the second book maintains the narrative set up of the previous. There is still a journey to the capital city by an offroad manner.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 24): 06/24/19

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

It's been a busy week. My husband is still on his business trip. Early in the week a painting I had purchased arrived. I bought it from artist Margaux Wosk in Vancouver, Canada. She has an Etsy shop. Go check out Retrophiliac's work.

Orange cat in a pink and blue tea cup on a purple background.
Painting by Margaux Wosk.

While my daughter was working as a PA at the local Girl Scout day camp, I worked out the last ideas for my summer camp. Take for instance these tropical birds. I drew inspiration from the collages of Lorna Simpson.

Three watercolor and Sharpie birds

The last two summer camp projects will be crafts: a shadow box/diorama and bird feeders from milk jugs. I have enough things to teach the kids and keep them busy. As I feel the need to take a break from the Mini Nature paintings, I've moved onto the first of two full sized (16x20 inch) pieces that will feature cats encountering the local wild life. This first one is a feral cat eying a turkey who has come to eat the dry cat food put out by a someone.

WIP acrylic showing a young cat trying to stare down a wild turkey who is between him and his breakfast.

Because these cats and turkeys share their meals outside of the Hayward Japanese Friendship Garden, I'm calling the painting "いただきます (Itadakimasu)." It's the phrase said before a meal.

Staff Show reception at the Sun Gallery

The reception was also a retirement party of a local art teacher and muralist, Andrew Knight. My son was in his last art class. He has some other upcoming projects. The photo is him on stage with the woman who got him into painting murals for the city. She happens to be retiring as well and he painted one last mural (in the form of a utility box) as a present.

Andrew Knight's retirement party

What I read:

My goal this week was to focus on my library books. We'll be traveling soon and I don't want to have any out while we're gone. Plus I feel like they are getting in the way of my own purchases.

  • Paperboy by Vince Vawter; library book
  • Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw; library book
  • Read on Arrival by Nora Page; personal collection
  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong; personal collection
  • Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert; library book
  • Emily the Strange: The 13th Hour by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker; library book / research

What I'm reading:

  • The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz; personal collection
  • Big Hero 6, Vol. 1 by Haruki Ueno; personal collection
  • Up for Air by Laurie Morrison; personal collection
  • The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright; library book

Up Soon:

  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée; personal collection
  • Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames; library book
  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen; personal collection
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story by Susan Tan; library book

Posts and reviews:

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Little Bea: 06/23/19

Little Bea

Little Bea by Daniel Roode is a picture book about the day in the life of a solitary bee, named, Bea. Bea starts her day asleep on a large daisy and goes about her day exploring her world, collecting pollen and meeting the other creatures who live near her.

Little Bea is illustrated in soft colors and geometric shapes. The colors are too saturated to be pastels, but they still give a sense of early spring.

What's missing from this book, though, is an opportunity to teach children that yes, there are in fact, species of solitary bees. Children grow up learning about beehives and the way that bees waggle dance at each other to give the directions to flowers. Here is a book that hints at the labor intensive life of a solitary bee without any of the follow through.

Three stars

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Superlative Birds: 06/22/19

Superlative Birds

Superlative Birds by Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck is a picture book about the extreme examples from the avian world. Each example has a lengthy bit of information which is paired with an adorable comic illustration.

The biggest drawback about this book is the way the information is presented. It's done in a block of text that reads like a poetic riddle. These riddles aren't simple two to four lines. They are paragraphs in poetic form.

Keep in mind this book is aimed for children. As an adult I struggled to keep my attention on the text. I did want to learn about the birds but the extra work of having to sort out a complex riddle was more than I wanted to do.

The illustrations, meanwhile, are adorable. The pictures would do well with story time but I feel for whomever would have to read it aloud to an audience of kids. If it were me, I'd struggle with pacing. I'm not sure the kids would want to sit through twenty-eight riddles.

Three stars

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The Penderwicks at Point Mouette: 06/21/19

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall is the third in the Penderwicks series. This time, the Penderwicks are divided. Mr. Penderwick and Iantha are on their honeymoon. Rosalind is at the beach. The remaining Penderwick sisters are up in Maine with their aunt.

Primarily the plot is focused on the Maine contingency of the Penderwicks. Skye is now the acting OAP with Rosalind on her own trip. She has a list of instructions from the eldest but she quickly realizes she in over her head.

Meanwhile, there's a subplot about Jeffrey who comes to visit. He makes friends with the aunt's neighbor. They bond over music. By the end of the trip, it's blatantly clear that the world is a much smaller place than anyone suspected as Jeffrey and this neighbor are clearly related!

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, volume three is the tale of siblings going to a rural place along a blue highway. As this is realistic fiction, and even has a better sense of place in time than the previous two do, there's nothing metaphoric about this journey. The siblings are visiting family in rural Maine. They went by a Blue Highway. Even in Jeffrey's case, he ends up finding family in Maine along the same route.

Five stars

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Misfit City Volume 1: 06/20/19

Misfit City Volume 1

Misfit City Volume 1 by Kirsten Smith is the first of a two volumes that cover the hunt for treasure. The book is set in a fictional reimagining of Astoria, Oregon — the location where The Goonies was filmed. Cannon Cove has it's own cult movie from the 1980s, The Gloomies and a museum dedicated to it (with some actual local history thrown in).

There is also a real life Cannon Beach 24 miles south south west of Astoria. Landscape and town features borrow from both cities to make something new.

Wilder while giving yet another tour of the museum finds a pirate map in a recently donated writing desk. She rounds up her friends to try to track down the treasure.

The journey takes her to the estate of a recently departed town legend. It also takes them through town and out to the Tilamook lands along the coast.

As a Goonies fan and a semi frequent visitor of Oregon, I found this book engaging and hilarious from start to finish. The landscape and landmarks are recognizable. The weird love/hate relationship between the fans and the town is there. But there is also this added haunted gloom that reminds me of Crystal Cove from Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013).

