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The Weight of the Stars: 09/30/19
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum is a YA science fiction romance. The set up reminds me of the anime short Voices of a Distant Star (ほしのこえ) (2002). This time, though, it's a female/female romance with a slow burn between narrator Ryann Bird, the orphan daughter of NASA scientists, and Alexandria, the daughter of a woman on a oneway trip into space for a private space company.
Ryann Bird lives in a trailer park with her selectively mute brother, James, and a baby he brought home one day, Charlie. Her duties as the caregiver have put her life on hold and has made going to school and doing homework difficult.
Ryann, though, has a teacher who has a soft spot for her. She asks her to befriend the new girl, Alexandria. She and her father have moved to this sleepy town to get away from the rumor mill regarding her status as the SCOUT baby. Her mother is on a ship with other carefully selected women, chosen as teenagers, and her father was an intern at the time.
Ryann and Alexandria, and Ryann's extended group of misfit friends, bond over the messages she's waiting for. Her mother's ship sends transmissions back to Earth and Alexandria stays up late each night hoping to record them. That is until she falls off the roof. Ryann, who misses her parents, knows that recording these transmissions, if they come through, is important. It's her way of befriending Alexandria.
In the background of the majority of this book is SCOUT, a privately run space exploration company. They are keeping information from Alexandria. They aren't, though, the big bad corporation, even though they sit in that position narrationally. They are a small, overwhelmed, poorly run company with lofty goals. In this regard, they remind me of another space themed anime, Rocket Girls (ロケットガール ) (2007).
The growing relationship between Ryann and Alexandria is framed in road narrative tropes. Ryann and Alexandria become a couple (33) before their journey will begin. The destination is the wildlands (99) of space. But Ryann and Alexandria will be taking different ways there. Alexandria will be abandoned a second time as Ryann is picked by SCOUT. That should be the end, but there is also NASA, who still works by slower, more precise methods, including expecting their astronauts to be highly educated. The route is of course offroad (66) as their journeys are through space. Put all together, the this romance ultimately about a couple traveling through the wildlands via an offroad route, to hopefully reunite.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 30): 09/30/19
With both cat portraits finished, it was time to put the hardware on their backs and get them hung in the den. I did the hanging myself and I'm too short to reach high enough on the left side. So right now, Tortuga's portrait is a little lower down than I'd like. My husband says he likes it uneven like this because it makes Salmon (on the right) look smugger.
Over the fourth of July we watched a fireworks show, our first one in five years. I had a new lens with me and had fun both watching and photographing. Going over my recent photos made me want to do a series of fireworks paintings.
I'm doing two different projects snow. The first is a series of acrylic paint sketches on paper for Project Sketchbook. The second will be a series of acrylic paintings on stretched canvas. How many and what sizes, I haven't decided yet. I am starting off the canvas series with a photograph from the 2014 finale we watched in Oregon.
My husband continues to enjoy the new smoker. Last week's brisket was amazing. This week he's doing two pork shoulders and a brisket. Some of the pork he's planning to take to work. His coworkers have been begging him to share.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Whipping Boy: 09/29/19
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman and Peter Sís (illustrations) is a reminder of just how out of control my wishlist is, or more precisely, how I need to put more thought into prioritizing different types of books on that list. Right now there are 3604 titles on there. Put a different way, if I didn't add any more books to the list and concentrated solely on reading books off that list, it would take me eleven years to clear it.
To put the The Whipping Boy into a human scale perspective, the book was recommended to me by my son. It was the first chapter book he was genuinely into and his first big reading accomplishment in second grade. He's now in twelfth grade. I've waited ten years to read and review the book he so enthusiastically recommended to me. (He still counts the book as one of his favorites, by the way.)
The Whipping Boy is rather like The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881). Except here, Fleischman takes the historical aspect of slave boys being kept to take the physical punishments for child princes and sees what happens when the two are outside of the confines of the castle.
Jemmy, the whipping boy, has a plan to escape, but instead, ends up outside the castle to rescue "Prince Brat." The prince is arrogant and dumber than a post. Jemmy, despite his coloquial manner of speaking is literate and better grounded in the lessons for what it takes to be a leader. This leads to problems when kidnappers mistake him for Prince Brat.
The Whipping Boy was my son's first realization (beyond me as parent saying it) that rank or position or wealth aren't an automatic sign of worthiness.
Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas is a delightful standalone middle grade fantasy that brings together a bunch of different dragon fantasy threads into this page-turner. As there's so much going on, let me apologize in advance for what's sure to become a rambling post, rather than a well organized review.
The book opens with Rafi Bywater outside of the old dragon hoard. The dragon of Dragonfell used to blue flowered teacups until it disappeared. Later in the book we're introduced to hoarders of watches, sea glass, knitted things, and so forth.
When I was a child, dragons only hoarded gold, with the quintessential dragon being Smaug from The Hobbit. In recent years, though, an artist who posts on Tumblr, created a series of "unusual dragon hoards" and Dragonfell's dragons are cut from similar cloth.
Rafi, though, is facing two problems. The first is that his home village doesn't trust him. He's dragon-touched and they are afraid the fires started in town are his fault. The second threat to the village is a man named Filtch who has come in his steam vehicle to take Rafi's spark.
A dragon's spark isn't a new concept either. Again going back to my childhood, I recall Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson (1979). It was an encyclopedia of dragons and the thing that made dragons fly was their fire, which was ignited by their spark (think flint in the mouth and noxious gases). Prineas's spark is a little more magical than that, but the terminology harkens to Dickinson's book.
Dickinson's book was also made into an animated movie. It was combined with the plot from The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson (1976). If you know the plot of the book (or the series as a whole), then you'll see where Dragonfell is going.
Filtch, though, might as well be Dr. Terminus (Pete's Dragon (1977)), reimagined into a nefarious business mogul. Given his fascination with dragon parts, we can just imagine him singing "Every Little Piece."
For Rafi to learn how to save his village and to save the dragons, he embarks on a quest, or dare I say, a road trip? He quickly teams up with "Mad Maud" and they head further down the road to learn what they can do to save the dragons.
