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Nursery Crimes: 07/31/19
Nursery Crimes by Ayelet Waldman is the first of the Mommy-Track mystery series. Juliet Applebaum has given up being a public defender to be a stay at home mom. She's pregnant with her second child and she and her husband are trying to get their oldest, a daughter, into an elite preschool.
They don't manage to get their willful daughter into the preschool. Before they can try a different one, the school's principal is murdered in a hit and run. Juliet decides to track down the killer.
It's unusual for a modern cozy mystery — anything after the late 1960s — to feature a married woman. It's even rarer for a series to start off with the amateur sleuth being pregnant. Usually these series end on a pregnancy, such as The Whole Enchilada which ends the Goldy Bear Catering mystery series.
Over all I enjoyed the mystery and the relationship between Juliet, her husband, and their daughter. The only problem, and this is all on me, was I was binge watching Lucifer at the time I was reading this mystery. Juliette's daughter reminded me of Trixie and from there I was imagining an alternate world where Dan and Chloe were still married and she was a lawyer instead of a detective.
It was a fun start to a series, albeit with a somewhat predictable end. The second book is The Big Nap (2001).
Swallow's Dance: 07/30/19
Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr is set on Crete in ancient times. Leira is a young teen about to start her initiation as a priestess when a violent earthquake and tsunami devastates the area and thrusts everything into chaos.
The majority of the book should be a coming of age in a post disaster recovery. It should be about a girl helping her mother and other survivors. And maybe it is but I didn't get beyond the first chapter.
There's a thing with historical fiction, especially ones set in ancient times, where the author choses to write in a stilted, overly formal language. Yes, language has changed over time, especially English. Modern day English is hardly recognizable from it's earliest forms, and certainly didn't exist in the time that Swallow's Dance is set.
The choice to use formal antiquated sounding language in a novel adds an extra layer between the narrative and the reader. It's a distraction.
Further more, this novel also includes apparently random switches between prose and poetry. Poetry, or snippets of poems, were common in early forms of novels. These poems were usually quotations of texts that were commonly known by readers at the time.
Later novels, such as Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery, played with the by then clichéd act of including poetry, by including poems that young Emily had written herself. Though they weren't the best of poems, they fit the narrative and showed the protagonist's growth.
But this novel's inclusion of poetry, written by the protagonist, comes at random. There's no segue into the poem or out of the poem. It's just stilted text, followed by a lengthy passage of a poem, followed by more stilted text. I didn't have the patience for this mess.
Fusion for Beginners and Experts: 07/29/19
Fusion for Beginners and Experts by Rebecca Sugar and Angie Wang is a boardbook about consent. I can't say I've ever seen another book like this written for this age group. But it's wonderful.
The book uses the concept of fusion from Steven Universe to talk about relationships and peer pressure and all sorts of other interactions children will someday find themselves in.
The message is that all these things are good if you want them and the other person/people want them. If you don't, or they don't, then not doing it, saying no, is the right thing. It's done in a way that's completely in character for all the characters. It's not preachy but it gets some very important messages across.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 29): 07/29/19
Last week was my art camp. The theme was birds and dinosaurs but it was clear early on that I needed to go off-script. So I made sure to do one bird or dinosaur thing each day but the other things were more "creatures" than anything specific.
Saturday I finally got a chance to work on my "Let's Eat" painting. I'm satisfied with the background now. My next goal is putting more realism into the turkey's face. I need to brighten the reds and do more with the shadows.
The other excitement/ frustration last week was my car. The road to Bisbee was hard on it and my husband took it in to be fixed. What should have taken a day or two to fix ended up taking eight days, mostly because the shop first needed parts and then needed the tools and didn't think to order them at the same time as the parts. On the day before my husband left for a business trip he was finally able to pick it up. Fortunately it runs great.
What I read:
I came home exhausted most days and didn't get much reading done until this weekend. The picture book was one a guest lecturer read to my campers on Wednesday while we were making masks.
What I'm reading:
Green Trails and Upland Pastures: 07/28/19
I ran into Green Trails and Upland Pastures by Walter Prichard Eaton by way of its illustrations. They were posted on Tumblr and were so beautifully rendered that I decided to track down the book to see the illustrations in context. As it turned out, the book was available on the Internet Archive.
Walter Prichard Eaton (1878-1957) worked as a drama critic. I suppose learning about drama and being able to write about it in an educated fashion gave him the idea that he could write. I've read enough other contemporary travelogues and pastoral pieces to know the typical style.
Green Trails and Upland Pastures is actually a collection of personal essays on the beauty of American nature. The essays were also published separately in a number of magazines: Scribner's, Harper's, and The New Country Life. These different audiences and editorial styles, also helps to explain the vast differences in tone.
The book opens with essays on the different seasons of rural New England. The chapter on spring enthusiastically outlines the two different springs: mud season and tourist season. It was here that I started to doubt my choice to read through this tome during the very busy summer of selling a home.