This comic fits into the road narrative spectrum at 66CCFF. The main characters as teens are marginalized (66). They are limited in what they can do and when they can do it.

The destination is uhoria (CC) for a number of reasons. First there is the town's pirate history which now has come to light via the newly found map. Next there is the town's tourist industry based around a thirty year old film. Finally there is a literal ghost who is guarding the treasure.

The route to uhoria — to where the treasure is believed to be hidden — is via the cornfield (FF), or more properly speaking a tkaronto (border between tress and water). It's no mistake that the route lies in Tilamook land.

Five stars

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CCCC33: siblings traveling to uhoria on the Blue Highway: 06/20/19

CCCC33: siblings traveling to uhoria on the Blue Highway.

The second to last route for siblings traveling to uhoria is the Blue Highway. For this essay I have one exemplar: The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018).

Siblings are any number (more than one) traveler of the same generation who were raised together or who share the same parents. In the case of The Ghost Road, the travelers are a pair of identical appearing cousins who for the summer are treated like sisters for reasons that are key to the narrative.

Uhoria is a place out of time. It can be literal time travel. It can be a haunting. It can be a place kept to run like another time period. In the case of the exemplar, the moments out of time are experienced first through visions that Ruth has. Later Ruth and her cousin experience a haunting.

Finally there is the route taken. Blue Highways which take their name from the US highways that aren't interstates, are any well established road that isn't a straight, sure, as guaranteed destination as an interstate or railroad.

For Ruth and her cousin, the road they take is the titular ghost road. It was at one time the main road between the modern day village and one that has been lost to time. The road while overgrown and missing to most people, is visible to certain people who have second sight, such as Ruth.

Other versions of this stop on the spectrum could be siblings who drive a time machine along a blue highway. Or it could be Sam and Dean in Baby if they pick up a ghost (see the "La Llorena" episode in season one of Supernatural.

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Charms and Chocolate Chips: 06/19/19

Charms and Chocolate Chips

Charms and Chocolate Chips by Bailey Cates is the third of the Magical Bakery mystery series. Kate has been volunteering at a local conservation group, Georgia Wild. When she arrives to work her shift she finds another volunteer frantic because she's just discovered the body of the woman who ran the organization. The only clue is an origami maroon bat.

The maroon bat is made up for the book, but is described as a subspecies of the red bat. It's habits and environment are a bit like Texas's seminole bat (Lasiurus seminoles). The maroon bat is given the scientific name (Lasiurus marona).

This maroon bat species is endangered but has been recently spotted in a nearby swamp that is now up for sale. Georgia Wild had been working on stopping the sale, with the dead woman working directly with a scientist who was renting a cabin at the edge of the swamp.

In almost any other cozy, the reason behind the murder would be a straight up land-grab related motive. Someone had a reason to protect the swamp and was using the bats for an excuse. Or they were so desperate that they went to extreme measures.

But this is a paranormal cozy series. Kate is a witch. In these books there's a magical reason behind the murder. I'm not going to spoil it because it was a fun bunch of scenes to read — in the neighborhood of a Warehouse 13 or Librarians episode.

The fourth book in the series is Some Enchanted Éclair (2014), which I am currently reading.

Five stars

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One Lie Too Many: 06/18/19

One Lie Too Many

One Lie Too Many by Eileen Cook doesn't have an obvious source of inspiration like You Owe Me a Murder (2019) does, but it does give off a Twin Peaks vibe (minus the supernatural bits).

Skye Thorn knows how to do cold readings and how to play people. She also has a history of being too convincing with her lies. Though she should have learned her lesson with the Dad incident, she leads her best friend on to believing that she has the money saved to go halfsies on an apartment in New York City. When her best friend believes her to the point of canceling her dorm reservation, she gets herself involved in a money making scheme.

The scheme involves faking a kidnapping for the ransom money. Skye will drop psychic hints to lead to clues. Then the kidnapped person's family will pay the ransom and they will both have money they sorely need.

Except, like all her lies, she's too convincing. People who shouldn't get involved do get involved. Soon a small, cut and dry event has the big media outlets involved. Skye's would-be psychic mother gets involved. And the then the "kidnapped" person is found, murdered and Skye might end up being the prime suspect.

This one has a twist and I figured it out before Skye. Even with seeing the surprise ending with a bunch of chapters left, I still enjoyed the novel. My one critique and it's a minor one, is that the set up was a bit slow. After the non-stop excitement of You Owe Me a Murder, I admit to being spoiled.

Four stars

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Escape from Aleppo: 06/17/19

Escape from Aleppo

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai begins on Nadia's twelfth birthday. She is expecting a fun night with family until that is all taken away by a frantic call from her uncle. They watch the news, horrified. It's the start of the Arab Spring.

Nadia's family decides to flee Aleppo. In the mayhem, she is separated from her family and needs to do everything she can to survive and to make the rendezvous point.

The narrative and details are inspired by actual events. There are some heart stopping moments but Nadia is resourceful. She finds others who can help and manages to navigate the terrors of civil war that are transforming her city into an unrecognizable landscape.

For reluctant readers, I will tell you it has a happy ending, at least for Nadia and her family.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 17): 06/17/19

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

I haven't done any more painting in the last week. But I did prototype a couple more projects for the summer camp.

Chicken a la Matisse

The chicken piece was done on recycled cardboard. I painted it a vibrant background. The chickens, flowers, and grains were all cut from Crayola construction paper.

Dinosaurs a la Matisse

The dinsaur piece was done with the same technique, on another cardboard sheet painted the same vibrant red-orange.

On Friday we had our first teacher meeting for the summer camp. Session one starts today. My session is in the middle of July so I still have time to prepare. We will be having another meeting sometime before my session.

Mini Nature 1-4

The trip to the gallery gave me a chance to see my shadow box hung up. Here it is.