Rafi and Maud's trip puts this fantasy novel onto the road narrative spectrum. Rafi and Maud are another example of the scarecrow and minotaur duality of traveler (99). Rafi is the scarecrow for his desire to save his town. Maud is the minotaur for her ties to the big city and the threat it poses to the town and the dragons.
Their destination might seem to be the city — and they do certainly go there — but the final goal is home (66). It's to make Rafi's home safe again. It's to help the displaced dragons return to their homes safely.
Finally there is the route, and that is offroad (66). Yes, they do often take the roads between towns, but the roads are also patrolled by Filtch's people. They stay ahead of him by going offroad whenever they can. And ultimately, the way home is via the air, the most offroad one can possibly go.
All together, the road narrative spectrum aspect of this novel is a scarecrow and minotaur teaming up to save home via an offroad route.
Although this book is only 260 pages, it's a well realized world with a steampunk technology, placing this dragon fantasy in a late Victorian era but in a rural place where big cities are still rare. Modern times are coming but maybe Rafi and Maud can find a compromise to keep the dragons part of this future.
Small Spaces: 09/27/19
The reason I continue to read children's fiction is because themes and tropes are rendered down to their core essence. In the case of the road narrative spectrum, children's fiction is a great litmus test.
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden is a short (213 pages) horror novel perfect to read just before or perhaps on, Halloween. Ollie has been burying herself in fiction since her adventurous mother died. She keeps her grades up well enough to get away with reading in class. But she's by no means happy or her old self.
On the last sunny day of the year, Ollie rushes out of class as soon as it's over and rides down to her favorite swimming hole. There she meets a strange woman who is threatening to toss an antique book into the river. I should say as a librarian who has done weeding, I admit I would have let her drown the book. But to Ollie the destruction of a book is a horrible thing. So she takes the book and the woman's promise of a curse from the "Smiling Man."
The remainder of the book is aftermath of Ollie's decision, and the woman's follow through on the threat to curse her. The curse manifests itself on the way home from the annual sixth grade trip to a local farm. The bus breaks down and the creepy bus driver warns the kids to stay to the small spaces before dark or they will be taken.
This delightfully creepy book sits perfectly in the road narrative spectrum and is another example of the duality of scarecrows and minotaurs. These two fantasy / horror creatures are different sides of the same coin but often show up together as joint travelers, as they do in Small Spaces.
The traveler here is both the scarecrow and the minotaur (99), though the minotaur takes longer to reveal himself. Scarecrows are protectors, often of the cornfield, and they are here. In horror, such as Small Spaces, they are also the monsters. They are also the outcome for unwary travelers. This novel has both forms of scarecrow. It also has a minotaur (though more of a hell hound) as the monster in the middle of the inevitable corn maze.
The destination isn't a rural one or the wilderness, even though both feature heavily in Small Spaces. Nor, tempting as it might be, is the destination uhoria, even though there are ghosts and things out of time. Ollie and her two companions have one goal: return home, and get the other children on the bus home (66).
Finally, there is the route home. It is from the very get go, the cornfield (FF). Initially it's a symbolic one, being the farm. As the adventure unwinds, the way home becomes clear and it's through the corn maze. Solve the maze and emerge through back where you started. As where they started is a wooded area near a river, there is also the added cornfieldness of the tkaronto.
All together, Small Spaces is the tale of scarecrows and a minotaur trying to get home via a cornfield (9966FF)
The second book in the series is Dead Voices and it came out over the summer. I will be reviewing it soon.
Runaways, Volume 3: That Was Yesterday: 09/26/19
Runaways, Volume 3: That Was Yesterday by Rainbow Rowell is set in the run up to Christmas. Alex Wilder is back as are the Gibborim — or rather their offspring. So it's a sins of the father sort of plot.
The more interesting side plot, though, is Nico learning about her powers and the staff she can cast with. Of course it's trapped spirit. Of course there is a generations long bargain — and one that she can thankfully renegotiate.
Over all I wasn't as engaged with the plot as I was with volume 2. I think there is just too much requirement to know previous arcs to really be invested.
The fourth volume comes out in October.
The Great Shelby Holmes and the Haunted Hound: 09/25/19
The Great Shelby Holmes and the Haunted Hound by Elizabeth Eulberg is inspired by the Hound of the Baskervilles. John Bryant, a friend of John Watson, invites him over to help with a problem.
The brownstone apartment he lives in with his mother is haunted. Just after dinner the howling begins. It's followed by stomping upstairs and the lights flickering on and off. The landlord swears the apartment in question is empty. But there are claw marks on the apartment door.
Watson, of course, decides to bring in Shelby after experiencing the haunting first hand. Shelby and Bryant, though, aren't friends and it takes Watson patience and hard work to get the two to tolerate each other.
For the observant reader, the clues are all there. The reason for the haunting and the who would benefit most from it. There are also a few red herrings to keep things interesting.
I don't know if there is a fifth book planned. If there is, I will definitely read it.
Emily of New Moon: 09/24/19
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery is the first book in a trilogy. It was written fifteen years after Anne of Green Gables and is a darker, more cynical take on growing up on P.E.I.
Like Anne, Emily is an orphan, but we see first hand how she becomes one. In the first chapter her father succumbs to his illness. She's then picked up by the two unmarried aunts who drew the short straw.
There are similar episodic chapters in Emily's life. She goes to a new school. She's bullied. She makes a friend. She has a falling out. She makes a new friend. She gets in trouble with her aunts. She explores the farm and the farm next door. Etc.
But there's a cynicism that is missing from Anne's narrative. One of her aunts is very religious and very stuck in the previous century. Emily herself isn't as willing to find kindred spirits in fellow students and random strangers. Emily is also prone to revenge fantasies, albeit juvenile ones.
I read Emily of New Moon originally as a child. Back then, I remember being completely enamored / blown away by Emily's lengthy diary entries, as well as her poetry. I was reading a 1988 edition and I don't recall if her spelling errors were corrected by the editors or if I was just such a bad speller to not notice them.