The mud season — especially — I had already read, in a more succinct version in the early chapters of Yours Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick. It left me with a satisfactory appreciation for how snow becomes mud — so reading an entire essay dedicated for mud for mud's sake just wasn't on my list of things to do.
I did, though, make it further than the spring chapter. Later essays are about a trip he took to the Rocky Mountains. While his travels took him to close to where we had traveled (Wyoming — the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks) offered a fond familiarity, even there he seemed to vomit out five words for ever one that was actually needed.
Some day, though, when I don't have anything else better to do, I might revisit this book. Maybe I'll read an essay and then set the book aside for a month before settling in for the next essay.
Trace by Pat Cummings opens with the memory of near death by drowning. Theodore "Trace" Carter was the only survivor after the car he and his parents were in drove off a bridge. He's now living with his aunt in New York. He's not sleeping well and he's having trouble adjusting because he's haunted by the memory of the water that drowned his parents.
In history class Trace is in a group to research and present on 1860. Each group of three or four students decides what needs to be reported on. Trace's group ends up giving him the Draft Riots.
Until the time that Trace arrives at the library to work with his group the book is realistic, contemporary middle grade fiction. Since they were meeting at the famous branch, the one with the lions and the one that the Ghostbusters meet the librarian ghost in the basement, I jokingly expected Trace to meet a ghost.
And then he does. And his life isn't the same after that. For a child who can't move on from his parents' deaths and his own near death experience, it might seem that meeting a ghost would be a bad thing. It isn't. It's a chance to learn more about his heritage and the history of the city.
My only complaint is that in this novel to make the ghost's presence in the library make narrative sense, the author invents an orphanage. The site, though, is well known for having been built on a defunct reservoir (something covered both by the library's website as well as being a major plot point in Beneath by Roland Smith. Had I not read Smith's novel, I wouldn't know about the reservoir (having verified the information on the library's site).
All said, I agree that the most iconic branch makes narrative sense even if the history needs to be fudged. It has a long history of being used as a magical spot or a haunted spot.
Chase's story also fits into the road narrative spectrum. Trace is a literal orphan but also spends most of his time alone, is an orphan traveler (FF). As he is working to help a ghost as well as discover the ghost's identity and history, the destination is uhoria (CC). As he's in New York and is primarily walking, his route is the Blue Highway (33), which also includes city/town streets. Put all together, this is the tale of an orphan traveling to uhoria via the Blue Highway.
Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea: 07/26/19
Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins is a middle grade novel about a family trip to the ocean. With the illustrations it's presented as fantasy but the narrative is grounded in reality. The flights into fancy are the result of the sisters' imaginations.
While the book goes in chronological order, each chapter is its own vignette. There's the drive to the ocean where they make plans. They hunt for periwinkles. They discover a crab. They explore.
In tone this book reminds me of the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall. I'm most reminded of the younger Penderwicks time in Maine in The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (2011).
Like the Penderwicks books, this one sits on road narrative spectrum. Specifically, this one is a CC3333. It's a tale of siblings to a rural place via a Blue Highway. Or in this case, sisters going on a beach holiday by way of a Blue Highway.
Although the sisters are at the beach with their parents, the entire focus of novel is from their point of view. The parents facilitate the travel and the adventures, but they don't participate in the narration — in the recounting of the adventures. Therefore, the travelers are siblings (CC). Sibling travelers tend to be at the fantasy end of the spectrum but the moments where the girls talk of mermaids or other adventures, are just them playing pretend.
The destination is a beach and a small beach town (33). From the way the girls (and their parents) stick to the beach. The beach appears to be in a secluded spot, or to be part of a small town or village.
The journey to the beach is covered in the first chapter. It involves a long trip at night through numerous small towns. The way the journey is described it doesn't give the impression of being an interstate (33).
Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea is an example of a realistic sibling road narrative. While the majority of the sibling narratives I've covered include an element of fantasy or science fiction, placement in the spectrum doesn't demand placement in a specific genre.
Misfit City Volume 2: 07/25/19
Misfit City Volume 2 by Kirsten Smith is the conclusion to Misfit City Volume 1. The friends after a long night of chasing down leads, escaping from villains, believe they have found the true path to the treasure. They just have to stay on the ghost pirate's good side.
In the Goonies, which was the inspiration for the comic, albeit through a parody of it, the treasure is on the ship and the ship is inside a forgotten about cave, In the end, the kids triumphantly sail it out of the cave while escaping the bad guys. From how everyone searching for the treasure in Misfit City acts, one can assume that the The Gloomies had a similar ending.
But the pirate of Cannon Cove had other plans for her treasure. Finding it takes homework, cunning, and a new perspective.