What I read:

  • All That I Can Fix by Crystal Chan; personal collection
  • Just South of Home by Karen Strong; personal collection
  • The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson; library book
  • Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 3 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • Above by Roland Smith; library / research
  • Click by Kayla Miller; library book
  • Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Bryne; personal collection
  • Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron

What I'm reading:

  • Read on Arrival by Nora Page; personal collection
  • Paperboy by Vince Vawter; library book
  • The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong; personal collection
  • Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw; library book

Up Soon:

  • The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz; personal collection
  • Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert; library book
  • Up for Air by Laurie Morrison; personal collection
  • Big Hero 6, Vol. 1 by Haruki Ueno; personal collection

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (18)

The Wolf's Boy: 06/16/19

The Wolf's Boy

The Wolf's Boy by Susan Williams Beckhorn is a tween novel about a boy and his dog. Except the boy is an early human and the dog is a proto-dog, a missing link if you will, between wolf and dog.

The book is set in the days when there were still Neanderthals. So there isn't really a written record, everything is left to the imagination.

The main character is Kai, a child with a club foot. He wants to train as a warrior but he's kept doing women's work because his deformity will keep him from every truly being a man. Gag.

As Kai and his people are pre-humans or early-humans or whatever the heck you want to call them — people from before written language and modern architecture — it's again up to the author to make things up.

Early culture does not equal indigenous culture. But that's what happens here. Kai and his people, who by the way are known as The People, end up speaking in the weirdly stilted language so often used by white writers to sound indigenous.

The only thing saving me from giving this book one star is the fact that it's completely fictional. It's not based on a real group people — beyond being early humans and Neanderthals. It can't be — so why use racist stereotypes to tell the story?

Four stars

Comments (2)

Woman 99: 06/15/19

Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister is historic fiction set in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically San Francisco and Napa. Charlotte Smith feels guilty that her sister Phoebe was taken to woman's insane asylum. She decides to follow in Nellie Bly's footsteps and get herself committed so she can find and rescue her sister.

The set up for Woman 99 was like the first few chapters of Laurie R. King's Island of the Mad. But then it spends two thirds of the remainder of the book in the asylum.

The day to day monotony of Charlotte's life as "woman 99" is padded with sappy flashbacks about her romance with Henry or her remembering good and bad times with her sister.

As there isn't much detail in the way asylums were run back then, much of the present day narrative is repetitions of Charlotte's day: her meals, the pre-dawn hikes she and her inmates take, her work in the soap room, and her the weekly hosing down sessions.

Eventually she gets enough freedom to actively start looking for Phoebe. Here is where I hoped against all hope that Phoebe was a figment of her deranged imagination. Had she been, this book could have been a delightful blending of Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003) and The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward (1946).

Instead, Phoebe is real and is at the asylum. The last third of the book is about her rescue of Phoebe, a grand escape and the consequences for what she experienced and learned at the asylum. The ending took a tangent that I wasn't expecting and actually find horrifying in its own special way.

The ending can be summed up with:

Four stars

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The Clockwork Ghost: 06/14/19

The Clockwork Ghost

The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby is the second of the York series. Although the friends and neighbors of 354 W. 73rd Street have been dispersed, they continue to work on the cipher whenever they get the opportunity.

This book doesn't need any time to establish the validity of the cipher. That question has been blown wide open and now it's clear that the twins and their former neighbors are attuned to it in ways that no one previous has been.

There is also a change in placement on the road narrative spectrum from 3300CC (family city maze) to 66CC99 (marginalized uhoria labyrinth).

While the adults of the Biedermann family have given up on the cipher, the twins and their friends have continued on. That promotes the traveler from a family unit to a group of marginalized travelers (66). As their personal agency lessens, their power over the journey increases.

At the climax of this novel, one involving a nefarious interest in Nine and other similar animals, the novel sets up the hook for a third, yet to be announced novel. This set up changes the very nature of the destination, from the city, to that of uhoria (CC). It's nearly a 180 degree switch. The set up, though, implies, that the third book's (or perhaps a fourth one's) destination may end up being utopia which is the most extreme destination on the spectrum. Here, though, the travelers are still in their city but are faced with the reality that people from the cipher's distant past might still be among the present.

Finally there is the route. Like the travelers, the route is only a slight adjustment. While the travelers gained in power by one notch, the route has become safer by one. In the first book, the children had to prove themselves to the cipher. That has been done, and now the traps and blind alleys of the cipher as maze have been removed from their path. With those removed, the maze becomes a labyrinth — as represented by their first journey into the post 354 W. 73rd Street days — a slopped underground path and a rising staircase and a door opened by code they already know. The end result of their daylong journey is a transformative one, one that completely changes their approach to the cipher and their understanding of it.

Five stars

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CCCC66: Siblings going offroad to uhoria: 06/14/19

CCCC66: Siblings going offroad to uhoria.

The next way to uhoria for the sibling traveler is via an offroad route. For this stop on the road narrative spectrum I have one exemplar: Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt (2016).

Mabel is an interesting example of a sibling traveler in that she is separated from her baby sister for most of the book, but both travel to the same places via very similar routes. I count Mabel's journey as a sibling one for this book because she is thinking of herself as a big sister and is worried about her baby sister for the majority of the journey.

The sisters' destination is New York in the far future. As it is a time travel adventure and the fate of humanity has been lost to the ages between our present and the present of the animal pirates. As there is no history to connect the two, the city, even though it is named, is a uhoric destination. It is a city out of time.

The journey both girls take is an offroad one. It is one over water, through the air, and through the jungles. The land has reclaimed the human cities. There are new routes but they aren't roads or highways.

Other examples could be siblings arriving from another time to a secluded path. Children could run away from home and end up in another time. The key feature of this spot on the spectrum are siblings, a journey through time (or some other interaction with time out of sorts), and a path that is offroad (by air, through a forest, etc).

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Paper Girls, Volume 5: 06/13/19

Paper Girls, Volume 5

Paper Girls, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan is the second to last volume, collecting issues 21-25. The Paper Girls are trying to get home, save the world, and change their fates.