This time I read a 1923 edition. It was a lucky find at my local indie book shop. The text in this edition has Emily's spelling errors, and I'm older and a better speller. So what was my favorite part of the book as a child became a distraction and detraction as an adult reader.
The second book is Emily Climbs (1925)
My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva is set in Quezon City, Metro Manilla, Philippines. Sabrina or Sab for short sees a huge black swallowtail, which can be a portent of death. She's convinced she will die before her mother returns home from her business trip. She decides to use the butterfly as a sign that she needs to fix her family before it's too late.
Sab and Ate (big sister) Nadine are part of an odd, extended family. Their parents are separated but can't divorce because of Philippine law. So both Mom and Dad have boyfriends and live apart. Their Dad lives with his boyfriend at the resort his mother used to run. Mom's boyfriend, affectionately called Tito (uncle).
Nadine is a reporter and she's working on the current war on drugs under a president whose rhetoric is leading to dangerous police raids and worse, police killings. It's through her sister's research that Sab begins to suspect that her father's absence wasn't because of depression as she's been told, but drug addiction.
My Fate According to the Butterfly is thematically similar to Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, with a child hoping to reunite with a missing father. That said, Sab and Nadine have kept in contact with their father and his boyfriend, whereas Marcus knows nothing of his father beyond the little his mother has told him.
Also like Marcus Vega, this book sits the road narrative spectrum, albeit as an outlier. Although Sab keeps her butterfly premonition to herself, she does all of her traveling — both literal and metaphorical — with her family. Her primary traveling companion is her sister, but she also includes the man who could be her step-father if divorce were legal, and later, her mother too. Thus, the traveler for this novel is the family (33).
The destination is home, although it's not Sab's current home (66). She's going to her father's home — her ancestral home — which happens to be a resort. But emotionally, it's a home away from home.
The route to home is the Blue Highway (33). Or since this isn't North America, a country road between Quezon City and the resort. I'm making an educated guess from the scene where the family pulls over for Sab's best friend to pee. The road is certainly not a straight shot to the resort.
Put all together, My Fate According to the Butterfly is about a family traveling home for reconciliation via the Blue Highway.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 23): 09/23/19
I had hoped to finish the portrait of Salmon last week but I got distracted by other things as I'll explain. The portrait has one or maybe two more hours left which I will get to later in the week.
In May 2018 I got word that the new city library wanted to purchase ten of my bird paintings. On Saturday I finally got to see them in their new home — the children's library!
The thing that was keeping me from painting, was ironically, painting. Or more precisely, staining. We have put a deposit down on a puppy and are in the process of getting the house and yard ready for them. Our most recent project was the construction of five foot tall gates to keep the dog in the back yard. There's also now a gate at the top of the stairs, but that's more for young children who might want to climb the hill unsupervised.
Finally, my daughter decided to spend her allowance and birthday money on a cosplay / halloween costume. She does have a blond wig to complete the look. For right now, though, I'm jokingly calling her Harriet Evergarden.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Ethan I Was Before: 09/22/19
The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish is set in Palm Knot, Georgia, a fictional coastal backwater. It's a town that's well past its prime but Ethan's grandfather lives there and needs help, although he doesn't want to admit it. Ethan's parents also see it as a way to restart after a recent tragedy.
The tragedy, events that are slowly revealed over the course of the novel, is what defines the Ethan before and after. So I'm going to leave out what happened to avoid spoilers.
In the present day the novel focuses on how Ethan is adjusting to his new life, his new school, and in making new friends. He ends up the target of the popular crowd and is invited into their circle if he too disses Coralee, a girl who is always telling stories, some which might be true and some which probably aren't.
Ethan, though, opts for one friend instead of the popular crowd. That leads him down a path of learning about the town and his own family history in the town. It also gives him a chance to come to terms with what happened before the move.
Her Royal Highness: 09/21/19
Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins is a follow up, side story to Royals. I'll be frank, and admit that I read Royals because I wanted to read Her Royal Highness.
In Royals, while Daisy is dealing with Seb, his equally wild twin sister is basically just mentioned as a comparison. If you think he's bad — just you wait until you meet Flora. With the exception of the wedding, Flora is basically not present.
So now we reset the clock to fall to see where Flora was and what she's been up to. But it's seen not from her point of view. Instead, like Royals we have an American girl for the protagonist.
Millie Quint lives in Texas but she's fascinated with Scotland. She's received news that she's been accepted to the first girls' class of the once all boy school in the highlands. She doesn't plan to go until her summer girl friend dumps her for her ex-boyfriend.
Millie and Flora's introduction happens on the first day of school. She's unpacking when Flora comes in. Flora's on the phone, having a heated discussion. Millie, frustrated, calls her roommate, Veruca Salt. It's only after that she learns her roommate is a Scottish princess.
In Hawkin's books, she's imagined an independent Scotland. There's a direct line from the Stuarts to the Bairds (Flora's family). This what if scenario gives Hawkins the freedom to make contemporary romance with royals without squeezing in a fictional country.
The romance blossoms after Millie manages to roll with whatever Flora throws at her. See, Flora's main goal is to get expelled and sent home to Hollyrood. It's only after she realizes that she's stuck at the school that she opens up to Millie.
The friendship and romance is organic and believable. The ending comes with an elaborate public display that reminds me of the ending of The Graduate, albeit in a very different setting.
When the Sky Fell on Splendor: 09/20/19
When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry is YA science fiction set in a small town that has been struggling since a tragic accident closed the local steel mill. Seventeen year old Franny has felt like a ghost since her brother was put in a coma during the blast. Now in this last summer before her core friends split as some go away to college, she's at a loss and an emotional nadir.
Franny's group of friends call themselves the Ordinary. They run a YouTube channel where they make videos of their ghost hunting activities. They are out one such night in a home abandoned since the explosion when they witness something fall from the sky, take out the top half of a high voltage electrical tower, and lose about six hours of their memories.
Soon after the Ordinary find themselves with new powers and new compulsions. Their powers, though, seem tied to reliving the events around the steel mill accident, and tied to the house where they saw the crash.
Without going into spoilers to this cosmic mystery, I will say that the novel fits in the road narrative spectrum.