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, the second book is an advancement in the spectrum placement. While the travelers remain marginalized throughout the duology, where they manage to travel to advances from uhoria, a no-time, to utopia, a no-place. The treasure is on an unknown, invisible location, available only to the most worthy of treasure hunters. Their final route isn't through the cornfield of the previous book. Instead it's through a maze. There is danger. There are blind alleys.
Bedeviled Eggs: 07/24/19
Bedeviled Eggs by Laura Childs is the third of the Cackleberry Club mysteries. This book wastes no time in producing a body. It actually happens right in front of everyone — a crossbow arrow through the heart.
The timing of events is my ongoing issue with the books in this series. Save for the Detective Green series which is more police procedural than mystery, most mysteries I read save their murder for page fifty or so. The long winded ones might wait until page one hundred.
The problem with killing of a character before the end of chapter one is that we have one very short exchange of dialog to learn that he's a mayor candidate, that the current mayor is probably corrupt. There is no chance to see Chuck Peebler interact with other people or to overhear arguments or other motives for his murder.
The remainder of the book, some three hundred pages worth, is nothing but the three Cackleberry women working at their shop and in their spare time, investigating every thread no matter how tenuous the lead. Mostly though the book is padded with too many characters and too many red herrings.
The conclusion ends up coming as close to the end of the book as the murder did the beginning. The murderer ends up being a completely unmemorable person who had a flimsy motive. The murderer seeing the end of the novel rapidly approaching decides to confess to the crime.
The fourth book if I'm so inclined to keep going is Stake & Eggs (2012)
Something Read, Something Dead: 07/23/19
Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates is the fifth Lighthouse Library mystery. It's set in the Bodie Island lighthouse — though in read life it's not a library nor is it large enough to be one. The author acknowledges this discrepancy in her afterword, saying that her version is the TARDIS version of the real thing. Fair enough.
Lucy's cousin Josie is getting married in about a month. She and her fiancé wants it simple and informal. They haven't done a lot of planning and don't feel the need to.
Word, though, gets down to Josie's New Orleans relatives and all hell breaks loose. Her Grandmother arrives with a bunch of people in tow to do a "proper" job of wedding planning. By proper she means old fashioned and expensive.
Given how terrible grandma Gloria was, I expected her to die. Instead, it's Miranda, one of the co-wedding coordinators. Her special good at the bridal shower is poisoned. Josie is the prime suspect and Lucy has to do everything she can to clear her cousin's name.
This particular volume is at the other extreme of cozy mystery timing. While most cozies kill off their victim around page fifty, giving about two hundred pages of sleuthing, and another twenty-five or pages of climax and epilog. This volume, though, is roughly two-thirds wedding planning and one third mystery.
As the book is in a well established series, the odd pacing and light emphasis on the mystery didn't bothered me. Frankly I enjoyed the wedding planner from hell hijinks.
The sixth book in the series is Read and Buried which comes out in October 2019.
The Bride Test: 07/22/19
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang is the second in the Bride Quotient series. It's not exactly a sequel, but Stella and Michael do make appearances. Instead this is the tale of My and Khai. She works as a janitor in Vietnam — the only job a single mother with an American father can find — and he's a Bay Area CPA. My is recruited by Khai's mother who wants to find a bride for him and she believes My is the woman for the job.
My, who for most of the book goes by Emse, isn't a gold digger. Khai is a means to an end at first in that she knows her father went to Cal Berkeley. Her trip to the Bay Area is her opportunity to find him. Although she does hold some key information from Khai (namely the existence of her daughter), she doesn't deceive him.
Khai meanwhile, much to his surprise and annoyance is attracted to My at first sight. He has convinced himself that he is incapable of love. Part of his reasoning is that he's autistic but a bigger reason is that he is grieving for his best friend. The grief angle takes longer to unfold organically through the course of the novel and is heart-wrenching when all the pieces are in place.
Although the set up might imply a strained family relationship, Khai's mother isn't the typical helicopter parent. As the novel progresses she becomes a more sympathetic character. Turns out the entire family is a tightly knit one. She genuinely cares for both her sons and for My's well-being (whether or not she ends up marrying Khai).
Like the first book, the sex scenes are frank and delightfully free of euphemisms. For My, she's been through it before and is rather jaded about the magic of sex — even as she grows to love Khai. Khai is a novice and has over analyzed the process of love and sex. While yes, part of that is his autism — again most of his approach is a result of grief and anxiety.
The third book in the series is The Heart Principal which will be about Khai's brother, Quan. It comes out in 2020.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 22): 07/22/19
This was a quiet week. My daughter was at art camp. On Friday my car had to go into the shop. It might have picked up some damage from the trip to Bodie, although not the suspension like we thought. We'll find out late Monday what the repairs will cost.
Meanwhile, this week is my week to teach the birds and dinosaurs art camp. It's going to be a small class. Easier for me but not good for the gallery.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Complete Guide to Light: 07/21/19
The Complete Guide to Light by Mark Cleghorn is a how to book for photographers who want to move beyond just trusting their equipment to do all the thinking. His focus is on light and lighting. He is a professional portrait and wedding photographer based out of Cardiff. His book is very definitely focused on lighting for portraiture.