Mac and the other girls have learned an uncomfortable amount about their personal futures as well as the bigger picture future for the world. At the very personal level, each girl has something they want to avoid or change. This is the volume where they try their stubborn best to change their fate. How successful they are is basically a wash.

Meanwhile, the identities of the leaders behind the time travel society are revealed. Things are already beginning to wrap up in a tidy and satisfying way that takes full advantage of the time travel plot. I suspect the remainder will be wrapped up in the final volume.

Five stars

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A Murder for the Books: 06/12/19

A Murder for the Books

A Murder for the Books by Victoria Gilbert is the first of the Blue Ridge Library mysteries. It's set in a small town in Virginia that has a long history. Amy Webber is the library manager and she has one assistant librarian. The library also runs the town archive, and it's there that the body is found.

Meanwhile at home, Amy has a new neighbor, a dance instructor named Richard. He's charming and handsome and has Amy completely on edge. She's overweight and he's fit. She figures he's out her league.

The modern day murder and the arrival of Richard, brings to Amy's mind, an old murder case involving her family and the family next door. The wife was accused of poisoning her husband in the early 1920s. After she was released she disappeared and the town rumor was that it showed her guilt. But the evidence is there to exonerate the wife and it ties to the modern day murder in the archives.

This volume is a strong start to a new series. It was a great mixture of history, a cold case, a budding romance, and a modern day mystery. The second book in the series is Shelved Under Murder (2018).

Five stars

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Halfway through March in June: 06/12/19

Reading report

Everything purchased that was released between January 1 and February 28th has been read and reviewed. But it's mid June and I should be at least working through May's purchases.

From February-May I've read and reviewed in the last month:

  1. Fenway and Hattie in the Wild by Victoria J. Coe
  2. Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali
  3. Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas
  4. The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol
  5. Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles
  6. The Fever King by Victoria Lee
  7. You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook
  8. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
  9. Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien
  10. Chicken Girl by Heather Smith
  11. The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

From March-June I've read but need to review:

  1. The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby
  2. Just South of Home by Karen Strong
  3. Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates
  4. Woman 99 by Greer Macallister
  5. Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang
  6. One Lie Too Many by Eileen Cook
  7. The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
  8. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro

From March-May I'm currently reading:

  1. The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz
  2. Read on Arrival by by Nora Page
  3. Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Bryne

From March-June, I still have to read:

  1. One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet
  2. I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
  3. Midnight Radio by Iolanda Zanfardino
  4. Montauk by Nicola Harrison
  5. The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle
  6. In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow
  7. This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura
  8. A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird
  9. If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann
  10. No Place Like Here by Christina June
  11. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay
  12. Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
  13. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
  14. Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part Two by Faith Erin Hicks, et al
  15. Birds by the Shore by Jennifer Ackerman
  16. Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins
  17. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
  18. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
  19. Belly Up by Eva Darrows and Hillary Monahan
  20. Share Your Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  21. Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
  22. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
  23. The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
  24. Runaways, Vol. 3: That Was Yesterday by Rainbow Rowell, et al
  25. Gideon Falls, Vol. 2: Original Sins by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
  26. The Ash Family by Molly Dektar
  27. Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson
  28. Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner
  29. The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman
  30. Love & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford
  31. In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen
  32. Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
  33. A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson
  34. Trace by Pat Cummings
  35. Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
  36. Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd
  37. The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
  38. Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas
  39. The Portal by Kathryn Lasky
  40. Internment by Samira Ahmed
  41. When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
  42. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

I have only a dozen library books out and I'm not requesting any more right now. My goal for summer reading is to get through this backlog, as well as the few remaining from last year's purchase.

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Chicken Girl: 06/11/19

Chicken Girl

Two years ago we nearly moved to Kitchener / Waterloo. Although the job transfer fell through, I still have nostalgic feelings for our almost new home. I bring this up because Chicken Girl by Heather Smith, while not explicitly named, is set in an urban Canadian area that shares landmarks with these two cities.

Poppy aka Pops works for a chicken restaurant as their advertising mascot. She dresses up in a chicken suit for work every day. Her twin brother Cameron, aka Cam, has started work at a hair salon. She is struggling with self esteem after a photo of herself dressed as Rosie the Riveter was edited to include a hamburger and uploaded to a site that ridicules fat people. Cam, has recently come out as gay and is trying to find a balance between things he likes to do and things he's now expected to like.

Mostly, though, the novel is about Poppy's time off which she spends under a bridge at a homeless encampment. She befriends the people who live there full time and the others who hang out there when they have no where else to go.

For instance, there's a young girl named Miracle, whose mother is a sex worker. Though she is young she is remarkably street smart, but all the adults in her life do their best to keep her out of trouble. While something bad happening to Miracle is a constant thread of worry among the other characters, she makes it the end of the novel unscathed, though not adventure-free.

All in all Chicken Girl reminded me of a Canadian Arakawa Under the Bridge.

Five stars

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We Cast a Shadow: 06/10/19

We Cast a Shadow

The audiobook of We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, performed by Dion Graham, was been part of my artist experience for the first half of this year. Every time I painted, I had it on in the background. As I listened to it in chunks over such a long period of time, my impressions of this speculative fiction, near future satire might seem disjointed.

The narrator, a black father who works as a lawyer at a mostly white law firm, wants to save up enough to "fix" his son's birthmark. Nigel, born light skinned has over the course of his childhood growing patches of darker skin that have been spreading as he ages. There is a plastic surgery treatment, demelanization, that lightens people's skin at a cellular level. Although if the area is injured, the new skin grows back at its original shade.

The narrator grew up in a WWII style ghetto — a walled in and patrolled neighborhood. People are thrown together into families even if they are strangers. His extended family has a number of these uncles and cousins who aren't actually save for being forced to live together.