Franny and her friends are marginalized travelers (66). They are marginalized by their youth. They are marginalized by the sheriff's interest in their involvement in the crash and subsequent disappearing materials relating to the crash site. They are marginalized by their grief and their families' treatment.
Their destination is uhoria (CC). There is the missing time. There is the mystery of the abandoned house. There are their vivid memories of the accident and its aftermath. There's the general feeling that Splendor hasn't been able to move forward since the steel mill exploded.
The route to uhoria is the cornfield (FF). The initial event takes place at a substation abutting a farm. The initial clues are in the burn pattern of the fields and the reorienting of the cattle away from their typical north-south axis.
Put all together, When the Sky Fell on Splendor is the tale of marginalized travelers going to uhoria via the cornfield in an attempt to understand the recent events as well as to come to terms with a tragedy.
Cheshire Crossing: 09/19/19
Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen is a breath of life to an old webcomic and self pub with a good concept and, as the author admits, terrible art. Andy Weir is best known for the Martian but he's been writing longer than that and Cheshire Crossing was his experiment with comics. All of this is explained in the foreword, but I'm putting it here because this story was my first introduction to Weir's work.
But credit to my knowing of this resurrection goes to Sarah Andersen. I've been a fan of Sarah Scribbles from her Tumblr days. I read and reviewed the three print collections of her comics and was curious to see what her next project was. Color me shocked and delighted when I saw she was redoing the art for a new printing of Cheshire Crossing.
The gist of this book, which contains the stories of the original four issues, is that there's an institute that is studying trans-dimensional travel. It has disguised itself as a school for troubled girls. It's first three "students" are Wendy Darling, Alice Liddel, and Dorothy Gale. It's 1910 when the three teens meet. Weir is clearly familiar with the source material, including the Oz books beyond The Wizard of Oz, even if his version of Oz is mostly inspired by the first book. I say this because he's picked the sweet period after her adventures, but just before she emigrates to Oz with her aunt and uncle in The Emerald City of Oz (1910).
Interestingly, going back to the original art, I'll say Weir and Andersen together show more knowledge of the Baum source material. The slippers have gone from ruby back to silver. The Wicked Witch has lost her green skin and she looks like a younger version of her original book self.
The Oz bits aside, the basic plot is that after the three girls discover a way into Oz, the Wicked Witch (who is back because apparently dissolving in water isn't permanent) realizes she can take their dimensional travel to her advantage.
The witch ends up teaming up with Captain Hook (a few years before Once Upon a Time and well before the Wicked Witch's appearance in the series. Meanwhile, the girls end up recruiting help, mostly from Wonderland, but from other places as well, to set things to rights.
The foreword also includes a hint of maybe future collaborations. Weir likes to write and maybe Andersen will be brought on board for something new, or maybe further adventures with the school.
The Tale Teller: 09/18/19
The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman is the twenty-third of the Navajo mysteries and the fifth one by Anne Hillerman. There are three intertwined mysteries: a missing donation, a jewelry thief on the loose, and a murder on a jogging trail.
Joe Leaphorn has been hired to find two missing items from a donation to the Navajo Nation museum. The one of most urgency is a bííł, a woven traditional dress. The missing one purports to have ties to Juanita Manuelito and the Long Walk.
Jim Chee, meanwhile, is chasing down leads in the missing jewelry case. His big clue is a man now living near Canyon de Chelly who recognized a missing bolo for sale at a flea market near Window Rock.
Bernie Manuelito while jogging sees a dog staying close to the edge of the trail. He's barking and acting nervous. Thinking a hiker or jogger has gotten injured, she investigates. Instead she finds the body of a man who has been shot.
The three cases are interconnected. Clues from one lead to clues to another, and so forth. Anne's mysteries are more grounded in the here and now than her father's were, even when dealing with items of historic significance. By this I mean, her treatment of the characters — major and minor — is realistic. They are human beings and even when their lives are grounded in tradition, they aren't superstitious — not like nearly everyone is in Tony's books.
But, like Elizabeth Peter's Vicky Bliss mysteries, the series has been running long enough that one has to accept that it's happening in the "now-now." Peters described the logic behind keeping things in the present, even when it's impossible in her introduction to The Laughter of Dead Kings. (2008)
Peter's series began in 1973 and ran until 2008 — 35 years. The Navajo mysteries started in 1970 with The Blessing Way. That's a forty-nine year run. From the very beginning, Leaphorn was a widower, well established in his career as a detective. Let's assume he's forty in 1970. By now he'd be 89, bare minimum.
Jim Chee arrives in Listening Woman (1978) as the rookie. Assuming he's twenty, he'd be sixty-nine now — not the young newly-wed or even middle aged newly-wed he's described as Anne's books.
Of the two, Joe is the closest to what his actual age would be. Jim, sharing the majority of the investigating with his wife, is given the benefit of the doubt, and kept younger than would have to be.
In the long run it doesn't matter that the two are living and working in the now-now. The mysteries are fun and it's a pleasure to see the characters grow and evolve into three dimensional people.
Internment by Samira Ahmed is set in the present and is built on assumptions made during the early months of Trump's administration — namely the Muslim ban. It supposes a world similar to what the Japanese experienced post Pearl Harbor.
Layla Amin and her parents are stuck at home, she no longer able to attend school and they unemployed. There's a curfew, which Layla breaks to spend time with her boyfriend, David. It's important to note that he's Jewish, with and immigrant / refugee background.
Having been nearly caught during one curfew, Layla and her family are rounded up by government officials, working under the once defunct Secretary of War. Like the Japanese and Japanese-Americans, they are taken to Los Angeles, put on buses and driven out to a containment facility somewhere between Manzanar and Independence.
The remainder of the novel is at the camp, a place patrolled my guards and drones, and overseen by a brutal man known only as the Director. Layla refuses to be broken by her circumstances. She also refuses to play along as her parents tell her she should. Instead, she and a few friends she makes, begin testing the system and finding ways to rebel, and how to get messages to the outside.
Ahmed's description of the camp ends up being too optimistic compared to the reality of the detention centers where immigrants — especially children — have been kept at for months under this administration. Yes, her place is dusty, dirty, isolated, and the food bland, but there's still water, food, adequate places to sleep.