This book is a good starting point for understanding the philosophy behind photographic equipment. It also goes into depth on the coveted 18% gray — that bland (excuse me, neutral gray) that all good photographs should be exposed around.
If you want to focus on portraits — especially portraits of light skinned models, the formulae in this book will steer you in the right direction. But after an entire book of these recipes I found them all being variations on the same vanilla result. He has a style and he's built a successful career around it.
For the more experimentally minded, look to the recipes in this book as a starting point. They aren't the only way to photograph. You can over or under expose things for artistic reasons. You can shoot to a different temperature than the environment you're shooting in. You can find your own way of "breaking the rules" to make your own rules and your own style. Doing, that, though, isn't in this book.
A Good Kind of Trouble: 07/20/19
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée is a contemporary middle grade coming of age novel about a Black girl in West Los Angeles. Shayla is twelve and has been in a trio of friends, the United Nations, but now in junior high school they seem to be drifting apart.
The school has the most Black students of any school she's attended but she doesn't feel compelled to sit at their table. Nor does she want to play the stupid "Command" game that everyone else seem's to be playing, including her closest friends.
Shayla finds an unexpected place for herself on the track team. Her P.E. teacher / coach becomes the mentor she needs but doesn't know she needs. It's through track that she begins to understand the other students and to find her place.
In the background of Shayla's first year of junior high is the trial of a police officer who shot and killed a Black man. Discussions of the trial and the the civil unrest as well as Shayla's parents' involvement in the Black Panthers back in the day, and her sister's involvement now in Black Lives Matter, also mould her experience in junior high.
The principal acts as the antagonist, though not as a nasty, evil one. She definitely has some internalized racism. She over-reacts to Shayla's Black Panther Halloween costume and later to the Black Lives Matter arm bands that Shayla passes around to other students at school. But she's at least mature enough to know when she's been called out for racial profiling.
Put another way, Shayla's "good kind of trouble" isn't as extreme as what Zayneb or Jasmine experience. But her first year still shows the way Black kids are more harshly treated by teachers and administrators. At least with the confrontation with Shayla's mother, there is a sign that the principal can learn and grow as a person.
Lisa Moore Ramée's second book is Something to Say. It comes out July 14, 2020.
The Bigfoot Files: 07/19/19
The Bigfoot Files by Lindsay Eagar is a middle grade novel about a daughter trying to get her mother to stop her fruitless quest to track Big Foot and other cryptids. They are running out of money and she's missed too many days at school.
Miranda Cho has agreed to go on one more trip to Northern California with her mother. She's also invited the reality TV show that her mother has wanted to be on. She hopes they'll be able to show her that Big Foot isn't real and that she is delusional.
It doesn't take long for things to get off track. The van runs out of gas. They go for help. After a series of strange events — some which might actually have happened — and some that are clearly in the mother's mind, they end up off road and lost.
In terms of the road narrative spectrum, this comes in at a 339966: a family going through the wildlands via an offroad route. Interestingly, the further from civilization, the further from the road they go, the more fantastical their encounters become. At the very end of their journey, when they have gone down a river, through a cave, and into an unknown wildland, it's there that they spot big foot.
The inclusion of Big Foot at the close of a fairly realistic fiction narrative is fairly typical of the Big Foot fiction I've read. See Lemons by Melissa Savage, for example.
But for the road narrative spectrum, especially for a position centrally located in the realistic end of the spectrum, it's unusual for the narrative to veer into fantasy. It's an example of the flexibility of the road narrative spectrum. Position while it correlates with certain kinds of genres, doesn't predict or cause a certain kind of genre.
The 91-Storey Treehouse: 07/18/19
The 91-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is the seventh in the Treehouse series. It's a new book deadline but the two are one again too busy exploring their thirteen new stories.
Mr. Bignose, their publisher, usually harangues them to finish their book on time. This book, however, his wife has his attention. So Andy and Terry are stuck baby sitting their publisher's children.
There's always some new feature of the treehouse that takes the two on their tangential adventure. In this case it's a whirlpool. It takes them into the depths well beyond the roots of their tree and into a huge ocean. The tree seems to work much as the staircase in Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, just with fewer consequences.
While puns happen throughout the book, they are most concentrated in the underwater sequence. There is a delightfully ridiculous nod to the Yellow Submarine.
This book captured the thematic silliness of the earlier books in the series. The eighth book is The 104th Storey Treehouse (2018).
Read on Arrival: 07/16/19
Read on Arrival by Nora Page is the second Bookmobile Mystery. Senior Librarian Cleo Watkins and her bookmobile have a new rival — a consultant who has a very different way of designing and running a bookmobile. Books are rebound in colorful shades to be fun. There are video games. And a therapy horse.