Somehow he beat the odds, not getting arrested, getting a good education, getting a good job, moving to the suburbs, and so forth. But he has so internalized a hatred for his skin color and a fear that his son will be forced into the life he escaped, that he spends the entire book doing everything he can so he can "fix" his son, even though his wife and his son don't want the procedure.

Without going into the how and why, the last third of this novel takes a far flung tangent that puts this novel onto the road narrative spectrum at a 669999.

The protagonist is marginalized (66). He spends the entire novel wallowing in that fact and fearing over how his genes have forced the same status on his son. He's an unusual example of a marginalized traveler in that most of these types of characters are written by privileged (typically white, male, cis-het) authors.

His journey — his final destination — ends up being the wildlands (99). Before this tangent begins, a new law is put on the books to deport criminal blacks. Citizen born, multigenerational, most likely descendants of slaves. Although the protagonist seems to have escaped the worst of these laws, he ends up with the deportees. He's also by this time had the procedure he has so desperately wanted for his son.

The narrator's journey into the life he so feared for his son is a direct result of doing everything he can to avoid it. In this regard, the getting what he fears the most, makes the journey seem like a labyrinthine one (99). He's on a fixed, spiraling path that can't be avoid, save for stepping off the path.

Put all together, We Cast a Shadow is ultimately the tale of a marginalized man going through the labyrinth to the wildlands.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 10): 06/10/19

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

Last week was the last full week of the school year. This week my daughter has two days and my son has four days left.

Anyway, I took advantage of the week to make as much art as I could. Most of what I worked on was for the upcoming summer camp. After the dinosaur took way too long and hurt my hands in the process, I revised the stained glass process. The newer version is smaller and simpler in design. It takes about two hours to complete.

Gulls in paper stained glass
This piece I call "Émigré" and it's inspired by the song of the same title by Alela Diane.

I also started on Mini Nature 6. These are blackberries growing wild along one of the many local hiking trails. I think I was at Lake Chabot, but it could have been Don Castro. It's another acrylic 4x4 inch piece. I hope to finish it this coming week.

Mini Nature 6, WIP

I also did a collage as a prototype for the summer camp. This one I did without any sort of plan. I had a couple clothing catalogs that came as junk mail. I used them for inspiration. Some of the birds were actual prints on the clothing in the catalog — Mini Boden to be specific. Can you spot the old school dinosaurs?

Bird collage

With the school year wrapping up, there was a volunteer breakfast. I didn't attend because my husband and I didn't actually do any work on site. We did have a few windfalls which we used to complete a number of Doners Choose projects for the library and the art club. As a thank you for the donations, the librarian (who will be next year's art teacher as she managed to restart the art department single-handedly) painted this lovely piece for us. As far as I know there's no secret meaning behind it. My daughter says that she suggested a cat because we have cats, and blue and green are my daughter's favorite colors.

Painting by Ms. MacKenzie showing a cat tree
Painting by Ms. MacKenzie.

Finally, on Friday I spent the morning with a coworker and her boyfriend curating and hanging paintings for the upcoming Staff Show. This is the first annual staff show to coincide with the Members Show (which I have a piece in as well).

Four paintings from the first annual Sun Gallery staff show

What I read:

  • Little Big Love by Katy Regan; personal collection
  • Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates; personal collection
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; library book
  • Riverboat Roulette by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton; personal collection / research
  • Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti (illustrator); library / research

What I'm reading:

  • All That I Can Fix by Crystal Chan; personal collection
  • Just South of Home by Karen Strong; personal collection
  • Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 3 by Ryoko Kui; personal collection
  • The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson; library book

Up Soon:

  • Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron
  • Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Bryne; personal collection
  • Above by Roland Smith; library / research
  • Click by Kayla Miller; library book

Posts and reviews:

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Mockingjay: 06/09/19


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins reminds me of the day I went out to lunch with some friends. At the time we were all relatively new book bloggers and all of them (save for me) were diehard YA fans. I was still relatively new to the concept of there being an entire industry just for publishing to teens (I am just old enough that YA wasn't the thing it is now when I was a teen).

Earlier in the week the last of the Hunger Games books had come out and they had all read through it and were fired up to talk about it as we waited in line. Meanwhile, I had just purchased The Hunger Games because it was on sale and everyone was still talking about it. In the course of the day I ended up hearing the entire plot of the trilogy hotly debated.

Nine years later, when I finally have gotten around to finishing the series, I can say that nothing really came a surprise. However, even if I hadn't overheard the plot, I still wouldn't have been surprised. Even about who dies and who gets turned.

The central tenant to this series has been how advertising and public image are the corner stones of propaganda. It's set against a dystopian society, built on the remnants of the United States. Here we see that even when Katniss is working for the rebels, she is still put through the same high fashion treatment — having to still star in propaganda pieces. Image is everything.

Like so many dystopian stories, the trilogy suffers from problems of scale. Despite Katniss traveling from district to district, there's never a good sense of how big each district is. When speaking of them in the abstract, they seem huge. When traveling through them, they are small enough to fit the needs of the plot.

Looking back at the experience of reading the trilogy, I'm glad that I took the time to at least know what it's about. Did I ever get caught up in the excitement of the thing like so many readers did? No.

Three stars

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Thirty-two years of tracking my reading: 06/09/19

Thirty-two years of tracking my reading

I reiterate some version of this story every year on this date. But it's why I read like I do. On this date in 1987 I saw a copy of The Active-Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch by E.W. Hildick at my junior high library. I had loved reading it a year prior in elementary school but I couldn't remember the title, only the cover. I took the re-appearance of the book as a sign that I should keep a list of everything I've read. Consider that pre internet book-blogging.

Last night marked the close of my 32nd year of tracking my reading. I am two-thirds the way through my third handwritten volume. I'm at 8758 books read.

Two years ago summary, I predicted that by January of 2018, I would cross ten thousand books. Silly me. I do read a lot but even I have my limit. Instead of ten thousand, I'm at 8415. Back then I was reading about 430 books per year. I'm not any more. I'm reading more like 340. I'm still below 9000 books and at my current rate won't hit 10,000 until December 20222. That still will put me fifteen years ahead of schedule per my handwritten notes done in the mid 1990s.