This novel also sits on the road narrative spectrum. Layla and the others because of what the government has done, are marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is the wildlands — a dusty camp along highway 395, away from the lives they've been living (99). Their route there is the Blue Highway (33). Altogether, Interment is the story of marginalized travelers being taken to the wildlands via the Blue Highway (669933).
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 16): 09/16/19
After thinking we had missed the cutoff for schedule changes, I heard via email on Friday that my daughter will be starting engineering sometime this week. That will mean a zero period and getting up at six for her. She has also gotten into the after school program, so the schedule we were hoping for has finally come about.
Meanwhile I'm making progress on my portrait of Salmon. The face shape still needs adjusting but it's getting there. This photo shows five hours of work.
This week, weather permitting, we'll be having new gates and a fence extension built in our backyard as we prepare to adopt a puppy. We've hired the same people who did our stairs and railing.
What I read:
It was a good week of reading. Most of the books were short which is why I was able to get so many read. Also my husband was out of town so I wasn't watching TV with him. When I was wasn't reading at night I was watching through episodes of Man from Atlantis, NCIS, and Midsomer Murders.
What I'm reading:
What Elephants Know: 09/15/19
What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein is set in the jungles of the Nepalese borderlands at the king's elephant stable. Nandu, a boy who was raised by wild dogs for his first two years, has spent the rest of his life working with the elephants, adopted by the head of the stables.
Now the king is thinking of closing down the stable and he and his elephants may soon be homeless. So then it becomes a race to find a way to save the elephants and the stable.
Eric Dinerstein has a long career working for and with animal welfare. He knows elephants. He knows the biodiversity of Nepal. But all that knowledge of Nepalese flora and fauna, and knowledge of the language and the people, doesn't mean that as an author he can convincingly get into the head of Nandu.
There's also, of course, an authorial insert — a white, male scientist who swoops in with the solution to everyone's problems. Instead of being a stable of elephants for royal hunting expositions, make the place a research station and conservation center!
There are two other ways this story could have been told, either of which would have had a truer, more compelling voice. First, would be to tell the tale from one of the elephants. Or it would have been more honest if it were told from the scientist's point of view.
There's a sequel, A Circle of Elephants (2019).
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich: 09/14/19
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi is set in Harlem in the summer before the Challenger explosion. Ebony-Grace Norfleet has been sent to spend the summer with her father after something happened with her engineer grandfather at NASA.
Ebony-Grace copes with stress by re-contextualizing the world around her in terms of her own fantasy world inspired by classic Star Trek. She is a huge fan of Nichelle Nichols, going so far as to name her spaceship the Uhura.
Being a girl from Alabama, sheltered from the rise of hip hop and rap and urban Black culture, Ebony is overwhelmed. She finds her one Harlem friend enraptured with doubled dutch, break dancing, and rap.
In between these chapters, there are also comics that show Ebony-Grace's science fiction alternate story. They're fun side stories, but sometimes feel like a distraction. So much of her take on things is already done through this filter, albeit described in words, that the pictures aren't necessary.
This middle grade historical fiction also sits on the road narrative spectrum. Ebony-Grace is introduced on an airplane, traveling by herself — thus making her an orphan traveler (FF), even though she has family at home and at her destination. Her destination is "No Joke City" aka New York City (00). Her method of travel is offroad (66), in that she is a passenger on an airplane. Altogether this novel is about an orphan traveler going to the city by an offroad means (FF0066).
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden: 09/13/19
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser is the sequel to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (2017). Now friends with their grumpy upstairs landlord, the Vanderbeekers decide to cheer him up by making a community garden. When Mr. Jeet falls ill, they decide to dedicate it to everyone in the brownstone.
They plan to use the abandoned church property. They have permission from the caretaker but another stakeholder on the property has decided to sell the lot to a condo developer. The Vanderbeekers now face a tough decision: give up on their work so far, try to find a new and free place to garden, or rally the neighborhood to gain support to keep the sale from going through. They opt to the rally the neighborhood.
This book follows the adage "ask forgiveness, not permission." With the book set in Harlem, I wasn't entirely sure how likely the deal was to fall through. That made some of the book a nerve-wracking read. That said, I've seen plenty of deals fall through here, even though the Bay Area is a hot market.
This sophomore volume is unusual for a series book in that it sits on the road narrative spectrum, while the original book doesn't. The children, working in secret, with limited funds and limited permission, count as marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is the wildlands (99), in the form of a gray site, namely the overgrown lot next to the church. The route is the Blue Highway, namely the streets they walk up and down between the garden, their home, and the places where they get their plants and their materials (33). All together it's the tale of marginalized travelers going to the wildlands via the Blue Highway (996633).
Teen Titans: Raven: 09/12/19
Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo is the start of a new series of graphic novels featuring a different member of the Teen Titans. The book opens with Raven and her foster mother discussing adoption. Before her foster mom can actually make it official, she's killed in a car accident.
Raven, meanwhile, is left with amnesia and is sent to her foster mother's sister's house. Her "new" foster mother and foster sister know her and welcome her to their home in New Orleans.
The book is primarily set in Raven's new high school as she tries to fit in and comes to discover she has psychic powers which she can't control. She's also being haunted by nightmares — which readers familiar with her back story will understand well before she does.
All in all it was an interesting look at Raven's origin story. It's set against the spiritual traditions of New Orleans.
The second book in the series is Teen Titans: Beast Boy and comes out sometime next year.
Past Due for Murder: 09/11/19
Past Due for Murder by Victoria Gilbert is the third in the Blue Ridge Library mysteries. After a long hiatus, the town has restarted the local May Day celebration. To start off the event, the library hosts a story night which includes the tale of two girls being lured away by faerie lights.
The event, though, ends on a sour note when the guest speaker openly accuses Amy's ex-boyfriend of stealing her research for a piece of music he wrote some years back. Then in short succession, the speaker's intern goes missing in the woods, and then the speaker herself is found murdered in the woods.
