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July 2019

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020

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So Done: 07/15/19

So Done

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.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 15): 07/15/19

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

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.

A view of Bodie
Bodie ghost town.

Mono Lake
A view of Mono Lake from the vistor's center

Devil's Postpile ©2019 Harriet Sammis
A view of Devil's Postpile

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.

  • Heartwood Hotel 3: Better Together by Kallie George; personal collection / research
  • The Bride Was a Boy by Chii; library book
  • The Bride Test by Helen Hoang; personal collection
  • Gideon Falls: The Black Barn by Jeff Lemire; personal collect / research
  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey; personal collection
  • Trace by Pat Cummings; personal collection
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; personal collection
  • The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle

Up Soon:

  • Dread Pirate Fleur and the Ruby Heart by Sara Starbuck; personal collection
  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams; personal collection
  • Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery; personal collection (re-read)
  • Full Steam Ahead, Felix by Kate Moore; personal collection

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The Thing About Leftovers: 07/14/19

The Thing About Leftovers

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:

Two stars

Comments (0)

Up for Air: 07/13/19

Up for Air

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.

Four stars

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Breakout: 07/12/19


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).

Three stars

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Click: 07/11/19


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.

Five stars

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Trouble on the Books: 07/10/19

Trouble on the Books

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.

Five stars

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A Jest of God: 07/09/19

A Jest of God

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).

Three stars

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Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire: 07/08/19

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire

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.

Four stars

Comments (2)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 08): 07/01/19

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

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. Fireworks

Here is the replica of the mill where gold was discovered.

Sutter's Mill

Now here I am in the cabana.

Cabana view

What I read:

  • Up for Air by Laurie Morrison; personal collection
  • The Terrible Two's Last Laugh by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell; personal collection
  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée; personal collection
  • Cat Got Your Cash by Julie Chase; personal collection

What I'm reading:

  • The Bride Test by Helen Hoang; personal collection
  • Gideon Falls: The Black Barn by Jeff Lemire
  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen; personal collection
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey; personal collection

Up Soon:

  • Trace by Pat Cummings; personal collection
  • Heartwood Hotel 3: Better Together by Kallie George; personal collection / research
  • The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; personal collection

Comments  (10)

The BFF Bucket List: 07/07/19

The BFF Bucket List

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.
Boyfriend: Nice to meet you.
Friends: Hey


Friend: So and so and I are dating, is it okay if he tags along?
Me: OK.
Other Friend: Whatever.

Two stars

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Kiss Number 8: 07/06/19

Kiss Number 8

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.

Two stars

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The Doughnut King: 07/05/19

The Doughnut King

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.

chart showing the evolution of the series across the road narrative spectrum

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.

Five stars

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Mera: Tidebreaker: 07/04/19

The Barrakee Mystery

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.

Three stars

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The Barrakee Mystery: 07/03/19

The Barrakee Mystery

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.

Two stars

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Road Narrative Update for June 2019: 07/03/19

Road Narrative Update for June 2019

I covered 19 narratives in the spectrum. That includes 11 reviews, 4 essays, and 5 books still needing to reviews.

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

  1. FFFF99: Emily the Strange: The 13th Hour by Rob Reger
  2. FFCC99: Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl
  3. CCFF66: Above by Roland Smith
  4. CCCC99: Siblings to uhoria via the labyrinth
  5. CCCC66: Siblings going offroad to uhoria
  6. CCCC33: siblings traveling to uhoria on the Blue Highway
  7. CCCC00: Siblings to uhoria along the interstate
  8. CC99FF: Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman
  9. CC3333: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
  10. 990066: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
  11. 66CCFF: Misfit City Volume 1 by Kirsten Smith
  12. 66CCCC: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
  13. 66CCCC: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
  14. 66CC99: The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby
  15. 66CC33: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
  16. 669999: We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
  17. 663300: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir by Sharon Kahn
  18. 33CC66: Just South of Home by Karen Strong
  19. 3300FF: Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 3 by Ryoko Kui
  20. 3300CC: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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.

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Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift: 07/02/19

Heartwood Hotel 2: The Greatest Gift

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)

Four stars

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June 2019 Sources: 07/02/19

June book sources

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.

ROOB Score for the last three years

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.

ROOB score mapped year after year to compare trends

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.

ROOB monthly averages

My average for June improved slightly from -2.75 to -2.80.

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Amal Unbound: 07/01/19

Amal Unbound

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.

Four stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 01): 07/01/19

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

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.

  • The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz; personal collection
  • Big Hero 6, Vol. 1 by Haruki Ueno; personal collection
  • The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright; library book
  • Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon; library book
  • Days of Wine and Roquefort by Avery Aames; library book
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story by Susan Tan; library book

What I'm reading:

  • Up for Air by Laurie Morrison; personal collection
  • Cat Got Your Cash by Julie Chase; personal collection
  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée; personal collection
  • The Terrible Two's Last Laugh by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell

Up Soon:

  • In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen; personal collection
  • Gideon Falls: The Black Barn by Jeff Lemire
  • Trace by Pat Cummings; personal collection
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey; personal collection

Posts and reviews:

Comments  (18)