Last year I mentioned that I still hadn't reviewed my last book from year 29, Kraken by Wendy Williams. I have finally posted the review. It was posted last October.

My first book for year 32 was Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. My last book was Riverboat Roulette by Carolyn Keene. I plan to have it reviewed in the first week of August.

Looking towards my thirty-third year of tracked reading, I have essentially run out of the backlog of reviews I built up a decade ago. I am also now more focused on curating my reading and the resulting reviews. I am focused on diversity, my road narrative spectrum research and reading, graphic novels, mysteries, and being more current in reading and reviewing newly published materials.

I am also working again, albeit part time. I'm an art teacher. I'm also an artist and I want to have time to produce more art to sell locally and online. To do that, I need my weekdays. What all this means is that this year I won't be volunteering to read for the Cybils. I've done it for a decade but I need a break.

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Fenway and Hattie in the Wild: 06/08/19

Fenway and Hattie in the Wild

Fenway and Hattie in the Wild by Victoria J. Coe is the fourth in the series. Fenway and his family join the neighborhood on a camping trip. Some creature is getting into the food and dog toys and Fenway takes up the case.

As with the other books in the series the adventure is narrated by Fenway the terrier. Fenway is young, excitable, and prone to jumping to conclusions. The older dogs, his neighbors especially, try to clue him in, but so far they aren't having much luck.

Along with the dogs and their people from the previous books, there's a new family that includes a bully of a dog named Coco, and his equally dubious small human, Marcus. Both like to be the big wig of the campground. If you get on their bad side they will make things rough for you. In Coco's case it means turning the other dogs against you. With Marcus it means getting called names or being uninvited to group events.

But the big story isn't the bullying. Instead it's the destruction done at the camp. Food is taken. Toys are destroyed. Stuff is rifled through.

Coco tries to place the blame on Fenway and friends. Fenway in turn wants to blame Coco, but is also smart enough to follow his nose. He's learned from the Evil Bunny Gang that the culprit isn't always who you think it is.

As an adult with camping experience, I knew right away who the culprits were. Fenway was the perfect one to solve the mystery.

Five stars

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House of Many Ways: 06/07/19

House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones is the third book in the Howl's Moving Castle series. Charmain Baker has been sent to housesit for her uncle, who is away recovering from an illness. It should be a simple job except her uncle is a bit dotty and he was the Royal Wizard of Norland.

Charmain also finds herself caring for her uncle's young, oft-confused apprentice, a magical stray dog, and a house that seems to have hallways and doorways into places that no house should possibly be able to go.

Though the set up is different, thematically and emotionally, this book reads like a novelization of the Ghibli Studio's animation of Jones's first book, done four years earlier. Charmain is like Sophie in personality (minus the curse to appear older than she is). The apprentice might as well be Markl. The absent uncle might as well be Howl who is often absent from the moving castle.

The first few scenes are similar too: Charmain appears at the house and sets to cleaning it. She's not as successful as Sophie because she's not magical like Sophie. But she tries. The apprentice storms in and tells her that she's doing things wrong but doesn't necessarily know the right way to do them. Through her attempts to clean she begins to discover the secrets to the house.

Given that Jones wrote the original source material, I can't and won't blame her for wanting to revisit things she explored in Howls Moving Castle (1986). Of the three books in the series, this third one, this re-do if you want to call it that, is my favorite. It's the most fun and the most engaging in terms of character and adventures.

The House of Many Doors also fits into the road narrative spectrum, though as an outlier. Jones was English but her books do sometimes use American road narrative tropes.

Charmain Baker is a marginalized traveler. Though she's traveling alone to the house, she's part of a family. She has family at home and the house belongs to her uncle. Even when she's alone, she doesn't feel separated from her family; she's not an orphan traveler. She is through marginalized by a lack of proper instructions and a lack of knowledge for her uncle's history (66).

The destination might appear to be "home" as it her uncle's house, but it is, in fact, uhoria. The house among other things, has doorways to places in the past. These aren't like the door in Howl's castle that opens to a different fixed location depending on how the dial is set. Instead these are literally built into the house's structure and different passages become available depending on how Charmain (or whomever) turns or looks. As it through these out of time moments that Charmain figures out what is going on and manages to help stop a nefarious plot, the destination is uhoria (CC).

The house with its many doors and many twists and turns and possible dangers is an architectural and uhoric maze disguised as a house. That some of these passageways could also pose a danger to the royal family make them extra dangerous and definitely a maze (CC), not a labyrinth.

Put all together, The House of Many Doors is about a marginalized traveler finding uhoria by way of a maze.

Five stars

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Wrapped Up in You : 06/06/19

Wrapped Up in You

Wrapped Up in You by Dan Jolley is the sixth volume in the My Boyfriend is a Monster series of graphic novels. This one reads like a gender swap version of "Inca Mummy Girl" (Season 2, Episode 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Staci Glass gets conned into joining her friend in breaking into the local museum. Her friend is part of a coven and they want to try a dark ritual in front of the newly arrived mummy. The ritual doesn't work as planned but it does revive Prince Pachacutecor.

Pachacutecor finds a descendent's home and takes on a new life as Chuck. It's there that he meets Staci and they fall in love. Together they have to undo the magic unleashed by the coven — and stop them before they do something worse.

Of all the ones in the series so far, this one is unusual in that it has a happy ending. Or rather, it ends on the possibility of the two still staying together. He isn't a mummy even though he spent centuries as one.

Five stars

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CCCC99: Siblings to uhoria via the labyrinth: 06/06/19

CCFF33: A young Sam and Dean from the pilot episode.

The next trip to uhoria for sibling travels is via the labyrinth. For this narrative I don't have an exemplar. For this post I will be describing possible scenarios, rather than doing literary analysis.