Meanwhile, realtor Dixie Huddleston has been holding onto a book about luck for about thirty years. It's the most overdue book at the library. But then she starts worrying that her luck has run out. Sure enough, she ends up murdered.
Cleo because of the book, and Belle, the consultant, end up on the top of the list of suspects. Cleo, because of the overdue book, and Belle because of the alternate to the bookmobile. Neither one is the murderer and the two do end up reluctantly working together.
To enjoy this volume (which I did), one needs to just roll with the sillier aspects of the plot. Modern bookmobiles are actually somewhere between the two extremes: Cleo's and Belle's. Library hiring is a very formalized event and it would be damn near impossible for Belle to be offered her made up position. Likewise, there's no reason for Cleo to have kept Dixie's overdue book in the catalog. She would have replaced it and charged Dixie.
Guilty Plea: 07/16/19
Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg is the second of the Greene and Kennicott mystery series. This time a wealthy man is found murdered in his kitchen while his young son sleeps. He's found by the nanny who doesn't live on site.
The bulk of the evidence suggests that the estranged wife did the deed. Even as it goes to the crown court Greene and Kennicott continue to track down leads.
As with the first volume, I find the huge cast of characters a bit much. Rather, the jumping from point of view to point of view is what gets me down. These scenes while they prove the author knows all the pieces of the process from investigation to trial, they get in the way of the narrative flow.
My other concern over the direction of this series is in the choice of murderer. In the previous book it was implied that an autistic boy was the killer (but not proven in the court). In this book, the killer, again accidentally, is a disabled member of the family. This series is setting up a pattern where the most marginalized person is the killer and the most privileged is set up to almost take the fall for the death.
The third book is Stray Bullets (2012).
So Done: 07/15/19
So Done by Paula Chase is about the struggle of maintaining a childhood friendship as children grow into teens. Tai (Metai) and Mila (Jamila) have been friends for ages but they've drifted apart over the last summer.
Mila spent the summer away from home and didn't responded to any of her texts or emails. When she comes back for the school year she no longer wishes to be called Bean.
Further driving the wedge is an upcoming dance competition. It was something both girls had been into before summer and now only one of them wants to participate.
Near the end, it's also revealed that Mila can no longer feel safe around Tai's father. This bit is handled well.
There is a lot packed into this book and with alternating points of views, this book needs careful attention. At least I needed to read it more slowly than I do most books.
The second book is Dough Boys and comes out August 27th.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 15): 07/15/19
We're home again from our eight days on the road. We Tuesday through Thursday at Mammoth Lakes. On Wednesday we visited Bodie and Mono Lake. On Thursday we visited Devil's Postpile. Friday was an all day drive home, but we did get to see Yosemite as it was the shortcut home.
I ended up loving The Bride Test and read it in about two hours after our day at Bodie and Mono Lake. I'm eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.
What I read:
Readingwise, I took three physical books on the trip and finished two of them. Gideon Falls I didn't finish until we got home. I also one ebook, Heartwood Hotel 3: Better Together. While I said I wouldn't be reading library books, I didn't plan on us arriving in Mammoth Lakes before check-in. We ended up spending an hour and a half in the Mammoth Lakes public library and that's where I read The Bride Was a Boy.
What I'm reading:
The Thing About Leftovers: 07/14/19
The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne is about a teen who wants to win the Southern Living cook-off. She's also reeling from her parents' divorce and with her Dad's new wife expecting and her Mom about to get re-married, she feels like a leftover.
As a child who survived a divorce the remarriage of my mother and the birth of a half brother, I find Fizzy's constant state of panic melodramatic instead of relatable.
Reviewers looking for "clean" Christian middle grade fiction love this book. It has its audience.
For books involving blended families or separated parents, there are others that cover the topic with a more grounded approach:
Up for Air: 07/13/19
Up for Air by Laurie Morrison is about Annabelle's summer between seventh and eighth grades. In school she struggles. She has a large vocabulary but she struggles with retention. Outside of school she's on a swim team and there she excels.
This year, though, Annabelle is offered a chance to swim on the high school team because she is so tall and is one of the most powerful swimmers on her middle school team. With one of her swim team friends going to a summer camp, and with a huge crush on one of the boys on the high school team, Annabelle agrees.
The remainder of the book is Annabelle slowly and painfully coming to realize that she had made a terrible decision. The older kids aren't a particularly good influence on her nor do they respect her beyond what she can do for the team. Instead they treat her like a pet and as someone they can haze.
Fortunately for Annabelle, her mother and step-father take an active role. Often parents are set up to either be absent, or uninterested, or on the flip side, severely strict. Basically parents in these types of coming of age stories are usually foils for the protagonist. Here, they are supportive all the way through but they also know when to step in and stop Annabelle from further self destruction.
Breakout by Kate Messner was clearly inspired by the same prison break that led to Beth Kephart writing Wild Blues. That said, beyond the initial set up, this is a very different middle grade novel.