Like the previous books, Past Due for Murder includes multiple mysteries — the modern day murder and disappearance, a recent hit and run death, and the much older disappearance of the two girls. All of these mysteries are related and intertwined. How they are is what makes this book such a compelling read.
The fourth book is Bound for Murder and will be released January 7th, 2020.
A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying: 09/10/19
A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong is a middle grade fantasy set in a kingdom made up of clans. The ruling clan divides the matters of state between the two oldest siblings. The eldest becomes the monarch and the second eldest becomes the monster slayer.
Twelve year old Rowan as the oldest of fraternal twins is in line to be queen. Her brother is set to be the next monster slayer. There's just one problem. She's the better warrior and he's a better diplomat.
The kingdom is reeling from the recent death of the king, killed by a gryphon. Rowan, her brother, and the current monster slayer go on the hunt to stop an attack at a farm. Unfortunately the gryphon appears, kills the monster hunter, and injures the future monster hunter. Rowan sees this as the chance to set things to rights — to switch positions with her slightly younger brother.
The remainder of the book is Rowan trying to prove her worthiness to be the next monster slayer. With her father and aunt now dead, other clans are vying for the throne. They give Rowan an impossible sounding task — kill the gryphon or forfeit.
But this isn't about Rowan becoming the unstoppable hunter she imagines herself as. Instead, she learns more about the world in which she lives and the monsters who live here too. She harnesses new ways of being a monster hunter.
This book reads like an older reader version of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency by Kallie George. The themes are the same: learning about magical animals and learning how to be a better person.
Wicked Fox: 09/09/19
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho is a YA urban fantasy set in Seoul, South Korea. Gu Miyoung and her mother have moved here for the hunt. They are gumihos, or nine-tailed-foxes, and survive by eating the gi of men.
On her first night time hunt, Miyoung stumbles upon Ahn Jihoon who is being attacked by a goblin. She intervenes and saves him, but forfeits her bead — the physical embodiment of her soul and immortality.
It's a good start for a fantasy. But it suffers from some pacing issues. To make sure we know that Miyoung and Jihoon will end up as a couple, we're given alternating points of view, but through short, choppy chapters. There's not enough time to get into either person's head before jumping into the other's.
To make sure we know this is YA, the novel spends an inordinate amount of pages inside Miyoung's school. It reads a bit like the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer which was a half season in length, mid-season replacement. We see how hard Miyoung is finding it to fit into her new school, learning that the boy she saved is a classmate, and how to manage her powers now that her bead is no longer part of her.
Frankly this debut would be better if it were a hundred pages shorter. There's a lot of repetition, especially early on. After the meeting between Jihoon and Miyoung and their first day in school together, the next bunch of chapters can be skipped without losing understanding of the plot.
Despite the issues with this initial offering, I think the series has potential. It's still an interesting concept — a half human/half gumiho woman in a large city trying to find her place in the world. Is she good? Is she evil? Does she have free will? What is she going to do with herself now that she's mortal?
The second Gumiho is due sometime next year.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 09): 09/09/19
With the kids back in school, I'm back to painting regularly. I'm currently working on part one of a two painting project for home — portraits of my current cats. After that I'll get back to painting things to sell. I think I should get back into doing some bird portraits.
I'm also working on another sketch book for the Brooklyn Art Library. This time I'm using my sketchbook to explore the idea of painting fireworks. The sketchbook gives me a way to try different styles before committing to something larger.
On Saturday my husband and I drove our daughter to visit her best-friend who recently moved almost sixty miles away with her family.
What I read:
I"m continuing to focus on my 2019 purchases as we head into fall. I have so many ones I've collected this summer that I want to read and was just too busy to read. Come January, I'll start going to the library again.
What I'm reading:
Gertie's Leap to Greatness: 09/08/19
Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley follows the trend of a middle grade protagonist trying to be the BEST at something to get the attention or love from an absent family member. Here it's Gertie who lives with aunt and father who wants to get her mother's affection before she moves out of town with her new family.
The weird thing about this book's set up is that the mother has been separated from Gertie's family since Gertie's birth. Gertie has known where her mother moved in town and even knows of her mother's new family. She's ok with the situation until her mother puts her house up for sale.
Now being the best — Gertie choses to be the best student / teacher's pet — is going to be her way of convincing her mother to stay in town. It's an odd disconnect between the situation (absent mother leaving) and the proposed solution (being the top student).
Of course in this sort of story, it can't just be a matter of the main character working hard to get the top. There has to be a foil. For Gertie, it's a transplanted Californian named Mary Sue Spivey. With a name like that in a book like this, you know Mary Sue is going to be perfect — annoyingly so. And she is.
Mary Sue besides being a better student than Gertie, is also a gentrified environmentalist. She is the embodiment of white middle class and completely at odds with Gertie's situation — with a father who spends most of his time working on an oil rig.
Frankly the conflict between Mary Sue and Gertie over the oil rig is the most interesting aspect of the book. It would have been a stronger story if Gertie had been the best student in the class just for the sheer joy of it, and then been pushed out by someone from a better school.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is Mayan urban fantasy set in 1927. It's a great read for anyone who has enjoyed Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third (2015), Labyrinth Lost (2017) by Zoraida Córdova or the animé, The Ancient Magus Bride (2018) but want something more. Although I'm listing a middle grade and a YA book as thematic reads, Moreno-Garcia's novel is written for adults.
Casiopea Tun lives in the small Yucatan village a tram's ride away from the city of Merida. She's trapped being the servant to her cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandfather. One day, left alone with the house to herself, she decides to investigate her grandfather's forbidden trunk. Expecting gold, she's surprised to find bones. When she pricks herself on a bone shard, she's further shocked to find the bones rebuilding themselves into a very handsome and dangerous god — Hun-Kamé. He's been ousted by his brother and her grandfather from Xibalba and needs Casiopea's help to undo this injustice.
Before they can travel to the underworld for the final confrontation, he must find the remaining parts that his brother has hidden across Mexico: his ear, his finger, his eye. To do that, requires a road trip!