The travelers are brothers and sisters. They could be children. They could be adults. In about half of the examples I've read, the siblings are adults, whether the genre is realistic or not.

These siblings can be blood relations but they don't have to be. For the blood relations, they are often twins, especially in the fantasy genres, where twinship adds extra power to a magic spell or prophesy.

The destination is uhoria — an out of sync destination. It could be a destination that is in the future or the past. It could be an unknowable time. It could be where time overlaps in layers. I could a haunted place. Or a place with time portals.

The route to uhoria in this narrative is through the labyrinth. Labyrinths are twisting paths that can be long and complex but are otherwise relatively safe. These twisting paths can be a form of meditation. They can be transformative.

Here are some possible narratives that fit into this spot on the spectrum. Siblings could travel through time by way of a garden labyrinth. Adopted siblings could be working at a haunted fun house. Twins could be separated through time, where one has to find the other by way of long complicated path.

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Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir: 06/05/19

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir by Sharon Kahn marks the end of the Ruby, the Rabbi's Wife series. Temple Rita's choir is planning a trip to Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. They're trying to raise money with a poorly planned latke sale. Plans are further upset when one of their members collapses before her solo and later dies.

Despite her misgivings and her complete lack of interest in the trip, Ruby agrees to go on the choir road trip. It's actually a train trip through the Canadian Rockies. On the train a person is thrown overboard — yet another murder. Now it's clear that Ruby might be the next victim if she's not careful!

Honestly I can see why the series stops here. Ruby is so completely disinterested in all the aspects of the temple. Every thing Essie Sue does, Ruby goes along with not out of support for either a friend or for the temple. She's there to be a martyr. She's there to kvetch and nothing more. If she happens to solve a murder, so be it. Usually the amateur sleuth is more emotionally involved in the events of the murder.

While being a mediocre mystery at best, it does fit into the road narrative spectrum at a 663300 (marginalized, rural, interstate).

Ruby is marginalized (66) because she is no longer in a place of power in the temple because her husband's death. Through the course of the series she has lost more and more of her standing as the temple congregation moves in a new direction under Kevin and Essie Sue's leadership.

Banff being a small city of about eight thousand people in the middle of Banff National Park counts as a rural (33) destination. While it's surrounded by the wildlands, it's not itself the wildlands. The setting for the dramatic conclusion of the mystery seems like an arbitrary choice except for the out of the way railroad line with the dramatic cliffs for chucking bodies off.

Finally there is the route — the railroad. It for the spectrum counts as an interstate (00). It's a fixed path. Stay on the train and you'll arrive with little effort. Fall of the train or miss the train and you'll be stranded.

Two stars

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You Owe Me a Murder: 06/04/19

You Owe Me a Murder

You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook is a YA retelling of Strangers on the Train. While Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel, this retelling is more a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation.

Kim meets Nikki at the Vancouver airport. Kim is part of a study abroad trip to London. Going along is her former best friend and her ex-boyfriend. Now the two are dating and they're going to be parading their relationship in front of Kim for the entirety of the trip.

The facts of breakup Kim vents to Nikki. And Nikki, after plying Kim with alcohol shoplifted from the duty-free, suggests that they each take care of the other's problems. Nikki will kill Connor and Kim will kill Nikki's mother.

This is the point where if you've seen the film, you can hear Bruno saying "criss-cross" in your head.

Kim loses track of Nikki at customs. Nikki gets to use the UK line and Kim cannot. Nor can she talk to her without getting in trouble with security. So she doesn't think anything more of their drunken conversation.

Until — Connor ends up dead, pushed in front of an underground train. In Hitchcock's film, Miriam's murder is shown through the reflection of her thick prescription glasses. Connor's death is done entirely through sound, put in stark contrast to his hearing aids.

Now the big difference between Strangers on a Train and You Owe Me a Murder is the countdown. Nikki only has so long to get Kim to do her bidding or to get her framed for Connor's murder if she refuses. Kim and the other students are only there for a set number of days, something each chapter reminds us with a countdown.

So while the set up is a great nod to both Highsmith and Hitchcock, the back half of the novel as well as the new setting, makes this thriller a page turner.

Eileen Cook has another book out this year, One Lie Too Many, which I will be reviewing shortly.

Five stars

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Love From A to Z: 06/03/19

Love From A to Z

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali is a YA romance set in Doha, Qatar. The A is Adam, a Canadian born resident returning home after dropping out of university. The Z is Zayneb, a high schooler sent early to her aunt's after being suspended from school because her social science teacher is a xenophobe with an agenda, one that the administration seems willing to overlook.

Besides traveling at low points in their lives, they share a love of The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence. Both have been keeping their own marvels and oddities journals.

Their first meeting is in Heathrow as they are waiting for the same connecting flight. See the cover for the set up. It's one of those chance meetings that has everlasting ripples.

While most of the book is written in alternating points of view, there are interludes where the narrator takes over. These pauses in the narrative help to set the larger stage. It's like having a reassuring auntie holding your hand to tell you everything will be alright when it seems all is lost.

Although the overall result of the novel is a happy ending, it is an emotional rollercoaster. These two protagonists are well crafted, believable characters who you will quickly come to love. You'll worry for them. You'll cheer for them.

Five stars

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Road Narrative Update for May 2019: 06/03/19

Road Narrative Update for February 2019

I've decided the thumbnails and bookcovers take up too much space. Instead I'm just listing the books read and reviewed and the essays written in order of their placement on the spectrum. All together I covered 24 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 12 reviews, 5 essays, and 7 books still needing to reviews.