At the start of summer two inmates break out of prison near Wolf Creek. Nora Tucker puts aside her plans of swimming to use her journalism skills to find the escapes.
The narrative unfolds through a series of articles by Nora as well as diagrams, clippings, photographs, and interviews.
There are also prose bits from newcomer Elidee's point of view. She has had the bad luck of moving into town just before the prison break. She tentatively teams up with Nora but is far less enthusiastic about investigating.
Breakout fits into the road narrative spectrum as one of those tales where a threat comes to a town. The protagonists in this novel are middle schoolers. They are limited by what they can do, where they can go, and how late they can be out. That makes them marginalized travelers (66).
The destination is the rural (33) Upstate New York town, Wolf Creek. For Elidee and the escapees, Wolf Creek is a recent destination. For everyone else, it is a place to protect from intruders.
The route taken as recorded through maps and diagrams is an offroad (66) one. Both the criminals and the tweens who track them go by offroad methods. For the criminals it's to elude detection while they figure out how to get out of town. For Nora and friends, it's by way of tracking the criminals.
Put all together Breakout is the tale of marginalized travelers taking an offroad route through a rural town (663366).
Click by Kayla Miller is a middle grade graphic novel about cliques in school. Olive has her school friends and her after school friends. When her teacher announces the talent show she finds herself alone as all her friends team up to practice for the show.
Olive's journey is one of excitement over the show to dismay as none of her friends ask her to join them in their talent show acts. Then comes frustration when her mother offers to make some calls to ask her friends' parents to ask their kids to include Olive.
The remainder of the book is how Olive works through her feelings and with the help of someone other than her mother, comes up with a plan that's all her own.
There's a sequel, Camp which came out in April.
Trouble on the Books: 07/10/19
Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang is the start of a new cozy mystery series, Castle Bookshop. It's set on an island in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York. Shelby Cox has taken over the bookshop for her aunt as she is recovering from an injury. On her first full day she finds the castle's volunteer coordinator murdered in the island's grotto.
Shelby decides to do her own investigating when Special Agent Zack Griffin of the Coast Guard begins asking questions. She figures he would only be there if there was something beyond the murder going on.
This first book balances all the necessary pieces perfectly. Shelby and the other characters are interesting and memorable. Zack Griffin is mysterious and charming — a possible love interest down the line. The setting is well described.
The second book is Death on the Page and comes out March 10th, 2020.
A Jest of God: 07/09/19
A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence is another book in the Manawaka Sequence. Rachel Cameron is in her thirties and lives with her manipulative mother. She's a school teacher stuck in a rut. Her life is turned upside down by the return of Nick Kazlik.
Rachel ends up having a relationship with Nick and while he wasn't the best choice for a partner he was still in his own weird way a positive influence. She grows a backbone. She eventually is brave enough to take charge of her life.
While The Stone Angel was a quiet reflection on life, this one is an angry, bitter book. It a portrait of an emotionally abusive mother and her worn down adult daughter.
The third book in the sequence is The Fire-Dwellers (1989).
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire: 07/08/19
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan is the start of a semi-autobiographical series about a girl who loves words and is trying to find her place between two different cultures. Her father's family is Chinese and speak Cantonese. Her mother is a multigenerational American.
Cilla's also coming to terms with becoming a big sister. She's trying to act grown up. She's trying to decide what likes and dislikes are mature enough for the person she wants to become, and which ones she needs to leave behind.
Her biggest concern is that her parents will forget about here when they're busy with her baby sister. She decides she has to begin her writing career now. She writes about her infancy, about being bald until five, and about how different her maternal and paternal grandparents are.
Through her own self reflection, Cilla manages to learn how she is like both sides of her family. She also helps both sets of grandparents learn that they are more similar than different even with the language and culture barriers.
Cilla is one of my favorite recent middle grade protagonists because she is so personally relatable. My sister-in-law is like Cilla — and her author. Except her father's family speaks Mandarin. My niece and nephew have the further balancing act of Chinese, Jewish, American and Canadian culture.
The second book in the series is Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is a Classic (2018). I will be reviewing it next month.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 08): 07/01/19
Hello from Reno. My husband and I are celebrating our 24th anniversary today. I'm posting later than usual from inside the poolside cabana. So far this week we've watched fireworks in Auburn and visited historic Sutter's Mill.
Here is the replica of the mill where gold was discovered.
Now here I am in the cabana.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The BFF Bucket List: 07/07/19
The BFF Bucket List by Dee Romito is a story about a pair of teenage girls who are about to enter high school and are suddenly feeling like their friendship might not survive the transition. As a bonding exercise, they make a bucket list of things to do together over the summer. Things don't go as planned.
Stories like this are hinged on the idea that childhood friendships are the most important thing about growing up. This one takes it a step further by giving the girls idiotic things to do together. Not what you'd consider usual things: like going through a list of their favorite things together one last time or even a list of things they've been meaning to do but haven't yet.