I didn't read this book for the road narrative project but it fits solidly in the spectrum. While Casiopea and Hun-Kamé aren't lovers in this book (even if he is lust-worthy), they are connected magically via the bone shard in her thumb. They are coupled by his magic and her blood. Therefore they have to travel together (33).
The destination is ultimately Xibalba, or more specifically, the Jade Palace. Going there as a living person is impossible without magical help. Thus, the destination is utopia — a no place (FF).
But the route to Xibalba won't open until all of the god's parts are found. As this is a modern, twentieth century setting, the most efficient way for the two to travel (save for the brief boat route from Progresso to Veracruz) is via tram and train. Like The Inn Between by Marina Cohen (2016), we have another "safe" / detour-free route to the underworld, albeit different ones.
One side note on the route, while I said his parts were scattered across Mexico — I should say "old Mexico" as the novel in 1927 after Mexico lost some of its land to the United States. The last half of their route takes the across the border.
Put all together, The Gods of Jade and Shadow is the tale of a magically entwined couple traveling to utopia via the railroad. Following along on their journey, it helps to know Mexican geography, although one can also use Google Maps.
While this book is a standalone, it does end with a hook, with Casiopea deciding to explore more of the world alongside a supernatural being she meets on her journey. At this time, per the author's blog, there is no plan to make any more books in this world. But there's enough of a hook for us to imagine her in the world traveling along the edge of the mundane and the supernatural. We'll leave those adventures to the fanfic writers.
The Train to Impossible Places: 09/06/19
The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell is the first book in a new series about a girl who hitches a ride on a train that happens to take a detour through her family's home in the middle of the night. Like Moist van Lipwig in Going Postal (2004), Suzy suddenly finds herself working for the post, working on the last mail trail in operation.
The Impossible Postal Express is a troll run train that makes deliveries anywhere. When it falls behind schedule, it can take shortcuts, such as through a living room. The effects of laying the rail and running the train through are temporary and no one expects stowaways.
The very first delivery, the one Suzy is put in charge of because no one else is brave enough to ring the doorbell. The recipient is the Lady Crepuscula. The package is a talking snow globe named Frederick. Suzy decides Frederick's story is legit and that he shouldn't be delivered.
So now while the Impossible Postal Express is trying to make its deliveries, it's also running from Crepuscula's wrath. She is hellbent on getting her package and taking out the train and anything else in the process.
While this book is from the UK (English publisher, Welsh author), it does sit in the road narrative spectrum (as an outlier). Suzy, while not an orphan in our world, does chose to hop the train as a solo (or orphan) traveler (FF). Her choice could very well leave her orphaned in the Troll world.
From Suzy's point of view, as she is the protagonist, the places the express goes are impossible and unknown to her. Put another way, the delivery stops are various utopias, or places within a larger utopia (FF). Now one could argue that the places aren't utopia (no places) because during the climax, it's revealed to be taking place on the moon, but with the majority of the novel treating the railway as an impossible one, then the destinations must also be. In the sequel where Suzy has a better understanding of how the Expressway works, her understanding of where she's going will also change, thus shifting the placement on the spectrum.
The route, though, is the interstate / railroad, or more precisely, railway. While the rails can be laid as needed in near real time, anywhere, the train is still required to take the route laid out for it. Thus, the route counts as an interstate — a known, straightforward route (00).
Put all together, The Train to Impossible Places is the tale of an orphan traveler going to and through utopia via the railway.
The second book in the series is The Great Brain Robbery and releases in October.
Midnight Radio: 09/05/19
Midnight Radio by Iolanda Zanfardino is a graphic novel taking place in San Francisco, consisting of four different stories. Each story is color coded: green, red, blue, and yellow.
The green story is "The Woodpecker" about a web designer/web producer working for a dubious diet pill company. The website is under attack by a hacker who goes by the name "Woodpecker." The attack stems from the death of seven teens.
The red story is "Inner Pulse" which follows a severely depressed and possibly suicidal young woman. As the story unfolds we learn what has pushed her into her depression. The story mirrors the attack on Pulse in Orlando.
The blue story is "Robin Hood" and follows a Japanese woman who is coerced by the police to infiltrate a Mexican forgery ring. While she expects them to be dangerous gang members, she learns that the police are the dangerous ones and have no plans to bring in the forgers alive.
The yellow story is "Insta_king." The main character, shown on the cover, has given up talking, deciding instead to use Instagram and texting as his voice.
The four stories all feature protagonists who are forced through circumstances to make a tough decision. They have to decide to break the rules or break the law, do ultimately do the right thing.
Overall I liked the book but found some of the text difficult to read as there's not always enough contrast. Dark green text on a slightly lighter green text, for example, isn't easy to read, even with my glasses on.
A Killer Edition: 09/04/19
A Killer Edition by Lorna Barrett and Cassandra Campbell (narrator) is the thirteenth mystery in the Booktown series. By now a lot has happened and if you're new to the series, don't start here. Spoilers abound!
At the close of Poisoned Pages, Tricia decided to promote Pixie to assistant manager. Now six months later, sales are up, so far up that Haven't Got a Clue is running out of inventory, and Tricia is bored because her store pretty much runs itself now.
Tricia on one of her slow days decides to take her therapist's advice and try reading a romance. She doesn't have any on hand, so she goes to the local romance bookshop. There she witnesses an argument between Joyce, the owner, and Vera, her next door neighbor. While Vera is the one who threatens Joyce, it's she who ends up murdered, with Joyce as the prime suspect.
This mystery was different from many of the others in the series because Tricia doesn't know either woman very well, nor is she immediately involved in business with either of them. Her one part in this mystery set up is overhearing the argument, and then later co-discovering the body with Joyce.
In fact, Tricia tries to do what she's asked, and stay out of the amateur sleuthing, despite Joyce's repeating requests that she help. Instead she is most preoccupied with preparing for a baking contest and in trying to figure out why the chairman of the local animal shelter is so hellbent on keeping Tricia off the board even though she's qualified.
As with all the previous books in the series, I listened to this an audiobook. The original narrator, Cassandra Campbell, is back. Her last book in this series was book five, Sentenced to Death. So much as changed in the last eight books, including the addition of many new characters. It was disconcerting for the first few chapters to hear her rendition of characters.