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

  1. FFFF00: The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell
  2. FFCC33: Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck
  3. FF99CC: Wild Blues by Beth Kephart
  4. FF0033: The Fever King by Victoria Lee
  5. CCFF66: Siblings going offroad to utopia
  6. CCFF33: siblings to utopia along the Blue Highway: a brief look at the first seven seasons of Supernatural
  7. CCFF00: Siblings to Utopia via the interstate
  8. CCCCFF: Siblings through the cornfield to uhoria
  9. CCCCCC: Siblings through the maze to uhoria
  10. CC6666: Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George
  11. CC0033: Chicken Girl by Heather Smith
  12. 9966FF: The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee
  13. 9900CC: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
  14. 66FF33: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
  15. 66CCCC: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
  16. 669999: We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
  17. 669933: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser
  18. 666600: Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
  19. 33FF33: The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  20. 33CCCC: Delicious in Dungeon Volume 2 by Ryoko Kui
  21. 339966: The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol
  22. 336633: Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles
  23. 3300CC: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  24. 00CC33: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

June will be mostly focused on the art prototypes for the camp I'm teaching. I don't know how it will conflict with my reading.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 03): 06/03/19

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

I finished my dinosaur stained glass. It's more complex than what I'll be doing with the art camp students. Next I'll do a bird in the same style but with less complexity. I also have some more supplies on order and will use those for future prototyping this month.

Dinosaur stained glass done with paper and tissue paper

My husband's parents were by for a couple days. We didn't do much other than watch silly movies, chitchat, and share a few good meals together.

This afternoon my husband and I spent an hour gardening. The rain has been great for the ivy and bottle brush. But they're getting a little out of hand. He took care of them and I tackled the roses and weeds.

Green bin filled with cuttings

What I read:

It was a good week for reading, although there was one book I DNFed. I just couldn't get into Swallow's Dance. The random mixing of prose and poetry was just more than I felt like wading through. My favorite book this week was The Clockwork Ghost.

  • Woman 99 by Greer Macallister; personal collection
  • City of Orphans by Avi; library book / research
  • This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek / library book
  • One Lie Too Many by Eileen Cook; personal collection
  • Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr; personal collection
  • The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby; personal collection / research

What I'm reading:

  • Little Big Love by Katy Regan; personal collection
  • Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates; personal collection
  • All That I Can Fix by Crystal Chan; personal collection
  • The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; library book
  • Just South of Home by Karen Strong; personal collection
  • Riverboat Roulette by Carolyn Keene; library book
  • Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Bryne (Illustrator); personal collection

Posts and reviews:

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Smells Like Dog: 06/02/19

Smells Like Dog

More than four years ago I read Smells Like Pirates, which happens to be the end of a trilogy about a basset hound who has the ability to smell buried treasure.

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors is the start of the series. Homer at this point isn't the confident, treasure map expert that he is at the conclusion. He is a boy stuck on the family goat farm, who wants to do anything else.

When Uncle Drake dies in the big city in a tragic and freak accident, Homer inherits a basset hound who doesn't do much of anything. He'll eat anything, even non food items, because he seems to lack a sense of smell. Then Homer starts to notice long lost things showing up and "Dog" seems to behind their reappearance.

Here's a book, and frankly a series, I wish I had read in order. There's a lot of drama and pathos here that was spoiled a bit for me since I knew where things were headed. So if you're someone who usually doesn't mind reading things out of order, make an exception and read this short series in the proper sequence.

Five stars

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May 2019 Sources: 06/02/19

May book sources

I'm done reading for the summer camp and am now working on protoyping projects. The prototyping and the Mini Nature paintings will continue to cut into my reading time. But when I am reading, I will be focusing on my goals. I suspect that will mean reading fewer books but otherwise reading for the blog: a mixture of themes and reading for the road narrative project.

ROOB Score for the last three years

I read seven newly published books. All but one were from previous months. The month's score was mostly affected by the even split between personal collection, library, and research books.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

Five months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. May 2019's score was the same as it was in May 2016. Both of those months are in the middle of all the Mays since I've been tracking my reading in this way.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for May improved slightly from -2.51 to -2.56.

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Opposite of Always: 06/01/19

Opposite of Always

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds at its most basic is a charming YA romance between a black high school senior and a black college freshman. They meet at a party and have a year long friendship that becomes something more. But there is one big thing standing in their way: her sickle cell anemia.

The book could have been a romance with a happily ever after. Or it could have been a tragedy, written from the clarity of grief and time.

This book is neither and both. Jack King, the protagonist is up front about his situation. In the first chapter, on the very first pages, he explains that he's a time traveler.

He's not from the future, exactly. It's more that he's in a closed loop that restarts whenever Kate dies. But he also makes it clear that he fell in love with her on the first loop. Keeping her alive isn't just a means to and end.

This time travel romance sits in the road narrative spectrum at a 66CC33.

Jack is a marginalized traveler (66) because he's still in high school. He has limited time (both on the day to day as well as the overall time loop). He has unreliable transportation and sometimes he has to borrow a car. He also has to tread carefully because his actions have consequences, often negative ones that affect his friends and family.

The destination is uhoria (CC). This is uhoria through time travel. It's not a very far trip through time, but still a possibly infinite one through the same dates, though with different waypoints.

Finally there is the route Jack takes. As he lives in Ohio near the boarder with Michigan and is mostly confined to his own town or the nearby college, his routes are road based but not interstates. Instead they are Blue Highways (33).

Put all together, Opposite of Always is the tale of a marginalized time traveler taking blue highways through uhoria in an effort to save his girlfriend's life.

Five stars

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May 2019 Summary: 06/01/19

Reading report

In May I started prototyping the art projects I'll be teaching in July. June will be more of the same but with greater intensity. I'm also working on the Mini Art series for the winter boutique. All of this cuts into reading time.

Like last month, my reading was evenly divided between personal collection, research, and library books. Only two this month from the library for the summer camp.

I read fewer books in May, only 29, down from the previous months' 31. With reading back to normal, I was able to meet my diversity reading goals. I still haven't looked for bird or dinosaur books that meet the goal, although I should. My reviews also met the goal.

With five months of 2019 complete, I still have 8 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 10. My 2017 reviews are down to 10 from 12. I have 41 reviews remaining from 2018, down from 47, and 84, up from 80, now from 2019.

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