Instead, they do things like riding around in a shopping cart in their PJs. Their bucket list items are dangerous, potentially destructive, and disruptive to everyone around them.
And then there's the BIG ticket item on the list — talking to one's crush. Really? If the person in question (in this case, a boy for each girl) is that scary, he's not worth crushing on. And there's the whole mythology that girls who are friends do nothing but talk about boys with each other.
In all my years of friendship with my BFFs, boys really didn't come into the conversation until much later. A typical boy conversation with my friends would go like this:
Me: Hey, this is ___________, my boyfriend.
Friend: So and so and I are dating, is it okay if he tags along?
Kiss Number 8: 07/06/19
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw begins with Amanda musing about the people she kissed. From the title one would logically think that it would be about her eighth kiss.
Except it isn't exactly. Instead the book segues into a plot where Amanda overhears her father's end of a phone conversation and believes it means that he's having an affair with a woman. Her complete belief in his infidelity leads her down a path of anger and bad attitude.
All of this unnecessary family drama is set against the family being devoutly Catholic. It's just another in a long list of tangents that make this graphic novel more complex than it needs to be.
The A plot ends up being about Amanda's missing grandparent. Her father's mother realized well into an unhappy marriage that he was actually a man. He ended up leaving (or abandoning as the father remembers it) the family and marrying a woman.
The eighth kiss doesn't actually come around until the third act of this book. By this point I was having a hard time keeping track of plot threads and characters.
Besides the complicated plot threads, there is some confusing character design. For instance, Amanda's mother. She looks nothing like Amanda. It took more than half of the book for me to realize that she was supposed to be Amanda's biological mother. Given the animosity Amanda shows her I thought she was either a housekeeper or a step-mother.
Ultimately this book should have been three books. Book one would have been the plot about the transgender grandfather. Book two would have been Amanda's own discovery that she's bi or possibly pan. The third would be the aftermath and her finding a new more welcoming group of friends.
As is the book is too complex with not enough time spent exploring all the themes. It reads like there was a checklist to be marked off along the way. Also the tone for much of book is very hostile to anyone who isn't cis-gendered, Catholic, and straight. It's not until Amanda is confronted with her own sexuality that the there is some backpedaling with the tone and by then it's much too late.
The Doughnut King: 07/05/19
The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz is the sequel to The Doughnut Fix (2018). Tris and his friend have been running the Doughnut Shop in Petersville, Upstate New York. But they've been too successful and have hit a wall: they can't keep the supply up to meet the growing the demand.
Meanwhile Petersville is facing its own problem. It's gotten so small that the post office is closing. That's the sign that the town's demise is nigh. The mayor rallies everyone to fix up the town and to bring in tourists and hopefully full time residents.
Tris's sister has an idea to save the town and earn the money for a doughnut robot, one that can make dozens of doughnuts in an hour. She makes an audition tape of Tris cooking and sends it to one of those reality cooking shows where children compete.
Getting onto the show is what puts this second book into the road narrative spectrum. Where the first one was about a marginalized (66) traveler moving to a rural town (33) via a Blue Highway (33) and managing to succeed in opening a doughnut shop, now we have a family (33) working together, going into the city (00) via the Blue Highway (33). Their goal is to save their rural town and their businesses. While Tris still does most of the work, his family is involved this time in ways that they weren't in the first book.
The evolution of the characters across the two books results in a downwards movement on the road narrative spectrum. It's a subtle one, with a mostly realistic and contemporary fiction becoming even more grounded in reality.
Mera: Tidebreaker: 07/04/19
Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Bryne is one of a new series of one offs of graphic novels featuring different DC characters. Mera is a princess of Xebel and she wants freedom for her people.
After a set of introductory scenes involving graffiti, a ball, and an argument between father and daughter, the narrative settles into a YA "fish out of water" romance.
Mera goes on land to find and kill the Atlantian crown prince. She over does and ends up in the care of the very person she is here to murder.
Despite him having a girlfriend and she being hell bent on killing him, they become friends. Then they become more.
I'm coming to this graphic novel pretty much as an outsider. Call me a literary fish out of water. I'm not following DC's comics and I've not seen Aquaman.
That said, I enjoyed the plot. It relies on romance tropes and frankly that's fine. My problems with the book are actually in its design.
The lettering is sometimes difficult to read, especially when characters are whispering and their dialog is written at about half the x height of the regular text. Also sometimes the text is rendered in a color other than black on white and there isn't enough contrast to read the words easily.
The other oddity with the art is the choice of colors. It's primarily pastel, done in various light blues and mint greens except for some peach and pink for contrast (and for Mera's hair). I guess it's a light pallet to appeal to female readers and to highlight the romance. But it's distracting and it draws attention away from the big picture items: a princess of an occupied kingdom on a quest to assassinate the crown prince of the occupying kingdom.