The conclusion of this novel was rather like Bedeviled Eggs by Laura Childs in that Tricia doesn't figure out who the murderer is, but inadvertently ends up cornering the person. Only because I'm invested in the characters and setting did I find the climax exhilarating.
Gideon Falls, Volume 1: The Black Barn: 09/03/19
Gideon Falls, Volume 2: Original Sins by Jeff Lemire is the second volume in the comic series that features an evil black barn that appears and disappears throughout time. The priest and sheriff have teamed up in rural Gideon Falls, while young man and his therapist have done the same in urban Gideon Falls. Both couples are intent on investigating the black barn and putting a stop to its evil influence.
The black barn when seen from the perspective of people in Gideon Falls, is something that comes and goes at certain intervals. It arrives in the same spot of land and stays for some amount of time, during which bad things happens. People die and people disappear.
When Gideon Falls is seen from the perspective of the barn and its maker, it is an infinite plane of opportunities. Different times and different versions. Put another way, the barn is an evil TARDIS. Or it's a TARDIS controlled by an evil person.
Like the first volume (and every other comic I've read by Jeff Lemire), Original Sins sits on the road narrative spectrum.
With the two different narratives now being told by couples (33), the placement in the spectrum drops from fantasy to horror. There is more at stake for everyone now that they have pared off.
The realization that both narratives are taking place in Gideon Falls, and that time and space is variable inside the barn, the destination remains uhoria (CC), though a refocused one.
The route now moves from the cornfield to the Blue Highway (33). The barn in this volume is found not by its relationship to the fields, but more mundanely by its placement relative to the surrounding society. The barn has a parcel and it's the same parcel in every version and time of Gideon Falls.
Put all together, Original Sins is the tale of two couples going to uhoria via the Blue Highway to protect their communities and families from a time traveling black barn.
The third volume is Stations of the Cross which comes out October 22.
Devils in Daylight: 09/02/19
Devils in Daylight by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki is a horror novella recently translated by Keith Vincent. He further explains the pun of the original Japanese title (白昼鬼語) and how he did his best to render it in English.
New media inspires re-examination of older media. Keeping in mind that this is a 1918 novel, the new media here is cinema. It had a late introduction to Japan but once it did, it took off.
Takahashi, a salaryman, has pulled an all-nighter and is surprised to receive a phone call from an old friend, Sonomara. Sonomara in a long, rambling monolog tells how he has cracked a cryptographic code based on Edgar Allan Poe's "Gold Bug." At the end of this long tale he invites Takahasmi to witness a murder. He says if he's wrong, they'll have a good laugh over it.
This is the point where Takahashi could have and should have said no. It would have been a really short, weird short story. Instead, he says yes. He leaves the safety of his life and his job and begins to lose himself in Sonomara's obsession.
The murder they go to view is something they watch in secret. They're watching through a peephole, like voyeurs. Back in 1918, the word voyeur would bring to mind men watching through holes at brothels. As cinema matured, it would come to mean men watching women on screen with a sexual gaze.
Again Takahashi could cut off ties with Sonomara but the trap has been set and he's now trapped in the same spiral of obsession as his friend. The narrator will become the next one obsessed with the code as Sonomara. Then as Sonomara becomes more and more involved in this murder plot, so will Takahashi.
It's a delightfully creepy and modern story that holds up a century later and in translation.
August 2019 Sources: 09/02/19
August was the last month of summer vacation when I didn't have work. As my oldest had a ton of summer homework (from signing up for six APs) we spent most of the time at home. I painted and read. In August I didn't visit any libraries, focusing my reading on my TBR piles for this year and last year.
I read eighteen TBR books books published this year and two published in August. This month's ROOB score is my best ever in the absence of any library books.
Eight months in, the ROOB trendline continues downwards. August 2019 was the best ROOB score since I started tracking these metrics. I am hopeful that September will beat it.
My average for August improved slightly from -2.56 to -2.63.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 02): 09/02/19
The teens are back in school. My son got his classes but my daughter didn't quite get the schedule she wanted. We have one more week to wait to see if a spot opens up in the zero period that would allow her to add her second elective.
My daughter's birthday is on Thursday, so we're celebrating today. Her big present is the "Neighbors" painting which I finished last week. It will be hanging in her room.
Now I'm starting on a new two painting series — portraits of my current cats. I've painted portraits of previous cats but not Tortuga and Salmon. I've started on Tortuga first because she's the oldest by eighteen months.
On Saturday my husband put together the smoker he recently purchased. Getting it up to our house took a lot of effort. Our home sits on a steep hill and backing up a car with a heavy box in the back was more than the car wanted to deal with. Then there was the fun of getting it out of the car and into the garage where the box could finally be opened. Our side yard has steps and rocks and the dolly wouldn't have been practical for the entire box. Anyway on Sunday we had our first ribs and corn on the cob.
What I read:
What I'm reading:
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street: 09/01/19
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is the first of a middle grade series about a large family renting two floors of a brownstone somewhere on 141st street (probably West 141st street) in New York. The owner of the building is a grumpy shut in named Mr. Beiderman.
Now they are facing eviction just before Christmas and the children want to do anything they can to convince Mr. Beiderman to let them stay. Their landlord is such a grouch that it looks like an impossible task.
The next book is The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (2018).
August 2019 Summary: 09/01/19
August was the first quiet month this summer, although the end of the month was back to school. The month meant a return to routine, including painting (I finished two and started a third), reading and blogging.
Last month I read entirely from my personal collection — including ones read for research. I continue to be avoiding the library to focus on books I've purchased in the last year. I will start up my library trips in January.
I read more books in August, 26, up from the previous months' 20. I made my my diverse reading goal. In fact it was one of my best month's this year. I also made my diverse reviewing goal.
September is the first full month of school. That will mean more school related errands. I might also have field trips to teach at work. That said, I think September will be a good month of reading.
I still have 2 reviews from 2016 reviews to post. That's down from last month's 3. My 2017 reviews are down to 4 from 6. I still 31 reviews remaining from 2018, and 66, down from 68, now from 2019.