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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

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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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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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