The Barrakee Mystery: 07/03/19
The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield is the first of the Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte mystery series. It's set in an area I backpacked in during my last two weeks as an AFSer. That was my initial reason for picking it.
The murder victim, King Henry, is an older aborigine recently arrived to New South Wales. He's killed during a fierce thunderstorm. No one in the area remarks on the weird whirling sound.
So at this point, well before the introduction of the detective, I'm mental replaying the stupid boomerang scene from Sherlock. Now I think I know where the nicked the idea. At least there's no spinning couch.
Enter Napoleon Bonaparte to investigate. He recognizes that the murder weapon was a boomerang and goes on to describe four different kinds. He can tell from the wound which was was used and therefore which end of the continent the killer is from.
That's all well and good but there's little else good to say. The rest of this book is a hot racist mess. Even with the detective being half aborigine the third person omniscient narrator frames everyone's actions and thoughts against their race.
The ultimate motive has a rather Shadow over Innsmouth feel to it. The murder a diehard racist white dude is rudely shaken to learn that he is actually in the same situation as the detective. But he had a white mother and fair enough skin to pass. Faced with the true identity of his father, he's driven mad and driven to murder.
The second book in the series is The Sands of Windee (1931). I'm still debating whether I want to give a second book a try.
Road Narrative Update for June 2019: 07/03/19
I covered 19 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 11 reviews, 4 essays, and 5 books still needing to reviews.
I have 56 spots open in the road narrative spectrum where I still need to find an exemplar.
July I will be traveling and then teaching an art camp. I have no idea how much reading or research I will accomplish.
Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift: 07/02/19
Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George is set during the winter hibernation. The Heartwood Hotel is the place to hibernate in style. The end of winter is celebrated with a huge feast and party.
This year though, there are problems. First there is a very snooty duchess bunny who makes impossible demands. Then there is the kitchen's stockpile of foods. They're running out and the replacements are late to arrive.
On a more personal level, Mona is feeling awkward and embarrassed because she didn't know about the gift exchange at the start of the season. Her embarrassment threatens to drive a new wedge between Mona and Tilly the squirrel.
Tilly's surliness resurfaces. The winter storm has her under stress. Mona who is still trying to make her place at the hotel is a pendulum that swings between deep insight and complete cluelessness. When it comes to threats to the hotel, Mona is always spot on.
Ultimately this second volume is about Tilly and why the hotel is so important to her. She is doing her part to support her brother. The how and why of that support is key to the book and not something I'm going to spoil here.
The relationship between Tilly and her brother makes them the travelers for this road narrative spectrum book. They fall into the second highest category, the sibling travelers (CC). The goal for both of them is to save their homes (66) — though different homes. That goal can be read as the destination. Finally the route taken to these goals is an offroad (66) one, through the snow covered forest. Put all together, volume two from Tilly's perspective is a tale of siblings going offroad to save their homes (CC6666).
Volume three is Better Together (2018)
June 2019 Sources: 07/02/19
I'm done prototyping art projects. In three weeks I will be teaching the summer camp. Between then and now I have a nearly two week long trip. Then one last week to prepare. Put simply, July will be busy. I have no idea how this will affect my reading.
I read a dozen books published this year but none of them were from June. This month's score, like last month, was influenced by the large number of library and research books.
Six months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. Interestingly, June 2018 had the same ROOB score. My June score seems to be right where it usually is.
My average for June improved slightly from -2.75 to -2.80.
Amal Unbound: 07/01/19
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is in a Pakistani village. Amal wants to be a teacher but her education is constantly curtailed by obligations to her family and her younger siblings. Then things get unimaginably worse when their landlord, a corrupt, terrible person, demands that Amal work at his house to pay down her family's debt.
The majority of the novel is set in the Khan estate where Amal is forced to work. There are rules to learn and she's cut off from her family. The visits she's been promised don't come. Her cell phone is taken away from her.
But it's at the house that she learns how far reaching the Khan's. They own most of the village. Through tenacity and brains Amal is able to collect the evidence needed to bring an end to their terrifying hold over the village.
There's an afterword that explains this novel was inspired by Malala Yousafzai's experiences. Amal's story while heart-stopping is watered down.It's more broadly about the plight girls and young women face in parts of the world when it comes to education.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 01): 07/01/19
Normally I use this weekly pust to update everyone on my art. This week though I dno't have anything extra beyond what I've read and blogged out. It was the second week of my husband's business trip and I had a bunch of errands to run. I didn't work on my painting and I didn't make any new camp related art.
Next Monday I might skip posting all together. I will be halfway through a family road trip. It will also be my 24th wedding anniversary, and while I will be sitting poolside in a cabana, I might be having too much fun to post an update.
What I read:
I finished the last of my library books. For the rest of the summer I plan to focus on my own books. I'll reevaluate how things are going once the kids are back in school.
What I'm reading:
Posts and reviews: